Saturday, October 6, 2012

Cellini shares legacy with "Fast Eddie"

When I learned earlier this week that long-time political powerbroker William Cellini got a one-year prison term for his corruption conviction, my gut reaction was to think back to Edward R. Vrdolyak.
CELLINI: Following Ed's lead?

“Fast Eddie,” as a certain generation will always remember him. The outspoken alderman of the 10th Ward who became the namesake leader of the opposition faction of the City Council to then-Mayor Harold Washington.

EVEN AFTER HE left the council (which he has told reporter-types, “feels like an entire lifetime ago”), he remained active as a political consultant-of sorts.

He was the guy who got called on when somebody wanted to make a deal, and wanted Vrdolyak’s life-time collection of “friends” to help out.

Which ultimately got him a mail fraud conviction. Federal prosecutors say he cooperated with a real estate developer to arrange the sale of a Gold Coast neighborhood building without having to deal with bids. Supposedly, Vrdolyak was to receive a share of the $1.5 million sales price as his “fee,” but which prosecutors say was more bribe-like.

Vrdolyak, as we remember, tried to get probation, and initially got a judge to go along. But eventually, that sentence was thrown out and Eddie of the East Side would up getting a 10-month prison term, along with a few months of community service.

ALL OF WHICH has been served by now.

Vrdolyak managed to avoid the prison term of four to five years that federal prosecutors wanted him to receive, largely because of his age (he was 71 at the time).

All of which sounds so much like what will happen to Cellini – who in January is supposed to report to Bureau of Prisons authorities to begin his 1-year prison term (which could be reduced to a little more than 10 months if he qualifies for all his “good time”).
VRDOLYAK: Cellni similarities?

U.S. District Judge James Zagel ignored Cellini’s pleas for probation – even though his health isn’t solid and he’s even older (78) than Vrdolyak.

SO IT WILL be off to a prison camp for Cellini – the Springfield business executive who throughout the years helped raise campaign cash for political people of both parties. Which is why they felt themselves indebted to him, and gave him influence over public policy.

Cellini was one of those people who chose to build wealth for himself, rather than have a nice proper title to tag onto his name.

Which is how he got involved in a deal where a Hollywood producer claimed that Cellini’s tactics in trying to get the man to donate money to then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich amounted to extortion.

Prosecutors, and ultimately a federal jury, agreed.

THE TWO MEN just seem so identical, even with regard to their partisanship. For Cellini was nominally a Republican, but one more than willing to do business with Democrats.

While Vrdolyak was the one-time head of the Cook County Democratic Party who converted to Republicanism (although the GOP always seemed uncomfortable having him amongst their ranks).

There’s also the matter of incarceration.

For Vrdolyak did his prison time at the minimum-security work camp that is part of the maximum-security prison at Terre Haute, Ind.

THAT’S THE SAME facility where George Ryan has served his time. The two men got to know each other during their prison stints.
RYAN: A political trio?

At Cellini’s advanced age (which was the reason used by Bureau of Prisons officials to send Ryan to Terre Haute rather than the usual Oxford, Wis., facility where corruption cases are sent), he could also wind up just across the state line in Indiana.

Considering that Ryan isn’t supposed to leave the facility for a work-release program back in Illinois until some time in February, the two could wind up having some contact. Could there wind up being a “final favor” being called in between the two – payback for some past political contribution?

When it comes to the world of government corruption, nothing should be too much of a surprise.


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