As former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s final verdict came yesterday, it was reported he was truly stunned by the 14-year sentence for federal corruption. Perhaps he had convinced himself over the past three years of his innocence, or maybe he was hoping for a final act of mercy, considering that past Illinois officials convicted of wrong doing received much lighter sentences.
But as the maximum sentence was announced, it was clear that the former governor was dealt a unique blow for crimes that paled in contrast to most of his preceding political manipulators. In the end, one answer to these questions seems the only likely explanation: He was the governor of Illinois, a political circus that authorities were determined to stop.
Illinois has a long history of blatant corruption of the worst kind. Former governor Daniel Walker’s misdeeds led to the downfall of a suburban Chicago bank after accepting fraudulent loans, and he was sentenced to seven years, only to serve 18 months.
Otto Kerner, Illinois governor until 1968, was sentenced to only three years for 17 counts including bribery, conspiracy, and perjury.
Former Illinois governor George Ryan was sentenced little more than six years to a country club-style correction complex for a host of crimes including lying to federal agents and bribery which resulted in the death of a reverend’s six children.
So what merited Blagojevich twice the sentence for conspiring to sell a senate seat (that he didn’t actually sell)and shaking down political contributions-crimes that seem less consequential than George Ryan’s, which resulted in deaths? Federal prosecutors wanted to make sure the show stops here and that never again would Illinois politics devolve into such monstrosities.
Some suggested he should’ve been fined heavily and put on probation; others said he should’ve been forced to pay back all the taxpayers he neglected through community service. Some even see the actions of the judge as overzealous legal theatrics. But however they are perceived, they succeeded in sending a message.
Can you imagine Blagojevich’s first day in prison? After being escorted to his cell, he’ll sit on his bed in his most-likely single occupant space, and wait in inner turmoil for the next 12-14 years to pass. He’ll be nearing 70 when he leaves, and his two daughters will be well into their 20s.
If justice was delivered to Blagojevich, then there ought not to be an exception for even bigger criminals in our midst: presidents, senators, all elected officials who have misused their offices deserve the same proportion of American justice Blagojevich received yesterday. Otherwise, the fragile fate of lives will be held in the hands of an inconsistent prosecutor, and attempts to skirt our rule of law will continue to be made.
Photo Credit: jburen