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3 more not guilty pleas in Blagojevich case

Ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's former chief of staff has pleaded not guilty to scheming with his boss to sell President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat.
Blagojevich Indicted
Ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich's ex-aides pleaded not guilty to charges that they took part in what prosecutors allege was widespread corruption. Paul Beaty / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich's most recent chief of staff, former chief fundraiser and another Illinois political insider pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges that they took part in what prosecutors allege was widespread corruption.

Blagojevich pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to plotting to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat and a tangled web of other alleged corruption. Pleading not guilty in the case Thursday were former chief of staff John Harris, former fundraising chairman Christopher Kelly and Springfield power broker William Cellini.

The scene was tame compared to the huge media scrum that swirled through the courthouse and into the street Tuesday as Blagojevich quoted Winston Churchill while apparently hoping for a judge's permission to go to Costa Rica to appear on the NBC reality show "I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!"

Harris, 47, is charged in only one count with taking part in the alleged Senate seat scheme and is cooperating with prosecutors. His attorney, Terry Ekl, told U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel they hope to have an agreement on a change of plea before the end of May.

"He's not asking permission to go to Costa Rica to be on a reality show," Ekl cracked after Harris' arraignment.

Kelly, 50, a roofing contractor who was previously chairman of the Friends of Rod Blagojevich campaign fund, is accused of scheming with the now-impeached governor to tap the power of the state government in a long-term money-making operation.

The proceeds were to be distributed once Blagojevich left office, according to a 19-count racketeering and fraud indictment.

Cellini, 74, has been one of the most influential behind-the-scenes figures in state politics going back to the 1960s. His attorney, Dan K. Webb, told Zagel he plans to ask that Cellini be tried separately from Blagojevich and the others.

"Mr. Cellini and Gov. Blagojevich don't even know each other," Webb said outside court. "The only times they've ever met in their lives is to shake hands at political events."

Cellini is charged with what the indictment describes as a plot to shake down Hollywood producer Thomas Rosenberg for a hefty campaign contribution.

According to the indictment, Cellini told Rosenberg that the producer's Capri Capital asset management company hadn't gotten a $220 million allotment to invest on behalf of the state teachers pension fund because he hadn't made the contribution.

The indictment says the alleged plot fell through when Rosenberg made it plain he might blow the whistle if Capri Capital didn't get the allotment.

Webb said Cellini, who was indicted months before Blagojevich, had been "swept into" the larger case and as a result could suffer "spillover prejudice" if forced to stand trial alongside the former governor.