(Reuters) - Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich arrived at a Colorado prison on Thursday to begin serving a 14-year sentence on corruption charges, as TV news cameras tracked his every step.
News cameras followed the former governor being driven from Denver's airport and walking into the Federal Correctional Institution Englewood, about 15 miles (24 km) southwest of Denver, where he was assigned inmate number 40892-424. He wore jeans, a navy sports coat and carried a small backpack.
Emerging from his North Side Chicago home early on Thursday to travel to the airport for a flight to Denver, an unsmiling Blagojevich, 55, spoke briefly to waiting reporters.
"Saying goodbye is the hardest thing I've ever had to do. I'm leaving with a heavy heart, a clear conscience and high, high hopes for the future," he said.
Blagojevich, a two-term Democrat thrown out of office in 2009, has focused on the appeal of his conviction, and has never admitted to wrongdoing other than talking too much and displaying too little humility.
He would be 67 when he emerges from prison if he serves the minimum 85 percent of his sentence. He is married to the daughter of his political mentor, a Chicago alderman, and they have two daughters, the younger 8 years old.
Blagojevich was arrested in December 2008 to head off what federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald called an imminent crime spree to profit from his office, including attempts to sell or barter the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama.
Blagojevich was convicted in two trials - the jury failed to reach a verdict on all but one count after the first trial - and U.S. District Judge James Zagel in December handed Blagojevich a 14-year sentence on 18 corruption counts.
On Wednesday, in a lengthy parting statement before media, neighbors and passersby outside his Chicago home, Blagojevich recited his accomplishments while in office and expressed optimism about his appeal. He hugged well-wishers and autographed anything handed to him.
Reporting by Andrew Stern in Chicago; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Peter Cooney