No leniency is deserved
Illinois' King of Clout is preparing to face the music.
Unless he gets another delay for health reasons, convicted political power broker William Cellini will face sentencing Thursday in federal court in Chicago.
He richly deserves a prison sentence, and it's our hope that U.S. Judge James Zagel will agree.
Although the Springfield-based Cellini stands convicted of participating in a shakedown orchestrated by associates of the now-imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, he's emblematic of all that is wrong with government in Illinois, particularly the manipulation of the public's business for private gain.
Federal prosecutors have requested an eight-year prison term for the 77-year-old Cellini, although they have signaled that they can live with a less stringent sentence.
Defense lawyer Dan Webb is asking for probation and, as a part of that effort, he arranged for more than 300 letters to Zagel from Cellini's friends and supporters attesting to his outstanding character.
Frankly, if Cellini's character was nearly so outstanding as his supporters claimed, he would never have participated in the attempted shakedown for which he was convicted.
Nonetheless, it's understandable that Cellini's friends, many of them prominent and powerful, would speak up for him. Their loyalty is commendable, even if their judgment is flawed.
Few people are all good or all bad. There is no question that over the course of his lifetime, Cellini has done many fine things. But Cellini's good acts do not indemnify him from responsibility for his bad ones.
As prosecutors pointed out in their sentencing recommendation, a prison sentence is necessary to deter public corruption and a period of incarceration for Cellini "would demonstrate that, no matter how much money you accumulate or how many friends and supporters you enjoy, there is no protection from prison when you are caught corrupting public institutions."
In Cellini's case, he participated in a shakedown for cash of Chicago businessman Thomas Rosenberg, who won a $220 million investment contract with Illinois' Teachers' Retirement System.
Unless he paid up, the co-conspirators threatened, Rosenberg would be denied the contract.
Rosenberg refused to acquiesce and threatened to take his complaints to the FBI. That prompted Cellini and co-conspirators Stuart Levine, Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly to allow the contract to go through while deciding that Rosenberg would get no more state business in the future.
How could Cellini & Co. credibly make such threats? Because, with the assistance of then-Gov. Blagojevich, they controlled the TRS and could decide who got what and for how much.
It goes without saying that the TRS is an important state institution, with its investment results playing a vital role in the financial lives of current and retired teachers. To have it used to promote a criminal conspiracy enriching a small group of people is intolerable, and Cellini, according to the federal sentencing memo, for many years controlled TRS and built a substantial portion of his wealth on that influence.
Sure, he's an old man, and he may really be as sick as his lawyer claims. But Cellini knew what he was doing when he joined this criminal conspiracy, and it was the same thing he had been doing for years.
It's time for him to pay the piper for his role at the top of Illinois' culture of corruption.