(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
Jurors hearing the case against the final Blagojevich co-defendant William Cellini are getting a first-hand account of how political insiders stole money from the state of Illinois under former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
They're getting the inside account from Steven Loren, an attorney who did work for the the Teachers Retirement System in 2003.
On Tuesday he told jurors how he drafted fake contracts to disguise illegal kickbacks as legitimate fees. He did the work for Stuart Levine, a corrupt board member of the teacher's retirement system.
Prosecutors say Cellini later joined Levine in a similar conspiracy to allegedly hold back a $200 million state contract until the contractor gave a campaign contribution to Blagojevich.
Levine has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with prosecutors and is expected to testify.
Defense attorneys have already told jurors that they shouldn't convict Cellini based on anything Levine says because Levine's a career criminal and he's lied under oath.
Meanwhile, a former campaign finance director for Rod Blagojevich is scheduled to take the stand today.
Kelly Glynn is expected to testify Wednesday that Springfield Republican William Cellini hosted a campaign fundraiser in 2002 for Blagojevich that aimed to raise $300,000 for the Democrat.
On Tuesday, Judge James Zagel rejected defense arguments that much of Glynn's testimony would be hearsay.
Champaign Police are investing a robbery outside a Campustown coffee shop Monday afternoon.
Officers say the victim was sitting outside Espresso Royale on East Daniel Street when a man came out the east door, and grabbed his IPad off a table before running away. Another man came out the same door, and displayed a handgun in the waistband of his shorts before walking away.
The first man is described as a 21-year old black male, 5 foot 10, and weighing 180 pounds, wearing a white baseball cap, black short sleeved shirt, black shorts, and white tennis shoes. The other man is described as a 23 to 24-year old black male, 5 foot 8, weighing 180 pounds, wearing a Milwaukee Brewers ball cap, black long sleeve shirt, khaki shorts and red tennis shoes.
Witnesses of the incident are encouraged to call Champaign Police.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.