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The Daily Register - Harrisburg, IL
  • Cellini ready for trial in October, attorney says

  • SPRINGFIELD -- Springfield businessman William Cellini plans to prove he is innocent of fraud and extortion charges when he goes on trial in October, his attorney, Dan Webb, says.

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  • SPRINGFIELD -- Springfield businessman William Cellini plans to prove he is innocent of fraud and extortion charges when he goes on trial in October, his attorney, Dan Webb, says.
    Cellini’s trial for fraud and extortion conspiracy, set to start Oct. 3, is the next case related to Operation Board Games, a sprawling probe by federal prosecutors in Chicago into corruption in the administration of disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
    “We’re ready to go, and we’ve been patiently waiting,” Webb said in an interview. “And we’re now glad it’s our turn to get this case behind him so he can go on with his life.
    “We’ve made it clear that there is no plea-bargaining to be done. Bill is not guilty. At this late stage in his life, it’s important to him and his family that this be put behind him.”
    The trial had been scheduled for Aug. 22, but in a motion agreed to by Cellini, prosecutors said they had “unforeseen personal conflicts” with that date and asked that it be delayed. In its filing, the government estimated the trial could take up to four weeks.
     
    Separate from Blagojevich
    Cellini was first indicted in fall 2008. However, Webb said a long trial delay was expected after Cellini’s case was separated from the cases against Blagojevich and other defendants.
    “We did not want to be on trial in the Blagojevich trial,” Webb said. “We recognized that we would be waiting until after the Blagojevich trial was over. Obviously, nobody had any control over the fact that it had to be tried twice.”
    Jon Gray Noll, a Springfield criminal defense attorney whose family has long been friends with the Cellinis, said even if Cellini was so inclined, a plea bargain wouldn’t make sense, considering that Cellini is 76 years old.
    “When you have somebody that much older, it leaves you a very narrow amount of room to negotiate,” Noll said. “If they tell you, ‘We’ve got a really sweet deal for you. You can do 10 years,’ you’re going to roll the dice. Those are the dynamics you’re facing.”
    Sangamon County Board Chairman Andy Van Meter, a Cellini friend, said he spoke to Cellini four to five weeks ago, before Cellini left for Italy to visit his daughter and new granddaughter.
    “He seems normal to me,” Van Meter said. “He never talks about the indictment. He’s mostly focused on spoiling his first grandchild and his businesses.”
     
    Other defendants
    Not much has gone on in the case in the three years since it was filed. Originally, there were five other defendants in the case – Blagojevich, the governor’s former chiefs of staff, John Harris and Lon Monk, former Blagojevich fundraiser Christopher Kelly, and Blagojevich’s brother, Robert.
    Page 2 of 4 - Harris and Monk pleaded guilty and cooperated with prosecutors against their former boss. Kelly committed suicide. Robert Blagojevich was a co-defendant with his brother in the former governor’s first trial, but the jury could not reach a verdict on charges against him. Prosecutors later dropped all charges against Robert Blagojevich.
    Rod Blagojevich was convicted of 17 corruption charges on Monday.
    Cellini lost a bid in 2009 to suppress wiretapped conversations. However, motions regarding that request have been sealed or heavily redacted, so it’s unclear what the substance of those conversations was.
    Webb said the key decision so far has been to have Cellini tried separately from Rod Blagojevich.
    “It was by far the biggest issue in the case,” Webb said. “There were some pre-trial motions that have already gone forward, standard motions, and there really is nothing much more to be done except get the case on trial and get it to a jury.”
     
    Influential politician
    Cellini, a former Springfield city commissioner and former director of the agency that later became the Illinois Department of Transportation, long has been influential in state and local politics.
    Cellini remained active in the local Republican Party even after he quit his post as Sangamon County GOP treasurer just before he was indicted in 2008. But county Republican chairman Tony Libri said it has been six months since he spoke to Cellini.
    “He’s really not connected to the party,” Libri said, although he said Cellini is still involved with the Sangamon County Republican Foundation, a separate organization. “If I ever needed his advice, I’d call him.”
    The web site of the Illinois Asphalt Paving Association still lists Cellini as the group’s executive director.
    Chris Wetterich can be reached at (217) 788-1523.
    Allegations against Bill Cellini
    Springfield businessman William Cellini allegedly conspired in 2004 to withhold  $220 million in Teachers’ Retirement System investment funds from a firm named Capri Capital unless Thomas Rosenberg, a principal in the firm, made campaign contributions to ex-governor Rod Blagojevich.
    Cellini’s alleged co-conspirators were former TRS board member Stuart Levine and two former fundraisers for Blagojevich, Tony Rezko and the late Christopher Kelly.
    The indictment says Cellini was to tell Rosenberg he wouldn’t receive the funds unless he donated to the governor’s campaign fund. Cellini was also to tell Rosenberg to talk to Levine about how he and the firm could make the needed contributions.
    After Cellini talked to Rosenberg, Cellini told Levine that Rosenberg had threatened to blow the whistle on the group to authorities, the indictment said. Levine, Rezko, Cellini and Kelly then decided that Capri would get its money but would not get any more business from the state. Meanwhile, Cellini tried to persuade Rosenberg not to talk about the extortion attempt, according to the indictment.
    Page 3 of 4 - In documents filed by prosecutors before Blagojevich’s first trial in 2010, prosecutors said, “Cellini told Levine about how Rezko and Kelly had been ‘essentially hammerin’ people’ to make political contributions in order to win state of Illinois contracts, how Cellini was a ‘nervous wreck’ about it, and how Cellini and Levine needed to talk with Rezko and Kelly about Rosenberg’s threats.”
    The allegations against Cellini were the subject of some charges in Rezko’s 2008 trial. Rezko was acquitted of eight of the 24 counts, including those that involved the alleged extortion attempt against Rosenberg. Levine was the star witness against Rezko.
    “Bill got no benefit at all for anything,” said Cellini’s attorney, Dan Webb. “He didn’t pay any money. He didn’t receive any money. He didn’t do anything.
    “I did not think Bill should be indicted based on this type of evidence. … They’re going to have to go prove their case.”
    Cellini faces three counts of conspiracy to commit fraud, conspiracy to commit extortion and attempted extortion. His trial now is scheduled to begin Oct. 3. U.S. Judge James Zagel will preside over Cellini’s trial, as he did over the Blagojevich trial.
     
    Key dates
    Spring 2003
    According to the federal indictment, William Cellini and Stuart Levine agree to ask Chris Kelly and Tony Rezko to use their influence in the Rod Blagojevich administration to defeat a plan to consolidate the Teachers’ Retirement System with other state retirement systems.
    Spring 2004
    Blagojevich reappoints Levine to the TRS board
    April 2004
    Levine tells Rezko they could force Capri Capital to pay to get $220 million in TRS funds to investment, according to the indictment. Levine is to have Cellini tell Capri principal Thomas Rosenberg that Capri will not receive the investment allocation unless Rosenberg contributes to Blagojevich’s campaign.
    May 2004
    Cellini agrees to deliver the ultimatum to Rosenberg, according to the indictment.
    May 7, 2004
    Cellini allegedly tells Rosenberg that Capri has not received the investment funds because it had not made campaign contributions.
    May 8, 2004
    Cellini tells Levine that Rosenberg threatened to inform law enforcement of the alleged extortion attempt, according to the indictment.
    May 10, 2004
    Cellini tells Kelly about Rosenberg’s threats, the indictment says. Cellini and Levine talk about ways to convince Rosenberg not to go to law enforcement.
    May 11, 2004
    Cellini, Kelly, Levine and Rezko agree that it’s too risky to withhold investment funds from Capri Capital, according to the indictment. But they agree that Capri Capital will not receive more money.
    May 25, 2004
    The TRS board agrees to give Capri Capital $220 million to invest.
    Summer 2004
    Cellini, Kelly and Rezko discuss having TRS executive director Jon Baumann moved from his position so that he won’t cooperate with law enforcement, according to the indictment.
    Page 4 of 4 - Summer and fall 2004
    Cellini and Rezko discuss having Chicago-area U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald removed from his position to stop a criminal investigation, the indictment says.
    June 4, 2008
    Rezko is convicted on 16 of 24 charges. However, the eight charges on which Rezko is found not guilty include those involving Cellini, Rosenberg and Capri Capital.
    Oct. 30, 2008
    Cellini indicted for the first time. He faces four counts.
    April 2, 2009
    Cellini indicted for a second time, along with Rod and Robert Blagojevich, Lon Monk, John Harris and Kelly. Cellini faces three counts in the new indictment.
    Sept. 12, 2009
    Kelly commits suicide
    Nov. 16, 2009
    Cellini’s case separated from the trial of the Blagojevich brothers.
    Oct. 3, 2011
    Cellini case scheduled to go to trial.
     
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