Ill. powerbroker to be sentenced in shakedown plot

CHICAGO -- The final case to stem from the corruption investigation into imprisoned former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich comes to a close Thursday, when a multimillionaire who once wielded enormous political influence in the state is expected to face a judge for sentencing.

William Cellini, 77, was convicted last year for his role in trying to get a $1.5 million campaign contribution for Blagojevich from the Oscar-winning producer of "Million Dollar Baby" in exchange for state business. The Springfield businessman was once known to political insiders as the King of Clout for his behind-the-scenes influence in state government.

Federal prosecutors want a 6 1/2- to eight-year prison sentence, while defense attorneys have asked for probation.

The judge who will hand down the sentence is Judge James Zagel, who also sentenced Blagojevich last year to 14 years in prison. The Chicago Democrat was convicted of corruption charges that included seeking to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.

Cellini's trial was the last to stem from the decade-long investigation into Blagojevich. His sentencing has been delayed because of his health, which defense attorneys say is failing and should be factored into the sentence. Cellini suffered a heart attack in June while undergoing a medical procedure.

"He's still rehabbing," said Cellini spokesman Richard Ciccone. "He hasn't had any recent episodes."

Ciccone said Cellini planned to be at Thursday's hearing.

Last week, defense attorneys filed papers that included letters from Cellini supporters, including former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar.

"On many occasions I did not agree with Bill's position on an issue and I would often take action which was contrary to Bill's position," Edgar wrote. "In all of this time and in all of these issues, I never personally saw nor did I hear on any of those occasions that Bill acted improperly in any manner. Bill never asked me to take any action which I deemed inappropriate."

Defense attorneys hope the letters help show Cellini's generosity and charity helped many other people. They've said evidence shows Cellini was unaware of an extortion plan.

However, prosecutors have painted a different 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.

Cellini was convicted of conspiring to commit extortion and aiding and abetting solicitation of a bribe.

Federal prosecutors have declined to comment ahead of the sentencing.


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