Tag Archives: Teachers Retirement System of Illinois

Before the Fall, Cellini Firm Feasted on Fees

It would appear that William Cellini’s reign as a state powerbroker is over, especially since he’s probably headed for jail.

That’s in sharp contrast to a few years before his conviction last November in federal court of extortion conspiracy and soliciting a bribe. At that time, the real estate investment firm he ran was flush with tens of millions of dollars in fees provided by the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) of Illinois.

Cellini’s Commonwealth Realty Advisors received $30 million between 2001-2010, the Better Government Association found.

It was Cellini’s influence on the state’s largest public pension fund that helped lead to his downfall. Cellini was convicted of scheming to pressure a co-owner of investment firm Capri Capital in 2004 to make campaign contributions to then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich in return for Capri’s managing some TRS investments worth $220 million.

Federal authorities have alleged in court documents that Blagojevich insiders Tony Rezko and Christopher Kelly were also part of the scheme to force Capri to make payments to the ex-governor’s campaign fund.

The plot backfired when Capri co-owner Tom Rosenberg, a Hollywood producer whose films include “Million Dollar Baby,” refused to give money to Blagojevich, according to court documents.

Rosenberg threatened to go to the authorities.

To try to prevent that from happening, Cellini, Rezko, Kelly and TRS board member Stuart Levine decided Capri should get the $220 million investment stake anyway. But they vowed to use their influence to block Capri from receiving future state business, federal authorities alleged in court documents.

In October 2008, a federal grand jury indicted Cellini on charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, extortion conspiracy, attempted extortion and soliciting a bribe.

Cellini was subsequently convicted in federal court, where Rosenberg was a key government witness.

Cellini’s family still has property and business interests in Springfield and downstate, so a comeback for the resilient political powerhouse is always a possibility.

But that’s a long shot: Cellini faces up to 30 years in prison and his firm, Commonwealth Realty, has closed. His sentencing is scheduled for June 15.

This blog entry was reported and written by BGA Investigator Andrew Schroedter, who can be reached at (312) 821-9035, or at aschroedter@bettergov.org.

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IMRF Vs. TRS: Getting More For Less

Over the past decade, another major public employee pension fund reaped a higher investment return, paid less in financial fees and used fewer advisers than the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) of Illinois.

The Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF), which had $24 billion in assets at the end of 2010, had an average annual return of 5.4 percent (not including fees) for the 10-year period ending in 2010.

The fund couldn’t provide a net return for the 10-year period.

During that period, IMRF paid $594 million in fees to money managers, significantly less than TRS’ $1.3 billion payout. Eighty vendors were paid more than $1 million each by IMRF compared to more than 200 TRS vendors.

Another difference: IMRF, which manages pensions for local governments and school districts, is not state-funded as is TRS and four other major state-backed pensions.

IMRF was about 80 percent funded at the end of last year, according to a preliminary estimate.

In comparison, TRS is less than half funded.

Brett Chase is a Chicago-based freelance reporter and BGA investigator.

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