Rod Blagojevich may be out of prison, but he's not completely off the hook

ByChuck Goudie and Christine Tressel WLS logo
Friday, February 21, 2020
Rod Blagojevich may be out of prison, but he's not completely off the hook
Chuck Goudie and the ABC7 I-Team report on the fine print of President Trump's commutation order for ex-governor Rod Blagojevich.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Despite a presidential free pass, former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich still has some legal hoops to jump through before he is fully clear of his corruption sentence.

President Trump's commutation of Blagojevich's 14 year prison sentence on Tuesday only unlocked the prison gate. While freedom may be the most important component of the order, a two-year period of court supervision imposed by Judge James Zagel remains intact. The "supervised release" as it is known means Illinois's 40th governor will have to engage with the system that he has sharply criticized as broken the past few days. If he violates probation, under the rules, he could be returned to prison.

From the moment Blagojevich left Englewood Correctional Center near Denver, Colorado on Tuesday, the clock start ticking on a requirement that he report to his probation officer.

Ex-cons, including Illinois' ex-governor, have 72 hours from release to check in with their assigned probation officer in the Northern District of Illinois. That means Blagojevich has until tomorrow afternoon. A representative of the former governor has not responded to I-Team messages concerning whether Blagojevich has already registered with his probation officer.

According to the rules of court supervision provided by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, he also has to abide by the "standard" conditions for any released prisoner-even though his release was engineered by the President of the United States.

Blagojevich must:

-provide a DNA sample to authorities

-take a drug test within 15 days

-stay within the Northern District of Illinois, unless travel is permitted

-obtain a full-time job within 60 days

-Or do 20 hours community service

-not commit any additional local, state or federal crimes

"He can say what he wants to say. He can do what he wants to do subject to the restrictions that are always imposed on felons but he can try to undo some of those restrictions if he can," said ABC7 legal analyst Gil Soffer, a former federal prosecutor.

After one year according to federal rules, Blagojevich could return to court to ask that his supervision period be terminated. In most cases, if a released prisoner has been well-behaved, courts end the probation. According to federal officials the guidelines "encourage...(courts) to exercise this authority in appropriate cases."

Judge Zagel's 2016 re-sentencing of Blagojevich also included criminal monetary penalties and court fees totaling $21,800. However, a subsequent order required that the money be transferred from the vested portion of Blagojevich's state pension fund. So his financial punishment has been satisfied and the General Assembly Retirement System stripped him of his actual state pension that would have totaled about $65,000 annually. Since Blagojevich turned 62 years old in 2018 he did begin receiving a federal pension of about $15,000 a year. That retirement money is from his three terms in Congress. Blagojevich was not convicted of committing any crimes while a federal employee.