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Court Tosses 5 Convictions Against Ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on July 23, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

You won't find him wandering the streets of Chicago anytime soon, let alone reviving his political career, but ex-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich became a bit less of a felon yesterday, as the Seventh Circuit tossed out five of his 18 convictions. Blagojevich, you may remember, was arrested while serving as Governor of Illinois in 2009, after investigators caught him trying to sell Barack Obama's former Senate seat.

Blagojevich was convicted on 18 counts of corruption, attempted extortion, wire fraud, and associated crimes. Mistakes in jury instructions require that five of those convictions be vacated, the Seventh Circuit ruled.

Blago-who? A Quick Refresher

For those who have forgotten, Blagojevich served as Governor of Illinois from 2003 to 2009. He was known for his thick hair as much as his politics. (Prison has not been kind to his coif, which has whitened behind the jailhouse doors.)

When Obama was elected President in 2008 he left behind an empty Senate seat that "Blago" was required to fill. Blagojevich was quick to try to capitalize on the opportunity. FBI wiretaps caught him attempting to blatantly sell the seat, saying that the Senate seat was "an effing valuable thing. You don't just give it away for nothing."

Blagojevich wanted much more than nothing for the Senate appointment -- he wanted a seat in Obama's new cabinet in exchanged for appointing Valerie Jarrett. (Or maybe it was cash? Or a private sector job? Several demands were made.)

And that was just part of the corruption. Blagojevich also demanded a $50,000 "campaign contribution" to approve up to $10 million in extra Medicaid reimbursements (you got a good deal, Children's Memorial Hospital!) and $100,000 for supporting race tracks.

Illinois is no stranger to corruption. More than half of the states' last seven leaders have gone to prison, according to the Washington Post. But the extensiveness and brazen nature of Blagojevich's corruption shocked even the most jaded Illinoisans.

Not All Corruption Is the Same

After he was convicted, Blagojevich appealed, arguing that there was insufficient evidence against him. That was an almost laughable proposition, the Seventh found, but the court did recognize errors in the jury instructions used to convict him.

Under the instructions used, the jury could have found that Blagojevich asked Obama for a private-sector job, for a seat in the Cabinet, or for cash. All three possibilities were treated alike, yet trading one public act for another is legally distinct from trading a public act for payment, the Seventh held. Since the instructions don't allow the court of determine which form of corruption it found Blagojevich guilty of, at least regarding the Senate seat, those convictions must be reversed.

That doesn't mean much for Blagojevich, however. The Seventh also ruled that his sentence remained appropriate, given the 13 other convictions that are left.

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