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Rod Blagojevich gets 14 years

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CHICAGO (AP) - Rod Blagojevich, the ousted Illinois governor whose three-year battle against criminal charges became a national spectacle, was sentenced to 14 years in prison Wednesday, one of the stiffest penalties imposed for corruption in a state with a history of crooked politics.

Blagojevich's 18 convictions included allegations of trying to leverage his power to appoint someone to President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat to raise campaign cash or land a high-paying job.

"When it is the governor who goes bad the fabric of Illinois is torn and disfigured and not easily repaired," Judge James Zagel said.

The twice-elected Democrat is now the second former Illinois governor in a row to be sentenced to prison, and the fourth Illinois governor in the last four decades. His Republican predecessor, George Ryan, currently is serving a sentence of 6 1/2 years, also for corruption.

The disgraced former Illinois governor told the judge Wednesday that he made "terrible mistakes" and acknowledged that he broke the law when he tried to sell an appointment to President Barack Obama's former Senate seat.

After protesting his innocence for years, Blagojevich's plea on the second day of his sentencing hearing came as he hopes to avoid a prison term of up to 20 years.

"I'm here convicted of crimes ... ," Blagojevich said, "and I am accepting of it, I acknowledge it and I of course am unbelievably sorry for it."

While he apologized in the 19-minute speech that he delivered without paper in front of him, Blagojevich still said he did not know he was breaking the law. He told Zagel that he thought what he was doing was "permissible," but that he was mistaken, and he "never set out to break the law."

"I caused it all, I'm not blaming anybody. I was the governor and I should have known better, and I am just so incredibly sorry."

Blagojevich leaned in to the hefty oak podium just feet in front of the judge and gripped both sides as he spoke in a low, measured voice. Zagel leaned forward with his hands on his chin, peering intently at Blagojevich.
As he had approached the podium, Blagojevich tugged nervously at his tie before turning to his wife and grabbing her hand.

He made a special plea on behalf of his family, conceding that he had let them down, destroying the innocence of his two daughters.

In the last moments of his plea for mercy from Judge James Zagel, Blagojevich apologized for what his daughter's lives have become - how they will carry with them every day the understanding that their father is a convicted felon.

"My life is ruined, at least now. ... My political career is over, I can't be a lawyer anymore, we can't afford the home we live in, we're trying to sell it," he said.

"I realize that the things I thought were permissible, the jury has made abundantly clear were not," he said, adding, "Because of all that I have jeopardized my ability to protect my children."

Prosecutors made their arguments earlier Wednesday about why they think the 54-year-old should be imprisoned for up to 20 years on his multiple corruption counts, saying he was "incredibly manipulative" and knew he was breaking the law when he tried to sell the Senate seat and shake down people and a children's hospital for money.

A day after Blagojevich's attorneys acknowledged their client broke the law but also tried to paint him as a devoted father and caring governor who tried to help people, Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar countered by saying that Blagojevich acted only for himself.

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