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Cellini convicted on 2 of 4 charges

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Illinois powerbroker William Cellini has been convicted on two counts of corruption by a federal jury in Chicago. He was found not guilty on two other counts.

Prosecutors said Cellini tried to extort $1.5 million from a Hollywood movie producer.

Guilty on two. Not guilty on two. What does that mean? The defense and prosecution have distinctly different reads on Tuesday's verdict. The reality, though, is these are felony convictions that could put Bill Cellini behind bars.

In his decades of political influence, Cellini has had numerous monikers -- "king of clout," "powerbroker." Some within or on the edges of Illinois government have referred to Cellini as "the pope." Now he is also convicted felon Bill Cellini.

A jury Tuesday concluded that Cellini was part of an effort seven years ago to shake down a Hollywood movie producer for a fat campaign contribution that was to go to Rod Blagojevich. The producer cried foul, the shakedown was never completed, and while the jury concluded that Cellini never directly said "give me the money or else," it still found he was part of a conspiracy to commit extortion.

Cellini did not speak afterward but his lawyer says there will be an appeal.

"There's a number of issues were gonna file," said Cellini attorney Dan Webb. "What the grounds are, I'm not gonna pinpoint those now, but we believe there are significant issues on appeal and we'll have a substantial chance of victory on appeal."

"Shaking someone down and threatening them with the loss of business until they pay up is a crime, and that's not at all fuzzy," said U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.

The Cellini case is the end of the line for Operation Board Games, the federal investigation that began with the 2004 wiretaps of corrupt influence peddler Stuart Levine and led to convictions of ex-alderman Ed Vrdolyak, Blagojevich insider Tony Rezko, charges against Blagojevich friend Chris Kelly, who committed suicide, plea deals with Blagojevich chiefs of staff Lon Monk and John Harris, and ultimately the conviction of the state's 40th governor.

And all that started a year before his predecessor went on trial.

"The depressing part about Board Games is that it started right after Safe Road. Obviously some people didn't get the message," said Fitzgerald.

The next court status date in the Cellini case doesn't come until early March of next year, so his sentencing is quite a ways off. But the conclusion of his trial means that other sentencings can now be scheduled: Levine, Rezko, Monk, Harris, and former governor Rod Blagojevich.

Blagojevich's sentencing was originally supposed to happen October 6. It was postponed with no new date yet set.

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