In 1998, Keith Bozarth was just weeks into his job overseeing the state pension system for Illinois teachers when he agreed to a meeting at the Renaissance Hotel in Springfield.
His lunch companion was William Cellini, a longtime Republican fundraiser and political powerbroker in Illinois, who would allegedly make clear that day and in subsequent meetings how he believed pensions should be managed, according to a government filing Wednesday in advance of Cellini's upcoming federal trial on charges of bribery, fraud and extortion.
While Bozarth talked of "risk and reward," Cellini waxed on about covering "political bases" by investing in both Republican and Democratic companies — even mentioning a real estate firm he was associated with, according to the prosecution filing. Cellini also talked of his access to politicians like then-Gov. George Ryan and mentioned another state agency head who had been removed after he "got out of step politically," the court document reads.
That conversation is just one of several the government will present as evidence that Cellini for years used his fundraising prowess to ingratiate himself with Republicans and Democrats alike, giving him influence with boards like the teachers pension fund, the Teachers' Retirement System of Illinois.
The U.S. attorney's office added the details in a routine filing the day after delivering its broad outline for the trial scheduled to begin Oct. 3. Bozarth, who eventually was replaced by a Cellini-backed executive director, is expected to testify as a prosecution witness, the government said.
Cellini's attorneys could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but they have said he will be vindicated of all charges.
The charges against Cellini stem from the investigation of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, convicted earlier this year of sweeping corruption charges. Cellini is accused of cutting deals with Blagojevich confidantes Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly to raise money for the governor as a way to protect his influence in Springfield. He is also accused of trying to shake down a Hollywood producer for campaign contributions for Blagojevich.
Tribune reporter Ray Long contributed.