Weeks before longtime state power broker William Cellini is set to stand trial, federal prosecutors detailed evidence they have against him, including statements he allegedly made about what to do if law enforcement closed in and about his decades of navigating Illinois politics.
A longtime Republican fundraiser, Cellini cozied up to Democrat Rod Blagojevich during the 2002 governor's race and struck a deal with Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly, two of Blagojevich's closest advisers, authorities said. He faces charges of extortion, conspiracy and bribery.
He is accused of agreeing to raise money for Blagojevich as a way to protect his power and influence in Springfield, specifically at the state teacher pension board. He is also accused of trying to shake down a Hollywood producer for campaign contributions for Blagojevich.
In the filing, the government alleges that Cellini, who was a presence in Illinois politics for four decades, discussed his longevity in a February 2004 meeting on an upcoming allocation of $4.8 billion in pension board money.
Cellini recounted to the group — which included Stuart Levine, who was also charged with public corruption — about a meeting he had just had with Rezko and Kelly.
"Upon arriving, defendant said he had just come from a meeting with Rezko and Kelly, and he was upset with them," the document reads. "He told Rezko and Kelly that they were moving too fast and were going to get themselves in trouble. Defendant said he told Rezko and Kelly that they should take defendant as an example: He had been doing this for 30 years and had always stayed above the fray."
The filing also details a call in May 2004 between Cellini and Levine. During the recorded call, Cellini allegedly discusses the potential for an investigation and how he allegedly told Rezko and Kelly to have a cover story ready about their relationship with him.
"I said now let me just say somethin' here. If somebody comes in with badges and flashes them at you an(d) in the course of the conversation says do you know Bill Cellini," he allegedly said, "just know before they ask that question that they have already checked all your phone logs and they know that we have talked on the phone. … so you can't say, oh, I've heard of him or I barely know him."
Cellini, who has been called Illinois' ultimate insider, began his political career as Springfield's commissioner of streets and public improvements at age 35 and worked as the transportation czar in Gov. Richard Ogilvie's Cabinet before moving on to fundraising and political lobbying.
Cellini's attorneys could not be immediately reached. But they have in the past vowed he would be vindicated of all charges, and they pointed out that Rezko was acquitted of the alleged extortion at the heart of Cellini's indictment.
The trial is set to begin on Oct. 3.
Tribune reporters Ray Long and John Chase contributed.