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Sources: Feds say Rod Blagojevich could get 30 years to life in prison

Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich is scheduled be sentenced by U.S. District Judge James Zagel Oct. 6. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge James Zagel on Oct. 6. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 10, 2011 10:20AM

Federal prosecutors argue Rod Blagojevich could serve 30 years to life in prison, sources say — a sentencing range that will be bitterly disputed by the former governor’s defense lawyers.

Blagojevich attorney Sheldon Sorosky called the government’s numbers “harsh and cruel” Wednesday, but said he wouldn’t discuss them. The prosecution’s calculation was submitted in private. Sorosky said the defense would put forth its own version that is a far cry from the government’s.

“We are preparing a submission to Judge Zagel, which is far, far, far under those draconian and harsh and cruel numbers,” Sorosky said. “We are making our own guideline calculation which is fair and based on facts and the evidence at trial.”

Blagojevich, 54, who is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 6, was convicted in June on 17 of 20 counts of corruption, including charges that he schemed to sell President Barack Obama’s vacant U.S. Senate seat. Blagojevich also was convicted last year of one count of making false statements to the FBI.

The range put forth by prosecutors is not set in stone, and their calculations sometimes differ from the amount of time they actually recommend that a judge give a defendant.

Judges rely heavily on recommendations put together by the U.S. Probation Department. Defense lawyers will also submit their version of events. Blagojevich’s lawyers are expected to argue that he shouldn’t get much prison time, in part because he didn’t take money in the crimes for which he was convicted.

U.S. District Judge James Zagel will have wide discretion over the former governor’s prison term because sentencing guidelines for federal judges are advisory. Judges typically listen to all sides and then decide, based on a number of factors that make up the sentencing range.

Before former Gov. George Ryan was sentenced for corruption in 2006, the U.S. Probation Office recommended a range of eight to 10 years in prison.

Prosecutors did not publicly disclose a sentencing range, but they argued Ryan should not receive less than 10 years in prison. He wound up getting 6½ years.

Prosecutors had calculated the range for former Police Cmdr. Jon Burge at 24 to 40 years but they did not make a specific recommendation beyond asking for “substantial time.” Burge ended up getting 4½ years.

“While that may be the government’s calculation, it’s good to keep in mind that Judge Zagel has ultimate discretion,” said Patrick Collins, a former prosecutor in the Ryan case. “I would be shocked if he would consider a sentence anywhere near that.”

In the prosecution’s calculations, the government says Blagojevich faces more time because he took the witness stand and allegedly obstructed justice, sources said. As governor, he was also leader of an enterprise, they will argue.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office, which had no comment Wednesday, issued a statement Thursday saying it wasn’t recommending a sentence — just calculating how much time Blagojevich could get under federal sentencing guidelines.

The office is required to submit a calculation to the U.S. Probation Department, a spokesman said.

“The sentencing guideline formulas are established by the U.S. Sentencing Commission,” Thursday’s statement read. “The government submitted that calculation to the probation office . . . We will not comment on those calculations publicly.”

Court filings involving Blagojevich’s sentencing are expected later this month. Though his sentencing is set to begin Oct. 6, Sorosky has previously questioned whether it would begin on time because the same judge is set to begin the corruption trial of Springfield power broker William Cellini three days earlier.

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