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Drilling into the Cellini verdict

Wednesday, Nov 2, 2011

* It’s hard to argue with this

You can slice and dice the legalese all you want, but one message came through loud and clear in Tuesday’s conviction of William Cellini: Times changed, Cellini didn’t.

* But Chris Mooney, the Arrington professor of state politics with the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois Springfield, wasn’t so convinced

“I was actually kind of surprised that he was convicted, because I didn’t think the case seemed that strong. But I wasn’t in the courtroom. But I do think that it also shows you that you don’t want the federal government knocking on your door, because, my God, if they can convict him on this, boy, they can get you.”

Before the trial started, I thought the feds had a pretty weak case. After Tom Rosenberg’s testimony, I figured they had Cellini on everything. So, to me, the most surprising aspect of the verdict was that jurors found Cellini not guilty of the actual Rosenberg shakedown (”attempted extortion”), but then convicted him on conspiracy to extort.

* From a juror

“What really got him was the wiretaps,” juror Candy Chiles said. “It was right there. . . . All the evidence was overwhelming . . . He did the crime, and when you do the crime you have to do the time.”

The evidence apparently wasn’t “overwhelming” enough to convict Cellini on the most important count of attempted extortion.

* I think Kass may have been onto something about those tapes when he wrote this a while back

Has laughter ever sent someone to federal prison?

I’m not talking about a big belly laugh, the kind of laugh where the jaw almost unhinges and sound comes out full throated, the eyes bugging, and what you see is a body shaking with confident, honest, joy.

No, this laugh was different. I heard it Thursday at a corruption trial involving Illinois politics, and what passes for honest laughter among politicians using your government to cash in isn’t loud and honest and confident. […]

It was Illinois Combine boss William Cellini laughing with informant and convicted weasel Stuart Levine on federal tape played during Cellini’s corruption trial. On tape they were talking about using their political connections in then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s office — specifically Blagojevich’s convicted influence peddler Tony Rezko — to squeeze another man, Thomas Rosenberg. […]

How could they laugh?

Because they were the guys with the juice, they were the ones who allegedly controlled the government, and when you can use the government as your hammer, that’s better than a dozen tough guys because the government carries the force of law. So corruption is only a piece of it. That’s just money. But corrupting the government, which is supposed to be fair, and the effect that corruption has on the people, that is stealing something too. It steals the presumption of honest treatment.

A Cellini friend cited that very thing yesterday after the verdict. I think both are probably right.

* This may seem a bit odd

“I really believe he extorted,” juror Paulette Green of Round Lake Park said of Cellini. “I don’t think he went in it wanting to. I believe it just happened.”

Green said it was clear from Rosenberg’s angry testimony last week that he felt shaken down.

“Oh, he knew it,” she said.

* So, if Cellini extorted and Rosenberg believed he was being shaken down, then why not convict him on attempted extortion? Perhaps because nothing was explicitly demanded on the tapes? Likely

The jury felt prosecutors fell short in proving two other criminal counts, conspiracy to commit mail fraud and attempted extortion.

“There were (nuances) in the law that had to be proven that we didn’t think were proven beyond a reasonable doubt,” Nast said. “We really took each count independently.”

Jurors felt the recordings didn’t prove Cellini’s guilt on those two counts because he was not recorded directly implicating himself, he said. The charge of conspiracy to commit mail fraud relied too much on the word of Levine, Nast said.

* A strong sense of jury camaraderie might have also led to a desire to compromise

Jurors in William Cellini’s trial got along so well during their deliberations, that after reaching a unanimous verdict on Tuesday, they assembled at the nearby Elephant & Castle restaurant and bar near the downtown federal courthouse.

About eight jurors who spent the last 3 ½ weeks or so listening to evidence in Cellini’s trial toasted their conclusion to the case, which ended in a split verdict with two guilty counts and two not guilty counts.


- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Shore - Wednesday, Nov 2, 11 @ 1:24 pm:

    the system worked yesterday, but I don’t really think it’s going to stop the scheming in the state.

    what are the chances he turns on some of his friends?

  2. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Nov 2, 11 @ 1:25 pm:

    ===what are the chances he turns on some of his friends? ===

    Doubtful. At least until he loses an appeal or two.

  3. - Quinn T. Sential - Wednesday, Nov 2, 11 @ 1:31 pm:

    Overturned on appeal.

  4. - D.P. Gumby - Wednesday, Nov 2, 11 @ 1:35 pm:

    I love the irony that, after years as the Republican Pope, he gets convicted for corruption in getting campaign contribution for the “Democrat”.

  5. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Nov 2, 11 @ 1:35 pm:

    1) This is standard jury logic and behavior. It is absolutely not a basis for overturning the verdict.

    2) If Cellini waits to turn in some friends until after his appeal, his information will likely be even more stale. It’s unclear that Dan Webb and Winston will encourage Cellini to cooperate with the Government. (The Combine, and all that.) But if they do and Cellini decides to cooperate, his information will only be useful to the Government — and to himself — if it is information the Government can use to build a prosecution that is within the statute of limitations. While Cellini may have heard lots of rumors about recent activities that crossed the line, I suspect that he’s been very careful about crossing the line himself since the investigation against him surfaced several years ago. I also suspect that others have been very careful about discussing crossing the line with him the past few years. So despite Cellini’s long history of advantageous dealings with state and local government, the value of his cooperation may be limited. (I’d be pleased to be proven wrong about that, but . . . .)

  6. - tubbfan - Wednesday, Nov 2, 11 @ 1:49 pm:

    There were no reported theatrics as in the Blago trial about unfairness. What would be the basis of the appeal?

  7. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Nov 2, 11 @ 2:09 pm:

    Excellent job of ” Drilling into the Cellini Verdict” .

    Doubt that the Feds can get him to turn on his friends.

    Suspect he could write quite a book. However , maybe he ought to just take payments from those friends to not write the book ?

  8. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Nov 2, 11 @ 2:10 pm:

    I doubt he needs the cash. lol

  9. - 47th Ward - Wednesday, Nov 2, 11 @ 2:23 pm:

    The FBI got its hooks into Levine, who folded like a cheap suit. He wore a wire and let his phones get tapped, so basically anyone who was in contact with Levine was being recorded. I think it’s kind of a fluke that Cellini was caught on tape, but Cellini walked right into the trap. He’s got no one to blame but himself (and Levine of course).

    I know Cellini is beloved by many, especially in Springfield. I don’t doubt that he’s a decent guy who helped a lot of people over the years. But for those of us not from Springfield, who’ve seen Cellini’s fingers on so many public goodies over so many years, and have worked for candidates who got pummelled by Cellini-backed candidates, it’s hard for me to believe these tapes don’t prove he freely joined a conspiracy that was out to rig state business.

    My personal belief is that he’s been rigging state business to benefit himself and his favored friends for 40 years. I’m glad it’s over and I’m glad this has been exposed for what it is, a crime.

  10. - Been There - Wednesday, Nov 2, 11 @ 2:26 pm:

    ===That would wipe out the conviction ===
    I am not a lawyer but I thought once he was sentenced the conviction is on the books, so to speak. Not sure which way the feds go with this. Sentence him and send him to jail while appealing or wait until appeals are exhausted.

  11. - Coach - Wednesday, Nov 2, 11 @ 2:46 pm:

    I’m appalled by the media’s focus on the jurors going to the bar after the verdict. It’s one thing to mention this detail in a story; it’s another to build the lede around it and then use the headline to convey outrage, as if the jurors have somehow compromised and shamed themselves.

    These people are called away from their jobs and ordered to sit through weeks of testimony, lawyer antics, shady witnesses, etc. Seriously, who wouldn’t want a couple drinks after that?

  12. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Nov 2, 11 @ 2:47 pm:

    ===I’m appalled by the media’s focus on the jurors going to the bar===

    One newspaper story with that lede is hardly a “focus.”

  13. - Coach - Wednesday, Nov 2, 11 @ 3:05 pm:

    Well, the Sun-Times is the No. 2 paper in Chicago. And, yes, they made a headline out of the jurors going to the bar. I’d say that qualifies as focus.

  14. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Nov 2, 11 @ 3:07 pm:

    lol. C’mon. It’s one story. You object to any stories at all? Really?

    I found the story extremely useful and insightful.

  15. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Nov 2, 11 @ 3:09 pm:

    ===use the headline to convey outrage, as if the jurors have somehow compromised and shamed themselves.===

    Only people who hate taverns would think something like this. I doubt more than a tiny percentage of the Sun-Times readership qualifies.

  16. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Nov 2, 11 @ 3:11 pm:

    Also, here’s the headline…

    ===Jurors go to downtown bar after convicting Cellini ===

    Seems pretty straightforward to me. They did go to a downtown bar, right? Any yellow journalism in the wording? If it had been: “Cellini jurors get plastered after convicting old man,” I could see your point.

  17. - Bemused - Wednesday, Nov 2, 11 @ 3:16 pm:

    Nature abhors a vacuum. Will the next Bill Cellini please step forward so the dance may continue.

  18. - Coach - Wednesday, Nov 2, 11 @ 3:18 pm:

    Look, the Sun-Times isn’t in the business of making matter-of-fact observations about ordinary things that people do with their day. It’s in the business of selling shock and awe in the form of news content. So if you consider the headline in context - the context being that the Sun-Times only prints what it believes to be provocative content - then, yes, the headline implies outrage on the part of the newspaper. Whether readers view it that way is anybody’s guess.

  19. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Nov 2, 11 @ 3:20 pm:

    ===the context being that the Sun-Times only prints what it believes to be provocative content===


    Have you ever seen the New York Post?

  20. - Objective Dem - Wednesday, Nov 2, 11 @ 3:32 pm:

    I don’t know if you would want to touch it due to the conviction, but an interesting question of the day would be “Who is the new Bill Cellini?” or “What individual wields the most clout for their personal business interests?”

    I certainly can’t think of anyone.

  21. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Nov 2, 11 @ 3:42 pm:

    OD, there has never been anybody even close to Cellini in this state. The new Cellinis - if you can even call them that - are barely shadows of the real Cellini’s self. The man dominated politics, made a ton of money on a wide variety of state dealings (property leases, casinos, investments, etc.) and was respected (if grudgingly) on both sides of the aisle. I’m not trying to excuse his behavior here, but he was and is head and shoulders above all the rest.

  22. - Wilson Pickett - Wednesday, Nov 2, 11 @ 4:01 pm:

    If I am typical, most folks will now be waiting to see if Cellini simply gets a slap on the wrist (anything less than 5 years or more) for a federal sentence. This trial (to me, anyway) serves as a training film for the next Bill Cellini (or the remaining Bill Cellinis that are still out there that haven’t been ciught yet). None of these guys is ever going to communicate with each other in the future without first assuming that their conversation is being taped. From now on, they will write their communication between each other on paper with pencil and then they will immediately light a match to the paper after the other guy has read the message. The rats simply smarten up and learn how to more wisely navigate through the maze. Good luck to you, Patrick Fitzgerald. You sure have our respect.

  23. - Tired - Wednesday, Nov 2, 11 @ 4:02 pm:

    47th - Cellini is not beloved by many in Spfld. Maybe his political chronies. A lot of us are stuck working in run down buildings he owns or manages. The feds need to look into his real estate deals with the State. Back in the 90’s a person who worked at CMS on real estate deals sat on the board his company that was in real estate. After that person got through with CMS Cellini got him hired at TRS.

  24. - Objective Dem - Wednesday, Nov 2, 11 @ 4:04 pm:

    Rich, I agree with you. I can’t think of anyone coming close. I was amazed to learn that he was working with Chicago insiders on land deals in Chicago.

    The other amazing thing is how few people knew who he was before the trial.

  25. - Chad - Wednesday, Nov 2, 11 @ 4:05 pm:

    It will be difficult for a “new Cellini” to take hold. So much of his early political building was levered by legal (and often brutal) patronage activities. The rules changed, and the tools he had back then are no longer legal. Today it is all about raising campaign cash, and thelarger many credible bundlers out there. To the many Cellini admirers out there, I don’t get it. Dealing with anyone close to him was usually a creepy experience. Many of us were warned to stay far away from him. Now we have a jury of peers confirming that at least a part of his fortune was knowingly amassed through fraud. Perhaps the praise from some quarters is based on a hope that he will remain quiet.

  26. - Shore - Wednesday, Nov 2, 11 @ 4:26 pm:

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with them going to a bar postgame or coverage of it. As for the years. He’s 76 so 7 years to him is not 7 years to a 45 year old, it could be the rest of his life in jail or 70 percent of the rest of his life. I also wonder what affect watching George Ryan’s ordeal with his wife last summer will have on him. That did not look pleasant from the outside and while I don’t know of any cellini family health problems, it was a strong symbol of what the next phase of his life could look like.

  27. - walkinfool - Wednesday, Nov 2, 11 @ 4:32 pm:

    All of these Federal conspiracy statutes are a mess to figure out, and often lead to confusion/injustice. They are one reason the Feds have a stacked deck going into a lot of cases, plus the one about stretching a phone call into “wire fraud”. (Juries usually can see through the latter, however.
    So, in simple terms: Cellini conspired to attempt to extort, but did not personally attempt to extort, and didn’t extort.

    I believe that much of how he made his money over time, has been destructive to good government. But we have to get better at fighting corruption than this.

  28. - Arthur Andersen - Wednesday, Nov 2, 11 @ 4:37 pm:

    So much for “Papal Infallibility,”, eh?

    To the topic, some of you folks need to check your facts before posting. Cellini wasn’t found guilty of “knowingly amassing $$ through fraud” and to my knowledge he is not currently a landlord to any State agencies.

    As far as the verdict, the juror comments did not frankly bolster my faith in the jury system. Hearing that they were collegial and examined the counts individually is fine and dandy, but as Rich notes very well, their other comments reveal what seems like a big flaw in their thinking.

    However, as the Prof. points out, none of us were in the courtroom, let alone the jury room, so we should thank them for their service and let the legal process move forward without an excess of Monday morning quarterbacking.

  29. - PPHS - Wednesday, Nov 2, 11 @ 5:38 pm:

    Are the people that Cellini could turn on actually friends? After being practically shut out of the governor’s office by Ryan, Cellini had to go looking for other avenues to tap into. He was never happy with just a piece of the pie. He had to have the whole thing. Greed is an awful companion.

  30. - Cheswick - Wednesday, Nov 2, 11 @ 6:54 pm:

    The next Cellini? Not to go all conspiracy theory on you all, but you know how certain bosses of certain enterprises continue their businesses from behind bars? Well, the current Cellini will be the future Cellini no matter where he lays his head at night.

  31. - Cheswick - Wednesday, Nov 2, 11 @ 6:57 pm:

    Ack! I’m not saying Cellini is one of those; just using that as a comparison, if you will.

  32. - steve schnorf - Wednesday, Nov 2, 11 @ 7:28 pm:

    Yes, tired, I’m interested in the buildings he owns and leases to the state that people have to work in. Identify 1 or 2 for me, why don’t you, and them when you can’t, go away.

    When I went to CMS I had heard for years about Bill Cellini’s state leases. Well, we did the leases at CMS, and I found out that he had exactly zero state leases. Most people only know the rumors they’ve heard and rumors and stories are frequently either untrue or wildly inaccurate.

  33. - Objective Dem - Wednesday, Nov 2, 11 @ 9:52 pm:


    This is from a State Journal Register Article in 2008. Cellini may not currently lease any buildings to the State but he did. I have no doubt that some of the stories about Cellini are not true, but I bet there are some great ones that few people even know about.

    June 1979: State legislators approve a plan to lease the vacant Concordia Seminary from New Frontiers, a Cellini-owned company, for $985,000 a year and use it as a state prison training facility. The proposal came with an option to buy, and legislators talked about purchasing within five years, but the state is still leasing the building. The project was controversial from the start. “I don’t think anybody would be jumping all over this if Bill Cellini were not involved,” then Department of Corrections director Gayle Franzen said. “It just so happens that he knows more politicians than the governor or I put together.” Cellini closes several more leasing deals with the state in ensuing years, and by 1984, New Frontiers is leasing more square footage to the state than any other landlord in Springfield, collecting $175,300 a month in rent.

    November 1984: Complaining that legislators fight projects when they know he’s involved, Cellini acknowledges a deal with developer Frank Mason to gain control of the Bressmer Building in downtown Springfield that was leased by the state Department of Commerce and Community Affairs. It was a rare insight into the art of the deal as practiced by Cellini. He had an option to buy the building, but gave it to Mason in exchange for Mason agreeing to hire New Frontiers, Cellini’s company, to do renovation work. “I had an option, but I knew I couldn’t exercise it because people were nervous,” Cellini told The State Journal-Register. “In order to proceed, the state had to know who the owners were.” After the state signed a lease agreement with Mason, Cellini bought the building.

    1989: The state considers buying six buildings formerly owned by Cellini, who had sold them to a company called Pacificorp. Cellini continued managing the buildings, however, and his sales contract with Pacificorp would have required the state to either pay New Frontiers to manage the buildings for 20 years or pay Cellini $1.1 million. The deal with the state fell through, and Cellini denied that politics was involved. “If it was, I would have made out better,” Cellini said.

  34. - Springfield Resident - Wednesday, Nov 2, 11 @ 9:58 pm:

    I don’t know if Steve Schnorf is trying to be disingenuous or is just splitting hairs.

    New Frontier owns many buildings leased by the State. New Frontier was founded by Cellini until he handed it down to his children. I don’t know when this happened, but I think it is reasonable to consider these Cellini properties. And yes there are many issues with these properties. I dare the state to do environmental testing on the old Springfield Watch factory, now the EPA building.

  35. - steve schnorf - Wednesday, Nov 2, 11 @ 11:18 pm:

    OD, of course he DID, and that’s exactly my point. He doesn’t, and hasn’t for more than 20 years (I went to CMS in 1991), but people still talk about it as if he does. Old fact becomes today’s rumor becomes tomorrow’s truth. Most people hear or read the rumors, and assume they are true.

    SR, you may be right, but if so it’s news to me. I’m not aware of New Frontier owning any buildings leased to the state. Perhaps you could specify which ones. My guess is you are talking about the Pacificorp buildings referenced above. Did you look at your own link, and notice the difference between “current” and “past” developments?

  36. - scorp1531 - Tuesday, Nov 8, 11 @ 8:15 pm:

    The real villains in this stinking soiree are the governors of Illinois handing him the state treasury for 40 years while he tossed a few coins at their greedy feet. One party existed in Sangamon County…the Cellini one. The state needs to try and recoup money by confiscating some of his ridiculous rental contracts with the state and impounding all of his money. governors past and present need to be thoroughly scrutinized and perhaps even Winston Strawn.Shed tears for all the little people who have suffered under Sangamon County political parties. Only if you weree in and played their game could you succeed. Still some lingering sleaze to wade through.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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