CHICAGO (AP) — The marquee event in a federal investigation into Rod Blagojevich’s governorship, Blagojevich’s own trial, is over — but the legal saga that stretches back nearly a decade isn’t quite at an end.
The last big trial in the case is that of businessman William Cellini, a Springfield Republican dubbed “The Pope” of Illinois politics for his influence in the halls of state power dating back to the 1960s.
“He might well make a list of the top 20 players in Illinois politics in recent decades,” said Paul Green, who teaches politics at Chicago’s Roosevelt University.
Cellini’s trial on charges he plotted to shake down a Hollywood movie producer for $1.5 million in campaign cash for Blagojevich is scheduled to start in October. Cellini, 76, has pleaded not guilty. His attorney, Dan Webb, has said they are ready to fight the charges at trial.
The transportation secretary under former Republican Gov. Richard Ogilvie, he later built a business empire in part on state government contacts. But Cellini raised money, not only for fellow Republicans but for Democrats, like Blagojevich, when it suited him.
While it was known Cellini was a mover and shaker, with his business interests ranging from asphalt to casinos, he often stood quietly in the shadows.
“Very little is known about him except by inside players,” Green said. “But now, at the trial, he will be front center.”
The possibility of testimony at Cellini’s trial by convicted influence peddler Tony Rezko, a former fundraiser for both Blagojevich and President Barack Obama, could also offer yet another peek at the underbelly of state politics.
At the same time, many observers say jaw-dropping revelations are unlikely.
“It’s possible, but I don’t think really big things will come out of the Cellini trial,” said Chris Mooney, a political science professor at the University of Illinois Springfield.
Post-Blagojevich retrial, Mooney also suspects prosecutors may not see a Cellini conviction as a huge prize.
“Prosecutors now have their big trophy on the wall — Blagojevich, done,” he said. “Cellini is just mopping up.”
Mike Lawrence, a recent head of the Carbondale-based Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, said Cellini had a reputation of someone who skirted the line of illegality but never crossed it.
“And he has indicated that he really doesn’t have anything to offer in terms of damaging disclosures on anyone big in the political orbit,” he said.
Cellini is accused of plotting with Rezko and others to block an investment company owned by producer Thomas Rosenberg from getting state business unless he coughed up the donation.
Cellini’s trial and Rezko’s sentencing were repeatedly pushed back amid drawn out proceedings against Blagojevich.
“We’re ready to go, and we’ve been patiently waiting,” Webb, Cellini’s attorney, told the (Springfield) State Journal Register in an interview published Sunday. “And we’re now glad it’s our turn to get this case behind him so he can go on with his life.”
The ousted governor’s first trial ended deadlocked, forcing the second trial. The retrial finished last week with jurors convicting Blagojevich on 17 counts, including attempted extortion for trying to sell or trade Obama’s old Senate seat.
Both Blagojevich and the jailed Rezko are expected to be sentenced toward the end of the year. Two former chiefs of staff for Blagojevich, John Harris and Lon Monk — both of whom testified against their former boss at his retrial — must also be sentenced.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.