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* After more than a few backfire moments from their star witness Stu Levine, federal prosecutors lowered the boom on Bill Cellini in court today

A Hollywood producer testified in federal court Thursday morning that a Springfield power broker told him his business with the state had been put on hold because he hadn’t contributed to then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s campaign fund.

Producer and businessman Tom Rosenberg said his firm, Capri Capital, did not initially get the $220 million in state teachers’ pension fund business it was slotted to get.

When he asked Springfield millionaire William Cellini about it, Cellini told him he had angered Blagojevich fund-raisers Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly by not kicking in to the then-governor’s campaign fund, he said.

“Bill told me that Rezko and Kelly said it would not go forward until Capri made the appropriate (contribution),” Rosenberg testified. “He was telling me why it was stopped and it would be stopped until money was contributed to (Rod) Blagojevich.” […]

The testimony combats Cellini’s contention that he was an unwitting participant, or “the ham in the ham sandwich” in the alleged extortion scheme. Cellini is on trial, accused of conspiring with board member Stuart Levine, Rezko and Kelly to extort Rosenberg.


Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Niewoehner then asked Rosenberg how Cellini reacted to his ire.

“He was nervous,” Rosenberg quickly responded over the objection of Cellini’s attorney but then was allowed to continue. “I interpreted his voice as nervous.”

Stu Levine has testified that he asked Cellini to deliver a message to Rosenberg about the planned shakedown, and then Rosenberg essentially testified today that he got that message. The defense is cross-examining Rosenberg as I write this, but they’d better poke some big holes in Rosenberg’s story or Cellini could very well be doomed. I’ll let you know what happens.

* From yesterday’s proceedings, which were not witnessed by the jury

Prior to the start of the direct examination of Rosenberg, Terry Gillespie (of Gillespie and Genson) questioned Rosenberg out of the presence of the jury, a practice Judge Zagel employs frequently to decide whether and how to limit testimony of witnesses, in accord with the Federal Rules of Evidence.

Tom Rosenberg was questioned by Gillespie with regard to six telephone conversations Rosenberg had with Bill Cellini, which were the only communications the two had during the relevant time period [2004]. Rosenberg testified that at the time of each call he never felt that Cellini was trying to cause him economic harm. Gillespie will not be able to ask that type of question, which calls for a legal conclusion, in front of the jury this morning. However, he may be able to come close. If Gillespie succeeds in asking similar questions and getting similar answers, the result may be “game, set and match,” for Mr. Cellini.

* But Judge Zagel has limited the defense’s questions to the extent that Cellini’s lawyers asked for a mistrial yesterday

Cellini’s lead lawyer, Dan Webb, asked for a mistrial after U.S. Judge James Zagel refused to allow Webb to question Levine about statements Levine made in the Rezko trial.

Federal prosecutors contend Cellini relayed to Rosenberg that he would be expected to make a campaign contribution in order to get TRS funds to invest.

Webb said he believed Levine had contradicted himself in Cellini’s trial compared with testimony Levine gave in Rezko’s trial. Webb said Levine told the jury in Rezko’s trial that no one, including Cellini, directly asked Rosenberg for a $1.5 million political contribution to then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich in May 2004, when the conspiracy was being hatched. […]

“Their (the prosecution’s) theory is that Cellini’s purpose was to deliver … a message … that I would characterize as a ‘that day will come’ message,” Zagel said. “You can argue about whether he delivered the ‘that day will come’ message.”

Whether Cellini thought he delivered the message or not, today’s testimony indicates that Rosenberg received it.

Stay tuned.

…Adding… Let’s do the ScribbleLive thing to keep us updated as it goes along. As always, BlackBerry users click here. Everybody else can kick back and watch…

posted by Rich Miller
Thursday, Oct 20, 11 @ 11:59 am


  1. It is pretty funny watching Webb get the Zagel treatment.

    Comment by Bill Thursday, Oct 20, 11 @ 1:33 pm

  2. What was the point of yesterday’s exercise that had Rosenberg answering questions with the jury out of the room? It was like neither the prosecution nor the defense had any idea what he was going to say, so they had to practice outside the jury’s presence, which is very odd. And Webb raised a good point about the discrepencies between Levine’s testimony in Rezko and a slightly different version in Cellini. I don’t think he’ll get a mistrial, but I thought it was interesting that Zagel agreed that Webb had to offer the motion given the different testimony.

    One final thought: did Webb ask Levine if he was ever high when speaking on the tapes with Cellini? If not, why not? I think raising the question of whether Levine’s recollection was clouded because he was under the influence at the time would help his cause (maybe he did and I simply missed it).

    Comment by 47th Ward Thursday, Oct 20, 11 @ 2:15 pm

  3. 47th,that’s explained above. The judge wanted to hear what he had to say so he could decide what the jury coujld hear.

    Also, I believed that question was ask about Levine being high while talking to Cellini. I think Levine said he wasn’t.

    Comment by Rich Miller Thursday, Oct 20, 11 @ 2:17 pm

  4. Thanks Rich.

    Comment by 47th Ward Thursday, Oct 20, 11 @ 2:23 pm

  5. Natasha ‘twittered’ yesterday that Rosenberg testified that “someone” told him that Tony Rezko was looking for %40 of the MGM casino deal back in 2003??? Has anyone read any where any more details like, who told him this. It was in March of 2004 that Rod Blagojevich hired Eric Holder. It was June when Stuart Levine suddenly resigned from the hospital board. Bernard Barton/John Thomas entered the picture sometime in 2004, the exact date I don’t know. There is sooo much more to “Operation Board Games”, this could go on forever.

    Comment by kermit Thursday, Oct 20, 11 @ 3:05 pm

  6. kermit, they’re almost surely done. Rezko’s gonna be in prison forever.

    Comment by Rich Miller Thursday, Oct 20, 11 @ 3:17 pm

  7. when does this go to jury/when will we get a verdict?

    Comment by Shore Thursday, Oct 20, 11 @ 4:05 pm

  8. shore, relax. The defense hasn’t even presented its case yet.

    You’re like my brothers when we were kids. “Are we there yet?”


    Comment by Rich Miller Thursday, Oct 20, 11 @ 4:06 pm

  9. Maybe I’m alone here, but I have to say I’m disappointed with the hit-and-miss nature of trial coverage. Cellini is, arguably, a bigger deal than Blago because, if you believe the conspiracy theorists, he is the common thread going back three-four decades, a guy who helped make this state’s politics/government what it is. And yet entire days have gone by with virtually nothing out of the courtroom. Korecki of the ST and Wetterich of SJR have been top-notch, when they’ve been there, live-blogging all kinds of insight into both what is being said and how the jury appears to be reacting. But there’s been far too little of that, I think. It is sad that in a state this size no media outlet has seen fit to station a reporter in the courtroom gavel-to-gavel and give regular updates like the kind we saw this afternoon. Maybe there was something we missed, maybe there wasn’t. But this thing is huge, and it seems to be getting treated as an after thought now that Blago is finished.

    Comment by whereisthemedia Thursday, Oct 20, 11 @ 5:10 pm

  10. ===Maybe I’m alone here, but I have to say I’m disappointed with the hit-and-miss nature of trial coverage. ====

    You’re not alone. I’ve seen stories that said “so and so testified today,” without one word about what they actually said.

    Comment by Rich Miller Thursday, Oct 20, 11 @ 5:26 pm

  11. Cellini didn’t tell Rosenberg anything that I wouldn’t have told him, or that the Capitol Fax wasn’t making known, or that wasn’t on the cover of the Tribune. Illinois state government was for sale the entire time Blagojevich was Governor and everybody knew it. To make it a crime, the feds needed to show that Celini had a hand in orchestrating this shakedown, which brings us back to Levine, and he’s just too problematic as a key witness.

    Comment by Quizzical Thursday, Oct 20, 11 @ 10:18 pm

  12. The weaker news coverage is because this case is not the circus Blago’s was. Following the Blago trials was easy, even for reporters unfamiliar with trials: you sat around and waited for Rod or his lawyers to say something outrageous, copied it down, “thirty”. It takes a little more intelligence to follow a case like Cellini’s and there is no easy payoff to the lowest common denominator. And Cellini’s name still does intimidate in some circles, as well, because he has a network of people he befriended that’s over thirty years long. Though after this trial, I imagine that spell may finally be broken.

    Comment by Newsclown Friday, Oct 21, 11 @ 8:04 am

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