Cellini trial is the real one to watch
“Cellini is the most powerful man in Illinois you probably never heard of.”
Chicago Sun-Times editorial, Oct. 31, 2008
Bill Cellini is the next batter up. After Rod Blagojevich has left the building, Cellini will be the next Operation Board Games defendant to make his way across the lobby of the Dirksen Federal Building, through the metal detectors, past the TV cameras and up to his appointed courtroom.
Cellini’s corruption trial will begin this fall or early next year. It will be nothing like the circus we have just witnessed. No autograph seekers to crowd the sidewalk. No one to call out his name. Heck, hardly anyone knows his name except for reporters and politicians.
At 75, Bill Cellini doesn’t even look like the legendary power broker that he most decidedly is.
Blagojevich may be the guy in the $10,000 Oxxford suits, but Cellini is the guy who can actually afford them.
Rod’s broke, but Bill is swimming in tens of millions — maybe hundreds of millions — of dollars thanks to his many and varied business- and government-connected interests: gaming, paving, investments and developments. And thanks to his political connections to Illinois governors named Ogilvie, Thompson, Edgar, Ryan and, finally, Blagojevich.
But there is a certain amount of mystery — and possibly a few problems — in this case.
Cellini is a big-time, Springfield-based Republican. But business being business, he always warmly embraced bipartisanship. When Blagojevich became the first Democratic governor to hold office in more than a quarter-century, Cellini welcomed in the new administration. And spent some quality time with Blago’s money men, fund-raisers Tony Rezko and Christopher Kelly. A fellow Republican rainmaker, Stuart Levine, shared Cellini’s approach to government and joined in.
As you may know, it hasn’t turned out so well.
Levine lost everything and awaits sentencing on corruption charges. Rezko, thanks to Levine’s testimony, was found guilty on corruption charges and is in prison. Chris Kelly killed himself rather than go to federal prison. Blagojevich is praying a jury doesn’t send him to prison. And Bill Cellini is the next man up.
Why is President Barack Hussein Obama’s name not on the roster? He is right in the middle of everything.
He’s charged with trying to shake down, with the help of Levine, Rezko and Kelly, a Hollywood movie producer. In exchange for allowing that producer’s investment company to handle $220 million in state teacher pension funds, the producer would be required to kick back cash to them. Or give Blagojevich a $1.5 million campaign contribution as a thank you.
It didn’t happen. The producer refused to be extorted but got the state business anyway.
At Rezko’s trial, it was the only thing he was acquitted of — raising the question of how strong this same charge is against Cellini.
We don’t know.
Nor do we know if the government has more alleged pay-to-play schemes up its sleeve.
We’ll see when the government files its proffer.
And whether Rezko will be trotted out to testify. He is, by all accounts, a problematic witness who was constantly named but never allowed to surface at the Blagojevich trial.
Could Cellini, on the other hand, cop a plea? Or flip? Not a chance, says his high-powered attorney, former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb.
“No plea, no deal, that will not happen,” Webb said last week. “This case is so weak, so unfair, we are not pleading.”
Great news. This is the trial I really want to see.
Rod Blagojevich was once merely called “governor.” But political insiders called Cellini “the pope.”
One assumes there’s a reason.
It is a travesty that Obama has not been connected to all of this. He is the biggest player of them all.
It was Obama who encouraged Blagojevich to appoint Valerie Jarrett to his Senate seat.