Blagojevich Retrial Would Give Illinois Taxpayers a Massive Bill

After millions were spent on the circus-like political corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich that ended with a conviction of only one of 24 counts, millions more are expected to be spent on a retrial -- with Cook County taxpayers on the hook.

After Blagojevich was convicted of lying to federal agents, prosecutors, led by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, vowed to stage a rematch -- a costly prospect for taxpayers that Blagojevich's attorney raised in disbelief.

"I wish this entire group would go upstairs and ask Mr. Fitzgerald one question. Why are we spending $25 to $30 million on a retrial when you couldn't prove it the first time?" Sam Adam Jr. told reporters Tuesday at the courthouse. "Is this worth it? And that's what I ask the people out there: Is this worth it?"

While prosecutors dispute that estimate, one legal analyst said it could easily cost at least $10 million. For an idea of how much it can cost, Blagojevich spent $3 million from his campaign fund already for the trial, thrusting him $200,000 in debt. And his lawyers still haven't billed the court for his expenses in July.

If the case is retried, taxpayers will have to pick up the entire tab, including $110 an hour for his court-appointed lawyers, and whatever expenses are racked up.

That is the maximum a court appointed lawyer can charge in a federal case, but well below the going rate for a top defense attorney.

The tab also includes whatever it costs for him to appeal the one conviction the jury did return: providing false statements to the FBI.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Illinois told that it doesn't have an estimate of the cost.

"We don't provide or maintain the cost of a single prosecution," Assistant U.S. Attorney Randall Samborn said. But he added that the office typically returns more money to the U.S. Treasury than it spends, through fines, fees and other sources.

But a U.S. official with knowledge of the case said the numbers Adam is tossing around "are wildly exaggerated."

"There's no source or basis for that," the official said, adding that the cost of a retrial cannot be "calculated in one place."

Adam was not available for comment Wednesday.

In another case that offers a glimpse of how costly it is to battle the feds, Republican House Majority Leader Tom Delay has said it cost him $8 million in legal fees to fight the Justice Department's six-year criminal investigation into his ties to former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, which ended this week without any charges filed.

In the Blagojevich trial, three jurors said the panel was deadlocked 11-1 in favor of convicting Blagojevich on more serious charges, offering prosecutors strong hope that they can close the deal next time.

But just like the jurors who could not reach verdicts on the most serious charges, including whether he tried to sell President Obama's old Senate seat, there was no consensus on whether a retrial was worth the cost.

Kathy Mock Shepherd of Savoy said Blagojevich should be treated like any other defendant.

"If anyone is guilty of a crime, then I think he is no better than anyone else," Shepherd said

Yet some questioned whether another trial is needed for a politician whose career seems to be over, calling it a waste of money and a distraction from pressing issues like the state budget crisis.

"What's to be gained by retrying him?" said Wayne "Ren" Sirles, 68, a southern Illinois orchard owner who voted for Blagojevich twice. "If he was a violent criminal doing harm to other people or if he'd been found not guilty on all counts, that's a different story. But I just don't see paying the money prosecuting him further."

But U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, who acknowledged the distaste of taxpayers footing the bill, endorsed a retrial.

"I am disappointed that this dark period in Illinois' history is not yet over -- taxpayers have suffered enough as it is, and it is a tragedy that they will have to foot the bill for a retrial," he said. "The jury has confirmed to us that former Gov. Blagojevich is at a minimum guilty of significant wrongdoing, and he deserves to go to jail. I hope for a speedy retrial so that the state of Illinois can begin to heal."

Pat Brady, head of the Illinois Republican Party, also backs a retrial.

"Let's be clear, Rod Blagojevich isn't concerned about the use of taxpayer money; he's concerned about the use of Rod Blagojevich's money to mount another high-priced defense," he said in a written statement.

"Well, Rod should be worried. With Broadway Bank closed, I'm not really sure where he's going to find a bank willing to loan millions to a convicted felon," he said, referring to the now-defunct bank run by Democratic Senate candidate Alex Giannoulias that was accused of shady dealings.

Chicago's two largest newspapers also threw their support behind a rematch.

"We very much anticipate that second trial," the Chicago Tribune editorial board said Wednesday. "The government's accusations of racketeering and conspiracy are too serious to go unresolved. We trust that another jury will tell the people of Illinois whether the state's only impeached and ousted governor is guilty or innocent of more than one felony."

The newspaper also disputed Blagojevich's assertion that he was being persecuted by the government.

"No, governor, this is a prosecution. And we're thankful that U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and his team were swift in assuring citizens that they would take their case to a second group of jurors," the newspaper wrote.

The Chicago Sun Times editorial board said a retrial would help the state regain a sense of integrity.

"Only by prosecuting public corruption to the fullest extent of the law, retrials and all, can Illinois one day hope to arrive in that happy land of honest government," the newspaper wrote.