Stuart Levine, the star witness at the shakedown trial of Illinois powerbroker William Cellini, told jurors Monday that he sometimes has difficultly with his memory and conceded it may be due to decades of drug abuse that included binges at parties he sometimes flew to by private jet with fellow addicts.
Prosecutors also said they will wind down their case this week against 76-year-old William Cellini -- once dubbed the King of Clout in Illinois politics. He is accused of conspiring to squeeze the Oscar-winning producer of "Million Dollar Baby" for a $1.5 million campaign contribution to then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
At the end of the day Monday, the prosecution told Judge James Zagel they could rest as soon as Thursday. Thomas Rosenberg, the alleged shakedown target, is expected to be one of the government's last witnesses.
In a full day grilling star government witness Levine on Monday, defense attorney Dan Webb sought to convey to jurors that Levine -- who claims he was in on the 2004 extortion plot -- was a habitual liar and serial crook.
In some of his most salacious testimony, Levine described arranging marathon drug parties for a close-knit group of friends, often at the Chicago-area's Purple Hotel. He sometimes flew the group by private jet, at his expense, to drug binges elsewhere.
Prosecutors say Cellini and Levine, together with two Blagojevich insiders -- Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly -- tried to force Rosenberg into making the donation by threatening to withhold $220 million in state pension funds from Rosenberg's investment company.
Levine, a board member of the $30 billion Teachers Retirement System that oversaw the pensions, is the only scheduled witness to claim direct knowledge of Cellini's involvement -- and so the government's case may hinge on whether jurors believe him.
Webb had more than ample ammunition with which to attack Levine's credibility.
Pacing the courtroom and looking from Levine to jurors as he spoke, the former U.S. attorney pressed Levine about more than a dozen bribery and fraud schemes over several years, most of which he has never been charged with.
In one, Levine told jurors he used his position as executor of a close friend's will to cheat his estate, including his deaf daughter, out of $2 million. He then charged the family a $1 million fee for his executor services.
"Your friend went out of his way to befriend and help you," Webb said, his voice striking a tone of disgust. "And after he did, you reward him by stealing from his estate."
After FBI agents revealed to Levine that they had recorded him on secret wiretaps, Levine said he continued to lie to agents and even to a judge. After signing an agreement to cooperate with the federal authorities, Levine even sought to secure on an uncollected kickback, he added.
While he otherwise has spoken in short, clipped sentences during a total of four days on the stand, Levine showed his first flash of indignation Monday when Webb asked if he would lie in court now if he calculated it would benefit him.
"No," he answered firmly and emphasizing each word. "I will not."
Levine, who was once worth $70 million and now works as a salesman in a mall, seemed less flustered on the stand Monday. But he occasionally appeared disoriented, sitting blank-faced and mouth agape for several seconds.
Cellini, who has denied any wrongdoing, looked on showing little emotion.
It was when Levine struggled to remember the years he sat on the pension system board that Webb suddenly revisited the 65-year-old's three decades gorging on cocaine and other hard drugs.
"Do you think that your drug use has affected you memory?" Webb asked.
"It's possible," Levine responded quietly.
"These were important boards, and you can't remember the years you were on these boards?" Webb pressed again.
"No," Levine answered in a hush.
Levine said he would sometimes snort 10 "lines" of a powdered mix of crystal methamphetamine and ketamine around the time he was allegedly involved in the extortion plot.
Webb said he expected to finish cross-examining Levine on Tuesday.
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