Cellini Guilty of Extortion, Aiding Bribery

Jurors on Tuesday found clout-heavy millionaire William Cellini guilty of conspiracy to commit extortion and aiding and abetting bribery.

In a split verdict, the jury of 10 women and two men found Cellini not guilty of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and attempted extortion. Jurors reached the verdict after about two days of deliberation. 

Cellini was accused of conspiring with three other men to shake down the producer of "Million Dollar Baby" for a $1.5 million campaign contribution to former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

He could face up to 20 years in prison for the extortion charge and up to 10 years for solicitation of a bribe.

"I know that for the average person in Chicago who reads the newspaper and follows TV somewhat, they may not have paid much attention to this case, but it's an extremely important case," said U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, "and I think in the quiet corridors of Chicago and Cook County and Springfield, where a lot of backroom deals take place, the fact that Bill Cellini was convicted today sends a very, very loud message."

Cellini's attorneys said they were "very grateful" the jury did not convict on what the defense deemed were the most serious of the four counts.

"We obviously are going to appeal," Cellini's attorney Dan Webb said, "and based on our assessment of the case, we are confident that we have a substantial chance in getting the case reversed on appeal."

The prosecution and the defense on Tuesday addressed jurors for a total of nearly six hours in a federal courtroom in Chicago.

Prosecutors reiterated that Cellini wasn't an "accidental extortionist." He knowingly and willingly tried to get campaign cash from a Hollywood producer, they said.

Cellini's defense said he was only acting as a friend, and called the government's star witness a "whack job."

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