Power broker dropped as defendant from Blago trial

AP News
Posted: Nov 17, 2009 8:29 AM

A millionaire power broker who was to go to trial on corruption charges alongside ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was dropped Monday from the list of defendants.

The decision to remove William Cellini leaves only the former Illinois governor and his brother on the defendant list for the June trial. Robert Blagojevich's attorney, Michael Ettinger, said Monday he also plans to try to get his client dropped from the trial.

Rod Blagojevich is charged with trying to sell or trade President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat for campaign money or a high-paying job for himself or his wife and an array of other offenses. He has pleaded not guilty and said he did not commit any wrongdoing.

Judge James B. Zagel has scheduled the trial to start June 3, but Blagojevich's lawyers are asking for a three-month delay. Zagel told the attorneys Monday he wants to keep the trial date but left the door open for a brief postponement if needed.

Zagel's decision to drop Cellini from the trial was expected. Prosecutors requested it last week.

The judge did not drop charges against Cellini, a millionaire lobbyist-businessman from Springfield who for decades has been an influential behind the scenes figure in Illinois politics, largely on the Republican side.

Cellini remains charged with conspiracy to commit fraud, conspiracy to commit extortion and attempted extortion. He is accused of attempting to squeeze a sizable campaign contribution for Blagojevich out of Hollywood producer Thomas Rosenberg, who owned a money management company that was expecting to get a $220 million allocation from a state teachers pension fund.

Prosecutors could still bring Cellini to trial after Blagojevich's trial is finished.

Cellini's attorney, Dan K. Webb, issued a statement saying the decision to severe his client and possibly try him separately "demonstrates what we have said all along _ that there was never any justification for including Bill Cellini in any indictment with former Gov. Blagojevich."

Webb said Cellini doesn't know Blagojevich, has never spoken on the phone with the former governor and was unaware of the alleged fundraising scheme.

Cellini was charged in three counts along with former Blagojevich chief fundraiser Christopher G. Kelly, was found dead in what police say was a suicide, just days before he was to start serving eight years in prison.

Prosecutors urged Zagel to drop Cellini from the trial, saying that Kelly had been the key figure who linked him to Blagojevich. They said Kelly's death had erased much of the "overlap" in evidence between Blagojevich and Cellini.

It might be more difficult for Ettinger to get Blagojevich's brother removed from the trial because prosecutors have not requested it.

Ettinger told reporters after court that his motion would focus on the potential prejudice to his client from being charged along with his brother.

Robert Blagojevich is charged with wire fraud in two counts _ for two phone calls, one dealing with efforts to collect campaign funds from a construction executive and a racetrack executive and the other concerning the Senate seat.

Six defendants were charged in the original indictment. Two former chiefs of staff in the governor's office, John Harris and Alonzo Monk, have pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the prosecutors.