Illinois Public Media News
Jurors in Chicago have started deliberating at the last trial related to a nearly decade-long investigation of ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
The panelists withdrew to a 25th-floor jury room Tuesday afternoon. They'll have to decide if a businessman once known as the King of Clout, William Cellini, conspired to shakedown the producer of "Million Dollar Baby.''
It could take them days to go through evidence presented over three weeks. The 76-year-old Republican from Springfield denies plotting with three others to squeeze the Hollywood executive for a $1.5 million donation to Democrat Blagojevich's campaign.
Prosecutors say Cellini's role was to gently broach the issue of a contribution, with another conspirator responsible for tightening the screws later. Jurors must determine if prosecutors proved Cellini delivered part of the extortion message.
The topic of police abuse brought out a large crowd to Tuesday night's Champaign City Council study session. It wasn't an item on the agenda, but it grew out of the alleged police beating of a teenager who was stopped by Champaign police over the weekend for a traffic violation.
At least a hundred people showed up in support of 18-year-old Calvin Miller. They wore yellow "I stand with Calvin Miller" signs.
Multiple news reports say Miller was pulled over by police at around 1:30 Monday morning, and he fled the scene after his car damaged the front porch of a home.
Miller is free on bond after he was picked up for resisting arrest.
During a discussion about the city's finances, council member Will Kyles asked to break from procedure by allowing the audience to have public comment about issues unrelated to the agenda. Calvin Miller's father, Martel Miller, stood up and spoke. Martel claims his son was beaten by a police officer.
"This is my son! He got beat. How can you make something for five years from now if you haven't counted the lawsuits that are going to come down from police abuse?" Miller said. "Have you counted that in your budget for five years?"
Miller said the Champaign Police Department needs to deal with several of its officers who have abused their authority.
"The African American community should not be scared of the police," Miller said.
It has been a couple of years since the 2009 police-shooting death of Champaign teenager, Kiwane Carrington. Critics say that incident was a symptom of long-standing problems in Champaign police-community relations, particularly involving African-American youth. Now with the alleged beating of Calvin Miller, there is renewed anger and frustration.
Patricia Avery, a member of the city's community and police partnership, spoke at the meeting. Avery said the culture of the Champaign Police Department must change.
"We've been working at this problem for a very long time, and every time I think we're starting to make some progress, something like this happens where we have to step back," Avery said. "And then it's almost like, 'What do you do now? What do you say?' I'm really very disturbed by this."
The city is exploring a proposal to create a Citizens Police Review Board. Mayor Don Gerard said he is open to such a group.
"I ran for mayor for a reason, and a big part of that was the Kiwanne Carrington incident," Gerard said. "I was frustrated with how I perceived the leadership to respond. Now I'm in this position, and I have to stand up and be representative of the community."
Martel Miller said he hasn't filed a lawsuit, but he said he is talking to lawyers about his son's case.
A few years ago, eavesdropping charges were filed against Miller, who helped make a documentary attempting to show differences in how police officers in Champaign County treat minority residents compared to white University of Illinois students. Those charges were later dropped.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
Greed and a desire to maintain his influence in Illinois politics motivated a millionaire businessman to join a plot to shake down the Oscar-winning producer of "Million Dollar Baby," prosecutors told jurors Tuesday during closing arguments at the last trial from the federal investigation of ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
But William Cellini's attorney insisted prosecutors failed to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, in part because their star witness admitted on the stand that he was a liar and cheat whose memory was impaired by decades of drug abuse.
Cellini, 76, has denied allegations he conspired to force Hollywood executive Thomas Rosenberg into making a $1.5 million donation to the Democratic governor's campaign by threatening to withhold $220 million in teachers' pension funds from Rosenberg's investment company, Capri Capital. He could face more than 50 years in prison if convicted on charges that include conspiracy to commit fraud, extortion conspiracy and attempted extortion.
Prosecutor Julie Porter told jurors repeatedly to listen to FBI wiretaps of Cellini because they support witnesses' testimony and the tone of Cellini's voice underscores his guilt.
"That is what corruption sounds like," Porter said as she played one tape in which Cellini seems to chuckle during a discussion of the alleged shakedown.
Porter also scoffed at defense claims that Cellini may have been hoodwinked and sucked unknowingly into a plot hatched by others.
"He was not on the sidelines of an extortion," she said. "Cellini had his eyes wide open and knew exactly what was going on."
Porter alluded several times to Cellini's enormous behind-the-scenes influence in Illinois politics, saying at one point that when he left a message for top-tier officials and political leaders to call him, "They called him back."
But Cellini's attorney, Dan Webb, told the jury the government hadn't made its case. He called star witness Stuart Levine "a whack job."
Prosecutors said Cellini conspired with Levine, who sat on the board of the $30 billion Teachers' Retirement System that controlled the pensions, and two Blagojevich insiders, Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly.
Levine was the only one to testify. He admitted on the stand to cheating a close friend's estate out of $2 million. He also talked about gorging on cocaine, crystal meth and other drugs - sometimes in binges at marathon parties.
"This man ... has lied, cheated and stole throughout his life," Webb told jurors. "And this is the man the government says you should believe?"
Webb reminded jurors that Levine conceded during cross-examination that his memory may have been damaged by his drug use, which continued through the May 2004 attempted shakedown.
Prosecutors say Cellini and the others backed off after Rosenberg unexpectedly threatened to go to authorities. Rosenberg testified he didn't initially suspect Cellini of trying to shake him down but thought Rezko and Kelly were.
Prosecutors say the plan called for Cellini to broach the subject of a donation with Rosenberg, and then the others would turn up the pressure later by asking for a donation and threatening the loss of the pension funds.
Rosenberg described screaming and cursing into the receiver during a 2004 phone conversation with Cellini, who had been Rosenberg's friend for more than 20 years.
"I told Bill I would not be shaken down," Rosenberg recalled telling Cellini. "I would not give a dime to Blagojevich under any circumstances."
No one, however, testified that Cellini ever asked Rosenberg for a contribution or threatened him - a point Webb made repeatedly Tuesday.
Porter conceded Cellini, a life-long Republican, would not have pocketed any of the money. But she said he hoped to ingratiate himself to Rezko and Kelly - two of the closest and most powerful confidants in the new Democratic governor's administration.
His motive for taking part in the scheme, she said, was "continued access, continued clout, continued status.
A Marine Corps recruiter awaiting trial in the deaths of two central Illinois women now has been preliminarily charged with trying to have a third woman killed from jail.
Authorities told the Herald & Review in Decatur (http://bit.ly/rGvkNG ) Monday that 27-year-old Timothy Giles of Centralia has been preliminarily charged with solicitation of first-degree murder. He has not entered a plea and his attorney was not immediately available.
Macon County Sheriff Thomas Schneider says detectives recorded Giles trying to hire an inmate to kill 27-year-old Casey Eaton of Harristown.
Giles has been involved in a custody dispute with Eaton. Giles pleaded not guilty to killing her mother and sister, 57-year-old Cindanett Eaton and 23-year-old Lindsey Eaton, in August. Giles also pleaded not guilty to attempting that day to kill Casey Eaton.
Authorities are investigating the death of an Urbana man whose body was discovered Sunday night at a local motel.
Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup says body of 61-year old Terry Masar was found at the Super 8 Motel on Killarney Street. He was pronounced dead at 6:30 p.m.
Urbana Police Lieutenant Bryant Saraphin says Masar was reported missing by his family early Saturday morning. An autopsy will be performed Monday.
Seraphin said there were no obvious signs of foul play.
Masar is a former University of Illinois football player, a punter who was the team's most valuable player in 1971. He played U of I football from 1969-71, and held the record for the most punts in a season with 85. Masar also operated several restaurants in Champaign-Urbana.
Defense attorneys for William Cellini are trying to show jurors that their politically connected client deserved the contracts he got with the state of Illinois.
Prosecutors have put on evidence to show how Cellini used his political connections with the Teacher's Retirement System to get business for his real estate company. They rested their case on Thursday.
On Friday, the defense called Mike Bartletti to the stand. He was an employee of the Teacher's Retirement System, and he described a rigorous vetting process for the companies with which they worked. It was an attempt to show that Cellini couldn't have simply clouted business to himself.
Bartletti also reviewed financial information showing that Cellini's company made high returns on investments for teachers, 13.4 percent over a 5 year period.
Defense attorneys say Cellini didn't need to use illegal means to keep his business with the state because he did such a good job. The defense called three witnesses, and told the judge that Cellini will not testify.
Closing arguments are expected on Tuesday.
The Champaign City Council last considered the idea of a citizens police review board in 2007 ---- ultimately voting to drop the discussion. Since then, the city has been shaken by the police shooting death of Kiwane Carrington. Also, city council membership has shifted, and some top police officials have announced their retirements --- including chief R.T. Finney. Will Kyles, the only African-American currently serving on the Champaign City Council, brought up the police review board idea at the Oct. 18 council meeting. He said he had received enough backing from fellow council members to get the subject on the agenda of an upcoming study session. Kyles tells Illinois Public Media's Jim Meadows that now is the right time to revisit the idea of a citizens police review board.
Prosecutors have rested their case against the millionaire political insider William Cellini.
Cellini is accused of helping Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly extort a campaign contribution for Rod Blagojevich from Tom Rosenberg, a movie producer who also had a financial company that did business with the state.
In 2004, some business was being held up and Rosenberg asked Cellini to find out what was going on. Cellini got back to Rosenberg and said Rezko and Kelly were holding the state business until Rosenberg made a contribution to the former governor.
Cellini insists he was not an part of a conspiracy to extort the contribution. He was just relaying information about what he was hearing.
On the stand, Rosenberg said he had warned Cellini many times that Rezko and Kelly were crooked and he shouldn't deal with them but he also said that Cellini never asked him to contribute to any politician during the 30 years the two have known each other.
(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
The House Ethics Committee has extended its investigation of Illinois Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.
The committee is investigating whether Jackson or someone acting on his behalf, offered to raise funds for then-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich in return for an appointment to the Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama.
The committee said Tuesday there was no longer a request to defer the case. That request had come from the Justice Department.
Blagojevich, who won two terms as Illinois governor, was convicted in June of a wide range of corruption charges, including trying to sell the Senate seat.
Jackson has acknowledged he was "Senate Candidate A'' in the Blagojevich criminal complaint, one of several candidates whom authorities say the former governor considered for the Senate seat.
Stuart Levine, the star witness in the government's corruption case against William Cellini, is expected back on the stand Monday.
Levine is giving an insider account of how people who pay attention to state boards that deal with the mundane business of government can make a whole lot of money. He provided the same insights into government when he spent three weeks on the stand in the trial of Tony Rezko, who was a top fundraiser for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Stuart Levine has told jurors how he used his position on obscure state boards to secretly pay himself sham fees. He was on the board of the Teacher's Retirement System, and he said that at Cellini's urging, he embarrassed and forced the resignation of the agency's director and then pushed to install Cellini's choice for a successor. Levine said the moves gave Cellini considerable power over the agency, which then awarded Cellini a $220 million business contract.
Prosecutors say there was nothing illegal about that, but they say, to hold on to their power under Rod Blagojevich, Levine and Cellini tried to extort campaign contributions for the former governor.
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