Cellini pleads not guilty in federal court

CHICAGO Political powerbroker William "Bill" Cellini pleaded not guilty in federal court, where Judge James Nagel set bond at $1 million. Cellini, a behind-the-scenes player in state politics for the past quarter century, is the latest person indicted in the US attorney's Operation Board Games investigation.

The rarely photographed, reputed "King of Illinois political clout" passed through security at the Dirksen Federal Building Friday as so many other criminal court defendants. The 74-year-old millionaire Springfield businessman was accompanied by attorney Dan Webb, of Chicago's Winston and Strawn law firm, who would tell the court that Cellini is innocent of each and every charge listed in the indictment.

"He in fact, is not guilty. We do intend to go to trial and establish at trial that he's innocent of these charges," said Dan Webb, defense attorney.

The government alleges Cellini, a Republican party fundraiser, was part of extortion plot against film producer and North Shore investment banker Thomas Rosenberg, who wanted to do business with the Illinois teachers retirement system.

Convicted Democratic fundraiser Tony Rezko and businessman Stuart Levine were also alleged to be part of the scheme to force Rosenberg to make a $1.5 million contribution to the campaign fund of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.

Rezko, who was found guilty last summer on charges related to other schemes, was actually acquitted of counts concerning the Rosenberg deal.

"I expect it will be the same result this time, because as was brought out in Rezko, Mr. Rosenberg is the one who contacted Mr. Cellini. And Mr. Rosenberg has testified under oath that at no time did Mr. Cellini ever ask him to ever make a campaign contribution or pay any money to anybody," said Webb.

A federal prosecutor said the government might ask the court to dismiss Webb as Cellini's lawyer because a former client of Webb's law firm is a witness in the case. Webb would not comment when asked if the witness in question is Governor Blagojevich, whose campaign fund has been represented in the past by Winston and Strawn.

The court could resolve the representation issue at a hearing before the end of the month, and both sides say the name of the controversial witness would be revealed at the same time.

Cellini will surrender his passport to federal authorities in Springfield. He wants to leave the country next year to attend his daughter's planned wedding in Italy.

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