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Blagojevich ex-chief of staff pleads not guilty

Prosecutors say they expect the former Illinois governor's chief-of-staff to make a deal and take the stand as a government witness if the case goes to trial.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A former chief of staff who served under ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich has pleaded not guilty to federal corruption charges.

Alonzo Monk was silent for most of the five-minute arraignment Thursday. The 50-year-old did acknowledge he was pleading not guilty.

Prosecutors have said publicly, though, that they expect Monk to make a deal and take the stand as a government witness if the case goes to trial.

Monk is charged in one fraud count in the sweeping 19-count corruption case.

Previous pleasBlagojevich's most recent chief of staff, former chief fundraiser and another Illinois political insider pleaded not guilty April 16 to charges that they took part in what prosecutors allege was widespread corruption.

Blagojevich pleaded not guilty April 14 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.

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.

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.