Blago aide gets 10-day sentence for corruption

March 28, 2012 8:17:07 PM PDT
John Harris was Rod Blagojevich's chief of staff. They were arrested on the same day in 2008. Harris testified against his former boss.

Wednesday, almost two weeks after Blagojevich began serving a 14-year prison sentence for corruption, Harris received a much shorter sentence: Just 10 days.

This is a symbolic sentence given to a man who early on in the Blagojevich saga realized that, as he said Wednesday, he had made a mistake that ultimately cost him his job, his law license and an otherwise highly ethical reputation.

Harris was arguably the government's most important witness in USA vs. Blagojevich. Though he often told his old boss that his ideas were off track, Harris did step out of bounds in trying to help Blagojevich get a high-paying union job. And that is what brings us to Wednesday's sentencing.

When Blagojevich was preoccupied -- as he quite often was -- it was his chief of staff Harris who kept the office moving. Harris was arrested with Blagojevich in December 2008. He immediately entered a guilty plea and began cooperating with the government.

Harris testified against his old boss at both trials, and his cooperation with the government, prosecutors said Wednesday, was consistent, thorough, and thoughtful, and crucial to their case against Blagojevich.

Standing before the judge Wednesday afternoon, Harris said, "I am sorry for my actions and my failure to act, and I apologize to the people of Illinois. He said that he thought it so important to maintain his boss' confidence that "I lost my way."

"I felt worn down," Harris told the judge. "But that's no excuse for my conduct or failure to act."

Though largely sympathetic in his remarks, Judge James Zagel told Harris, "The offense is so serious and crucial, I cannot impose a sentence that does not require custody."

But then, the surprise: That custody, the judge said, would be 10 days in the Bureau of prisons and two years of supervised probation.

"I think this is just a tremendous relief to him," said defense attorney Terry Ekl. "I didn't know if he was thinking a year or 6 months or two years. I was concerned. When he said 10 days, I had a big sigh of relief."

Harris left the courthouse Wednesday afternoon for the probation office with his wife without commenting, though, clearly he and his family are enormously relieved.

"To work for that man under those circumstances was incredibly difficult," said Ekl. "John was dealing with someone, if he pushed back too hard he would take you out of the loop."

From chief of staff to the governor, Harris now continues as an apprentice electrician's helper. His attorney said that Harris, unlike his old boss, took a job, never went on a reality show, and never brought his kids to court.

Harris must report to the Bureau of Prisons. But where does one serve a 10-day sentence? The orientation period for new federal inmates, like Rod Blagojevich, is generally two weeks in and of itself.

There is some thought that Harris could report to the Metropolitan Correctional Center and do his brief time there, but it is not clear if that is the case.

Harris continues his job as an apprentice electrician helper. He will always be a convicted felon, but it is possible that he can recover his law license.