For the past 25 years, at least, Republican William "Bill" Cellini has been known as the most powerful behind-the-scenes player in Illinois state politics. His name came up repeatedly during last spring's federal trial that convicted Democratic party fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko.
Rezko, who awaits sentencing, is now cooperating with the federal government and could be a witness against the 73-year-old Cellini. Prosecutors charge that he conspired with Rezko, corrupt businessman Stuart Levine and others to extort $1.5 million campaign contribution for Governor Rod Blagojevich.
The plot allegedly targeted Thomas Rosenberg, a North Shore investment firm owner, who was told he could not do business with the Illinois teachers pension fund unless he gave money to the governor.
At one point during Rezko's trial, prosecutors played a secretly recorded phone conversation in which Cellini warned Levine that the angry Rosenberg might call in the feds.
"The more he talked the angrier he got. He said, 'I don't have a problem. They have a real problem,' " Cellini said on the tape.
Cellini, once a Springfield city councilman, rose to power during the Republican administrations of governors Jim Thompson and Jim Edgar. He also has developed real estate and chaired a casino company while helping raise tens of millions of dollars for candidates of both parties.
"Bill Cellini doesn't much care about whether you're a Democrat or a Republican. He's looking at where the power is," said Cindi Canary, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.
Thursday afternoon, defense lawyer Dan Webb, who represented convicted governor George Ryan, issued a statement saying his client Cellini "is completely innocent of these charges and will fight this case."
Governor Rod Blagojevich could not comment on Cellini's trouble's during the governor's only public appearance Thursday, which occurred before the indictment was announced.
"I think that Governor Blagojevich has got to be worried. The universe around the governor is shrinking, as one by one they're called into the U.S. attorney's office," said Canary.
A spokesman for the governor says Blagojevich will issue a statement sometime Thursday afternoon.
Meanwhile, there is no word on when Cellini will appear in federal court to hear the charges. He lives in Springfield but does own a condominium in downtown Chicago.
Cellini was also mentioned during the Rezko trial as allegedly having been part of plot to get rid of Chicago's U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. his Lawyer denied that allegation several months ago.