CHICAGO – A federal judge sentenced former Illinois powerbroker William Cellini to a year in prison Thursday for conspiring to shake down a movie producer, capping the last trial to stem from the investigation of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Cellini, 77, was once known to political insiders as the King of Clout for his behind-the-scenes influence in state government. He was convicted last year for his role in trying to get a $1.5 million campaign contribution for Blagojevich from Thomas Rosenberg – the Oscar-winning producer of “Million Dollar Baby” – in exchange for state business.
Judge James Zagel sentenced Cellini to one year and one day in prison and fined him $75,000. Cellini, who suffered a heart attack in June while undergoing a medical procedure, must report to prison Jan. 4.
Defense attorneys had asked Zagel for probation, while prosecutors recommended a 6½- to eight-year prison sentence. Both sides asked the judge to take Cellini’s poor health into account, but prosecutors noted the crime was serious because it involved public officials.
“If you violate the public’s trust by working corruptly behind the scenes ... you are going to go to jail,” federal prosecutors Julie Porter said.
Defense attorney Dan Webb told Zagel that “Cellini is in the twilight of his life.”
His attorneys also pointed to hundreds of letters of support for Cellini, including one letter from former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar, who said he never saw Cellini act improperly.
Cellini read from a short statement, thanking friends and family for their support and telling the judge he doesn’t think he has long to live. He asked for probation but also took responsibility for his actions.
“My family and I suffered greatly over these past five years,” he said, referring to his legal problems.
At other times during the hearing, Cellini closed his eyes briefly or took notes.
During Cellini’s trial last year, prosecutors painted a picture of a multimillionaire who formed ties with high-level politicians of both parties going back decades and used that influence to further his businesses.
Despite his wealth and influence, Cellini maintained a low profile and rarely spoke in public. It was his association with Blagojevich that drew him into legal peril.
Cellini was one of more than a dozen people ensnared by the decadelong investigation into Blagojevich. The ousted governor was sentenced last year to 14 years in prison on corruption charges, including allegations that he sought to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat. The Chicago Democrat began serving his sentence at a federal prison in Colorado in March.
Cellini, a Springfield Republican, was appointed Illinois transportation secretary in the early 1970s. He then used his state connections to help earn tens of millions from real estate, casino and other ventures. Cellini wouldn’t have pocketed any money from the shakedown of Rosenberg, according to prosecutors, but he saw it as a chance for him to further ingratiate himself with those in power.