Chicago Sun-Times
Inside the Rod Blagojevich investigation and related cases

Trial closings: 'Cellini the extorter' vs. 'Levine the whack job'

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Words over a large overhead screen in a federal courtroom this morning read: "Cellini the extorter."

Federal prosecutors argued that longtime influential Springfield millionaire William Cellini wasn't the "ham in the ham sandwich" as his lawyers have suggested. Instead, Cellini was a willing, deliberate participant in an extortion scheme hatched by pension fund board member Stuart Levine and Rod Blagojevich fund-raisers Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly, they said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie Porter said the government doesn't have to prove motive in its case.

But, she said, the motive came down to this for Cellini: "Continued access. Continued clout. Continued state business."

Porter said Cellini played ball with Levine, Rezko and Kelly because he wanted his investment fund, Commonwealth Realty, to continue to win hundreds of millions of dollars in work with the Teachers' Retirement System. Cellini, 76, is accused of passing on an extortionate message to Hollywood producer Tom Rosenberg, telling him if he wanted future investments for Rosenberg's firm, Capri Capital, he had to pay money to Blagojevich's campaign fund.

Defense lawyer Dan Webb quickly worked to villainize the prosecution's top witness, Levine, calling him a "whack job," 10 minutes into his closing remarks. Webb said he would talk for three hours. Levine admitted to concocting a series of schemes for the better part of his adult life. They involved ripping off people.

"This man, every time he's been trusted to do anything, he's lied, cheated and stolen throughout his life," Webb said. "That's the man the government says to trust."

Webb said Levine admitted to engaging in drug binging parties in the same time period he accuses Cellini of taking part in crimes. Webb told jurors repeatedly that Levine presents reasonable doubt in the case. In part, because the drugs likely affected Levine's memory, Webb argued.

Webb chided Levine's testimony where he said "it's possible" 30 years of drug use has clouded his memory.
"It's possible?" Webb said. "That's an understatement."

Webb also poked at the government for handing Levine a "free pass...on every single drug crime."

Levine wasn't charged for his drug use. His plea deal calls for a prison term of five years, seven months.

Webb was about 45 minutes into his closings before lunch break. When he concludes, Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Niewoehner will give the government's rebuttal.

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This page contains a single entry by Natasha Korecki published on October 25, 2011 1:20 PM.

Hollywood producer says he "screamed and cursed" at Cellini over alleged shakedown scheme was the previous entry in this blog.

On Blago bro, Jesse Jackson Jr. House ethics and how Jackson has testified in the past is the next entry in this blog.

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