On Last Day Free, Blagojevich to Offer Last Word

The former Chicago governor to start 14-year prison term for corruption.

Posted: 03/14/2012 05:57 PM EDT

CHICAGO (AP) — On his last full day of freedom, Rod Blagojevich, known for colorful speeches and a habit of quoting historical figures, is set to speak outside his Chicago home Wednesday evening. The 55-year-old Democrat is due to report to a Colorado prison on Thursday to begin a 14-year sentence, making him the state's second governor in a row to go to prison for corruption.

 

More than 50 reporters were swarming his home by mid-afternoon, including two television helicopters hovering overhead and a dozen TV trucks parked along his street. Some neighbors were signing a banner hung over a railing on Blagojevich's house that read, "Thanks Mr. Governor. We Will Pray."

 

Blagojevich timed his departing statement to begin at precisely 5:02 p.m. so it could appear live on the evening news. His publicist even planned to give a two-minute warning via Twitter so newscasts could be ready.

 

Since his sentencing in December, the impeached governor hasn't spoken in interviews or addressed the media corps following every step of his legal saga. His attorneys said he wanted to depart in a dignified way, without a media frenzy.

 

That fueled speculation he'd try to slip out of Chicago undetected, but his spokesman said Blagojevich never entertained that idea.

 

Blagojevich was convicted of 18 criminal counts over two trials, including charges that accused him of attempting to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.

 

Prison authorities haven't confirmed where Blagojevich will be imprisoned. But he asked to go to the Federal Correctional Institution Englewood, in suburban Denver, and that's where he's expected to report by 2 p.m. Thursday. Blagojevich's predecessor, George Ryan, is serving a 6 ½-year sentence in a Terre Haute, Ind., prison.

 

Blagojevich apologized for his actions at his sentencing in December, but also has said he would appeal his convictions.

 

Federal agents arrested the then-governor at his home on Dec. 9, 2008. When an FBI official called to tell Blagojevich agents were at his door to arrest him, he reportedly responded in disbelief, "Is this a joke?"

 

After his arrest, Blagojevich hit the talk-show circuit to declare his innocence and to rail against prosecutors, even appearing on Donald Trump's reality show, "The Apprentice."

 

Blagojevich took the witnesses stand at his retrial, telling jurors that his talk about selling Obama's seat was just that — talk.

 

In the end, though, it did him little good. His first trial in 2011 ended with jurors deadlocked on all but one count. The next year, jurors were more decisive and convicted Blagojevich on 17 of 20 counts.

 

Blagojevich, whose penchant for expensive suits and lavish spending were outlined at his first trial, will have no luxuries in Colorado.

 

The prison complex is encircled by double, razor-wire fencing and is well-guarded. Inside, Blagojevich's life will be strictly regimented: he must wake at dawn, work a menial prison job eight hours a day and submit to head counts at all hours of the day.

 

"I'm glad he's going to jail, but I'm sick about all the corruption that has occurred in this state," said Pamela Davis, an Illinois hospital executive who wore a recording device in an FBI investigation that eventually led to Blagojevich.

 

Davis was the first to blow the whistle on alleged kickbacks involving a state board with the power to approve and deny hospital projects. She contacted the FBI after being warned that the board would deny approval of a new medical building unless her hospital used a certain contractor and investment firm.

 

"I was angry," she said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "I wanted to do the right thing."

 

 

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(Photo: AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

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