Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Former ComEd execs plead not guilty in bribery scheme linked to Illinois House Speaker Madigan

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A confidant of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan pleaded not guilty along with three others Wednesday to charges they orchestrated an elaborate bribery scheme with Commonwealth Edison to funnel money and do-nothing jobs to Madigan loyalists in exchange for the speaker’s help with state legislation.

A 50-page indictment returned last month charged retired lobbyist Michael McClain, 73, of downstate Quincy; former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, 62, of Barrington; lobbyist and former ComEd executive John Hooker, 71, of Chicago; and Jay Doherty, 67, a consultant and former head of the City Club of Chicago.

The most serious of the charges carry up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

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All four appeared for an arraignment Wednesday via video conference before U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber — the first court hearing since the bombshell charges were announced Nov. 25.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, none of the defendants or lawyers was required to appear in person at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse.

During the hearing, McClain stayed seated in what appeared to be a study at his home, dressed in a dark suit jacket and occasionally smoothing his hair. Pramaggiore, seated by herself in a wood-paneled room, smiled and nodded when her name was called. Hooker and Doherty, meanwhile appeared to be seated in separate offices.

At the outset of the 30-minute hearing, Leinenweber said he wanted to put on the record that he served in the General Assembly with McClain, though on different sides of the aisle.

“I never really socialized with him, I don’t think I’ve seen him in the past 40 years or so,” Leinenweber said. He did not mention that he also served with Madigan, who is referred to in the charges only as “Public Official A.”

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Leinenweber added that his wife had once served as a board member for Constellation Energy before ComEd’s parent company, Exelon, purchased the supplier in 2012.

None of the parties objected to Leinenweber continuing to preside over the case.

After lawyers for the four defendants entered the not guilty pleas, prosecutors said they would begin producing the “quite voluminous” evidence on a rolling basis starting in two to three weeks.

Leinenweber set a status hearing for Feb. 16. Meanwhile, all four defendants will remain free on $10,000 recognizance bonds that did not require them to post any money.

The indictment alleged that beginning in 2011, the defendants “arranged for various associates” of Madigan — including his political allies and campaign workers — to “obtain jobs, contracts and monetary payments” from ComEd even in instances where they did little or no actual work.

McClain and the other defendants also conspired to have ComEd hire a Madigan-favored law firm and lawyer, previously identified in public testimony as Victor Reyes of Reyes Kurson, and to accept into ComEd’s summer internship program a certain number of students who lived in Madigan’s 13th Ward, according to the charges.

Pramaggiore and McClain also allegedly took steps to have an individual appointed to ComEd’s board of directors at the request of Madigan and McClain, the indictment stated. Tribune has identified the appointee as Juan Ochoa, the former head of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority of Chicago.

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Madigan, 78, the longest-serving House speaker in U.S. history and chairman of the state Democratic Party, has not been accused of wrongdoing.

The day after the indictment was announced, the speaker released a lengthy statement defending his history of making job recommendations and saying that if anyone at ComEd had tried to bribe him, “it was never made known to me.”

But the charges against McClain signal federal prosecutors have now cracked Madigan’s innermost circle and pose the most imminent threat to the speaker’s long hold on power.

Foes contend Madigan doesn’t have the 60 votes he needs in January to retain his seat as speaker, though a strong challenger has yet to emerge.

His chances of remaining in power were dealt another serious blow Tuesday when Rep. Kathleen Willis of Addison, a member of Madigan’s Democratic leadership team, said she will not support him for another term leading the chamber.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Democratic U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth have also said it was time for Madigan to step aside as state Democratic chairman.

The indictment comes a year and a half after the Chicago Tribune first reported that the FBI had raided McClain’s home and almost a year to the day after it revealed his phone had been wiretapped by investigators.

McClain’s criminal defense attorney, Patrick Cotter, said in a statement the charges were “the result of a misguided investigation and misapplication of the law driven by an obvious desire to find some way to criminally implicate” Madigan.

Lawyers for Pramaggiore, Hooker and Doherty have all issued statements denying any wrongdoing.

McClain is one of Madigan’s longest and closest friends, and served with him in the House in the 1970s and early 1980s before McClain moved on to a lucrative lobbying career that included ComEd as a client.

The indictment centers around an alleged scheme that was first laid out in court documents in July, when the U.S. attorney’s office announced ComEd was being charged with bribery under a deferred prosecution agreement.

The company admitted in court documents that top executives — including Pramaggiore, Vice President Fidel Marquez and others — had conspired with McClain to make off-the-books payments to lobbyists and consultants who were close to Madigan’s operation in order to influence key legislation the utility wanted in Springfield.

During the course of the scheme, ComEd and parent company Exelon persuaded the General Assembly to approve a smart-grid overhaul in 2011 and a bailout of the nuclear power plants in downstate Clinton and the Quad Cities with consumers helping foot the bill in 2016.

ComEd agreed to pay a record $200 million fine and cooperate with investigators in exchange for the charges being dropped in three years.

Marquez was later charged with bribery conspiracy and pleaded guilty in October to his role in the scheme.

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