Prosecution's star witness testifies at Cellini trial

October 12, 2011 4:22:45 PM PDT
The prosecution put its star witness on the stand Wednesday in the trial of Springfield power-broker William Cellini, who is accused of trying to extort a campaign contribution for Rod Blagojevich from a Hollywood producer.

The star witness is Stuart Levine. His fall from grace and the inner-circle of Blagojevich has been well-documented, but those in court on Wednesday learned just how far Levine has fallen.

The one-time multimillionaire now sells electronic cigarettes at a shopping mall. Levine testified Wednesday that Cellini used his fundraising prowess to put himself in a position to benefit from teacher's pension investments.

The year was 2002. Republicans had held the keys to the Illinois Governor's Mansion for more than 25 years. Jim Ryan was their candidate -- he was facing a fierce battle with a young Democrat named Rod Blagojevich.

That summer, Wednesday's testimony indicated, Cellini hedged his bets and quietly began fundraising for Blagojevich.

Money and politics are such dirty words, Cellini's attorneys asked that the jury not be allowed to hear specifics about the hundreds of thousands of dollars Cellini is believed to have brought in.

Judge James Zagel reminded jurors "Fundraising activities are not in and of themselves illegal unless they are done in exchange for an official's official [act]."

After lunch, the government's star witness Stuart Levine took the stand. Prosecutors laid out his baggage including convictions, bribery, lying and drug use.

Levine testified to using "marijuana, LSD, cocaine, ecstasy, crystal meth and Ketamine" for three decades, including the period in which Levine was a Blagojevich fundraiser and appointed trustee on the Teachers' Retirement System board.

Levine told jurors that Cellini was the man behind the curtain, the puppet master who with a phone call or handshake could get friendly people appointed to boards or an extra $50 million in state investments steered to his own firm.

Stuart Levine laid out for jurors the tightly woven web between donors, appointments to state boards and the movement of state money. At one point, Stuart testified Wednesday that he knew a fellow Teachers Retirement System board member because he had previously given him a bribe.

Levine is expected to be on the stand for at least a week.


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