Hollywood producer Tom Rosenberg -- the man at the center of an alleged extortion scheme -- said Wednesday he threatened to “kick the s---” out of two of Rod Blagojevich’s top fund-raisers if they really were making a pay-to-play demand.
Rosenberg, 64, the producer of “Million Dollar Baby,” testified in William Cellini’s federal trial — but outside the jury’s presence — that he grew upset when he learned $220 million in state money from a teachers’ pension fund that was supposed to go to his investment firm, Capri Capital, was instead held up.
“I’m not going to let this happen,” Rosenberg said he told Cellini in a May 2004 phone call. “I’ll kick the s--- out of them.”
Rosenberg, testifying under a grant of immunity, answered a series of questions posed by Cellini’s attorney Terry Gillespie outside of the jury’s presence, so the judge could determine whether he would allow the testimony. Rosenberg said he didn’t think Cellini was personally trying to get money from him, but he believed Cellini was passing messages to and from fund-raisers Chris Kelly and Tony Rezko.
With the jury present, Rosenberg told Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Niewoehner of a longtime, close business friendship with Cellini, a Springfield power broker accused of conspiring with Kelly, Rezko and pension board member Stuart Levine to get Rosenberg to ante up to Blagojevich’s campaign fund before he’d get future state work.
Rosenberg testified that soon after Blagojevich was elected governor, he warned Cellini about Rezko. Rosenberg said he told Cellini around 2003 that he heard Rezko made MGM Casino an offer. Rezko would deliver the last riverboat license in the state to MGM: “and in exchange get 40 percent.”
Rosenberg said he passed on to Cellini what someone told him of Rezko.
“If he did it after Blagojevich were sworn in, he’d have committed a crime,” Rosenberg said he had been told.
Rosenberg also testified that Levine, whom he knew since the late 1980s, repeatedly tried shaking him down for money over the years. That included in 2001, when he said Levine asked to be paid off after Rosenberg’s Capri continued to win a hefty slice of the Teachers’ Retirement System business. Though Levine said Rosenberg agreed to pay a $500,000 bribe but then stiffed him, Rosenberg said he never agreed but also never explicitly said no.
“Stuart was ever-hopeful of many things,” said Rosenberg. “This was a continuum.”
Rosenberg also produced “Lincoln Lawyer,” in which many Chicagoans played bit parts, including his Chicago lawyer, Andy Staes, who was in the courtroom Wednesday.
Rosenberg’s testimony continues Thursday.