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Key Madigan Ally, ComEd Lobbyists And Official Indicted In Federal Bribery Scheme

Nov 19, 2020
Originally published on November 19, 2020 3:33 am

A longtime confidante of House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago) was charged along with two other former Commonwealth Edison lobbyists and the CEO of ComEd’s parent company in a nine-count indictment Wednesday, alleging the four conspired on a wide-ranging bribery scheme all designed to influence the powerful House Speaker.

Mike McClain, who spent decades lobbying for electric utility ComEd after serving in the legislature alongside Madigan in the 1970s, was named in all nine counts, as was former Exelon CEO Anne Pramaggiore, who stepped down from the company last fall amid a series of federal raids and subpoenas naming her and other ComEd officials as subjects of interests to the feds.

Former ComEd lobbyists John Hooker and Jay Doherty were charged with six of the nine counts. Ex-ComEd CEO Vice President Fidel Marquez is also listed in the indictment as helping to coordinate the bribery efforts. Marquez pleaded guilty to a corruption charge connected to the scheme in September. 

The fifty-page indictment spans nine years of alleged wrongdoing by ComEd’s four representatives, shedding new light on actions first alleged in a deferred prosecution agreement against ComEd itself filed in July. Under the agreement, ComEd’s prosecution will be delayed for three years as the company cooperates in the investigation, and must pay a $200 million fine.

Madigan, referred to in the July document and in Wednesday’s indictment only as “Public Official A”, has not been charged with anything, and has denied wrongdoing repeatedly for more than a year, since news of federal raids on McClain’s home in May 2019, as well as raids on the homes and offices of other allies of the speaker. Federal agents last fall also conducted raids on politicians and companies that do not appear directly related to the investigation into Madigan and his inner circle.

In a letter sent to members of a Republican-initiated Special Investigative Committee into ComEd’s undue political influence on Madigan, the speaker said he was declining to appear, calling the committee a “political stunt.”

“The [deferred prosecution agreement] does not attribute any misconduct to me,” Madigan wrote in September. “It asserts that certain individuals at ComEd hired individuals I purportedly recommended in an attempt to influence me. But let me be clear: that attempt was never made known to me — if it had been, it would have been profoundly unwelcome.”

But Wednesday’s indictment put a bit more responsibility onto Madigan for making requests of ComEd, albeit through proxies like McClain. 

A 17-month campaign to install a ComEd board member

Back in July, the deferred prosecution agreement alleged that Madigan was behind a push to name Juan Ochoa — the former CEO of the organization that manages the McCormick Place convention center — to ComEd’s board “with the intent to influence and reward [Madigan] in connection with [Madigan’s] official duties,” according to the indictment. But the prosecution agreement provided few details of how Ochoa’s appointment eventually came to fruition.

At the Special Investigative Committee’s one substantive hearing in late September, ComEd’s compliance officer revealed in testimony that an office staffer for Madigan had sent an email to ComEd encouraging Ochoa’s appointment when it was held up.

But Wednesday’s indictment lays out the entire 17-month effort to install Ochoa on the board, beginning in November 2017. When Ochoa’s appointment to the board hit a snag in May 2018, McClain called Madigan and relayed the message that Pramaggiore was getting pushback on Ochoa, and instead had suggested finding Ochoa a job that would pay as much as a board member.

But a few weeks later, McClain checked in on Pramaggiore in a phone call, and according to the indictment,Pramaggiore said “she would, at [Madigan’s] request, ‘keep pressing’ to appoint [Ochoa]” to the board, according to the indictment. 

Ochoa was finally appointed in April 2019.

Pressuring ComEd to hire a Madigan-allied attorney

The indictment reveals McClain used coded language to refer to Madigan, including “our friend” when speaking about Madigan to Pramaggiore and Hooker. 

In early 2016, McClain pressured ComEd to retain an attorney referred to as “Lawyer A” for 850 billable hours annually.

“I am sure you know how valuable [Lawyer A] is to our Friend,” McClain wrote in the email, according to the indictment. “I know the drill and so do you. If you do not get involve [sic] and resolve this issue of 850 hours for his law firm per year then he will go to our Friend. Our Friend will call me and then I will call you. Is this the drill we must go through?”

McClain went on to imply retributions from Madigan if the requests were not honored.

“I just do not understand why we have to spend valuable minutes on items like this when we know it will provoke a reaction from our Friend,” McClain wrote.

Concealing payments for do-nothing jobs

The indictment also alleges ComEd officials took steps to conceal payments to Madigan allies hired by ComEd, including in “instances where such associates performed little or no work that they were purportedly hired to perform for ComEd,” according to the indictment. 

“Conspirators arranged for various associates of [Madigan], including [Madigan’s] political allies and individuals who performed political work for [Madigan], to obtain jobs, contracts, and monetary payments associated with those jobs and contracts from ComEd and its affiliates,” according to the indictment. “...And created and caused the creation of false contracts, invoices and other books and records to disguise the true nature...of the payments and to circumvent internal controls.”

Those jobs ranged from a ComEd internship program to those active in Madigan's 13th Ward political organization. In the indictment, prosecutors laid out the system by which ComEd paid Doherty's consulting firm in roughly monthly installments of thousands of dollars each from early 2014 to May of 2019, when Doherty's office was reportedly searched by federal agents. Doherty, who had been the longtime president of public policy forum the City Club of Chicago, resigned from that post late last year.

The specific monthly payments from ComEd to Doherty, and from Doherty to former 13th Ward Ald. Frank Olivo and two 13th Ward precinct captains, take up 15 pages of the indictment. 

McClain and Pramaggiore are also accused of conspiring to get former 23rd Ward Ald. Mike Zalewski Sr. a $5,000 per month contract in the spring of 2018, around the time Zalewski retired from the Chicago City Council. Marquez helped in the matter, according to the indictment.

But Zalewski, along with Olivo and one of the unnamed 13th Ward precinct captains, "

did little or no legitimate work for ComEd," according to the indictment — an echo of the same phrase used in the July deferred prosecution agreement. 

Zalewski's Chicago home was also reportedly raided by federal agents in May 2019.

Pressure on Madigan mounts

Since the bombshell deferred prosecution agreement dropped in July, a small but growing contingent of Madigan's own caucus have publicly said the speaker should step down from his role as longest-serving House Speaker in the nation.

To date, 12 members have publicly called for Madigan to relinquish his speaker's gavel — a position he must run for every two years. As the House Democratic Caucus suffered a net loss of one seat in the General Election earlier this month, 73 members, including Madigan, will vote for the position when the new General Assembly is seated in mid-January.

Madigan needs 60 votes to win, but is dangerously close to losing more key votes that would keep him in place. 

The day after the Nov. 3 election, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said on WTTW's Chicago Tonight that Madigan's continued presence as chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois caused Democratic candidates and causes up and down the ticket to pay "a heavy price."

“Candidates who had little or no connection with him whatsoever were being tarred as Madigan allies who are behind corruption and so forth and so on,” Durbin said. “It was really disconcerting to see the price that we paid on that. I hope he takes that to heart and understands that his presence as chairman of our party has not helped."

The following day, when asked if Madigan should step down as chair of the party, Gov. JB Pritzker — whose signature graduated income tax amendment failed at the ballot box after being associated with Madigan and a general distrust of state government by opponents — simply said "yes."

But when asked last week if Madigan should also step down from his role as speaker, Pritzker distanced himself from the discourse, saying it was up to members of the House.

Though opponents to Madigan retaining speakership have lined up, so have his backers, including those in organized labor, who have funneled millions into the campaign funds controlled by Madigan for years, helping support Democratic candidates and retain and expand Madigan's House majority, which is currently a supermajority of Democrats in that chamber. 

Already, one challenger to Madigan for the speaker's gavel has emerged. State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit (D-Oswego) announced last month that she intended to run for the position in January. But Kifowit has not identified any supporters yet.

Republicans, who have long criticized Madigan as both a drain on the state and the reason their legislation rarely gets called for a vote, have not put their support behind Kifowit either, but have tepidly suggested they may back another Democratic candidate.

House Minority Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) on Wednesday evening said the Democratic Party of Illinois under Madigan's leadership "is a corrupt organization that has run its course."

"For the past many months and years, Madigan’s apologists from the Governor to the rank-and-file House Democrats have turned a blind eye to his corrupt practices," Durkin said. "Speaker Madigan and his long list of defenders need to be removed from power."

Durkin also demanded State Rep. Chris Welch (D-Hillside) reconvene the Special Investigating Committee "immediately.” Welch in October delayed further meetings of the committee until after the Nov. 3 election, and earlier this month canceled the scheduled Nov. 5 hearing, citing both a rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations and a lack of documents requested from ComEd for review.

Attorneys for McClain and Doherty reportedly denied wrongdoing by their clients, and a spokesperson for Pramaggiore said the same. 

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