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Springfield power broker Cellini guilty of extortion, aiding bribery

William F. Cellini arrives Dirksen Federal Building Nov. 1 for jury’s verdict his corrupticase. With him are son-in-law Raffi daughter

William F. Cellini arrives at the Dirksen Federal Building on Nov. 1 for the jury’s verdict in his corruption case. With him are son-in-law Raffi, daughter Claudia and wife Julie. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 9, 2012 9:58AM

A federal jury found William Cellini, a Springfield powerbroker who for decades pulled the strings in state government, guilty Tuesday of extortion and aiding and abetting bribery.

Cellini, 76, was accused of trying to shake down investment firm owner Thomas Rosenberg, the producer of the Oscar-winning movie “Million Dollar Baby,” for a campaign contribution to then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, in exchange for continued state pension business.

The jury of 10 women and two men reached its verdict after about two days of deliberating evidence following a 3 ½ week trial.

Prosecutors played secret FBI recordings of Cellini talking on the phone with Stuart Levine, a serial conman who was the government’s star witness and who testified for parts of six days.

Prosecutors said Cellini was a key member in a plot to shakedown Rosenberg. His motive, they said, was to please Blagojevich fundraisers Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly and thus, retain Cellini’s decades-long reach into the governor’s office. Prosecutors argued Cellini delivered an extortionate message to Rosenberg in May 2004 that his firm would lose Teachers’ Retirement System pension business if he didn’t donate to Blagojevich. Rosenberg testified he angrily balked at the request.

“I told Bill that I would not be shaken down,” Rosenberg testified last week. “I told him I would stand on the corner of State and Madison and discuss this. ... I screamed and cursed. I wanted him to pass on the full level of my fury to Rezko and Kelly.”

Cellini’s lawyer, former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb, had repeatedly argued it was the drug-addled Levine, a member of the TRS board, who devised the extortion plan. He said it was Levine who had a personal vendetta against Rosenberg and who stood to profit from the scheme or get credit if Rosenberg did ante up to Blagojevich’s campaign fund.

The heart of Cellini’s defense was that he was “the ham in the ham sandwich,” who didn’t know about an extortion scheme and never planned to profit off of one.

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