Monday, November 07, 2011

How An Insider's Own Secretly-Recorded Words Brought Him Down

William Cellini
During the public corruption trial of Lincoln Plowman, jurors were most attentive during the trial when the prosecution played secretly-recorded conversations between him and an undercover FBI agent posing as a strip club owner. Plowman, a City-County Councilor, boasted to the agent how he controlled the zoning boards and could grease the wheels to make sure any zoning glitches for a proposed strip club would be remedied because he held sway over the people whose appointment to sit on those boards he made possible. He only asked for his cut in consideration for using his juice to make that happen. He later testified at his trial that he was just talking smack and didn't really mean what he told the undercover agent. The jurors didn't buy it. They found him guilty of soliciting a bribe and attempted extortion after deliberating for only a couple of hours.

This month, Illinois' most powerful political insider stood trial for shaking down the producer of the Oscar award-winning movie, Million Dollar Baby, for campaign contributions in consideration for his investment company receiving a share of investments made by the state Teachers Retirement Fund. The government's key witness was Stuart Levine, a member of the retirement fund's board who was a convicted felon with a long history of engaging in various frauds and scams, in addition to having battled a serious drug addiction for many years that helped fuel his bad decisions in life. Bill Cellini's attorney told jurors they couldn't believe anything Levine said because he was a liar and admitted drug addict who would say anything to limit the amount of time he spent in jail. As with Plowman's trial, government prosecutors had valuable recorded phone conversations between Levine and Cellini to make their case. Jurors didn't have to believe Levine; they only had to believe the words spoken by the man who called himself "The Pope" of Illinois politics. The Sun-Times shares the transcripts today of those recorded conversations that jurors told reporters they relied upon to convict Cellini on charges of attempted extortion and conspiracy to solicit a bribe. The conversation is golden, particularly Cellini's chuckle when he relates how they'll handle Thomas Rosenberg after he threatened to go to the FBI and complain about the shakedown during an earlier conversation with him, even as he plotted how Levine should respond to questions when the FBI later came knocking at his door:
Cellini: “Uh, just talked to Tommy.”
Levine: “Mm-hmm.”
Cellini: “Uh, very interesting. And I don’t know what we, how, how it’s handled here. I, I, uh, acted like I was an innocent, uh, uh, know nothing, uh, guy on the sideline who was worried that this maneuver may be harmful to me and what I was doing.”
Cellini goes on to describe Rosenberg’s anger.
Cellini: “And he said, you know, I wouldn’t go to those guys [Rezko and Kelly]. Those two, they are, I mean, he was, I mean, and the more he talked, the more, uh, angry he got. He would, he said, I don’t have a problem; they have a real problem. I’m outraged. I’ll take them down. They’ve been advertising themselves as fixers, and they’re known by the ‘G’ as what they’re doin’. I wouldn’t have any association with these guys. . . . They got 48 hours if they’re going to do this to me and think they’re gonna blackmail me. . . . I’ll take ‘em down.”
Cellini then tells Levine they should warn Rezko that Rosenberg is angry.
Cellini: “ Yeah, I mean, I think we gotta alert him to what, uh, what, uh, because, uh, uh, my guess is that, uh, you know Tommy is a vicious guy.”
Levine then suggests giving Rosenberg nothing from the teacher pension fund. Instead, Cellini suggests giving Rosenberg a smaller stake to keep him from blowing the whistle.
Cellini: “Well, you know the other thing is? You know what you can do?”
Levine: “ Mmm.”
Cellini: “There’s, there’s a middle ground. Give him an insignificant amount . . . more.”
Levine: “Mm-hmm.
Cellini: “ You know, give him 25 million [chuckling].”
Levine: [Laughs]
Cellini: “You know what I mean.”
Levine: “Mm-hmm.”
Cellini: “ You, you, you deserve 25 million, you did a good job. What’s he gonna do, say I want more. I mean, what’s he gonna say publicly of somethin’ like that.”
Levine: “Mm-hmm.”
Cellini: “ I mean, there’s two ways to skin . . . [laughs].”
Levine: “Well, that’s a good idea. That’s a very good idea. Let him get something, and that’s the end of it.”
Later in the conversation, Cellini and Levine criticize the way Rezko and Kelly are demanding campaign contributions for Blagojevich from state government contractors.
Cellini: “Uh, you know, I think I told you that I walked in their office a couple, about a month ago, and, and, and Chris beside himself sittin’ on the couch because it was simply that, uh, that the newspaper was doing an investigative job on him.”
Levine: “Mm-hmm.”
Cellini: “And he was beside himself, and I said, you know, guys, this is a small piece of the investigation and the hits you’re gonna get. And I said, now let me just say somethin’ to you here. If somebody comes in with badges and flashes them at you and in the course of the conversation says, do you know Bill Cellini, just know before they ask that question that they have already checked all your phone logs, and they know that we have talked on the phone, or we have called each other 4,700 times, so you can’t say, oh, I’ve heard of him, or I barely know him.”
Levine: “Mm-hmm.”
Cellini: “Because they know that we’ve called, talked back and forth.”
Levine: “Mm-hmm.”
Cellini: “So you gotta be prepared with what it is. Well, he said, well, it’s fund-raising, you know, you helped me with money. Well, I don’t know that I even want that to be in the paper. . . .”
Levine: [Laughs]
Cellini: “You know, it may clear me legally.”
Levine: “I mean, uh, uh, um, uh, if, uh, um, I mean, they’re doing what they’re doing. Whether what they’re doing is legal or legal, I have no idea.
Cellini: “Well, um.”
Levine: “I mean, you know what you’re doin’ with them.”
Cellini: “I know that their mode of operandi is different that what ours was.”
Levine: “Mm-hmm.”
Cellini: “Uh, I know that. Uh, we would not call somebody after they got something or before they were gonna get something.”
Levine: “Mm-hmm.”
Cellini: “Again, it may be somewhat of a coincidence, but, as a general rule, we would not.”
Levine: “Mm-hmm.”
Cellini: “As a general rule, they do. That will set up a pattern that could be used, and then all they gotta do is ask some of these people, and these guys will cave in like a herd of turtles.”
I couldn't help but wonder as the jurors listened to Cellini coaching Levine on how to handle the feds if they should knock on his door if they didn't recall similar conversations Tony Soprano of HBO's "The Sopranos" used to have with his fellow mob friends when he feared the feds were breathing down his neck. I think Oscar Wilde got it right when he argued that life imitates art.

What is really frightening about this sordid affair in the Land of Lincoln is that one of the men at the center of the shakedown was Tony Rezko, who was Obama's closest political advisor and one of his most prolific campaign fundraisers before the feds sent him to prison. Rezko helped Obama purchase that south side mansion he and Michelle wanted so badly with the help of a corrupt banker whose bank subsequently was closed by federal regulators, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars to cover its losses. We shouldn't be surprised that Solyndra and all the other taxpayer give-aways by the Obama administration to so-called green energy companies are tied to Obama's money bundlers for his presidential campaign. What was the Chicago Way is now the American Way. Will Obama have to face the music all of his corrupt Illinois buddies back in Illinois have faced?

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