Amy Gehrt: The Blago verdict is in

Amy Gehrt

Guilty on 17 counts.

With that proclamation Monday afternoon, jurors in Rod Blagojevich’s corruption retrial brought a more than two-year saga one step closer to resolution.

On their 10th day of deliberations, the jury convicted the ousted Illinois governor of all but three charges against him, including all 11 related to his attempt to sell or trade President Barack Obama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat.

Blago was found not guilty on one charge: allegedly soliciting bribes in an attempt to shake down road-building executive Gerald Krozel for $500,000 in exchange for a multimillion-dollar tollway project.

Jurors also deadlocked on an attempted extortion charge related to this one as well as an attempted extortion charge involving then-Congressman Rahm Emanuel and a state grant Emanuel sought for a charter school in Chicago.

Alonzo “Lon” Monk, Blagojevich’s college roommate and first chief of staff as governor, testified that Blago schemed to withhold the grant unless Emanuel agreed to arrange a fundraiser with Emanuel’s brother, Ari Emanuel, a Hollywood talent agent whose career was the inspiration for Jeremy Piven’s character, Ari Gold, on HBO’s “Entourage.” However, when Emanuel himself took the stand last month, he testified Blago had not made such a request of him.

After rendering their verdict, jurors said the amount of evidence connected to the former governor’s attempt to sell or trade Obama’s Senate seat was clear and convincing, and those charges were the easiest to decide.

Not surprisingly, it was the egocentric politician’s own hubris that may have led to his conviction. During his first trial, Blagojevich made the media rounds, loudly and repeatedly proclaiming his innocence and vowing to take the stand to prove it — but he never testified. This time around, he tried a different tack and attempted to win over the jury himself during seven days of rambling testimony.

Clearly, the gamble failed. While the jurors admit they found him “personable,” Juror 140 said she also thought his testimony was “manipulative” at times.  

“Our verdict shows that we didn’t believe it,” she said.

“The problem was with some of his explanations,” noted Richard Kling, a professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Chicago-Kent College of Law who followed the trial closely. “It reminded me of a little kid who gets his hand caught in a cookie jar. He says, ‘Mommy, I wasn’t taking the cookies. I was just trying to protect them and to count them.”’

Perhaps the only genuine emotion Blagojevich expressed during this debacle came after learning his fate. Leaving court, the uncharacteristically subdued 54-year-old said, “I, frankly, am stunned.”

In response to a post announcing the verdict on the Pekin (Ill.) Daily Times Facebook page Monday, Anthony Rolando, who identified himself as a former Blagojevich staffer, offered his own take on the outcome:

“As someone who went to work under (Blagojevich’s) administration, not knowing anything about Blago, I am happy with this verdict,” he wrote. “We soon learned that he was narcissistic and not very bright with a mean streak. It is hard to work for someone that you have no respect for. The only reason I stayed was that I loved the job and my teammates. This was a sad era of Illinois history, and I am glad it is over.”

Blagojevich is the second straight Illinois governor to be convicted of corruption. His predecessor, George Ryan, is currently serving a 6 1/2-year sentence in federal prison.

Blago faces up to 300 years behind bars when sentenced, but experts predict it will be much lower, with estimates ranging from six to 15 years.

I, for one, am glad to see this scandalous chapter of Illinois history drawing to a close at long last. I hope the verdict sends a strong message to other politicians in our state that no one is above the law, and the only thing trying to profit on the backs of Illinois taxpayers will get them is a trip to the slammer.

City editor Amy Gehrt may be reached at 217-346-1111, ext. 663, or at agehrt@pekin?