The [Cellini] Papers
John Kass began his coverage of the Bill Cellini trial by stating that the media had largely given a pass to the Springfield power broker - known as the Pope of Illinois politics. He returned to the theme near the end of the trial by noting that the halls of the federal courtroom where Cellini was eventually convicted were pretty damn quiet compared to the circus of the Rod Blagojevich trial.
Is Kass right? Did the media fail to properly scrutinize Cellini all these years?
I've always thought so, but I took a look through the clips over the years anyway just to see exactly what the local press had reported about one of the most influential men in state government in our lifetimes.
I found Kass to be largely - but not wholly - right.
Is that a wishy-washy conclusion?
I hope not. Instead, I think it reflects the nature of covering elusive people of power whose behind-the-scenes manuevers are sly, nuanced and, well, behind-the-scenes.
The complaint - which I share - that Cellini wasn't properly covered is one that also often applies to pals of his like Michael Madigan and Ed Burke.
Now, if you look through the clips, you'll see tons written about both Madigan and Burke. But a pesky feeling persists that they've escaped the full weight of the media spotlight relative to their power and influence. And rightly so.
Maybe it has to do with the media impulse to do a big story here or there and then turn attention elsewhere, instead of applying sustained coverage to particular individuals.
Or maybe it has to do with the almost-impossible-to-penetrate veil each has been able to construct around much of their lives.
Each also has back-slapping pals in the media to help promote their good names.
In fact, one media pal of Cellini's may account for the failures of Kass's own paper to look closely not only at Cellini but at, just to name two in their day, Dan Rostenkowski and Don Stephens.
That pal is Dick Ciccone, who served as the Tribune's managing editor from 1982 to 1995. Ciccone, you see, is now Cellini's spokesman. How's that for instantly casting doubt on the Tribune's coverage when Ciccone was at the paper?
Ciccone was also paid at least $50,000 in campaign funds to produce a biography of Don Stephens, the allegedly mobbed-up mayor of Rosemont who has since died. Being a "reporter pal" (as one account once put it) of Rostenkowski didn't keep him from writing admiringly about an emblem of political hackery.
So there was Ciccone, I'm told, in the front row as the Cellini trial opened - sitting next to another integral figure with a historical penchant for positioning himself between pol and paper: Paul Lis.
(Tribune political reporter Rick Pearson once testified for Lis as a character witness at his DUI trial.)
In 1993, the late Steve Neal, who was himself a cocktail correspondent known by insiders to be vulnerable to the wiles of political operators, wrote:
"Lis is known for pulling strings at several state newspapers, including a Chicago morning paper that isn't a tabloid. He has sought compensation from legislators in exchange for delivering editorial board endorsements. Lis, who's a pretty fair golfer and a PGA tour groupie, also has boasted about setting up thousands of dollars in free golf at the better Chicago area courses for political correspondents. He has offered to lend money to media friends. He has threatened the careers of other journalists. Tribune Statehouse correspondents who had differences with Lis were transferred out of the bureau. The Trib's Statehouse reporter, a Lis sidekick, ignored Jacobs' criticism of Ryan."
In 1993, Neal wrote: "Lis has been enormously helpful to Cook County Board president Phelan in his dealings with Downstate reporters and in improving his relationship with the Chicago Tribune, an institution to which Lis has close ties.
"Lis is a prime source of information and insight for many reporters and politicians, some more than others. Among the reasons that Lis is helping Phelan is that he was spurned by Gov. Edgar's camp. At a meeting of Edgar advisers, a member of the group suggested signing Lis for the '94 campaign because of his sweetheart relationship with a Springfield correspondent whose coverage of Edgar is often negative. Lis was influential in persuading a Chicago newspaper to hire the reporter and camps out in his office."
I certainly wouldn't take Neal's word to be the end-all, be-all, though the Tribune Company also once hired Lis to lobby for lights at Wrigley Field. (I reported on some of this years ago at Chicago magazine, I'm certain, but I haven't been able to find any of it.)
So let's just play along for a second: What, then, is the Sun-Times's excuse for failing to properly cover the theoretically untouchable Cellini?
Well, it turns out the Sun-Times actually took a hard look at Cellini in 1996, as we shall see below. And, if I'm reading the clip file right, the Sun-Times has an edge over the Trib in its pre-Board Games Cellini coverage.
So let's take a look - not only to assess the media, but to get an idea of the scope of the man's influence. Curated and edited for clarity.
Tribune, Oct 2, 1987: "It looks like developer Bill Cellini will be beating the fundraising bushes for Vice President George Bush's presidential campaign. Cellini got the full-court press for the preppy the other day during a Springfield meeting with Bush's Illinois campaign director Sam Skinner, and Gov. Jim Thompson's chief political operative, state Transportation Secretary Greg Baise."
Tribune, March 22, 1988: "The state has bailed out three luxury hotels, two of which are run by politically connected Downstate investors, after the hotels defaulted on more than $40 million of low-interest state loans, two of the state's top office-holders said Monday . . .
"The Springfield Ramada Renaissance Hotel [is] owned by investors assembled by William F. Cellini, who headed the state Department of Transportation under Gov. Richard Ogilvie and who is one of the most influential Republicans in Illinois. Cellini also is paid to manage the hotel, according to Dan Kubasiak, a Cosentino adviser. The hotel's investors borrowed $15.5 million from the state, stopped paying in January, 1987, and now owe $16.1 million in principal and accrued interest."
Sun-Times, July 24, 1988: "Three luxury hotels that received a controversial state bailout were worth barely half the $47 million the state recently lent to them, according to appraisal records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times."
Tribune, September 28, 1989: "A state agency director Wednesday night called off a controversial $90 million purchase of 11 privately owned buildings, saying he did not want to create a protracted political issue for Atty. Gen. Neil Hartigan . . .
"Specifically, Hartigan questioned a 20-year tentative purchase agreement reached between the Department of Central Management Services, Pacificorp Capital Inc., the Portland, Ore.-based owner of six Springfield buildings, and a management company headed by prominent Springfield Republican fundraiser William Cellini.
"Cellini's management corporation, which sold the six buildings to Pacificorp Capital, would have received a 20-year contract from the state to manage all 11 of the structures under the tentative purchase agreement. The state would have been able to buy out the management contract for $1.1 million under the first five years of the deal.
"Such an agreement would have marked the first time the state has used a private management company to run a state-owned building. Backers of the deal had contended the state would have saved substantial amounts by turning over management operations to private hands."
Sun-Times, June 17, 1990: "Another prolific giver of honoraria is the Illinois Asphalt Pavement Association, a road construction industry group led by Springfield developer and power broker William F. Cellini.
"Cellini's group pays $1,000 appearance fees to lawmakers attending its annual meetings. The group backs higher gasoline taxes and larger appropriations for road building."
Sun-Times, October 3, 1990: "Democratic gubernatorial candidate Neil F. Hartigan charged Tuesday that the state is using too much asphalt in its road building program because political supporters of Gov. Thompson control the industry.
"At a press conference alongside the Kennedy Expy., Hartigan sought to link his Republican opponent, Jim Edgar, to a decision by the Thompson administration to allow new roads to be built with asphalt instead of concrete.
"Hartigan said Springfield businessman William F. Cellini, executive vice president of the Illinois Asphalt Pavement Association, has been the largest fund-raiser for Thompson and Edgar.
"Edgar countered that, as secretary of state, he had nothing to do with the state's road building. He blasted Hartigan for accepting more than $1 million in campaign contributions from lawyers while serving as attorney general.
"Hartigan said asphalt roads are costlier and less safe than concrete roads because they deteriorate faster. Those contentions have been rejected by the asphalt industry, which has been involved in a vigorous debate with the concrete industry in Springfield over which is better. Both sides cite studies to support their positions."
Sun-Times, October 8, 1990: "To date, according to state records, taxpayers have spent more than $1 million for Thompson's 22 trips, including costs for his security detail and members of state agencies traveling with the delegation. Friends who travel with him, such as Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) and his wife, Anne, and fund-raiser William Cellini, pay their own tabs."
Sun-Times, October 11, 1990: "As lobbyist, landlord, developer, hotel operator and all-purpose influence peddler, William F. Cellini has become a legend in Springfield for his prolific ability to cash in on state government.
"A budding political and business force when Gov. Thompson was elected in 1976, this son of a police officer is now regarded by many as the state's most influential Republican not holding elected office.
"Much of that reputation is based on the goodies he has culled from the Thompson administration - six major state office leases plus state financing for eight apartment projects, one office building and a luxury hotel.
"Like all legends, it often is difficult to sort fact from fiction where Cellini is concerned. For every business deal that can be traced to him, there are always two more in which he was rumored to be involved but left no fingerprints.
"Cellini, 55, tends to add to the mystery, rarely talking to reporters. He did not answer Chicago Sun-Times requests for an interview for this story.
"Although he served as the state's first transportation secretary, under Gov. Richard B. Ogilvie, his only official positions these days are with the Sangamon County Republican organization.
"While acknowledging Cellini 's influence, Thompson denied that it stems from him . . .
"One source of Cellini 's clout is his role as executive vice president of the Illinois Asphalt Pavement Association, a trade group of road builders who have fared well under Thompson's policies. Their combined fund-raising prowess is considerable.
"Cellini also gets paid to protect the interests of three other groups, the Illinois Association of Sanitary Districts, Illinois Concrete Pipe Association and Prestressed Precast Producers of Illinois.
"His primary business, however, is the New Frontier Group, a diversified, Chicago-based real estate organization that was less than two years old when Thompson was elected. It now boasts that it has developed more than 1.3 million square feet of office space and 2,550 housing units.
"Much of that growth is attributable to Cellini's adept use of government programs.
"With $55 million in low-interest financing from the Illinois Housing Development Authority, a quasi-state agency under Thompson's control, New Frontier Developments Co. has built eight government-subsidized apartment projects since 1976.
"Cellini's New Frontier Management Co. serves as the management agent not only for his own properties but for many other Chicago-area apartment buildings.
"Cellini and New Frontier also emerged under Thompson as the state's favorite Springfield landlord.
"His first major office deal was in 1979, when Cellini bought an abandoned seminary and leased it to the state for a Corrections Department headquarters and training school.
"The controversial arrangement was typical of many of the Cellini deals that followed because state officials strayed from normal procedures to his apparent benefit.
"Corrections officials were in such a hurry to get the seminary property that they passed up an opportunity to buy it outright and instead entered into a lease-purchase agreement with Cellini. They said it enabled them to move in more quickly than if they had to go through the usual purchase process.
"The lease-purchase would have allowed the state to buy the facility any time over the term of the lease - at a generally escalating price. Eleven years later, though, the state still is renting.
"Cellini, who had paid $3.6 million for the property and spent at least $4.2 million remodeling it, collected $9.5 million in rent from the state before selling to a Virginia company in 1987 for $9.1 million.
"Cellini proved to be in the right place at the right time for many similar opportunities, renting space to the Public Aid, Transportation and Commerce and Community Affairs departments.
"In the cases of Public Aid and Transportation, Cellini 's company was hired to construct buildings and lease them back to the state, bypassing the state Capital Development Board, which usually constructs state buildings on a competitively bid basis.
"When Transportation Department officials got around to announcing the site that they insisted on having for their new building, it turned out that Cellini already had an option on the land.
"Even when Cellini began selling his buildings, at a tidy profit, his company was kept on by the new owner to manage them. The 20-year management agreements have a special termination clause that calls for a $1.1 million fee to be paid to Cellini 's company if the new owner replaces it.
"The most prominent symbol of Cellini's political influence is the Springfield Ramada Renaissance, a luxury hotel that he long had sought to build but couldn't get financed until Thompson and state Treasurer Jerry Cosentino approved a $15 million state loan in 1982.
"The hotel has been a financial embarrassment for the state, which has twice renegotiated the loan to avoid a default."
Sun-Times, December 24, 1990: "Word is top Edgar fund-raisers Bill Cellini, Bob Kjellander and Illinois State Medical Society director Al Lerner are not only this/close to Edgar, but they also have been selected to screen all potential directors for Edgar's Cabinet posts."
Sun-Times, December 28, 1990: Janis Cellini, patronage chief for Jim Edgar's secretary of state office, will remain on Edgar's executive staff after he becomes governor next month and will be handling patronage chores.
"Cellini is the sister of William F. Cellini , a major Republican fund-raiser and influence peddler with a knack for getting profitable state business.
"Edgar told GOP county chairmen, ever hungry for jobs, that Janis Cellini will be the 'key liasion' between his administration and the county chairmen."
Tribune, January 4, 1991: "It's not just Janis Cellini, patronage chief, interviewing people to join the administration of Gov.-elect Jim Edgar.
"Also talking to job prospects is William, her brother, GOP fund-raiser and influence peddler in the Thompson and Ogilvie administrations."
Sun-Times, February 26, 1993: "Politically powerful Springfield developer William Cellini has sold $5.3 million in riverboat casino stock as part of a deal that prompted the state treasurer to call for a windfall tax on such transactions.
"Argosy Gaming Co., owner of the Alton Belle riverboat, reported that Cellini sold 277,778 shares, netting him $4.9 million after fees, in last week's first public offering of Illinois riverboat stock.
"Argosy sold a total of $76.6 million in stock, and the original shareholders collected $29.5 million, the company said.
"Cellini remains the largest single shareholder, and his remaining shares could be worth more than $50 million, based on the value of the public shares."
Tribune, June 28, 1993: "Freedom to sell riverboats has turned a few select friends of Gov. Edgar and former Gov. James R. Thompson into multimillionaires.
"One example: The value of Republican fund-raiser William Cellini 's shares in Argosy Co., owner of the Alton Belle riverboat and a bidder in Windsor, is today worth more than $90 million.
"Cellini paid $85,000 for his riverboat license."
Tribune, April 20, 1993: "Robert Gibson, a former member of the state panel that regulates riverboat casinos, doesn't exactly recall the first time Springfield power broker and riverboat investor William Cellini offered him a job.
"He does remember that that one offer came as the men ate dinner - perhaps in Cellini's home - at a time when Gibson was a member of the Illinois Gaming Board, the panel that oversees the gambling operations.
"Gibson, the former president of the state's largest labor organization, said he turned Cellini down after authorities told him that working for a riverboat owner might be a conflict of interest.
"Yet five months after he left the Gaming Board in October 1991, Gibson joined a real estate investment firm in which Cellini was a major investor, according to state records and interviews. Last year, he became the firm's president."
Tribune, May 25, 1994: [At that year's Gridiron Dinner in Springfield.] Edgar to his wife: "Brenda, watch your purse. (Dick) Duchossois' money is in it. So is Jim O'Connor's and Bill Cellini's. I call it my diversified portfolio."
Sun-Times, April 26, 1995: "From the imported Italian marble floors to the cherry wood paneling, the Springfield Renaissance Hotel is by far the poshest place to stay for lawmakers, lobbyists and other visitors to the state Capitol.
"Republican power broker William F. Cellini spared no expense when he decorated the 12-story, red-brick hotel.
"There are crystal chandeliers, Victorian antiques and brass hardware.
"Each room comes with 'The Bill Cellini Shower Rod.' Cellini designed the rods with a bow in the middle to keep shower curtains from sticking to the derrieres of his guests."
Sun-Times, April 26, 1995: "Illinois taxpayers will lose $30 million today when state Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka closes the books on two hotel loans that former Gov. Jim Thompson and former Treasurer Jerry Cosentino made to political cronies.
"The hotels owe the state $40.3 million under low-interest loans they got in 1982, but Topinka has agreed to settle their debts for $10 million, the Sun-Times has learned. She plans to announce the deal today.
"Under the deal, the Springfield Renaissance Hotel headed by Republican power broker William F. Cellini will pay the state $3.75 million of the $19.8 million it owes."
Sun-Times, April 28, 1995: "Republican power broker William F. Cellini threw an intimate fund-raiser for Gov. Edgar at the Springfield Renaissance Hotel Thursday night, the day after the state treasurer let Cellini and other investors in the hotel off the hook for $16 million in taxpayer loans.
"Edgar refused to discuss the deal as he joined Cellini and 150 others in the hotel's ballroom."
Sun-Times, April 30, 1995: "When William F. Cellini and his investors got State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka to settle their $19.8 million taxpayer-funded hotel loan for $3.7 million, it was just the political entrepreneur's latest government deal.
"Cellini, a Republican power broker and major fund-raiser for Gov. Edgar and his predecessor James R. Thompson, has numerous deals with the state.
"Cellini 'has parlayed his intelligence and his abilities into some financial successes,' House Speaker Lee A. Daniels (R-Elmhurst) said. 'He has a lot of influence with a lot of people in the state.'
"Is there anybody more influential in state government than Cellini?
"'Perhaps not,' said Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale), who spent three years as Edgar's chief of staff. 'He's in an upper handful of people that have a network of contacts in state government. He gets his calls returned.'
"How important is Cellini to Edgar?
"'Jim Edgar would have become governor without Bill Cellini, but it was a lot easier with Mr. Cellini 's help,' Dillard said. 'I think his power - and he has immense power - is not as great today as it was six or seven years ago. That's not to say he's not one of the most powerful men in Illinois.'"
Tribune, June 5, 1995: "He has achieved a unique and almost mystical aura as a clout-heavy Republican power broker, fundraiser and riverboat gambling captain.
"But William Cellini says he doubts he will ever be a hotel developer again . . .
"'Would I do it again? Never,' Cellini said in his first public comments on the hotel deal. 'Well, never is a long time. Let's put it this way: I'll never do another one with the government. You're too high-profile, and then everybody comes to these (political) conclusions . . . I know I have been honorable with this, but I can't fight the perception. I've got to let everybody know I'm not a cigar-smoking, short, fat and stuffy politician.'"
Sun-Times, August 28, 1995: "Illinois taxpayers are among the most generous tenants a landlord could have . . .
Republican power broker William F. Cellini can attest to that. He bought a former seminary in Springfield for $1.7 million and began leasing it to the Department of Corrections in 1979. Since then, the state has spent more than $20 million leasing the seminary, including $2.3 million this year.
"Cellini sold the complex and five other state-occupied buildings in 1987. But his company still manages them."
Sun-Times, October 6, 1996: "William Cellini is treasurer of the Sangamon County Republican Party in Springfield, but he is bipartisan in his business dealings, especially in the Chicago area.
"Like many savvy businessmen, Cellini has friends in both parties.
"Take House Democratic Leader Michael Madigan. Cellini has used the longtime House speaker's law firm, Madigan & Getzendanner, to handle real estate tax work for his apartment projects in the Chicago area.
"Then there is Ald. Edward Burke, another powerful Chicago Democrat.
"His law firm gets real estate tax work from another Cellini business, Commonwealth Realty Advisers, which advises the state teachers pension fund. Commonwealth hired Burke to get the real estate taxes reduced on Forest Park Mall, a troubled shopping center that Commonwealth manages for the fund.
"Burke also bought 5,000 shares in Cellini 's riverboat company, Argosy Gaming, when it went public in 1993.
"Burke shares office space with the law firm of Earl Deutsch, another Democrat and Cellini's partner in Commonwealth. While Cellini was raising money for Republican Gov. Edgar's re-election in 1994, Deutsch was one of the major donors for Roland Burris, a Democrat who lost his primary bid for the governor's seat.
"Cellini buys the insurance for some of his buildings from Near North Insurance Agency Inc., the clout-heavy Chicago brokerage firm once owned by George W. Dunne, the former Cook County Board president and onetime chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party.
"Near North is now headed by Dunne's partner, Michael Segal, a power broker in his own right.
"Cellini is also a partner in several Chicago area deals with developer Michael Marchese, a close friend of Mayor Daley's and the owner of Harlem Irving Companies Inc. Cellini was a partner in Marchese's redevelopment of the large tract of land that formerly housed the Read Mental Health Center. Marchese and Cellini are now developing a shopping center in Northlake.
"Cellini is also a close friend and business associate of Victor Cacciatore's. Cacciatore is a Chicago lawyer and entrepreneur, whose Elgin Sweeping Services Inc. got its first state contract when Cellini headed the Illinois Transportation Department.
"Cacciatore donated heavily to Burris in 1994 and also has made real estate investments with once-powerful Democrats such as former Chicago parks boss Edward Kelly and former Ald. Edward Vrdolyak as well as Republican Gayle Franzen, now DuPage County Board president.
"Cellini, Cacciatore and Franzen have invested in land together.
"Downstate, Cellini partners in the state's first riverboat, the Alton Belle, included Democrats and Republicans.
"The group has been bipartisan in handing out its contracts. They lease their offices from a brother of former state Rep. Jim McPike (D-Alton), the onetime House majority leader under Madigan.
"And when they took their company public, they turned for their legal work to Winston & Strawn, the law firm of former Gov. James R. Thompson, and turned for their underwriting to Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, the investment bank that then employed Franzen."
Sun-Times, October 6, 1996: "In Springfield, some people believe that William Cellini makes money on every big deal in state government whether his name is on the contract or not.
"While that is an exaggeration, there is no doubt that Cellini sometimes makes money on other companies' state deals. In those cases, Cellini plays a more indirect role, and his footprints are often difficult to trace.
"Take Illinois' state-of-the-art Communications Center, which opened in 1990 just north of the Capitol in Springfield.
"The state leases the center from Illinois Bell for $1.6 million annually, but Cellini was the one who built it and still manages it.
"Bell was required by the state to build the facility as part of a hotly contested $100 million state telecommunications contract.
"Instead of building the center on its own, Bell paid one of Cellini 's firms $12.1 million to acquire the land and handle the construction, land records show.
"Although Cellini 's profits from the deal are difficult to determine, his companies were supposed to receive $1.1 million in developer and consulting fees from the sale in addition to any profit, records show.
"And because Cellini was not the landlord, he was able to keep the deal out of the public eye and avoid the publicity that used to dog him when he was the major landlord to the state in Springfield.
"Why did the state's largest phone company turn to Cellini to build the state's communication center?
"A spokesman for Illinois Bell denied that politics played any role."
Sun-Times, October 6, 1996: "Cellini ignored numerous requests from the Chicago Sun-Times to discuss his empire and power. Over the past few years, Cellini has placed many of his financial holdings in trusts to benefit his son, William Jr., 27, and daughter, Claudia, 22.
"Often referred to as a Downstate Republican powerbroker, Cellini has numerous business deals in Chicago and the suburbs, often working with businessmen allied with Democrats such as Mayor Daley.
"Cellini spends so much time in Chicago that he bought a $594,000 condo on Michigan Avenue in 1993 without a mortgage . . .
"Cellini 's clout is greatly exaggerated, Edgar insisted, the product of stories such as this.
"'It's something you in the media have kind of continued to perpetuate that aura about Bill Cellini.'"
Sun-Times, October 6, 1996: "Governors come and go, but for the last three decades there's been a constant in Illinois government: William Cellini.
"The 61-year-old Springfield businessman has amassed clout and contracts that have turned him into a multimillionaire and made him an unelected powerbroker in government.
"At various times, he's controlled federal appointments in Illinois, screened the governor's Cabinet choices, and lined up lucrative deals for himself and his associates.
"His financial empire of at least $50 million was built on savvy in a political atmosphere in which clout pays big dividends.
"Cellini has done it legally, in a wide-open system that government watchdog groups have been unable to tame."
Sun-Times, October 20, 1996: "The state secretly allowed a Downstate businessman to make millions of dollars from Illinois' first riverboat casino through a back-door deal that bypassed a background investigation, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.
"The businessman, Victor Fears, sold his interest in the Alton Belle riverboat to Republican powerbroker William Cellini a week before the boat was licensed in 1990, and in turn, Cellini gave Fears and his father, Gary, an option to buy the interest back later.
"Under state rules, no one can own a gambling boat - or even work as a card dealer or waitress on one - without passing a background investigation. But because the Fearses owned only an option, not a share of the boat, the state did not require an investigation, and the option wasn't made public.
"In 1994, Victor Fears took over the entire option, and he sold it for a profit that his father estimated at $3 million to $4 million . . . According to interviews and state and federal records, the deal occurred this way:
"Gary Fears, a business associate of Cellini, led an investment group seeking one of the 10 casino licenses. But before the group applied for the license, Fears transferred his interest to his son Victor, then 24.
"The group, called the Alton Riverboat Gaming Co., applied for a license in July, 1990, with 11 stockholders, including Cellini and Victor Fears.
"In November, 1990, Victor Fears pulled out before his background investigation was completed and sold his 8.3 percent interest to Cellini, giving Cellini the largest stake, 16.6 percent. As part of the deal, Cellini gave Victor and Gary Fears an option to buy back the stock.
"The stock-option arrangement was approved behind closed doors by at least one key state official, but apparently not by the full Illinois Gaming Board.
"Seven days after Cellini and the Fearses sealed their stock-option deal, the board approved the Alton Belle license. The riverboat began operating in September, 1991, on the Mississippi River in Alton, north of St. Louis, and became wildly successful. In 1993, the company went public, issuing stock under the name Argosy Gaming Co. The original investors made a windfall, selling a fraction of their stock for nearly $30 million while keeping a controlling interest. The value of the Fearses' option skyrocketed, too. Cellini 's agreement with them was amended twice in 1993, giving them the right to buy more than 1.3 million shares of stock in Argosy.
"In early 1994, when Victor and Gary Fears each owned half of the option, they made inquiries with the board about using the option to buy stock. The board said both would have to pass background investigations first, and the Fearses backed off, deciding to try to sell the option instead.
"The entire option was transferred to Victor Fears. In a closed-door meeting, state officials decided he could sell the option without any further board action.
"Victor Fears began to sell it off in May, 1994. Most of it was sold to an institutional investor, a firm such as a mutual fund that trades large numbers of securities.
"So Fears made a huge profit from an investment that was never made public . . .
" Fears estimated a profit of between $3 million and $4 million. There are no public documents to confirm whether that amount is accurate, but some aspects of the sale offer clues. Victor Fears used his option on 78,975 shares to repay a $2.3 million loan that he and his father got from Cellini . . .
"It was impossible to determine how much the Fearses had agreed to pay Cellini in the stock option deal. Cellini ignored the Sun-Times' requests for an interview.
"State gaming officials said they have no financial details on the Cellini-Fears deal.
"'That's between the two of them,' said Michael Belletire, the gaming board's administrator since last year."
"'We would not have wanted a team that wasn't politically connected because part of getting development done is knowing how to work with the city and the state,' he said."
Sun-Times, September 14, 1997: "Welfare benefits worth $2 billion a year now flow through First of America Bank, a Springfield institution with a history of clout.
"Food stamp money and cash assistance payments began flowing through the bank last fall when the bank's board of directors included William Cellini - a major fund-raiser for Gov. Edgar and other Republicans. The board was eliminated in June during a restructuring."
Tribune, May 13, 1998: "Gov. Jim Edgar took care of his patronage chief Tuesday, appointing her to a high-paying job that will keep her on the state payroll long after he leaves office.
"The appointment of Janis Cellini to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board was one of dozens of gubernatorial appointments made Tuesday that would spill over into the term of the next governor - whether that is GOP candidate George Ryan or Democrat Glenn Poshard.
"Some of the appointments would take effect Jan. 10 - one day before Edgar leaves office and the next governor is sworn in . . .
"Cellini, 51, the sister of Republican powerbroker William Cellini, would take a [part-time] job that pays $67,019 a year. The board oversees teacher disputes and is the agency that receives notification of unions' intent to strike.
"For Cellini, the new job entails a pay cut of about $30,000 from her current position, but it represents job security through July 1, 2004 - roughly 18 months after the next governor finishes his first term.
"Cellini's name popped up frequently in federal trials over the Illinois Department of Public Aid scandal involving Management Services of Illinois Inc. She was not accused of wrongdoing, but her name appeared on MSI's high-profile list of people who received holiday assortments of steak and lobster from the firm.
"Edgar also reappointed William Cellini's wife, Julianna, as chairwoman of the board of trustees of the State Historic Preservation Agency, a post that pays expenses but no salary . . .
"As patronage chief, Cellini helps coordinate the appointments of the board and commissions, said Thomas Hardy, Edgar's spokesman.
"Hardy defended Edgar's moves as an example of good government, saying the appointees were 'eminently qualified.'
"'I don't think it is the governor taking care of key people,' Hardy said. 'I think it's the governor taking care of the business of the state.'"
Tribune, September 30, 1998: "For the second time in three years, state officials are trying to come to the financial rescue of Republican power broker William Cellini.
"Under the plan, more than $7 million in public funds would be used to buy a money-losing, low-income housing development in Springfield from a limited partnership controlled by Cellini.
"The proposal is the linchpin of a $13 million funding package to rehabilitate the 23-acre Evergreen Terrace complex. The deal has been aggressively pushed by top officials of a state housing agency over the objections of some staffers, according to documents and interviews. But final approval has stalled temporarily because of criticisms from the agency's own advisory commission.
"Cellini, a top GOP fundraiser whose sister is the patronage chief for Gov. Jim Edgar, is also a key owner of a money-losing luxury hotel in the state capital that cut a deal in 1995 to repay state economic development loans at less than 20 cents on the dollar.
"That controversial arrangement has since been blocked by Illinois Atty. Gen. Jim Ryan."
Sun-Times, October 1, 1998: "At least $6.2 million in state funds and tax credits could allow GOP power-broker William Cellini to rid his investment portfolio of a money-losing, low-income housing complex in the state capital.
A prominent Democratic state lawmaker called the deal a bailout for Cellini , though the elusive investor and close friend of Gov. Edgar bristled at that characterization.
"'There is no bailout for me. I will not make any money off of this,' Cellini said Wednesday.
"The controversy revolves around attempts by Cellini's limited partnership to sell Evergreen Terrace, a 284-unit complex of dilapidated, 1950s-era homes."
Tribune, February 11, 1999: "Plans to rehabilitate a troubled low-income housing development in Springfield remain in limbo, but Republican powerbroker William Cellini has already escaped from his money-losing investment in the complex.
"Cellini, a top GOP fundraiser, heads a limited partnership that owned Springfield's 23-acre Evergreen Terrace since 1985. At the end of last year, the partnership sold the property - and transferred its $6.1 million, federally insured mortgage - to a little-known non-profit group called Shelter Institute of America.
"Besides unloading the mortgage, Cellini and his partners could receive an additional $1.2 million from the deal upon completion of a complicated plan to spend public and private funds to rehab the complex . . .
"Cellini said in an interview that his publicly assisted escape from the project isn't a bailout because his partnership could have decided to default on its mortgage.
"'We have lived up to all our obligations,' Cellini said. 'No longer could we meet the mortgage payments. . . . We simply - as lots and lots of people do - could have said, Here are the keys. We're not going to be able to keep this going any longer.'
"However, officials at the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development in Chicago said such a mortgage default could have hurt Cellini's prospects for future HUD business. His New Frontier Management Corp. has contracts to manage numerous HUD properties in Illinois."
Tribune, June 4, 2000: "Former Ald. Ted Mazola (1st), who led the City Council fight to close Maxwell Street six years ago, now stands to reap the benefits with an exclusive contract to sell private homes that will be built on part of the property . . .
"Now the politically connected trio of developers contracted by the university to oversee the development - Dick Stein, Mike Marchese and Bill Cellini - have awarded Mazola's Near West Realty the exclusive right to sell the 850 private residences that will be built on the southern part of the site."
Tribune, August 24, 2000: "Top aides to former Gov. Jim Edgar and Senate President James 'Pate' Philip were among a lineup of powerful political insiders named as unindicted co-conspirators in a multimillion-dollar state contract scandal that led to federal convictions of an influential consulting firm, its founders and state bureaucrats, according to court documents released Wednesday.
"The firm, Management Services of Illinois Inc., a major political contributor to Edgar, was found guilty of bilking the state out of $12.9 million on a contract it held with the Department of Public Aid to cut welfare costs by identifying insurance coverage for public aid recipients that would replace government-paid health-care benefits.
"The list of those linked by prosecutors to the scandal but not charged included Michael Belletire, Edgar's deputy chief of staff and later head of the Illinois Gaming Board; Janis Cellini, Edgar's patronage chief and the sister of Springfield power broker William Cellini; and Jim Owen, a former assistant to Philip . . .
"Federal prosecutors declined Wednesday to explain why they chose not to seek indictments against Belletire, Cellini and the other alleged co-conspirators.
"But typically, people named as unindicted co-conspirators in federal criminal cases are those who have cooperated with investigators or who prosecutors believe were involved in a crime but think they might have a hard time proving in court . . .
"Each of the co-conspirators was mentioned prominently during the MSI trials . . .
"In the trials, prosecutors argued that Belletire and Cellini had urged Berger to watch over MSI's contract and to help the firm maneuver through the state bureaucracy . . .
"Janis Cellini did not testify, but she was portrayed by Martin in one of the trials as someone who offered to be the 'point person' for MSI in the Edgar administration. After his bribery conviction, Martin testified that MSI's lobbyists, Bedgood and Logsdon, hooked him up with Cellini."
Tribune, April 17, 2001: "Though his tenure at the helm of the Joliet Empress casino was brief and stormy, controversial casino boss Jack Binion may walk away with a more than $100 million profit on the $465 million sale of the riverboat announced Monday to Downstate powerbroker William Cellini.
"For Cellini - a former state transportation secretary, top GOP fundraiser and friend to a succession of Republican governors including George Ryan - the acquisition represents the potential of another bountiful return from the Illinois casino business since his Argosy Gaming Co. opened the state's first casino in Alton a decade ago.
"Since then, Argosy has gone public and expanded to operate casinos in Missouri, Louisiana, Iowa and Indiana . . .
"The sale of the Empress to Cellini's firm would not have been possible had it not been for a controversial 1999 gambling law passed by the legislature and signed by Ryan.
"Prior to that, no firm was allowed to own more than one casino in the state . . .
"[George] Ryan named Ira Rogal, one of the state's top lobbyists, to the board. One of the partners in Rogal's lobbying firm is Gerald Shea, a former Democratic leader of the Illinois House, who was an investor along with Cellini in a Springfield hotel that benefited from a controversial state-backed construction loan."
Tribune, July 25, 2001: "Despite giving Argosy the go-ahead for the deal, the board also slapped Cellini's company with a $100,000 fine for its involvement in a failed bid to build an Indian-owned casino in Kenosha, Wis. Board Administrator Sergio Acosta said the board had 'grave concerns' about a $46.5 million lobbying contract to push the Wisconsin casino and that one of its prime backers has been linked to Chicago crime syndicate figures."
Sun-Times, January 31, 2003: [What those on Fawell clout list wanted.]
"Republican power broker Bill Cellini and his sister Janis: BC license plate and summer job for Bill Cellini Jr.; 17 other jobs; 7 other plates; one contract extension."
Sun-Times, August 15, 2003: "Sneed hears William Cellini, a top GOP powerbroker/expediter/lobbyist, may be resurfacing as a Blago insider.
"Rumble is state Sen. Jim DeLeo, a Cellini confidant and Blago insider, is bringing the two sides to the table."
Tribune, April 14, 2005: "A mural commissioned for the new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum depicts a joyous scene in Washington at the end of the Civil War, but the faces of a few of the 19th Century revelers bear an uncanny resemblance to officials of the showcase 21st Century institution.
"The floor-to-ceiling painting, titled 'Washington Celebrates,' underwent a transformation from the time it was first depicted by a California artist.
"The clean-shaven likeness of Thomas Schwartz, Illinois' official state historian, was swapped in for the head of a man with a handlebar mustache. Another man with mutton-chop sideburns was turned into Julie Cellini, the wife of a modern-day Springfield power broker. She heads a board that oversees a state agency that administers the $90 million historical showcase, which will open Saturday."
Sun-Times, August 16, 2005: "A firm linked to Republican powerbroker William F. Cellini has been tapped to invest up to $120 million in state pension funds even though one of his companies owes taxpayers millions of dollars on a loan for an unprofitable hotel.
"The Illinois State Board of Investment chose Commonwealth Realty Advisors Inc. of Chicago to invest retirement funds on behalf of state workers, university employees, judges and ex-lawmakers in a deal that will net the company up to $2.4 million in annual management fees.
"That state business comes on top of more than $1 billion that an Illinois pension system representing 330,000 suburban and Downstate teachers has authorized Commonwealth to invest. That relationship yielded the company $4.7 million in management fees last year.
"Commonwealth was founded in 1989 by Cellini and Chicago lawyer Earl Deutsch. In 1992, Cellini yielded his ownership stake to his two children, Claudia and William Cellini Jr., after the firm scored its first investment a year earlier: a $100 million commitment from the state Teachers' Retirement System."
Sun-Times, September 6, 2005: "A state teachers' pension board member who is a business associate of Republican powerbroker William Cellini has voted to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in pension cash in a real estate investment firm that Cellini founded.
"James P. Bruner, a Downstate road builder and 12-year trustee of the Teachers' Retirement System, sits on the board of the Illinois Asphalt Pavement Association, which Cellini runs. Bruner also is chairman of the asphalt group's powerful political action committee, the Good Government Council, which has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Illinois Republicans and $30,000 to Gov. Blagojevich.
"In addition, Bruner and Cellini sit together on the boards of Illinois National Bank and Illinois College. And Bruner was appointed by Blagojevich last year to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum foundation board, which includes Cellini 's wife, Julie.
"Despite those links to Cellini, Bruner did not recuse himself in 2002 or 2004 from voting on three lucrative TRS investment deals with Commonwealth Realty Advisors Inc. totaling $370 million, records show. That's about one-third of the more than $1 billion that the 11-member TRS board has entrusted Commonwealth with investing on behalf of 330,000 suburban and Downstate educators.
"Bruner's votes are triggering conflict-of-interest questions from government watchdogs - especially in light of recent disclosures that Commonwealth, now controlled by Cellini 's children, is among several investment firms named on a federal subpoena to TRS. The U.S. attorney's office has indicted three people, including former TRS board member Stuart Levine, as part of an ongoing probe involving fees paid to investment consultants."
Kass, September 24, 2006: "Kjellander and Cellini don't interest the pundits, at least on the record. They have been powerful political string-pullers for years, working with Democrats and Republicans. Their relationship with Topinka was at the center of the Republican gubernatorial primary. Every major newspaper editorial board in the state asked Judy about them.
"Yet Cellini and Kjellander have never been the subjects of in-depth investigative profiles and the election is only weeks away. Amazing."
Kass, October 29, 2006: "Cellini hasn't been the focus of an investigative profile for almost a decade."
Which was true, as far as it went; the last one was by the Sun-Times. Maybe he should have asked his editors why.
Posted on November 4, 2011
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