Illinois' King of Clout loses his bid for a new trial.
Springfield political power broker William Cellini got some bad news earlier this week when a federal judge sensibly declined to overturn his guilty verdict because a juror in the case failed to disclose her criminal history.
U.S. Judge James Zagel said that while juror Candy Chiles did not acknowledge her criminal history, her presence on the jury did not prejudice Cellini's trial.
While the jury did convict Cellini for his role in a plot to shake down a businessman seeking a contract with the state's Teachers' Retirement System, it did not find him guilty of all the charges prosecutors filed. Hence, Zagel's found that Chiles' presence on the jury did not adversely impact Cellini's right to a fair trial.
Zagel's finding makes sense, and it lays the groundwork for Cellini's as-yet-unscheduled sentencing hearing.
Cellini, a political heavyweight who's made a multimillion-dollar fortune from his political and business contacts, is one of the most powerful politicians ever convicted on corruption charges in state history. Preferring to operate behind the scenes, he used his political influence and willingness to make campaign donations to make or break the careers of political wannabes over the past 30-plus years. Most frequently associated with the Republican Party, Cellini was basically bipartisan in his approach, quickly joining up with Democrat Rod Blagojevich when Blago was elected governor in 2002.
Blago's henchmen, including Chicago political fixer Antoine "Tony" Rezko and Stuart Levine as well as Champaign native Chris Kelly, created a plan to extort campaign donations or cash gifts from individuals seeking to do business with the Teachers' Retirement System or the state's Hospital Facilities Planning Board.
When they encountered problems shaking down a Chicago businessman, the group turned to Cellini for assistance. Unknown to them was the presence of the FBI, which was listening in to their various phone conversations.
The recordings of their conversations provided the evidence of Cellin's guilt.
While Chiles' presence on the jury was not cause to overturn the Cellini conviction, it's incomprehensible that federal investigators did not do a more thorough background check of the jurors. Chiles' history was disclosed after the trial by the Chicago Tribune.
That oversight may not be sufficient grounds to overturn the conviction, but the mistake was unpardonable for a multitude of other reasons.