Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Blagojevich can't go to Costa Rica for TV show

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)(Chicago Tribune) - A federal judge today denied permission to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich to travel to Costa Rica to participate in a reality TV show.

U.S. District Court Judge James Zagel called modifying the terms of Blagojevich's bail on political corruption charges "a bad idea."

Prosecutors voiced fears that the indicted ex-governor might flee if allowed to go to Costa Rica, noting that he faces 25 to 30 years in prison if convicted.

Blagojevich attorney Sheldon Sorosky said television show producer NBC was willing to pay for two security guards to watch Blagjojevich around the clock. But Zagel noted that such personal monitors would have no authority to arrest him. He also said Blagojevich needs to stick around to read the government's evidence, because only then will he be able to understand the jeopardy he is in.

Zagel added that he was sympathetic to Blagojevich's financial condition, but said there were others ways for him to earn money.

Outside court, after the hearing, Blagojevich told swarming reporters: "This is another day in the big city. I know what the truth is when it concerns me, and I know that I've done absolutely nothing wrong. ...I'm actually looking forward to this day in court. ...I want to prove my innocence, I want to vindicate myself."

He stopped several times to greet non-media onlookers and curiosity seekers.

"I didn't let you down," he said to one woman.

"Want to get on TV? Come on in!" he yelled at another man.

Asked by a reporter how active he will be legally in his own defense, the former governor replied: "I'm going to be very active. I know a lot of things about me."

Before this morning's hearing, as he arrived at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, Blagojevich said participating in the reality show would be "a way to earn a living and support my children.

"It's not my first choice, but it's a living," he said.

Asked later if his client was really broke, Sorosky said: "It shows he is an honest man."

Blagojevich's lawyers had asked permission for their client to travel to Costa Rica in June to be a contestant on NBC's "I'm a Celebrity ... Get me Out of Here!" They said he could have made up to $123,250 on the 12-episode show if not voted off by viewers.

NBC issued a statement this afternoon saying the production would move forward without the indicted politician. There had been rumors that the network would move the reality show to a U.S. location to accommodate the governor's travel restrictions, but the network said the show will be shot in Costa Rica this summer as planned.

"NBC is disappointed in the court's decision today regarding Rod Blagojevich's participation on 'I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!,' but excited about the casting announcement for the show this Friday," the network said in a statement.

Blagojevich would have joined other cast members -- including journalist Geraldo Rivera, reality TV star Heidi Montag, and American Idol reject Sanjaya Malakar -- in a jungle adventure.

In a short-lived 2003 version of the show, contestants, among other things, had to put insects, worms and rats in their pants, sit in a tank of leeches and wade through a swamp populated by snakes and eels.

Blagojevich also is seeking the court's okay to use more than $2 million in his campaign fund to pay for his legal expenses. Zagel encouraged his attorneys to file a motion to that effect but said he believed Blagojevich should be allowed to do so. A hearing on that issue was set for May 1.

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