CHICAGO, Ill. (IRN/KMOX) - Opening statements in the political corruption trial of a Springfield businessman continue Thursday morning.
He isn’t a politician but for years held much clout in the political realm that is Springfield, getting the state’s first casino license, state contracts and more. Bill Cellini is accused of trying to shakedown a Hollywood producer for campaign cash for then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich. A fundraiser for Republicans who tried to latch on to Democrats when Blagojevich was elected, Cellini pleaded not-guilty to the counts against him.
During opening statements late in the afternoon at the federal courthouse in Chicago, federal prosecutors told jurors that Cellini’s trial was “about extortion” and say he used his inside access to politicians and other decision makers to fatten his wallet and they say it’s all caught on tape. But defense attorneys told jurors that they’ve only heard half the story and that Cellini wasn’t mixed up in any scheme. They claim it was political fixer Tony Rezko, fundraiser Stewart Levine and Blagojevich advisor Chris Kelly who schemed to shake down people for campaign cash. Rezko was found guilty in a separate trial and Levine pled guilty in 2006 and has been cooperating with the government. He’s expected to testify at Cellini’s trial. The defense stopped their opening statement midway and will finish up today (Thursday) before witnesses are called.
Meanwhile, it took roughly three days to seat a jury in the trial. The judge dismissed those who thought political fundraising undermines the political system. He went through about 50 jurors before seating those that will listen to the three to six-week trial.
Cellini is the last to be prosecuted in a federal investigation that included the arrests and convictions of Rezko, Blagojevich, Levine and others.