After listening to a federal prosecutor for nearly 40 minutes lay out how Springfield power broker William Cellini allegedly plotted to extort campaign cash from a Hollywood producer, veteran attorney Dan Webb stood up and put a decidedly different spin on the story.

Cellini was only trying to help an old friend, Webb insisted Wednesday to the jury. And in the end, he did, Webb maintained.

"This story does have a happy ending," Webb said with emphasis as Cellini's long-awaited trial started in earnest after the selection of 12 jurors and four alternates.

The longtime Statehouse insider is charged with trying to shake down producer Thomas Rosenberg in 2004 for a $1.5 million contribution to the campaign of then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Cellini was no innocent victim of circumstances, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Deis contended in his opening remarks to jurors.

"The defendant didn't slip, fall and find himself in the middle of an extortion," he said. "He was in. Eyes wide open."

Cellini's federal trial on fraud and attempted extortion charges marks the last of the corruption cases arising from the scandal that toppled Blagojevich and many of his top aides.

On Wednesday, two rows of supporters, many of whom had traveled from Springfield, sat behind Cellini, 76, who has wielded influence behind the scenes in Springfield for four decades.

Webb told the jury that Cellini never took part in the extortion and he attacked what he called six flaws in the government's evidence, including that there is no evidence Cellini directly asked Rosenberg for money. Webb also said it was Rosenberg who called Cellini for help when his investments at the Teachers' Retirement System, or TRS, were threatened.

Webb also blasted Stuart Levine, the prosecution's key witness, as unreliable. He warned jurors that they would be stunned by Levine's "secret life" of serious drug abuse and "24-hour binge parties."

But the prosecutor noted that secretly recorded phone calls between Levine and Cellini prove that Cellini was deeply involved in the extortion plot.

Deis portrayed Cellini as a consummate insider with access and influence who could simply pick up a phone and reach decision-makers in state government.

In a low and serious tone, Deis explained how Cellini's longtime connections in state politics set the stage for the alleged 2004 plot.

After more than a quarter century of Republican rule in the governor's office, Democrat Blagojevich's election posed difficulties for Cellini, according to the government. But he secretly made a deal with two of the governor's key advisers, Antoin "Tony" Rezko and Christopher Kelly, that he would raise campaign money for Blagojevich to keep his influence at TRS, the prosecutor alleged. Levine was a corrupt member of the TRS board.

The government alleges that Cellini had a financial reason for the move — an investment company he controlled made millions of dollars in fees from TRS.

At one point Deis noted Cellini's considerable power by referring to his downstate nickname: "the pope."

Cellini, wearing a bright pink tie, sat calmly with his hands folded neatly on the defense table as the two sides told jurors what they believe the evidence will be as the trial unfolds during the next several weeks.

On a screen in the courtroom in the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, Webb flashed a litany of Levine's flaws, called him a con man and then listed five illegal drugs abused by Levine.

Webb told the jury of "24-hour binge parties" in hotels, including the infamous Purple Hotel in Lincolnwood.