Jury deliberates in Cellini trial

October 25, 2011 3:22:24 PM PDT
Political powerbroker William Cellini, who is accused of plotting to shakedown a Hollywood producer to contribute campaign cash to former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, will soon learn his fate.

Cellini has been known as a businessman with influence and political clout for decades. But is he an extortionist? Absolutely not, his attorney argued Tuesday.

Cellini is accused of trying to shakedown Hollywood movie producer Tom Rosenberg back in 2004 -- the message being -- either pony up a big campaign contribution to Blagojevich, or you won't get multi-millions in state pension business.

Defense attorney Dan Webb told the jurors during closing arguments that if there was a conspiracy, Cellini was never part of it, never knew it existed, and that the government's key witness is - as Webb called him, "a whack job," an admitted liar, thief and con-man with a faulty memory brought on by 30 years of drug abuse.

"This is the witness the government is asking you to believe", said Webb. "The nature of this case cries out that there is reasonable doubt all over the place."

But prosecutor Julie Porter told the jury that Cellini was "not on the sidelines. He was in the thick of it." She said he was not just an innocent messenger, but "had his eyes wide open, and he knew exactly what was going on" because an aim of the conspiracy was to protect his power and influence.

Prosecutors then replayed a phone conversation that was secretly recorded after movie producer Rosenberg threatened to expose the shakedown. In the recording, Cellini and Levine discuss the idea of giving Rosenberg far less pension business as a means of softening his anger.

That conversation, prosecutors say, shows that Cellini wasn't just a messenger, he was an extorter.

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