Ill. powerbroker criticized Blagojevich insiders

AP News
Posted: Oct 11, 2011 8:58 PM
Ill. powerbroker criticized Blagojevich insiders

An Illinois powerbroker on trial for attempted extortion complained that then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich's confidants were too overt about seeking benefits from state decisions and should follow the example he set during his decades close to the reins of power, a government witness told jurors Tuesday.

The testimony came in the week-old trial of millionaire businessman William Cellini. The 76-year-old is accused of conspiring with Blagojevich insiders Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly, and state board member Stuart Levine to shake down the Oscar-winning producer of "Million Dollar Baby" for a $1.5 million campaign contribution to Blagojevich.

Cellini arrived late at one February 2004 meeting at Chicago's Hancock building, visibly agitated as he described a recent encounter with Rezko and Kelly, witness Steven Loren said. Loren is a former attorney for the $30 billion Teachers' Retirement System, which is central to the case against Cellini.

After shaking hands with and kissing several of those present on the cheek, including Levine, Cellini then grumbled that the Blagojevich confidants "were moving too fast, they were going to get themselves in trouble," Loren told jurors.

Once known as the King of Clout for the influence he wielded in Illinois politics going back to the 1960s, Cellini allegedly said Rezko and Kelly should follow the example he set over a 30-year span close to top-tier Illinois decision makers, and "stay out of the limelight" and "above the fray," Loren testified.

Defense attorneys have argued in pretrial filings that comments Cellini made about Rezko and Kelly were misconstrued by prosecutors as somehow sinister, but that they actually demonstrated Cellini deeply disapproved of their actions.

Cellini allegedly plotted with Rezko and Kelly to squeeze Hollywood producer Thomas Rosenberg by threatening to yank $220 million in Teachers' Retirement System funds from Rosenberg's investment company unless he contributed.

As in previous days, Cellini appeared relaxed as he listened to testimony from a defense table, occasionally looking over and smiling at his wife of more than 40 years sitting on a nearby bench.

Amid sometimes tedious testimony from Loren, who often slipped into legalese, jurors themselves sometimes seemed stumped and other times exhausted _ jotting down no notes at all for long stretches.

The trial is the last in a series that stem from a decade-long investigation of ousted Democratic Gov. Blagojevich, who was convicted on multiple corruption charges earlier this year.

The defense has sought to distance its client from the disgraced Blagojevich _ taking pains to note in opening statements that Cellini and Blagojevich weren't friends and almost never spoke.

But prosecutors said they will ask a former Blagojevich campaign finance director, Kelly Glynn, to tell jurors that Cellini hosted a fundraiser in 2002 with the aim of raising $300,000 for Blagojevich.

With jurors out of the room as Judge James Zagel assessed her testimony, Glynn said Chris Kelly worked hard to secure a Cellini fundraiser and that Kelly appeared excited when he finally told her one day, "We got Cellini."

"This was, like a big deal to finally get Mr. Cellini at the table," said Glynn, who was expected to testify directly to jurors on Wednesday.

Much of Loren's testimony drew on his interactions with his close friend Stuart Levine, a TRS board member at the time and another figure in the alleged conspiracy. He is expected to take the stand later as the government's star witness.

During cross examination, defense attorney Dan Webb as focused on tearing down Levine's credibility as well as Loren's. He several times alluded to Levine's public admissions that he had abused cocaine and other drugs _ often at marathon parties.

Pacing the room and sometimes raising his voice, Webb pressed Loren about his admission of guilt to a tax charge in a cooperation deal with prosecutors, Webb hinting that Loren might be lying to ensure he isn't sentenced to any prison time.

Out of earshot of jurors, Zagel told Webb he had let the defense ask Loren about his plea deal and multiple other misdeeds that could have landed him in more serious legal trouble. But the judge said the defense should move on, telling Webb he had made his point successfully.

"I don't think any juror will think that this witness is a paragon of virtue," Zagel said.