Jurors Deliberate At Trial Of ‘King Of Clout’
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CHICAGO (AP) – Jurors began sorting Wednesday through three weeks of testimony against a longtime Illinois powerbroker in the last trial related to a nearly decade-long federal investigation of ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
The jury is considering whether prosecutors proved William Cellini conspired to extort the Oscar-winning producer of “Million Dollar Baby,” withdrawing to a 25th-floor room in the federal courthouse after the judge read 70 pages of instructions on how they should assess the evidence.
Jurors were told, among other things, not to hold Cellini’s decision not to take the stand in his own defense against him.
“You must follow these instructions even if you disagree with them,” U.S. District Judge James Zagel said.
Cellini, 76, is charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, extortion conspiracy, attempted extortion and aiding in the solicitation of a bribe. He faces a maximum penalty of more than 50 years in prison if convicted on all counts.
The millionaire businessman, once known as the “King of Clout” in Illinois for his enormous behind-the-scenes influence, has pleaded not guilty and is free on $1 million bail.
Jurors went home for the day after deliberating for just a few hours, when prosecutors and defense lawyers couldn’t agree on how to answer a note from the panel requesting all power-point presentations and other slides from the trial. Zagel said attorneys would try to resolve the matter before jurors returned Thursday.
Cellini is accused of conspiring with three others to force Hollywood executive Thomas Rosenberg into making a $1.5 million donation to Blagojevich’s campaign by threatening to withhold $220 million in pension funds earmarked for Rosenberg’s investment company.
Prosecutors say his partners in the alleged crime were Blagojevich confidants Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly, as well as Stuart Levine, a board member of the $30 billion Teachers’ Retirement System that controlled the pension funds in question.
Levine, who testified for six days, was the government’s star witness and the only one to claim direct knowledge of Cellini’s involvement. Cellini’s attorneys cross-examined Levine for four days, more time than they devoted to presenting their own defense.
Defense attorney Dan Webb implored jurors during his closing arguments Tuesday not to convict his client on the word of Levine, who both sides conceded had been a drug addict for three decades and a swindler of multiple victims.
“All you have is Levine’s word — which is worthless,” Webb told them.
But prosecutor Julie Porter said jurors need not rely only on Levine’s testimony. She said jurors also should listen carefully to FBI wiretaps that secretly captured Levine and Cellini talking about the alleged shakedown bid.
“Listen to the calls again,” she said. “Those calls show you better than any witness that (Cellini) committed the crimes.”
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