Key player emerges in Blago indictment

April 3, 2009 (CHICAGO) Blagojevich may be the most prominent name on the indictment cover sheet but it may not be the most crucial.

Another name among the six indicted on federal racketeering charges is where the case began: a name well known inside political circles but unrecognizable to most others: William Cellini Sr.

Millionaire business tycoon Bill Cellini is rarely seen doing this: taking a front line role in any deal.

As a mainly Republican power broker, the 74-year-old Cellini prefers to broker his power behind the scenes, perhaps from his mansion in Springfield.

Last fall, when Mr. Cellini pleaded not guilty to federal charges that he tried to shake down an investment firm for campaign donations to Governor Blagojevich, the hammer had yet to fall on the governor.

But even before Mr. Cellini was indicted on additional charges on Thursday with Blagojevich, Cellini's attorney Dan Webb was angling to separate him from the damaged ex-governor.

According to court records obtained by the I-Team, Cellini last week filed a motion to dismiss the original conspiracy count against him. He also filed a motion to suppress wiretaps and other recorded conversations that are believed to be the basis for the criminal case. That motion he asked to be filed under seal, without public disclosure.

On Thursday, when the authorities unveiled a wide-ranging racketeering case against the impeached governor, his brother, Cellini, two former chiefs of staff and a top fundraiser, the new case was actually merged with Cellini's original prosecution.

The man who may be the link is Anton "Tony" Rezko who was Cellini's connection to Blagojevich and according to the feds, was there at the beginning of the scheme in 2002.

It is believed that Rezko, convicted himself of corruption, is cooperating with federal prosecutors.

So now, the Cellini-Blagojevich case is filed under one heading and it has been assigned to Cellini's original trial judge: Judge James Zagel who most recently heard the lengthy Family Secrets case against top Chicago mobsters.

As for Mr. Blagojevich, he was last seen on Thursday at Disney World.

Cellini was once the Illinois transportation director. He has been described more recently as the "most powerful lobbyist in Illinois."

Cellini's lawyer Dan Webb says his client is innocent of wrongdoing and is attempting to sever himself from the Blagojevich case to stand trial alone.

Webb's co-counsel on the Cellini defense is well known Chicago lawyer Terry Gillespie.

Mr. Gillespie was also supposed to handle Blagojevich's defense. That is obviously a conflict and Blagojevich ends up the loser. Gillespie agreed to represent Cellini first.

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