By Jonathan Stempel
Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich lost his latest bid for leniency as a federal appeals court refused to shorten his 14-year prison term in a vast public corruption case, including an effort to sell Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago dismissed arguments that Blagojevich deserved a lesser punishment because he had been a "model prisoner" in the five years he has already spent in prison and because some counts in his original 2011 conviction had been thrown out.
Friday's 3-0 decision came three days after oral arguments, suggesting little or no disagreement.
It likely ends Blagojevich's chances at shortening his sentence. The one-time contestant on Donald Trump's "Celebrity Apprentice" could ask the entire 7th Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court to review his case, but both are long shots.
Leonard Goodman, a lawyer for Blagojevich, did not respond to requests for comment. He told the Chicago Tribune the decision was "incredibly sad and disappointing." The office of acting U.S. Attorney Joel Levin in Chicago declined to comment.
Blagojevich, 60, was convicted on charges including wire fraud, extortion and soliciting bribes while governor. He served from January 2003 to January 2009, when the Illinois Senate removed him from office.
Prosecutors said Blagojevich solicited campaign contributions in exchange for raising pediatric reimbursement rates and legislation supporting Illinois' horse racing industry.
Blagojevich also tried to sell or trade the Senate seat that Obama vacated after winning the 2008 U.S. presidential election, prosecutors said.
The appeals court in 2015 voided five of Blagojevich's 18 convictions and ordered a resentencing, but U.S. District Judge James Zagel in Chicago reimposed the 14-year term last August.
Zagel acknowledged the pain Blagojevich's family was suffering but said the punishment reflected federal guidelines and that "the fault lies with the governor."
In Friday's decision, Circuit Judge Frank Easterbrook said Zagel acted within his discretion.
"Blagojevich's treatment of fellow inmates may show that outside of office he is an admirable person, but the court was entitled to impose punishment that reflects how Blagojevich behaved when he had a different menu of opportunities and to deter those who hold office today," Easterbrook wrote.
Easterbrook also said the Supreme Court's voiding last June of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell's bribery convictions did not undermine Blagojevich's conviction.
Blagojevich is housed in a low-security prison in Littleton, Colorado, and eligible for release in May 2024.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)