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Robert Blagojevich: Prosecutors were 'playing chicken with my life'

As U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald retires to accolades and well wishes, Robert Blagojevich said today that he’s still fighting to regain his reputation since federal prosecutors dropped charges against him in their sweeping  corruption case involving his brother’s administration.

“I am never going to say publicly that I am bitter,” said Blagojevich after giving a speech to the Chicago Bar Association. “I am a citizen who has learned a heck of a civics lesson. It’s very different from the one I learned in school, where I thought the scales of justice were blind when in reality, it’s a David-vs.-Goliath battle.”

Prosecutors dropped charges against Blagojevich in August 2010 shortly after a jury deadlocked on three corruption charges against him. The panel – which also was hung on most counts against his younger brother, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich – was split 9-3 in favor of acquitting the elder Blagojevich.

The trial, however, cost Robert Blagojevich nearly $1 million in legal fees, an amount that forced him and his wife, Julie, to borrow heavily against their Nashville home and cash in their retirement accounts.

But more than that, he says, it damaged his character. Decades of building a sterling reputation – first as a career Army officer and then as charity-mind Nashville business man – were destroyed when he was indicted, he said.

“I don’t feel like I’ve been treated fairly,” he said. “Where do I go to get my million dollars back and my reputation back?”

Robert Blagojevich became enmeshed in the case after he ran fundraising for his brother's campaign fund for the last four months of 2008, a period during which prosecutors used wiretaps to secretly record the former governor as he allegedly tried to sell his power to pick a successor for President Barack Obama as U.S. senator.
At times during testimony, though, Robert Blagojevich often seemed an afterthought.

The older Blagojevich was accused of conspiring with his brother to sell the seat.

The real estate entrepreneur testified in his own defense, portraying himself as an innocent bystander, a political novice and a loyal brother who agreed to oversee the then-governor's campaign in part because of a promise to his dying mother that he would try to keep close to his brother.

The former governor was convicted at his second trial in 2011. He was sentenced to 14 1/2 years in federal prison.

In a speech before the Chicago Bar Association, Robert Blagojevich outlined several tactics he said Fitzgerald’s office used to give prosecutors the upper hand during the case.

In addition to pressuring him to persuade the governor to accept a plea deal, he said that prosecutors opposed letting him be tried separately from his brother even though 95 percent of the evidence did not pertain to him.

Prosecutors also subpoenaed his tax returns mid-trial in an effort to distract him, Blagojevich said. The federal government also began calling charities that he supported to make sure he had made donations to the groups as he claimed.

“It felt like they were playing chicken with my life, using me as a pawn to ultimately get to my brother,” he said.

Blagojevich would not comment on whether he had  visited his brother since he reported to federal prison in Colorado two months ago. He also would not discuss the status of their relationship, though it has been strained since they were both indicted.

sstclair@tribune.com

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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