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Blagojevich to serve prison sentence in Colorado

By Annie Sweeney and Andy Grimm, Chicago Tribune –

CHICAGO — Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich will serve his 14-year sentence at a federal prison in Colorado as he had sought, sources said Tuesday.

Blagojevich, who is due to report to prison by March 15, received word from federal prison officials in recent days that he will be assigned to a low-security prison near the Denver suburb of Littleton in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies, the sources said.

U.S. District Judge James Zagel, who sentenced the former governor in December, agreed to recommend to prison officials that Blagojevich do his time at the Colorado prison, known as Federal Correctional Institution Englewood.

The former governor hopes to enroll in a substance-abuse program at the prison, which could shave off up to a year of his sentence.

Blagojevich’s legal team had requested he be sent Englewood, which has a reputation for being less crowded and violent than other facilities in the federal system. There also is an adjacent work camp, which offers more freedom of movement for prisoners and which Blagojevich could transfer to at some point while serving out his sentence.

Local political figures familiar with the federal prison system were divided on the wisdom of Blagojevich’s choice. Lawrence Warner, a co-defendant of Blagojevich’s predecessor, convicted Gov. George Ryan, served most of his 18-month sentence at the work camp at Englewood.

Englewood gets high marks from inmates for its location. The area is surrounded by lakes and golf courses, and the more than 300-acre compound is wooded and filled with wildlife, all framed by the distant Rocky Mountains, Warner said.

But only inmates of the camp get to enjoy the majestic setting, he pointed out. Inmates in the low-security prison, which was built in the 1930s, don’t get to work on the grounds as the camp inmates do. Their time outdoors is limited to an hour or so per day.

“When I was there, I saw eagles, I saw coyotes. It was just beautiful,” Warner said. “He’s not going to get that. He’s going to see it maybe through a window or the prison yard.

“I don’t know why he wanted to go to (the prison) at Englewood. There are prisons in the system that are newer and nicer.”

Perhaps more important, unlike many prisons, Englewood is located in the suburbs of a major city — and a major airport, with more frequent, affordable flights than a penitentiary in a remote, rural setting, pointed out Scott Fawell, another Ryan co-defendant.

Fawell requested assignment to a federal prison in Yankton, S.D., spending most of his 52-month sentence there, along with shorter stints at prisons in Terre Haute, Ind., and the spartan Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown Chicago.

“I’ve seen a bit of what the federal prison system has to offer,” Fawell said. “Most of the guys I knew (that were familiar with Englewood) said it was nice.

“It beats being in the middle of cornfields. Most places where they build prisons are not nice. They’re (dumps).”

Fawell said his wife spent more than $20,000 on travel to and from Yankton, which typically included a flight into Omaha, Neb., a car rental, a two-hour drive to Yankton and an overnight hotel stay. Littleton, just south of Denver, would be far easier to get to for Blagojevich’s family to visit.

“If I’d had it to do over, maybe I would have stayed there. But I didn’t even know where Yankton was. I didn’t do much research,” Fawell said. “I assume (Blagojevich) did his research.”

Blagojevich’s preference for Englewood, and the duration of his sentence, might be a hint that the former governor’s family is considering moving from their Chicago home to Littleton, Fawell suggested. The area is far more cosmopolitan than most prison towns, with decent schools.

“When you’re going away as long as he is, that would be something to think about,” Fawell said.

The flamboyant former governor will become the most famous resident, though Englewood also houses disgraced Enron executive Jeffrey Skilling. Prison staff tend to take a hard line with high-profile inmates, especially early in their sentence, Fawell said. Being in an area where the staff will know less about him might mean he gets a little kinder treatment, Fawell said.

Getting his wife, Patti, and two daughters away from the media scrutiny in Chicago might also be better for the Blagojevich family, Fawell said.

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