Saturday, December 22, 2007

Mr. Republican Meets Blago

When I worked in Illinois Republican politics, I would often run across a major Republican power broker who lived in Springfield by the name of William Cellini. My first of several encounters came while I was a freshman at Eastern Illinois University. I was interning in a local state senator's office in 1981 when Mr. Cellini stopped by to visit the state senator. After the senator and Mr. Cellini visited for awhile, I was invited into the senator's office and asked if I wanted to be a Selective Service Board member. "Am I old enough," I asked. With that, at the age of 18, I was appointed a member of the local Selective Service Board in my area when it was reconstituted after being abolished many years earlier. It later made a headline in the Charleston Times-Courier when a reporter called me up and asked how I got appointed to the Board and I told the reporter exactly how it happened. Red-faced, I called up Mr. Cellini and apologized for the headline. He told me it wasn't a problem and not to worry about it. Later, I figured out it was exactly the kind of publicity he liked getting.

Patronage was king in Springfield and nobody had more control over it than Cellini. He also ran the Sangamon Co. Republican Party and was often referred to as "Mr. Republican." His sister, Janice, handled patronage under several Republican governors. When Jim Edgar, my former state representative became Secretary of State and later Governor, you couldn't get a job in state government without your application crossing her desk. When brother Bill wasn't lobbying for the asphalt pavement industry, he was building a big real estate empire that involved Section 8 and other government-subsidized housing projects all over the midwest. When riverboat casinos came to Illinois, Cellini landed an interest in one of the first riverboats on the Mississippi at Alton. He also talked former State Treasurer Jerome Consentino (D) into loaning him and his friends money to finance a big hotel project in Springfield, which later went bankrupt and cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. Consentino went to prison years later for an insurance fraud scheme he carried out while serving as Illinois State Treasurer.

Business for Cellini was great during Republicans' 26 years of controlling the governor's office, but his ties to Democrats was equally impressive. In fact, it has proven a little too impressive in the case of Gov. Rod Blagoyevich. In U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's never-ending battle to clean up public corruption in Illinois, Cellini has been caught on tape exercising the kind of influence peddling the law deems illegal. According to federal investigators, Cellini was part of an elaborate scheme to shake down investment bankers for a piece of the Teachers' Retirement Fund investments. According to the Sun-Times:

The men tried to shake down movie producer and former investment firm owner Tom Rosenberg ("Individual J") for a $1.5 million contribution to Blagojevich, or $2.2 million for Levine, if Rosenberg wanted the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) to go forward with an expected investment of $220 million in Rosenberg's firm.

Cellini called Rosenberg and laid out the pay-to-play scheme, but Rosenberg threatened to go public and expose the extortion attempt, so Cellini, Levine and the others backed off, the proffer said.

Cellini is caught on tape telling Levine about how Rezko and Kelly had been "essentially hammerin' people for contracts, ah, contracts for fund-raising," the filing states.

I just couldn't help but think of the irony of Mr. Republican finally getting caught doing something which could land him in jail while raising political payola for a Democratic governor. Mr. Cellini is not unlike the many crooked influence peddlers who stink up the place here in Indiana. It's just that our crooked influence peddlers don't have a Patrick Fitzgerald looking over their shoulders.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your article brings to light the fact that former US District Attorney Susan Brooks is now a part of the Ballard Team.
And so the legacy of corruption continues right here in our own back yard.
I wonder how long it took for Brooks to shred all the information she had on the syndicate operating the illegal numbers racket in Indianapolis before she left.