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.
A committee of Indiana lawmakers is recommending their colleagues approve "right-to-work'' legislation when they return in January for their 2012 session.
The Legislature's Interim Study Committee on Employment voted 5-4 along party lines Wednesday to advance the proposal. Senate and House Republicans have already announced plans to introduce bills for consideration during the upcoming session.
The divisive issue sparked a five-week walkout by House Democrats during this year's session. New fines put in place by the Republican-led Legislature make another walkout much less likely.
"Right-to-work'' would prohibit workers from being required to pay union representation fees. Indiana's unions spent much of the summer protesting the measure at the study committee's hearings and packed its final hearing Wednesday.
A late night accident in Douglas County killed both the driver and her passenger.
Illinois State Police say 27-year-old Ashleigh Herschberger of Arthur apparently over corrected when her SUV went off the roadway on US Route 45, south of Arcola, shortly past midnight on Tuesday night. The vehicle then swerved to the left, striking the ditch and then rolling over several times.
Both Herschberger and her passenger, 26-year-old Summer Pollock of Humboldt were ejected from the vehicle and killed. The News-Gazette has identified the two as sisters.
State Police suspect alcohol was a contributing factor to the crash.
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)
Remembrances of Terry Masar are pouring in from around the Champaign-Urbana community, particularly from the music scene.
The Urbana man who operated Nature's Table restaurant died Sunday at the age of 61. Greg Danner says he was friends with Masar at the University of Illinois before he installed the restaurant's first stereo system in the early 80's. He says Nature's Table quickly became an institution for music, particularly jazz.
"I think what Terry was looking for in his group of friends was music students, and of course, a lot of the jazz musicians came from amongst them, and even the faculty," said Danner. "It immediately, like the day it opened, turned into a hangout for the U of I music department."
Danner says many of the performances at the restaurant were of the impromptu variety, and musicians that are still popular in the area today got their start there. U of I violin instructor Dorothy Martirano says she played in a string quartet at Nature's Table. She says Masar made a point of seeing that a lot of people, particularly young people, had a place to perform. She says some of those students went on to become successful in places like Chicago and New York.
And Martirano says Masar's personality kept students coming back to the restaurant.
"Everyone wanted to play at Nature's Table," she said. "So I feel fortunate to have been a part of that. And the other thing about Terry was that he was incredibly generous. If you were in some kind of financial need or any kind of need, he was very generous."
Nature's Table operated in the 1980's and 90's.
Terry Masar was found dead in an Urbana hotel room Sunday night. Authorities are calling it an 'unexpected death'. Autopsy results haven't been released.
The third Champaign School District official in the last few months is leaving for a job with the East St. Louis School District.
Unit 4 spokeswomen Beth Sheppard said she is following former superintendent Arthur Culver, who is now the school chief in East St. Louis. Unit 4 Deputy Superintendent Dorland Norris also announced her plans last week to take a job there. Both Norris and Sheppard followed Culver to Champaign about 10 years ago from Texas
Sheppard said she is excited about helping confront some of the challenges students there face.
"It's a district that obviously has a lot of needs right now," Sheppard said. "There is state intervention. There are financial issues. There's a lot of work to be done, and it's an exciting challenge if you're a person who thrives on doing things that others think cannot be done. It's a great opportunity."
Sheppard's last day with the district will be Nov. 4.
Champaign School Board President Sue Grey said she is confident the school district will be able to move forward by filling these positions.
"I would hope that we don't lose anybody further because there's a lot of work to be done at Unit 4," Grey said. "We're a busy district, and we have a lot of kids to take care of. We can't afford to let things fall through the cracks."
A search is underway for a new Champaign school superintendent, who will succeed Arthur Culver. With an Oct. 28 deadline to apply for that job, the school district plans to begin interviewing finalists in November and December.
An Indiana panel is set to tell lawmakers to revive "right-to-work" legislation when they reconvene in January in a move that could set the stage for another showdown with House Democrats, who staged a five-week walkout over a similar proposal this year.
A draft of a report compiled by the Legislature's Interim Study Committee on Employment says businesses refuse to locate in Indiana because it is not a "right-to-work" state. The report obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press details three months of study on the contentious issue.
The proposal would ban from unions in the state from mandating workers join their ranks or pay them a fee. Supporters say it would attract more business to the state but opponents, including labor unions, say it creates a "free-rider" problem where workers can enjoy the benefits of union representation without paying any dues.
The Republican-led committee is scheduled to meet Wednesday to consider the report. Republicans hold a one-vote margin on the panel and are expected to approve the report.
"I don't think the state ought to be the ones who decide whether you join a union or not," said Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, chairman of the study panel. Boots largely crafted the report but said he consulted with other members when putting it together.
"Right to work" was one of many Republican measures advanced last year which led Democrats to leave the state for five weeks, effectively depriving Republicans of the number of members needed to conduct business.
Rep. Kreg Battles, D-Vincennes, said he is still ardently opposed to the proposal, but was not ready Tuesday to say whether he would walk again on the issue.
"All of the concerns I had, all of those questions, I didn't have any of those answered," said Battles, one of four Democrats on the study committee.
Rep. Gerald Torr, R-Carmel, says he is ready to file "right-to-work" legislation again for next session. It will be the eighth year he's put in the proposal, but he said now he hopes that lawmakers feel like it has been vetted to a point where they can tackle it without the questions that stymied the issue earlier.
Union members, business leaders, economic development analysts and scores of other packed daylong hearings on the issue held over the last three months. But Indiana State AFL-CIO President Nancy Guyott said Tuesday she felt the study committee's answer was predetermined when they began their work this summer.
"Clearly their minds were made up before this process began and nothing, not even the facts or testimony from workers, small business owners or community leaders, would sway them from it," Guyott said in a statement Tuesday.
The group did not recommend taking up project labor agreements next year. Boots said that was because the Senate already considered banning PLAs last year and did not approve the measure.
Illinois lawmakers have taken the first steps toward restoring salaries for the state's regional superintendents.
A House committee on Tuesday approved legislation that would take the salaries out of a special tax fund for local government. Now the full House will consider the plan. Gov. Pat Quinn used his veto power to eliminate salaries for regional superintendents and their assistants. He said the state shouldn't pay for local officials when money is so tight.
The superintendents have not been paid since June. Some have been given emergency aid by local governments, while others have resigned.
Quinn suggested paying superintendents out of something called the Personal Property Tax Replacement Fund. That's what a House appropriations committee voted to do Tuesday.
Theo Epstein has officially been introduced as the new president of baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs. Epstein joins the Cubs after a mostly successful 10-year stint with the Boston Red Sox.
"I wouldn't trade my time with the Red Sox, but I do think it was time to move on. They're in great hands and they have a terrific future laid out in front of them, and I was ready for the next big challenge. And this is certainly the ultimate challenge. I'm ready to embrace it and move forward," Epstein told reporters Tuesday in his first press appearance at Wrigley Field.
Epstein left Boston with one year still left on his contract as general manager. The Red Sox and the Cubs have yet to determine compensation for the deal.
Esptein helped the Red Sox win two World Series championships after 86 years without one. He said he thinks he could help the Cubs break their 103-year-old drought.
"We're going to make a foundation for sustained success a priority," Epstein said. "That will lead to playing October baseball more often than not down the road. And once you get in October, there's a legitimate chance to win the World Series. I believe we can do it, and I look forward to helping."
The Cubs finally made the announcement that Epstein would be moving to the Cubs on Friday night, but held off on the news conference until Tuesday, an off-day for the World Series.
(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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.
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