Testimony Begins in William Cellini Trial After Controversy over - FOX 32 News Chicago

Testimony Begins in William Cellini Trial After Controversy over The Pope Nickname

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Opening statements wrapped up Thursday morning in the trial of William Cellini, who is accused of shaking down a Hollywood Producer for former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Testimony began just before noon Thursday.

The nickname of the Springfield powerbroker was creating waves Thursday morning.

The 76-year-old Cellini has been called "the pope" of Illinois politics. He's accused of conspiring to shake down the producer of "Million Dollar Baby" for a campaign contribution to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

On Thursday before jurors entered the courtroom, defense attorney Dan Webb complained that prosecutors called Cellini that nickname during opening statements. Webb asked if he could tell jurors that Cellini made his wealth because he was a savvy businessman and not because of clout.

U.S. District Judge James Zagel said how good a businessman Cellini was isn't relevant to the shakedown allegation.

In his opening statements, Webb said his client was never friends with Blagojevich and didn't meet with the former governor.

Webb claimed Cellini was an innocent messenger used by others in a shakedown scheme.

"There never was a plan that Cellini was going to get a dime, so why would he participate?" Webb asked the jury.

Prosecutors called their first witness, Keith Bozarth, who was the executive director of the Illinois Teachers Retirement System from 1998-2001.

He was called to testify about Cellini's influence at the TRS. The agency manages billions of dollars in teachers' pensions.

Prosecutors said Cellini plotted to withhold TRS funds from the producer's investment firm unless he contributed to Blagojevich's campaign.

Cellini denies the allegation.

A business associate of Cellini's testified Thursday that at various fundraisers over the years, Cellini often talked with Republican Governors Jim Thompson, Jim Edgar and George Ryan.

Prosecutors said Cellini was worried about losing his clout under Democrat Rod Blagojevich.

 

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