CHICAGO - Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich on Wednesday was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison for political corruption including attempting to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by then President-elect Barack Obama.
Blagojevich, who turns 55 on Saturday, must serve at least 85 percent of the sentence or about 12 years before being released under the sentencing guidelines. He was also fined $20,000.
He was convicted of seeking jobs and campaign contributions in exchange for state government action. Blagojevich, a Democrat who was ousted from office in 2009, had asked U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel for mercy, saying he was "unbelievably sorry."
Zagel said before sentencing that he accepted Blagojevich's apology, but "it comes too late." Zagel disputed the defense theory that Blagojevich was misled by his staff.
"The governor was not marched along the criminal path by his staff," Zagel said. "He marched them and ruined a few of their careers."
From the time of his arrest until his conviction, he launched a national campaign to proclaim his innocence, appearing on television talk and entertainment shows, even being a contestant on Donald Trump's "Celebrity Apprentice."
Wednesday was the first time Blagojevich expressed contrition, telling the judge he was "unbelievably sorry," but stopping short of admitting guilt.
"I'm here convicted of crimes," Blagojevich said. "The jury decided I was guilty. I'm accepting of it. I acknowledge it and of course I'm unbelievably sorry for it."
During the trial, prosecutors presented evidence suggesting Blagojevich sought $1.5 million in campaign contributions from supporters of Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr., in exchange for appointing him to the Senate seat. They also said Blagojevich sought a cabinet post or a high-paying Washington job in exchange for appointing Obama's choice to the Senate seat, Valerie Jarrett, now a White House aide.
He was also convicted of attempting to shake down the head of a children's hospital for campaign cash in exchange for authorizing an increase in doctor reimbursement fees, and shaking down the head of Illinois racetracks in exchange for approving legislation favorable to the industry.
Federal authorities, who had been taping Blagojevich's profanity-laced conversations with aides, arrested him in December 2008, before he could complete the crime, prosecutors have argued.
Blagojevich was tried twice - first in August 2010, when he was convicted of one charge of lying to investigators and jurors deadlocked on 23 other counts. After a second trial this year, he was convicted of 17 of 20 counts.
Blagojevich must report to prison on Feb. 16.
His predecessor in the governor's office, Republican George Ryan, is currently in prison on corruption charges.