CHICAGO – The house on Sunnyside Avenue was the de facto governor's mansion before Rod Blagojevich was impeached. It's where he's heard on FBI wiretap tapes allegedly scheming to parlay his decisions as governor into personal gain. It's where his family still lives.
But if the jurors at his corruption trial who ended a sixth day of deliberation Wednesday convict him, authorities could end up seizing his home — valued by the county assessor at around $700,000.
Any such decision would come into play only if jurors convict him of racketeering. Jurors might then have to determine the financial penalties Blagojevich would pay.
"I don't think they're going to have any sympathy whatsoever," Gal Pissetzky, a Chicago attorney with no link to the case, said about the chances of prosecutors going after Blagojevich's house.
Attorneys met with Judge James Zagel on Wednesday to approve instructions about the process of seizing property, called forfeiture, if jurors return with a guilty verdict.
Prosecutors claim Blagojevich illegally obtained at least $438,000. They list his home, a condo in Washington, D.C., and several bank accounts as property that could be seized.
The twice-elected governor never moved to the official governor's mansion in Springfield, choosing to remain in his political power base of Chicago.
Staying put at the home he and his wife, Patti, bought in 1999 also gave stability to the lives of their two children, Annie, now 7, and Amy, now 14, family spokesman Glenn Selig said Wednesday.
"The house is the center of their lives," he said. "With their lives upside down, the home brings the family comfort, security and insulation from the outside world."
Blagojevich, 53, has pleaded not guilty charges including that he tried to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat for a Cabinet post, private job or campaign cash. His brother, Robert Blagojevich, 54, has also pleaded not guilty to taking part in that alleged scheme.
As governor, several former aides testified that Blagojevich often never bothered to go to his office downtown, instead conducting state business from his home phone.
That house, set in a tree-lined residential neighborhood, is also where FBI agents arrested Blagojevich on Dec. 9, 2008 and led him away in handcuffs.
The property would be in jeopardy only if Blagojevich is convicted of racketeering — one of 24 counts jurors are considering, Blagojevich attorney Sheldon Sorosky said.
If he's convicted on that charge, jurors would likely have to head back to the jury room immediately to determine a figure for how much Blagojevich must forfeit. That could range from nothing to even more than the $438,000 cited by prosecutors, Sorosky said.
Blagojevich could also ask Zagel to come up with a number rather than leave it to the jury. But the no-nonsense judge has often sided against the defense in motions during the trial, so it seems unlikely Blagojevich would turn to him.
The cash-strapped Blagojevich family could ill-afford to forfeit anything.
His own lawyers say he's broke. And prosecutors entered evidence showing he and his wife spent more than $400,000 on fine clothes during his time as governor, adding to their yawning debt.
But when it comes to seizing the house of someone convicted of racketeering, judges tend to be more sympathetic than prosecutors — especially if children are involved, Pissetzky said.
"Judges don't like to take the roof off someone's kids' heads," he said.
If other assets cover any financial penalty assessed or if someone else steps in to pay it, the house would likely not be at risk, Pissetzky said.
And even if Blagojevich ends up behind bars and the house is seized, his family should not be destitute.
While he stands to lose his gubernatorial pension in a process that would kick in after sentencing, he would get to keep a congressional pension for the six years he served in the U.S. House, leaving in 2003.
Patti Blagojevich's father, Dick Mell, is an influential alderman in Chicago, and could be expected to lend his daughter and grandchildren a helping hand. And though she's fallen under scrutiny of federal investigators, Patti Blagojevich still has her real estate career. According to Selig, her real estate license remains valid.