CHICAGO — Only 4 percent of defendants prosecuted in the Northern District of Illinois actually don’t get convicted of the crimes they are accused. If the process doesn’t break them down physically or emotionally, there is the financial toll to consider.
Robert Blagojevich is a man that took on the system and won- a rare thing. And now he’s talking about it in a new book.
He calls the system corrupt and the government the enemy. He also says the process is unjust, unfair, and the harm it caused him and his family is outrageous.
Robert Blagojevich survived his 2010 trial as a co-defendant with his brother Rod. While the twice elected ex-governor is behind bars now serving a 14 year sentence, his brother is sharing his experience about standing trial in Illinois.
With so much tension in the courtroom between these two estranged siblings, you might think Robert would blame his brother, the ambitious former politician, for the costly and agonizing legal trouble. He doesn’t. He points the finger squarely at someone else.
“I’m angry with Patrick Fitzgerald and the Dept of Justice for an overzealous, overreaching prosecution by holding me hostage to try to get my brother,” he says.
59-year-old Robert Blagojevich is now hundreds of miles away from the Dirksen Federal Building where, for a summer, he was known as defendant. The Nashville resident is still angry about the case almost five years later. The experience cost him nearly a million dollars in legal fees, his name and reputation as a private business man.
And it cost him the relationship with his only brother, Rod.
“I don’t like to be defined as a victim, I’m a survivor,” Rob says.
In his new book, “Fundraiser A: My Fight for Freedom and Justice,” Blagojevich hits on several themes. Being a victim is not one of them.
Without hesitation, he says the trial was designed and driven by the man who ran the federal prosecutor’s office back then: Patrick Fitzgerald, the standing U.S. Attorney.
In the book, Robert Blagojevich takes us through the year and a half long journey, of seeing his brother arrested and tossed out of office, then learning he was next on the government’s radar. To a self-made, private businessman, he couldn’t’ understand how he got there.
“I felt like a cork floating in an ocean. I didn’t know where the next wave would take me.”
Page after page, the book contains excerpts from the daily journal he kept during trial. By Blagojevich’s calculation, the judge was, on average 40 minutes late to court each day, costing him an additional $15,000, he says.
“It cost me money just to be babysat by my attorneys waiting for the judge to show up,” he says.
Then the charges were dropped suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere. Robert says it confusing and exhausting. But now that it’s all behind him, he says.
Blagojevich claims Patrick Fitzgerald missed the real target in his investigation: Jesse Jackson Jr.
“Former congressman Jesse Jackson Jr got away with a federal crime. And Pat Fitzgerald and the Dept of Justice let him get away with that. That was who was at the center of this whole thing. Not me. And not my brother.”
As of last week, Jackson is serving out an unrelated criminal sentence at a Baltimore halfway house. Today, Blagojevich has no sympathy for him.
But he is a more wary American, he says. And is no longer giving the government the benefit of the doubt.
“It’s so easy to violate people’s civil liberties when you have prosecutors who are never held accountable. That’s outrageous to me.”
And in his heart, he is not yet at peace. The very public courtroom drama for this private man has left him completely unsettled. And he’s still sad about the loss of his brother in his life. Unable to repair the rift between them. In October 2012, Rod turned his big brother away at the federal Penitentiary in Denver when Robert went to visit. The ex-governor has been there behind bars for three years.
“I hope someday that with the passage of time, he and I will be reunited as brothers. I’m sad. I feel bad for my brother.”
His book is a warning to all, he says. The government Robert Blagojevich once honored and even fought for as a soldier has betrayed him. The system is broken.
“When they go after people with prosecutions, they go to win and it is not about justice. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody.”
Robert Blagojevich says he is back on his feet financially. His household with his wife and son remain solid, too. He’s spent the past few years trying to pick up where he left off professionally and personally with friends who helped him walk through this dark chapter.
His book is out today.