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Next up for feds: Powerbroker Bill Cellini

4-16-09 William Cellini as he leaves Federal Building. Brian Jackson/Chicago Sun-Times

4-16-09 William Cellini as he leaves the Federal Building. Brian Jackson/Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: June 28, 2011 2:12AM

William F. Cellini — a Springfield insider who’s been called “the pope” of Illinois politics — is expected to be the next to stand trial in Operation Board Games, the federal corruption case that will send former Gov. Rod Blagojevich to prison.

Cellini, 76, is accused of scheming with convicted Blagojevich campaign fund-raisers Tony Rezko and Stuart Levine to shake down a Hollywood movie producer by allegedly demanding $1.5 million in campaign cash for Blagojevich in exchange for giving state pension-investment business to the producer’s investment firm.

Cellini’s trial is set for Oct. 3. His lawyer, Dan Webb, said that a jury’s decision Monday to convict Blagojevich on 17 criminal counts “will have no impact on the Cellini trial.

“As we have said in the past, we are definitely going to fight the charges at trial, and we have every confidence that the jury will find Mr. Cellini to be not guilty,” Webb said in an email.

A former high school physics teacher, Cellini has raised millions of dollars for governors in both parties. He began his political ascent in 1968 when he helped elect Republican Gov. Richard B. Ogilvie, who made Cellini the state’s first transportation secretary.

When Ogilvie lost re-election to Democratic Gov. Dan Walker, Cellini struck out on his own, setting up companies that would go on to make a fortune on deals involving state government. Gambling, paving and investment businesses he controlled helped him amass a fortune of more than $50 million.

Prosecutors originally planned to try Cellini alongside Blagojevich, but they dropped him from the case after fellow fund-raiser and defendant Chris Kelly committed suicide in 2009.

Besides Cellini’s trial, other developments in Operation Board Games are expected now that Blagojevich has been found guilty of the overwhelming majority of criminal charges he’d been facing. Several defendants in the case are awaiting sentencing, including Rezko and Levine.

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