CHICAGO – A federal judge on Monday indefinitely delayed next week’s scheduled sentencing for Rod Blagojevich on multiple corruption convictions, apparently because it would have conflicted with the start of a related trial of a longtime Illinois powerbroker who raised money for the former governor.
In a three-sentence notice posted electronically, U.S. District Judge James Zagel in Chicago did not offer any reason for cancelling Blagojevich’s Oct. 6 sentencing, saying simply that it has been “stricken until further order by the court.”
Defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky cited the Oct. 3 start of the corruption trial of William Cellini, which Zagel is also presiding over.
“By tradition, a judge will always continue a sentencing if it invades the province of a jury trial. . . . That’s what this was,” Sorosky told The Associated Press later Monday. Blagojevich had no objection to the delay, Sorosky added.
While Zagel did not set a new date, Sorosky said Blagojevich would now likely be sentenced in late October or early November — soon after Cellini’s trial finishes.
Cellini’s trial is the last major case stemming from federal investigations of Blagojevich’s governorship. The Springfield Republican, 76, was known as “The Pope” of Illinois politics for his influence in the halls of state power dating back to the 1960s.
Cellini has pleaded not guilty to trying to squeeze a Hollywood producer for campaign cash for Blagojevich, though prosecutors do not claim in their indictment that the then-governor played a role in the alleged shakedown attempt. Sorosky said Blagojevich was not expected to be called as a witness.
Jurors at Blagojevich’s retrial earlier this year found the 54-year-old guilty on 17 of 20 corruption charges, including attempted extortion for trying to sell or trade President Barack Obama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat. At his first trial last year, a jury deadlocked on all but one count — convicting Blagojevich of lying to the FBI.
Blagojevich faces a maximum sentence of 305 years in prison — though federal guidelines dictate he get far less. Most legal experts say Zagel is likely to sentence Blagojevich to around ten years.
In the same notice Monday, Zagel also denied all motions filed by Blagojevich after his retrial ended in June, including requests for his convictions to be overturned and for a third trial. The judge said only that “post-trial motions are denied.” A full, written explanation will be issued later, he said.
Blagojevich’s attorneys had accused prosecutors and Zagel of extreme bias against their client, arguing in one 158-page filing that “the playing field was so unlevel that Blagojevich never stood a chance at a fair trial.”
Sorosky said he was “disappointed” in Zagel’s denial of the post-trial motions. The defense plans to appeal Blagojevich’s convictions, but Sorosky said that could only be done after a sentence is imposed.