Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is disappointed that he’s not allowed to leave the country to participate in a celebrity reality show in the Costa Rican rain forest. But, he said Thursday, the judge who declared him a flight risk may have done him a favor.
“I guess the judge did save me from eating bugs,” the indicted politician told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira in an exclusive interview.
Blagojevich was impeached in January after federal investigators alleged that he had attempted to sell the Senate seat that was vacated by President Barack Obama. On April 2, he was formally indicted on 16 felony counts, including racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud, extortion conspiracy and lying to federal agents.
Invitation to the jungle
The producers of the NBC reality show “I’m a Celebrity — Get Me Out of Here!” approached him about joining other celebrities in the Central American jungle for the “Survivor”-type show. He was to be paid $80,000 an episode. Among the other participants on the show are Sanjaya of “American Idol” fame and Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag of MTV's “The Hills.”
“It seemed like an exciting opportunity,” Blagojevich told Vieira. “I have two little girls. I have a mortgage to pay. Obviously, I’m looking for a new line of work as I work through the process of proving my innocence.”
On Tuesday, Blagojevich and his attorney tried to convince U.S. District Court Judge James Zagel to allow him to leave the country to participate in the show. Representatives of the reality show came to the hearing to tell the judge that NBC would provide around-the-clock security guards to ensure that the embattled politician could not flee prosecution.
“I do not have confidence that things will not go astray,” Zagel said in denying the request. The judge also said that it is more important for Blagojevich to concentrate on his defense against the charges, which carry a potential prison term of up to 30 years. “I don't think the defendant in all honesty fully understands … the position he finds himself in.”
Would he flee?
Vieira asked Blagojevich if he is a flight risk.
“The judge didn’t say that,” he replied. When Vieira said that’s what the judge’s declaration sounded like, he said, “I don’t think that was the basis of his decision. Whatever the case is, he’s made it clear I should not go to Costa Rica.”