Cellini jury impaneled, opening statements begin
October 5, 2011 (CHICAGO) (WLS) -- Opening statements got under way Wednesday at the trial of an Illinois millionaire once known as the King of Clout for his influence under both Republican and Democratic governors.
Attorneys at William Cellini's trial began addressing jurors shortly after they were impanelled earlier Wednesday.
Prosecutor Greg Deis says the case against the 76-year-old Cellini is about extortion and abuse of power. Cellini is accused of conspiring to extort Tom Rosenberg, the producer of "Million Dollar Baby," for a $1.5 million campaign donation to impeached Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
The Springfield Republican denies the charges.
The openings took place in the same Chicago courtroom where other jurors convicted Blagojevich on corruption charges earlier this year.
Cellini's trial is the last in a series of trials that grew out of an investigation of Blagojevich.
For decades, Cellini wielded considerable influence with Illinois governors and had control, prosecutors say, of the Illinois pension board that administered the billions of dollars in the Illinois teacher retirement system.
Prosecutors laid out their case to the jury, saying that Cellini tried to shake down Rosenberg in 2004. Rosenberg had to contribute to Rod Blagojevich's campaign or the producer wouldn't get the millions in pension benefits it was promised, according to prosecutors. Deis said it was a shakedown, plain and simple, trading teachers' money for bribes.
Defense attorney Dan Webb acknowledged there was an extortion scheme but Cellini, he said, was not any part of it and didn't know anything about it. Webb said Rosenberg got his pension business and never made a campaign contribution.
It is expected that the jury will hear three to five weeks of testimony before delivering their verdict.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
local, paul meincke
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