Blagojevich documents may be unsealed

Published: 6/24/2009 7:14 AM | Updated: 6/24/2009 4:02 PM

Sealed court papers shedding light on a millionaire Springfield lobbyist who is a co-defendant in the corruption case against ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich may become public -- but only in part.

Federal Judge James B. Zagel indicated Wednesday the public is likely to see only a redacted version of William Cellini's motion to suppress wiretap evidence and any other materials he releases concerning the powerful businessman.

Zagel said some elements will remain under seal and removed from the redacted version of whatever documents are released.

The Chicago Tribune has been asking Zagel to unseal the documents, at least in part, to give the public more information about Cellini, described by the newspaper in its court papers as "a legendary Illinois political power broker."

He is executive director of the Illinois Asphalt Pavement Association -- a major component of the state's road-building lobby. His family's Commonwealth Realty Advisors, has invested hundreds of millions of dollars on behalf of the fund that pays the pensions of retired downstate and suburban school teachers.

Cellini is accused, among other things, of plotting to pressure Hollywood producer Thomas Rosenberg to raise substantial funds or make a large donation to Blagojevich's campaign fund or lose a $220 million allocation from the teachers pension fund to Capri Capital -- an investment firm Rosenberg owns.

Cellini has pleaded not guilty to the charges. Blagojevich also has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.

Even before the hearing, the government had indicated a willingness to release some redacted materials. Zagel called that "an obvious preliminary remedy." He directed the government to submit proposed redactions.

But Tribune attorney Natalie Spears said the government and the newspaper's lawyers are still likely to clash over how much should be redacted.

"We think it should be broader than what they propose," Spears said, meaning she hoped the release of materials would not be too limited.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Niewoehner said the government wants the materials under seal because of concerns about the privacy of people who may be mentioned but have not been charged with a crime or called to public attention.

CNN, ABC and Chicago's WLS-TV, an ABC affiliate, have also asked the court to unseal the wiretap tapes made secretly by the FBI in the days before his early December arrest.

Niewoehner told Zagel the government has "a strong investigative reason in addition to the privacy concerns" for keeping the wiretap tapes under seal.

Zagel gave CNN attorneys until July 8 to file a fresh motion, providing additional legal reasons why the wiretaps should be made public.