For days, jurors have heard how Springfield power broker William Cellini's formidable reach and connections in Illinois politics spanned the decades and earned him millions of dollars.
On Thursday, they finally listened to details about the alleged plot at the heart of Cellini's federal trial as convicted insider Stuart Levine testified for his first full day on the stand.
The prosecution also played its first wiretaps in court of phone calls between the two close friends as they discussed the alleged shakedown of Thomas Rosenberg, a Hollywood producer whose investment firm had substantial business with the Illinois Teachers' Retirement System, or TRS.
Levine, formerly a corrupt TRS board member, walked the jury through the complicated plot that started in 2004 when he decided to halt a multimillion-dollar allocation due to go to Rosenberg's company, Capri Capital.
Levine testified that he sought help from Antoin "Tony" Rezko and Christopher Kelly, two key advisers to then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich. When Rezko and Kelly found out that Rosenberg, despite earning millions of dollars of business through TRS, had not contributed to Blagojevich's campaign, they were upset, Levine said.
The three then agreed that Cellini should go to Rosenberg and tell him he was expected to make a $1.5 million contribution, Levine said.
In the meantime, Rosenberg had already reached out to Cellini -- they had known each other for several years -- for help on why his TRS allocation had been held up.
Levine testified that Cellini agreed to "deliver a message" about the campaign contribution and tell Rosenberg to call Levine.
In a May 2004 conversation with Levine that was secretly recorded by federal investigators, Cellini recounted his telephone call with Rosenberg earlier that day.
"I said -- I was told -- things have been, have been put on hold and that, uh, somebody had indicated that they were just flabbergasted at the amount of ... funds that ...you and ... others have gotten on real estate, when they evidently weren't aware of all that," according to the transcript of the recording played in court Thursday.
Cellini also repeatedly brought up Levine's name, asking Rosenberg whether he had contacted him.
Toward the end of the conversation, Levine noted to Cellini how Rosenberg has a lot of "assets" and "huge business" with TRS but that in "recent history" he has not "done anything to ingratiate himself with ... people who appoint people there."
Cellini indicated that Rosenberg was leery of Rezko and Kelly.
"He said there are two people in the administration that ... if they're not under investigation already, they're bein' monitored every step of the way, and that's Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly," Cellini said in the recording.
"Now that scared the (expletive) out of me when he said that, you know," Cellini told Levine.
The exchanges heard by the jury Thursday showed that Cellini and Levine were very relaxed with each other, laughing often even as they discussed the alleged plot to squeeze Rosenberg.
The recordings also continued to round out the image of Cellini as the man who was pulling the strings at TRS.
In one, an upbeat Levine and a top official at TRS talked about the need to fill a vacancy on the board.
"It's going to be one of Bill's folks that will replace him," Levine said.
In another recorded conversation, Cellini also revealed how he dealt directly with Blagojevich's office to make sure he maintained a friendly TRS board.
In the key May 2004 recording, Cellini told Levine that he had recently met with Kelly and talked about Levine's TRS board term expiring.
"I quickly hit 'em with three things, and one of 'em was I said ... you know I believe that Stuart has to be named at this next, before this next meeting," Cellini said.
Thursday also included more testimony about Levine's downfall. He shared more details about his decades of drug abuse and long history of bribery.
In a straightforward tone, he told the jury of his repeated schemes to squeeze people and charitable institutions for millions of dollars. He said he once went to Rezko with a list of all the schemes he thought they could pull off, including specific estimates for their take.Copyright © 2015, CT Now