Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich enters prison

LITTLETON, CO (AP) -- Convicted former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich entered a federal prison in Colorado on Thursday to begin a 14-year sentence for corruption, the latest chapter in the downfall of a charismatic politician that seemed more like a bizarre reality TV show than a legal battle.

The 55-year-old Democrat pulled up in a black SUV at the Federal Correctional Institution Englewood in suburban Denver on Thursday afternoon, after stopping for lunch and driving along nearby roads and taking a break to make a cellphone call -- as television cameras, including a helicopter camera streaming live, recorded his every move.

"I think it's kind of surreal to him, but he seems in good spirits," said Brian Pyle, who owns the Freddy's Frozen Custard and Steakburgers in Littleton where Blogojevich had lunch with three other people.

Pyle said he shook the former governor's hand as he left and told him, "stay strong." He said Blagojevich thanked him.

Before he left Chicago Thursday morning, and in what has become a familiar scene in the three years since he was arrested, the former governor bounded down the stairs of his Chicago home as a throng of cameramen, photographers and reporters crushed around him and well-wishers shouted encouragement.

Blagojevich sounded an optimistic and even defiant note, as he has done repeatedly before and after he was convicted on several corruption charges that included his attempt to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat.

"I'm leaving with a heavy heart, a clear conscience and I have high, high hopes for the future," said Blagojevich, wearing a dark shirt, sport coat and blue jeans.

Blagojevich was not accompanied by his wife, Patti, who wiped away tears the night before as he addressed the media. She and the couple's two daughters did not step out of the house Thursday, though she could be seen through the windows and one of the two girls peeked out a window from time to time before her father departed.

"Saying goodbye is the hardest thing I've ever had to do," Blagojevich said.