Political Prisoners: Elected Officials Behind Bars for Behaving Badly

Rod Blagojevich is the latest in a long line of politicians to serve prison time

ByABC News
March 15, 2012, 1:12 PM

March 15, 2012 -- intro: Before the sun rose over Illinois this morning, the camera flashes and helicopter spotlights of a media mob outside former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's house lit up the pre-dawn sky.

After more than a decade as a constant presence in the spotlight, this would be the last time for the next 14 years that Blagojevich would appear before the cameras as a free man.

The former governor was hauled away to a federal prison in Colorado, where he will spend the next 14 years behind bars for 17 counts of corruption charges, including trying to auction off President Barack Obama's Senate seat in exchange for campaign cash.

"Among my hopes is that now you guys can go home and our neighbors can get their neighborhood back," Blagojevich told the hoard of media as he crossed his front lawn toward the awaiting sedan. "I'll see you guys when I see ya. I'll see you around."

Blagojevich spent some of his last hours of freedom doing what he does best, talking to his supporters amid a throng of television cameras.

"This is the hardest thing I have ever had to do," Blagojevich told about 300 people gathered outside his home Wednesday evening for his last pre-prison press conference.

One arm around his tearful wife Patti, Blagojevich maintained his innocence, saying he believed everything he did was "legal" and that he was again appealing his corruption convictions.

"Everything I talked about doing when it came to campaign fundraising and political horse trading I believe was on the right side of the law," he said. "This, as bad as it is, is the beginning of another part of a long and hard journey that will only get worse before it gets better. This is not over and we have faith in the future faith in the rule of law and faith in God that right will ultimately prevail."

Blagojevich said the one lesson he learned from the past three years of court trials was that "maybe you've got to be more humble."

"You can never have enough humility and maybe I could have had more of that," he said.

Blagojevich is the second Illinois governor in a row to follow his term in the governor's mansion with a stint in federal prison and the fourth from Illinois that has served time in the past 50 years.

He joins a long list of politicians who are giving a new meaning to the term "political prisoners." Here's a look at some of Blagojevich's fellow politicians-turned-prisoners.

quicklist: 1title: Illinois Gov. George Ryantext: Sentence: 6.5 years

George Ryan, who served as governor of Illinois from 1999 to 2003, is currently serving out the final months of his 6.5-year sentence in Indiana's Terre Haute federal prison.

In 2006 Ryan was convicted on 22 counts of fraud, racketeering, bribery, extortion and money laundering for, among other things, accepting bribes in exchange for state licenses.

He was also charged with lying to investigators and accepting gifts in return for actions once he took office.

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quicklist: 2title:Illinois Gov. Dan Walkertext: Sentence: 7 years

Dan Walker served as Illinois governor between 1973 and 1977, and unlike his fellow Illinois governors-turned-convicts, Walker served time for crimes he committed after leaving the governor's mansion.

In 1987, Walker was convicted of bank fraud and corruption after pleading guilty in a savings-and-loan fraud case for crimes he committed as a businessman after leaving public office.

Walker was sentenced to seven years in federal prison and served 18 months. In January 2001, President Bill Clinton denied his request for a pardon.

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quicklist: 3title: Illinois Gov. Otto Kernertext: Sentence: 3 years

Otto Kerner served two terms as governor of Illinois from 1960 to 1968 and later became a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

After leaving office, Kerner was indicted in 1971 on bribery charges after a discovery that he received steep discounts on race track stock in exchange for political favors. Two years later he was convicted of bribery, conspiracy, tax evasion and perjury, the first sitting appellate judge in history to be convicted of felony charges, according the Chicago Tribune.

While he was sentenced to three years in federal prison, Kerner only served for seven months before he was released on parole. The former governor died of lung cancer a year after his release and in the midst of seeking a presidential pardon to clear his name.

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quicklist: 4title: House Majority Leader Tom Delaytext: Sentence: 3 years

After more than 20 years in office, Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, was convicted of money laundering and sentenced to three years in prison in January 2011. DeLay represented Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1984 to 2006 and was the GOP House majority leader from 2003 to 2005, but he was forced to resign from his position in 2005 as a result of an ongoing criminal investigation.

The former "Dancing with the Stars" contestant (season nine) was charged with money laundering and conspiracy to commit laundering after a jury concluded that DeLay (known as "The Hammer") illegally diverted $190,000 in corporate donations through the Republican National Committee to GOP candidates in Texas.

DeLay was released on a $10,000 bond and is currently free on bail as he appeals his conviction.

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quicklist: 5title: California Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunninghamtext: Sentence: 8 years and 4 months

Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., resigned from Congress in 2005 after pleading guilty to taking more than $2 million in bribes and under-reporting his income. He also pled guilty to mail fraud and tax evasion.

Among the bribes Cunningham received were the free use of a yacht (the "Duke-Stir"), a Rolls-Royce, Persian carpets and a $2,000 contribution to his daughter's college graduation party.

Cunningham even priced the illegal services he provided, providing contractors with a "bribe menu" detailing how much it would cost to order multimillion-dollar government contracts, according to documents submitted by prosecutors during the hearing. He was sentenced to eight years and four months in prison and is scheduled to be released from the U.S. Penitentiary at Tucson, Ariz., in June 2013.

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quicklist: 6title: Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Barrytext: Sentence: 6 months

A 1998 Washington Post article said, "To understand the District of Columbia, one must understand Marion Barry." Barry, known for his celebrity and notoriety, served as the city's mayor from 1979 to 1991 and again from 1995 to 1999. Now serving as a member of the Council of the District of Columbia, Barry's campaign gained momentum from the significant leadership he demonstrated in the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

In 1990, Barry was videotaped smoking crack cocaine and served six months in prison on drug charges. Despite the controversy, Barry was elected to the D.C. city council in 1992 and re-elected as mayor in 1995 following his release.

Following his political comeback, Barry was arrested in 2002 when traces of marijuana and cocaine reportedly were found in his car after he was stopped in southwest D.C. No charges were filed.

In 2005, Barry pled guilty to charges stemming from an IRS investigation and was sentenced to three years probation for failing to pay federal and local taxes. Barry was arrested and charged with "misdemeanor stalking" in 2009 after his ex-girlfriend, political consultant Donna Watts-Brighthaupt, claimed he was stalking her. All charges were dropped. This year, Barry's car was booted outside his home as a result of nine unpaid parking tickets.

Despite Barry's multiple run-ins with the law, he has maintained his popularity and influence in the political and cultural arena of Washington, D.C.

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quicklist: 7title: Providence, Rhode Island, Mayor Vincent "Buddy" Ciancitext:Sentence: 5 years

Vincent "Buddy" Cianci is one of the longest-serving mayors in United States history and the longest-serving mayor of Providence, R.I. Cianci held office for 21 years, from 1975 to 1984 and again from 1991 to 2002, but was forced to resign twice because of felony convictions.

In 1984, he pled no contest to charges that he assaulted his estranged wife's lover with a lit cigarette, an ashtray and fireplace log. After his suspension, Cianci returned to office in 1991 and stepped down again in 2002 following his conviction of one count of federal racketeering conspiracy. The ex-mayor was sentenced to five years for supervising what the judge called a "criminal enterprise."

In 2011, Cianci published his memoir, "Politics and Pasta: How I Prosecuted Mobsters, Rebuilt a Dying City, Dined with Sinatra, Spent Five Years in a Federally Funded Gated Community, and Lived to Tell the Tale," in which he took a look back at his life and career.

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quicklist: 8title: Massachusetts State Sen. James Marzillitext: Sentence: 3 months

Former member of the Massachusetts State Senator James Marzilli was sentenced to three months in jail after he admitted to sexually harassing four women. His defense team argued that Marzilli was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and that the alleged events all took place during a hypomanic state.

In 2011, he pled guilty to all four counts of "annoying and accosting a person of the opposite sex," one count of disorderly conduct and one count of resisting arrest. He approached all four women in one day after attending an event in Lowell, Mass., according to Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Dunigan.

Dunigan said he approached the first woman outside a community health center and said: "The sex is sweet, the sex is sweet, you want it and you want to go with me." Later, he allegedly walked behind another woman and said, "Oooh, baby, you are so beautiful," and made comments about her body. He allegedly drove by a third woman several times and asked her if she was wearing any underwear. Marzilli then sat on a bench beside a fourth woman, who accused Marzilli of attempting to grope her.

Marzilli did not have to register as a sex offender.

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quicklist: 9title:Ohio Rep. James Traficanttext:Sentence: 7 years

Former Ohio Rep. James Traficant was a flamboyant member of the U.S. House for 17 years before he was convicted of ethics violations and expelled from office in 2002. At the time he was only the second Congressman to be expelled since the Civil War.

Traficant was convicted on 10 counts of bribery, tax evasion, conspiracy and racketeering and sentenced to seven years in jail. Upon leaving prison in 2010, Traficant jumped right back into politics and attempted unsuccessfully to regain his old House seat.

Traficant, whose nine terms in Congress were punctuated by colorful rhetoric and outlandish comments, left the House in the same manner that he served in it: vibrantly.

On the last day of his Ethics Committee hearings he lambasted the "delusionary" prosecutors and dubbed all the evidence against him a lie.

"I think they should be handcuffed to a chain-link fence, flogged, and all of their hearsay evidence should be thrown the hell out, and if they lie again, I'm going to go over and kick them in the crotch. Thank you very much."

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quicklist: 10title: Connecticut Gov. John Rowlandtext: Sentence: 1 year

Three-term Connecticut Gov. John Rowland ascended to the governor's mansion at breakneck speed, becoming the youngest governor to take office in Connecticut's history.

But the rising star was soon cast into the shadows after he was charged with accepting $170,000 worth of gifts and vacations from state contractors.

Rowland, 53, was convicted of corruption sentenced to one year in federal prison and four months of house arrest. The former governor served 10 months before being released.

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