A self-assured, plain-spoken Hollywood producer testified in federal court Thursday that he “screamed and cursed” at Springfield power broker William Cellini once he learned his business with the state was on hold because he hadn’t contributed to then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s campaign fund.
Still, Tom Rosenberg, who is the center of an alleged extortion scheme, said Cellini wasn’t the one who asked him to make a political contribution.
“Never in 30 years,” Rosenberg said of his longtime business friend.
Wearing dark glasses and no tie, Rosenberg, who often drew laughs from jurors, proved to be a pivotal witness for both sides in Cellini’s federal trial.
Prosecutors on Thursday rested their case not long after Rosenberg’s testimony. They tried to show jurors that Cellini, a longtime political insider, was part of an extortion conspiracy when he told Rosenberg Blagojevich’s people wanted him to pay up if he wanted state business.
Defense lawyers, who are expected to call some witnesses Friday, portrayed Cellini’s May 2004 conversations with Rosenberg as simply passing along to a friend what he had heard others trying to do to Rosenberg.
Rosenberg testified he grew concerned after his firm, Capri Capital, did not get the $220 million from the Teachers’ Retirement System as it was slotted to receive.
He said Cellini told him he had angered Blagojevich fund-raisers Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly by not kicking in to Blagojevich’s campaign fund.
“Bill told me that Rezko and Kelly said it would not go forward until Capri made the appropriate [contribution],” Rosenberg testified. “He was telling me why it was stopped and it would be stopped until money was contributed to Blagojevich.”
Rosenberg unleashed a furious tirade, he said.
“I told Bill that I would not be shaken down,” Rosenberg said of their phone discussion. “I told him I would stand on the corner of State and Madison and discuss this. … I screamed and cursed. I wanted him to pass on the full level of my fury to Rezko and Kelly.”
Rosenberg learned at one point that another friend, longtime insider and developer Allison Davis, had met with Kelly and Rezko and discussed Rosenberg possibly giving a contribution. Rosenberg said he never authorized Davis to say that.
Under questioning by defense lawyer Terry Gillespie, Rosenberg expressed his disdain for board member Stuart Levine.
“I didn’t like him from the day I met him,” Rosenberg said. Rosenberg said he dealt with Levine because he had to.
“Is that like Bill telling you he had to deal with Rezko?” Gillespie asked Rosenberg, who slumped his shoulders and smiled. Judge James Zagel blocked the answer.
Levine, a onetime TRS board member, had testified for parts of six days detailing his many past crimes. He said Cellini was part of the extortion attempt on Rosenberg and was used by Levine, Rezko and Kelly to pass messages to the producer.
Levine also said he and Rosenberg agreed to a bribe deal in the past but Rosenberg didn’t pay up. Rosenberg said he agreed to no such thing.
“You have to kind of imagine what it’s like to meet with Stuart,” he said, drawing smiles across the courtroom. Rosenberg said he didn’t think Levine wanted his money. “He wanted to compromise me.”
Gillespie then started on Levine: “He was just a manipulative, power hungry…”
“Wait, wait,” Zagel interrupted, to many knowing laughs in the courtroom. “You can save that for later,” he said, referring to closing arguments.
After Rosenberg’s tirade, Cellini talked to Levine in a taped call. At one point, Cellini suggests giving Rosenberg some TRS business to appease him, but far less than the $220 million.
“There’s a middle ground,” Cellini says to Levine on tape. “Give him an insignificant amount. … You deserve $25 million, you did a good job. What’s he gonna do, say ‘I want more?’ I mean what’s he gonna say publicly of somethin’ like that?”
Levine said the group decided to back off and give Capri its money but never give him any more.
In testimony, Rosenberg said Cellini told him he would call TRS director Jon Bauman to see about getting Capri’s $220 million.
Cellini later called Rosenberg with the news that Capri would get its money. Bauman referred to Cellini as the pope. Rosenberg said Cellini told him: “It was OK with [Bauman] if it was OK with the pope.”