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Convicted ex-Ill. powerbroker begins sentence

CHICAGO – A well-connected businessman once known as the King of Clout for the enormous behind-the-scene influence he wielded in Illinois politics reported to prison on Tuesday to start a yearlong sentence for trying to extort a Hollywood movie producer.

William Cellini, 78, reported to the Federal Correctional Institution in Terre Haute, Ind., located about 120 miles east of his hometown of Springfield, Ill., Bureau of Prisons spokesman Chris Burke said. It's the same prison where former Illinois Gov. George Ryan is completing a 6 1/2 -year corruption sentence.

Cellini is in a minimum-security section known as the Federal Prison Camp Terre Haute, which has a miniature golf course, tennis courts and other amenities and lacks the high walls or guard tower of higher security facilities.

Still, life will be highly regimented for the multimillionaire who called governors and presidents friends. Inmates must work often-menial jobs, including mopping floors, at a starting wages of less than a dollar an hour. Cellini also will have to share a dormitory-style bedroom with up to eight other inmates, and he will have to get up and go to bed at fixed times, according to federal prison orientation books.

Jurors convicted Cellini in 2011 in the failed shakedown attempt of Thomas Rosenberg for a $1.5 million political contribution that was intended for then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich's campaign. Rosenberg, the Oscar-winning producer of "Million Dollar Baby," did not end up making a donation.

Cellini, a longtime Republican, joins an ignominious list of prominent Illinois residents imprisoned for corruption.

Blagojevich, a Democrat, is serving a 14-year sentence for multiple corruption counts in a Colorado prison. Ryan, Blagojevich's Republican predecessor, is scheduled to be released to a halfway house at the end of January, according to his attorney.

Cellini had asked to go to a prison in Montgomery, Ala., in part because it was thought to have good medical facilities to deal with his illnesses, including heart ailments. It wasn't immediately clear why Cellini was assigned to the prison in Indiana.

Cellini was initially supposed to report to prison on Jan. 4 but was granted a two-week extension.

Hoping to get his sentence over with, Cellini in November withdrew his request to remain free pending appeal of his corruption conviction. A one-page filing withdrawing the request cited the stress the case put on his family and Cellini's health.

The sentence of one year and a day for Cellini – imposed by U.S. District Judge James Zagel in October – was more than the probation defense attorneys sought but far less than the 6 1/2- to eight years recommended by prosecutors. Zagel said he factored in Cellini's poor health as well as his acts of charity.

At the hearing, Cellini thanked friends and family for their support and said he didn't think he had long to live.

During his trial, prosecutors conceded Cellini wouldn't have profited from the shakedown but that he took part to further ingratiate himself with those in power. His actions, they said, were part of what has helped make Illinois corrupt.

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Follow Michael Tarm at www.twitter.com/mtarm

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