- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 17, 2009

CHICAGO | A millionaire power broker who was to go to trial on corruption charges alongside ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was dropped Monday from the list of defendants.

The decision to remove William Cellini leaves only the former Illinois governor and his brother on the defendant list for the June trial. Robert Blagojevich’s attorney, Michael Ettinger, said Monday that he also plans to try to get his client dropped from the trial.

Rod Blagojevich is charged with trying to sell or trade President Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat for campaign money or a high-paying job for himself or his wife and an array of other offenses. He has pleaded not guilty and said he did not commit any wrongdoing.

Judge James B. Zagel has scheduled the trial to start June 3, but Rod Blagojevich’s lawyers are asking for a three-month delay. Judge Zagel told the attorneys Monday that he wants to keep the trial date but left the door open for a brief postponement if needed.

Judge Zagel’s decision to drop Mr. Cellini from the trial was expected. Prosecutors requested it last week.

The judge did not drop charges against Mr. Cellini, a millionaire lobbyist-businessman from Springfield who for decades has been an influential behind the scenes figure in Illinois politics, largely on the Republican side.

Mr. Cellini remains charged with conspiracy to commit fraud, conspiracy to commit extortion and attempted extortion. He is accused of attempting to squeeze a sizable campaign contribution for Rod Blagojevich out of Hollywood producer Thomas Rosenberg, who owned a money management company that was expecting to get a $220 million allocation from a state teachers pension fund.

Prosecutors could still bring Mr. Cellini to trial after Rod Blagojevich’s trial is finished.

Mr. Cellini’s attorney, Dan K. Webb, issued a statement saying the decision to sever his client and possibly try him separately “demonstrates what we have said all along - that there was never any justification for including Bill Cellini in any indictment with former Gov. Blagojevich.”

Mr. Webb said Mr. Cellini doesn’t know Rod Blagojevich, has never spoken on the phone with the former governor and was unaware of the alleged fundraising scheme.

Mr. Cellini was charged in three counts along with former Blagojevich chief fundraiser Christopher G. Kelly, who was found dead in what police say was a suicide, just days before he was to start serving eight years in prison.

Prosecutors urged Judge Zagel to drop Mr. Cellini from the trial, saying that Kelly had been the key figure who linked him to Rod Blagojevich. They said Kelly’s death had erased much of the “overlap” in evidence between Rod Blagojevich and Mr. Cellini.

Robert Blagojevich is charged with wire fraud in two counts - for two phone calls, one dealing with efforts to collect campaign funds from a construction executive and a racetrack executive and the other concerning the Senate seat.

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