I-Team

Cellini name all over Lincoln museum

Monday, October 10, 2011

The federal corruption trial of Illinois powerbroker William Cellini will resume Tuesday and while his name may be tarnished in Chicago, in Springfield, Cellini is right up there with Abraham Lincoln.

Even though Cellini's name is on a federal indictment and called out by a court clerk each morning of late at his corruption trial, discriminating eyes will also see Cellini's name right there with honest Abe at the downstate museum and library in Lincoln's name.

An interactive theatre that allows visitors to ask Lincoln anything and get an answer in what sounds like the 16th president's own voice.

This exhibit was underwritten by Cellini and his wife, Julie.

When the Cellini name was first put on display here, the millionaire business tycoon hadn't yet been charged in the infamous Rod Blagojevich public corruption case. Cellini was mainly a behind the scenes powerhouse.

But the path to his prominent placement as Lincoln's underwriter here began decades ago.

The Cellini chronology goes back almost 50 years with connections to Illinois governors from Richard Ogilvie to Blagojevich and president's Richard Nixon to George W. Bush. He raised millions of dollars for both parties and their candidates and held numerous local, state and federal government positions, although never ran for office himself. Cellini's contacts allowed him to broker lucrative government contracts and live in high style in Springfield.

His wife Julie and some other relatives have been on political payrolls and boards for years. She is currently on the board of the Lincoln library, hence her name with his on the Ask Abe Lincoln exhibit.

Close observers of a historic painting at the Lincoln library note that a woman who looks very much like Mrs. Cellini appears to have been painted into the crowd celebrating general Robert E Lee's surrender to general Ulysses S. Grant.

When the Lincoln museum was built, Cellini did not bid on the work. His involvement had been vigorously opposed by then U.S. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, who backed a bill that required federal contract requirements be met by any bidder. There were no requirements to have ones name put on an exhibit.

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