Springfield power broker William Cellini will not testify at his federal trial after all.
Cellini’s lawyer, Dan Webb, had raised the possibility that Cellini would take the witness stand. But this afternoon Webb told U.S. District Judge James Zagel that his client would not testify.
Prosecutors have charged that Cellini agreed in 2004 to help extort a campaign contribution for then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich from a Hollywood producer whose investment firm had major business with the state teacher pension board.
Cellini, 76, agreed to the plot, the government asserts, to protect his influence and access to the teacher pension board.
Cellini is accused of conspiring with Stuart Levine, another longtime political insider, as well as two top advisers to Blagojevich -- Antoin "Tony" Rezko and Christopher Kelly -- to hold up an investment deal by Hollywood producer and money manager Thomas Rosenberg with the Teachers Retirement System until Rosenberg came up with a $1.5 million contribution to Blagojevich.
On Thursday, Rosenberg concluded his testimony, describing how he turned to old friend Cellini when Rosenberg's deal suddenly stalled in Springfield seven years ago. Cellini, whom Rosenberg had known for years and who also did a lot of business at the pension board, could figure out what was happening, Rosenberg figured.
But Cellini’s answer left Rosenberg furious, he testified at Cellini’s federal trial.
Rezko and Kelly had put a brick on the pension deal, and the only way to get it moving again was to make a contribution to Blagojevich, he said he learned from Cellini.
“I screamed and cursed,” Rosenberg responded in a low, even voice when asked how he reacted to the news. “I wanted him to pass on the full level of my fury.”
Cellini is alleged to have agreed to assist in the plot to protect his influence at the Teachers Retirement System, or TRS, where his own investment company had also made millions of dollars.
Rosenberg, 64, who was born in Chicago but relocated to California to produce movies, was relaxed and confident on the witness stand Thursday. At times, he drew smiles or laughs from jurors and spectators during a cross-examination by Cellini’s attorney, Terence Gillespie.
Under questioning by prosecutors, Rosenberg said that Cellini made it clear to him in May 2004 that he needed to contribute to Blagojevich or that the TRS deal with his company, Capri Capital, would not be approved.
Cellini told Rosenberg that Rezko and Kelly were aware of how much money Capri had already managed for TRS and that they were angry that “we had done virtually nothing for Blagojevich,” Rosenberg testified.
Capri’s $220-million deal had already been stalled, Rosenberg explained to jurors.
“I didn’t look at it as a threat,” Rosenberg said of Cellini’s remarks to him. “I looked at it as a fait accompli.”
Rosenberg didn’t blink, instead telling Cellini to relay to Rezko and Kelly that he would sooner go to Blagojevich about their strong-arm tactics than make a campaign contribution, he testified.
He also warned Cellini that Rezko and Kelly were going to get them in trouble with law enforcement.
“If there is not a grand jury already investigating these two, there will be,” Rosenberg said he told Cellini. “These two were so outrageous, so crazy, so wild, so brazen it was just a matter of time.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Niewoehner then asked Rosenberg how Cellini reacted to his ire.
“He was nervous,” Rosenberg quickly responded over the objection of Cellini’s attorney but then was allowed to continue. “I interpreted his voice as nervous.”
Cellini then told him that he “had to deal with these guys” because he was a lobbyist, Rosenberg said.
During his cross-examination, though, Gillespie drew a distinction with Rosenberg about whether Cellini asked him directly to make a contribution to Blagojevich’s campaign.
“He never did,” Rosenberg said. “He said Rezko and Kelly said that they were holding it up for the purpose of getting me to make a contribution.”
The prosecution contends that Cellini had agreed with Levine that he would deliver the extortion message to Cellini — in part because Rosenberg had already reached out to Cellini for help and because Rosenberg knew Cellini had such sway at TRS.
Levine, who pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the government, has testified that Cellini agreed to approach Rosenberg and that they were both acting to protect their influence at TRS.
Gillespie’s cross-examination allowed Rosenberg ample opportunity to take shots Levine, the bad blood evident from the first time Gillespie mentioned Levine’s name.
“I didn’t like him from the day I met him,” Rosenberg said.
Gillespie asked Rosenberg several questions about his history with Levine, including the many times Rosenberg has alleged that Levine tried to bribe him.
“He was trying to figure out a right way to do a wrong thing,” Rosenberg said of one alleged Levine scheme. “…You got to imagine what it’s like to meet with Stuart.”
Gillespie then asked Rosenberg if it was a “rope-a-dope,” which led to banter between the two about boxing strategies and Muhammad Ali and then an off-handed remark by Gillespie about one of Rosenberg’s “movies” – an apparent reference to “Million Dollar Baby,” the Oscar-winning boxing movie.