Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 10, 2011

Kansas Man Held for Allegedly Kiling Cousin near Champaign

A man from the state of Kansas accused of fatally shooting his cousin near Mahomet on Friday is expected to make his first court appearance Tuesday.

News reports indicate 68-year old Gerard James allegedly killed Harlan James of Champaign after a dispute in a field northwest of Mahomet around 3 p.m. Friday. He's lodged in the Champaign County Jail.

Deputy Charles Glass with the County Sheriff's Department confirms Gerard James is scheduled for arraignment at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. The court appearance was postponed from Monday, due to the Columbus Day holiday.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 06, 2011

Attempted Child Abductions Reported in Urbana

Urbana police have received two reports of attempted child abductions after nine reports of similar incidents in the Champaign area in the past two weeks.

The latest report occurred Tuesday just before 12-30 pm. In a press release, Urbana police say a 14-year old female was walking along Kinch Street on the city's southeast side when a man in a pickup truck offered her a ride. The student declined and he drove away. The driver is as a black male in his 30's with a 'chubby face' and mustache wearing a red shirt or jacket, driving a newer-looking silver truck.

The second report came from August 31st, when an Urbana Middle School student walking at Florida and Broadway reported a red-haired man in his 40's with a muscular build and goatee ordered the boy to get into his car. The student kept walking until he arrived home.

Urbana police say they're working with numerous local agencies, including District 116 schools, and extra patrols have been placed around school zones. Officers are reminding children to call 9-1-1 if a stranger offers them a ride, and to provide physical descriptions on the drivers, and license plate numbers if possible.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 06, 2011

Prosecutors Portray Cellini as Puppet Master

Opening statements are expected to resume Thursday in the public corruption trial of William Cellini.

In his opening statement for the prosecution on Wednesday, Greg Deis told jurors that Cellini wasn't on the board of the Teachers Retirement System and yet he controlled how the agency invested some of its $30 billion in assets.

Deis says Cellini got people jobs with TRS and got them appointments, and they did what he told them to do. He says that allowed Cellini to steer state contracts not to the most qualified businesses, but to those willing to give campaign contributions to former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Cellini has long been influential behind the scenes in Illinois politics, but defense attorney Dan Webb said others hatched the plot - not his client. And he told jurors that whatever they think about fundraising, lobbying and politics, they need to judge this case on the facts.

Webb gave only half his opening statement late Wednesday and will finish it Thursday morning. Then prosecutors will call their first witness, which is expected to be Keith Bozarth, who once headed TRS.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 06, 2011

Suspect Arrested in Attempted Child Abduction

Champaign Police say they have arrested a suspect in connection with one of several attempted child abductions reported in the city over the last several days.

Billy Wayne Mullins, 54, of Champaign's Dobbins Downs neighborhood is being held at the Champaign County Jail on attempted child abduction charges.

Authorities say Mullins was arrested Wednesday in connection with an attempted abduction at the Dobbins Downs Playground last Thursday evening. At that time, a 13-year-old girl said she was approached by a man on a bicycle, who offered candy if she would come to his home to help with groceries. The man rode away on his bicycle when the victim called out to a friend.

Champaign Police say they are continuing their investigation into the other attempted abduction reports, most of which involved men attempting to lure a child into their vehicle.

UPDATE: Mullins was in Champaign County Court Thursday afternoon, and formally charged with a count of child abduction, a Class 4 felony. Julie Ogle with the State's Attorney's Office says bond for Mullins is set at $250,000. He'll be back in court October 21st.

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 05, 2011

Walk to School Day Reinforces Safety in Neighborhoods

The head of one Urbana grade school says having parents walk there with kids at least once a year is nothing new. But she said the fear brought on by attempted child abductions in Champaign has reinforced the need for safer neighborhoods.

Three busloads of kids stopped a couple blocks short of school Wednesday to participate in International Walk to School Day. Around 50 students made the trek along Fairview Avenue, accompanied by a few teachers and parents.

King Principal Jennifer Ivory-Tatum said the school was quick to react to Champaign's 9 reports of attempted abductions in the last several days. She said the district reminded parents of expectations in terms of walking in groups with family members and neighbors. And Ivory-Tatum said the parents responded.

"We've had an increase in car pickups, and we've actually had a lot of parents who have been walking to the school at the end of the day, and walking home with kids," she said. "We're being pretty precautionary I think."

Marty Hynds said her grandchildren, both fifth graders, walk to Martin Luther King Elementary each day. She's felt safe, watching them from a window on their way to and from school. But Hynds said kids who don't regularly bus to school still need more safeguards.

"It would be nice if we have more police patrolling during school hours - just someone who can watch after the kids, if they needed someone, even a parent, who can be assigned to a corner," Hynds said.

Ivory-Tatum said the police reports prompted the term 'stranger danger' - a kid-friendly term to remind students to steer clear of strangers.

"Staying with the group and going straight home and not playing around in the neighborhood," Ivory-Tatum said. "We've had lots of conversations about (what to do) if a stranger walks up to you, what do you do? So yes, we want to be proactive."

Because of school, Amanda Campbell says her five-year old daughter Kaya would know what to do if confronted by a stranger, but said all parents are concerned right now.

"Usually, the mornings are taken care of, but we (Campbell and her husband) were a little worried about the afternoon stuff when all the attempts started happening," Campbell said. "And it's a crazy world. It's said that we have to think about it."

Walk to School Day has yielded other ideas from parents. Replies through District 116's Safe Routes to School Coalition have resulted in additional sidewalks and signage, reminding motorists to slow down.

(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 05, 2011

Illinois Lawmakers Seek to Update Meth Law

Attorney General Lisa Madigan stopped in Danville on Wednesday to talk about tightening up a law that tracks the sale of pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in the production of methamphetamine.

The Methamphetamine Precursor Control Act, which was established in 2006, sets up restrictions for consumers who purchase more than two packages of pseudoephedrine products at a time or products with more than 7,500 milligrams of pseudoephedrine in a 30-day period. Madigan said those restrictions helped cut the number of meth labs in the state in half from 2006 to 2007.

"When meth first hit our communities, we hit back hard to drive meth makers and users out of Illinois," Madigan said in a statement. "But meth is a unique drug. It's like a virus that mutates, so we must retool our responses to how this drug is made."

Still, Madigan said drug users have pursued "one-pot" or "shake 'n bake" meth production, which can be accomplished using legal amounts of pseudoephedrine.

To address problems surrounding small-scale meth production, lawmakers are working to update a pilot system used by pharmacies to track the sale of pseudoephedrine permanent. That system, which has operated since June 2010 and is set to expire in January, allows pharmacies to block pseudoephedrine sales that exceed the legal purchasing amount.

State Rep. Chad Hays (R-Catlin) joined Madigan in Danville on Wednesday. Hays said the revised law will not only track people who buy more than the legal limit of pseudoephedrine products, but it will also check purchasing patterns of people who buy that substance at different stores over a short period of time.

"It really gives law enforcement a better tool to track frequent flyers if you will who are setting up a pattern of purchasing this substance for the intent of producing methamphetamine," Hays said.

In Illinois, customers must show a photo identification and sign a purchasing log maintained by pharmacies whenever they buy it.

The state this week also unveiled a marketing plan where posters will be placed in pharmacies across the state warning people to be aware of pill buyers for meth users or producers.

Madigan made stops throughout the day in Quincy and Cahokia. She was joined today by Sens. William Haine (D-Alton) and John Sullivan (D-Rushville), and Reps. Jerry Costello II (D-Smithton) and Jil Tracy (R-Quincy). Also in attendance were representatives of the Illinois Sheriff's Association, the Illinois State Police, Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, Illinois Retail Merchants Association, Illinois Pharmacists Association, Illinois State's Attorneys Association, Illinois Department of Corrections, the Meth Project, and law enforcement in Adams, St. Clair and Vermilion counties.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 05, 2011

Judge Impanels Jury at Cellini Trial in Chicago

A jury has been impaneled in Chicago at the last trial stemming from a federal investigation of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

A judge seated 12 jurors Wednesday, the third day of millionaire William Cellini's trial. The next step will be opening statements. Prosecutors say the 76-year-old conspired to shake down the producer of "Million Dollar Baby'' for a campaign donation to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Cellini denies the charges.

The Springfield Republican once called the King of Clout for the influence he wielded in the corridors of power in both Repubican and Democratic administrations, like Blagojevich's.

The judge vetted more than 50 would-be jurors over three days. He dismissed a few who said they believed lobbyists and political fundraisers undermined the political system.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 04, 2011

William Cellini Trial Off to Slow Start

Jury selection is scheduled to resume today in federal court in the trial of William Cellini, after a slow start on Monday.

Judge James Zagel questioned only eight potential jurors Monday afternoon. One said she had a negative view of campaign fundraising, but another thought it was good to give contributions. Zagel told both of them that there is legal fundraising and there is illegal fundraising, and he asked if they could set aside their biases about fundraising and judge the case on the law. Both women agreed they could.

Cellini is the final co-defendant of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to go on trial. Cellini is accused of joining a conspiracy to raise money for Blagojevich by threatening people that they'd lose their business contracts with the state unless they paid up.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 03, 2011

Blagojevich Co-Defendant to Stand Trial

Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday in the trial of William Cellini. He's the fifth and final co-defendant of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to go on trial. Prosecutors say he was part of a conspiracy that traded campaign contributions for the governor in exchange for state contracts and business. He's not exactly a household name in Chicago, but the Springfield native is a big deal in his hometown.

At the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, there's a painting that depicts the night in 1864 when Lincoln won his second term as president. The townspeople in the room are celebrating and Lincoln is sitting in a chair, presumably going over election returns. Standing over the president and seeming to advise him is Bill Cellini.

The museum won't comment on whether it's actually Cellini in the painting, but Gene Callahan has been friends with Cellini since 1959 and remembers seeing his friend's likeness on the museum wall.

"The tour guide even pointed that out to me because the tour guide knew we were friends with Bill's," Callahan said.

Bill Cellini is in his late 70s and has been a political insider for a long time, though not all the way back to Lincoln. But the painting is emblematic on so many levels because Cellini has had the ear of the state's top politicians for four decades, and he's always kept himself in the background. He never needed to be the one winning elections, just the one whispering in the ear of the winner on election night.

"Oh, he's very well known in Springfield," Callahan said. "I would say there's no one in Springfield better known than Bill Cellini."

Callahan was a staffer for Paul Simon when he was lieutenant governor and for U.S. Sen. Alan Dixon. He said Cellini, a Republican, had good relationships with politicians of both parties.

"He's meticulous," Callahan said. "When you have a meeting with him he takes notes on what to follow up on. He's outstanding on follow through. He returns his phone calls. He likes to joke. He likes the arts. He's a very fine musician, he's a piano player and very good. He's a fun guy! You know, he's been a good citizen for our town."

Cellini held local political office in Springfield early in his career, and by his mid-30s he was appointed by Gov. Richard Ogilvie to run the state's Department of Transportation and its $1.5 billion budget. With that intimate knowledge of government, he turned his focus to business, but he always kept a hand in politics.

Bernie Schoenburg is the political columnist for the State Journal Register in Springfield, and he said Cellini has been the de facto head of the Sangamon County Republicans for a long time, but he never took the top spot; he preferred the less high-profile, though powerful job, of treasurer.

"He's certainly not a big deal in the typical politician way because you won't see him giving a speech," Schoenburg said. "In fact, I don't think I've ever seen him give a speech. He's not the kind of person who needs that kind of adoration or attention from the public. But he's been a big influence in the background for many years."

Schoenburg said Cellini has been able to turn his political connections into business deals, getting the first casino license from the state, leasing out buildings to the state, developing land with federal and state money and building roads for the state.

In the 1990s, the Chicago Sun-Times estimated Cellini was worth $50 million.

Rich Miller is another political reporter in Springfield. He publishes a newsletter called Capitol Fax and has been observing the political scene in Springfield for a couple decades. He talks about Cellini with a sense of wonder and amazement.

"Usually somebody has, like, one idea in life, okay, that works and then every other idea they have doesn't work, but he kept coming up with new ideas all the time and they always worked, but it was based on a common theme," Miller said. "Government makes people money, certain people money so you be one of those certain people all the time."

Miller said government doesn't build stuff, it hires companies to do that, which means there's always money to be made. That's what he said Cellini did. "He worked harder than anybody. He was smarter than anybody. He looked around harder than anybody at how to make money under every cover to find a possible way to make money in state government, he scoured it from top to bottom and he did! He says there were never allegations that Cellini did anything illegal until these charges related to the long-running pay to play scandal under Blagojevich."

Prosecutors say with the change from Republican to Democratic administrations Cellini worried that he'd lose his clout and therefore his ability to make money. And they say, to curry favor with the Blagojevich administration, Cellini joined a conspiracy with Blagojevich's top fundraisers Stuart Levine, Tony Rezko and the late Chris Kelly, to force business people to give campaign contributions to the governor if they wanted contracts with the state.

Cellini's defense attorney Dan Webb said Cellini wasn't part of their crew.

"I think the evidence at trial will establish that whatever Levine, Rezko and Kelly discussed among the three of them, it's very clear that Cellini was not part of those discussions," Webb said.

Webb is a partner at Winston and Strawn, the law firm where former Illinois Governor Jim Thompson is also a partner. It's the same firm that represented Gov. George Ryan. Webb wouldn't let Cellini comment for this story.

Webb is already fighting against the idea that Cellini must be dirty just because he's a savvy political insider. It's an argument he'll likely make to the jury.

"Bill Cellini learned what it's like to work hard," Webb said. "He is smart. He made some good investments and he's been successful in the business world, but that's hardly a crime."

Gene Callahan, Cellini's friend since 1959, he has a hard time believing Cellini is guilty.

"He was honest in every dealing I ever had with him without exception," Callahan said "The problem is here, when you lie down with dogs with fleas, you can get fleas and the people that were lying down with Blagojevich were suspect of getting fleas."

Callahan said he doesn't know the law and doesn't know what the jury will do, but he said he hopes his friend is not guilty of the crimes for which he is accused.

Cellini's trial starts Monday with jury selection and and is expected to take two to three weeks. Opening arguments could start Tuesday morning.

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 30, 2011

Champaign Police Investigating 3 More Attempted Child Abductions

Champaign Police are boosting patrols around school zones after getting reports of three more attempted child abductions, bring the total to 8 being investigated this week alone.

White male suspects are sought in each case of these latest reports. One occurred about 6 p.m. Tuesday on the city's north side, at the corner of Bradley Avenue and Bloomington Road. A 13-year old old girld says two men in a red truck if she wanted a ride. On Wednesday afternoon around 2 p.m., a man corner of Hollycrest and William reportedly offered a nine-year-old boy some candy. That suspect is described tall and skinny with long shoulder length hair.

And Friday morning about 8:15 on the Pine Street near Elm, a 10-year-old boy says a male suspect asked he wanted a ride. That man is described as in his 40's with long blond hair and a blonde/brown beard. He was driving an older model red truck with a silver bumper with dents on the passenger side.

The Champaign Police Department is working with the Champaign County Sheriff's Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Marshals Service, and the Illinois State Police.


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