A federal judge today sentenced impeached Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to 14 years in prison, giving little weight to Blagojevich’s first-ever apology this morning since his arrest three years ago.
“The jury didn’t believe you and neither did I,” U.S. District Court Judge James Zagel said.
Blagojevich, 54, was convicted on 18 corruption charges, including the scheme to peddle the vacated Senate seat of Barack Obama. He must report for prison Feb. 16 to a facility to be named later.
After his sentencing, Blagojevich quoted English poet Rudyard Kipling, saying, “If you can meet with a triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same …
“this is a time to be strong, to fight through adversity, for me to be strong for my children, be strong for Patti,” his wife.
Blagojevich, a Democrat, started the day telling the court that he was “unbelievably sorry” for his “terrible mistakes,” his last chance to convince the federal judge that he deserved some mercy when he was sentenced on corruption charges.
“I’m here convicted of crimes. The jury decided I was guilty. I am accepting of it. I acknowledge it…” Blagojevich told Zagel. “I want to apologize to the people of Illinois, to the court, for the mistakes I have made. … I never set out to break the law.
“I never set out to cross lines. I have nobody to blame but myself for my stupidity and actions and the things I did and I thought I could do. I’m not blaming anybody,” Blagojevich said.
Prosecutors argued that he has failed the people of Illinois and instead “further eroded the public’s confidence in government and government officials.”
“He knew from a very early date exactly what he could do to help the people of Illinois and he didn’t do it,” federal prosecutor Reid Schar said. “Instead, what he did was first to seek personal benefits, jobs, millions of dollars, and things for him in relation to the Senate seat.
“He lied repeatedly, concretely, and on issues that went to the heart of the case and he lied on every episode that he was questioned,” Schar said. “He is incredibly manipulative, and he knows how to be.”
In setting a conciliatory note, Blagojevich’s lawyers have already admitted – for the first time – that it was against the law for Blagojevich to seek a high-level Washington job in return for an appointment to Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat. They also made a case for mercy, reading letters from Blagojevich’s wife and oldest daughter.
Wife Patti cried Tuesday during the first day of the sentencing hearing as a defense attorney read her plea to U.S. District Judge James Zagel: “The punishment that he fears the most, one that would be most devastating would be that he would not be able to see his daughters grow. Please be merciful.”
Defense lawyers argued that because Blagojevich received no money in his assorted schemes to peddle his power, he does not deserve extended time behind bars: “We are asking for the lowest sentence possible.”
Judge Zagel earlier sided with prosecutors in key rulings that could help determine the prison sentence. Zagel agreed that evidence showed supporters of U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., were offering $1.5 million in campaign contributions in exchange for the Senate appointment, a dollar figure that factors into sentencing even though Blagojevich never got the money.
Zagel also agreed that federal guidelines allow for a maximum term of 30 years to life, although such a lengthy term “would be simply not appropriate in the context of this case.”
Former federal prosecutor Ronald Safer expects Zagel to hand down a sentence of 12 to 15 years, he told ABC News, sending a strong message of deterrence to corrupt politicians that “those of you out for personal gain will be separated from your families for a very, very long time.”
Since the 1970s, three former Illinois governors have been sent to prison, not to mention several others who have gotten in trouble with the law.
If Blagojevich is sent to jail today, he will join George Ryan, a Republican who was governor from 1999 to 2003, who is serving a prison sentence. After a scandal involving the illegal sale of government licenses, contracts and leases by state employees, Ryan was convicted of corruption in 2006.
But Ryan was merely following in the footsteps of those who came before him. Otto Kerner Jr., a Democrat who was governor from 1961 to 1968, was convicted in 1973 on 17 counts of bribery, conspiracy, perjury and related charges.
Dan Walker, a Democrat who was governor from 1973 to 1977, pleaded guilty to bank fraud, misapplication of funds and perjury in 1987. Walker was sentenced to seven years in prison.
ABC News’ Olivia Katrandjian contributed to this report.