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Give Blagojevich 15 to 20 years in prison, prosecutors urge judge

Rod Blagojevich enters car after attending his corruptiretrial Dirksen Federal Building Thursday June 2 2011 Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

Rod Blagojevich enters a car after attending his corruption retrial at the Dirksen Federal Building Thursday, June 2, 2011, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 3, 2012 8:54AM

If Rod Blagojevich goes to prison within the 15- to 20-year range that federal prosecutors recommended to a judge Wednesday, the former governor would potentially face more time behind bars than three previously convicted Illinois governors combined.

He would also face a stiffer sentence than mob murderer and key cooperator Nicholas Calabrese, whom the same judge handling Blagojevich’s case, U.S. District Judge James Zagel, sent to prison for 12 years, five months.

In court papers, prosecutors said Blagojevich deserves a severe punishment because he so seriously ravaged public confidence, was corrupt even before he took office in 2003 and utterly failed to be deterred by the 6½-year term given to his predecessor — convicted ex-Gov. George Ryan.

“He has refused to accept any responsibility for his criminal conduct and, rather, has repeatedly obstructed justice and taken action to further erode respect for the law,” prosecutors wrote.

They argued Zagel should use as a baseline last week’s decision by U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve to sentence onetime top Blagojevich fund-raiser Tony Rezko to a 10½-year prison term — one of the harshest public-corruption sentences doled out in recent years. Rezko, prosecutors argue, was not even a public official, was not involved in an attempted sale of Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat in 2008.

“I think the government’s arguments are compelling,” said former federal prosecutor Ronald Safer. “We should do something to deter people from selling their offices. If you want to miss your 40s or 50s with your family and friends, then take the bribe. Otherwise, resist the temptation.”

Blagojevich, 54, is to be sentenced Tuesday.

One of Blagojevich’s attorneys, Carolyn Gurland, said the government wants Blagojevich to pay for the sins of all corrupt Illinois politicos. “The government wants Blagojevich to pay for all of the political corruption in the history of the state of Illinois,” Gurland said. “But under the law, defendants are to be sentenced as individuals, not symbols or sound bites.”

The defense had said it would seek probation, but Wednesday it only asked Zagel to sentence Blagojevich below a range of 3½ to a bit more than 4 years.

Legal observers say Zagel is likely to take into account Blagojevich’s “good acts” as governor, as well as his testimony, which the jury deemed untruthful. Prosecutors’ proposed term seems harsh when compared to Calabrese, who shot, strangled or blew up 14 men for the Outfit in the 1970s and 1980s. But Zagel took into account Calabrese’s cooperation that took down Chicago’s mob structure.

“I think an argument can be made that (Ryan’s) 6½ years did not deter him from it. So maybe 6½ years isn’t enough,” said former prosecutor David Weisman. “He’s the next guy down the road and he’s right back at it.”

Brother and onetime co-defendant, Robert Blagojevich, said it was a sad day for his brother. “I feel bad for him and particularly my nieces because whatever the result of this sentencing hearing, it’s a life-altering event for them,” Robert Blagojevich said. “They’ll have to adapt to it and that won’t be easy.”

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