Blagojevich: ‘Honored to Get My Ass Kicked'

Governor responds to latest indictments about campaign funding

CHICAGO -- Political insider William F. Cellini Sr. was indicted Thursday on charges of conspiring with convicted fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko to shake down an investment firm for campaign contributions to a public official believed to be Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Cellini, 73, for decades a major behind-the-scenes Republican player in Illinois politics, was accused of taking part in an extortion plot to raise money for an unnamed Public Official A, which is how Blagojevich had been identified in Rezko's indictment and trial.

Blagojevich spokesman Lucio Guerrero did not immediately comment on Cellini's indictment. The Democratic governor has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

Testimony at Rezko's trial alleged Cellini had spoken with admitted political fixer Stuart Levine about a plan to squeeze real estate investment firm Capri Capital for a major campaign contribution for Blagojevich, or a cash payoff.

Thursday's charges mirrored that testimony in part. But federal prosecutors declined to say the Public Official A in Cellini's indictment also is Blagojevich.

A message seeking comment was left at the law off of Cellini's attorney, Dan K. Webb.

The indictment alleges that Cellini joined Rezko, Levine and another, unnamed co-conspirator in a plot to raise the campaign contributions. The objective was to get the money from Capri Capital and one of its owners, Hollywood producer Thomas Rosenberg.

According to the indictment, Cellini told Rosenberg in May 2004 that Capri was not going to receive a $220 million allocation to invest in real estate from the $40 billion fund that pays the pensions of retired downstate and suburban teachers.

The indictment said Cellini told Rosenberg the reason was that he had not made a significant contribution to Public Official A's campaign fund. But Cellini went back to his alleged co-conspirators and said Rosenberg was threatening to blow the whistle, according to the indictment.

The alleged plotters then thought it was too risky to proceed and Capri got its allocation, according to the indictment.

Testimony at Rezko's trial alleged that Rosenberg realized what was happening before he was approached, threatened to blow the whistle if the plan went forward, and the alleged plotters gave up.

Cellini has been a major figure in Illinois politics since the 1960s. He was the secretary of transportation and as such presided under the awarding of highway construction contracts under former Gov. Richard B. Ogilvie and has been a fundraiser and person of influence in Springfield ever since.

In the face of the scandals, the governor's popularity numbers have never been lower, and he says he doesn't care.

"If I get bloodied up in the process, and there's some times when people are just not generally approving, I feel honored to get my ass kicked for the people," Blagojevich said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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