Defense begins in Cellini trial; closing set for Tuesday

October 21, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Is he an extortionist or an innocent messenger - albeit a messenger with enormous power and influence?

The heart of the government's case against Cellini is that he was part of an attempt to shakedown Hollywood movie producer and Chicago native Tom Rosenberg seven years ago.

At the time, Rosenberg co-owned a company that handled over $200 million in investments for the Illinois Teacher Retirement System, and the message to Rosenberg then was pony up a big campaign contribution to the new governor, or you can forget your business with the state.

Rosenberg got that message in phone calls from Cellini, but the defense argues that Cellini was merely passing along the message from the real shakedown artists, Chris Kelly and Tony Rezko, one time buddies and kitchen cabinet money men for Rod Blagojevich.

On the stand, Rosenberg said he absolutely despised Kelly and Rezko and was ready to blow the whistle on them, but he also said that Cellini never directly demanded he play ball, and never asked him for a political contribution.

The government's other key witness, convicted influence peddler Stuart Levine, admitted that his history of drug abuse may have affected his memory, and that his litany of corrupt acts are beyond his own calculation.

Defense attorney Dan Webb Friday called Levine, "the single most uncredible witness I've ever seen in my career."

Closing arguments are set for Tuesday.

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