Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Cellini and Blagojevich

Springfield businessman Bill Cellini is the unofficial king of the bi-partisan corruption machine in Illinois dubbed by Tribune columnist John Kass as the "combine." Stealthlike in his movements, Cellini has been a few moves ahead of Illinois newspapers (and prosecutors) for three decades. Reporters have only landed glancing blows on his business ventures tightly integrated with state government.

One of his slickest moves was to become close with Democrat Rod Blagojevich way back in 2002 when Blagojevich was running as a reform candidate. While Rod was bamboozling the public with his promises to "clean up state government" and "change the way we do business in Springfield," he simultaneously was sidling up next to the insider's insider.

That alliance with Cellini continues to this day, as evidenced by the Daily Herald story Sunday that showed that Blago's former chief of staff and longtime buddy Lon Monk has formed a new lobbying firm with a starter kit of new clients from the Bill Cellini collection.

That story probably was welcomed by this former state worker who has filed a lawsuit that alleges an unholy alliance among Blagojevich, Monk and Cellini.

Several sources have told me that the Blagojevich administration was heavily reliant on Cellini during his first year in office. He served as the adminstration's unofficial guide dog, showing Blago's cronies where all the insider levers of state government were located. Democrats needed such a seeing eye after 26 years of Republican rule.

Despite all this, Blagojevich has repeatedly pulled off the stunt of criticizing others for being close to Cellini while having him as a single digit on his own speed dial.

Although it was not fully appreciated at the time, Blagojevich pulled off one of the most spectacular acts of hypocrisy in state history when, in 2006, he criticized Judy Baar Topinka for voting for an investment that favored one of Cellini's companies. Not only did he fail to mention his close relationship with Cellini, he also failed to mention that the board he was talking about—the State Board of Investments—was controlled by his own appointees who, too, had voted for Cellini. And, he forgot to point out that same board had earlier given an investment to a company that employed the governor's own brother.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald seems to get the joke. His "Individual A" in the corruption indictment last fall of Blagojevich pal Tony Rezko is Bill Cellini. If you don't believe Fitzgerald was sending an alphabetic signal in the "pay-to-play on steroids" charges, ponder who he named "Individual K," namely Cellini pal and fellow insider Robert Kjellander, the only person whose last name begins with "K."

Although there have been firm denials from Springfield pals of Cellini that he is in any legal peril, the smart money on a Fitzgerald investigation is to err on the side of indictments.

Makes you wonder why Cellini, who undoubtedly has plenty of money, wouldn't have retired quietly instead of hooking up with Blago's people. That last little spasm of greed might cost him plenty.

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