Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Utility watchdog files complaint against ComEd over its involvement in bribery case

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The watchdog Citizens Utility Board filed a complaint in federal court late Tuesday against ComEd over the utility’s admissions in a blockbuster bribery case last summer.

Federal prosecutors accused ComEd in July of sending $1.3 million to associates of House Speaker Michael Madigan for doing little or no work for the utility, all while ComEd hoped to land Madigan’s support for legislation in Springfield worth more than $150 million.

Though ComEd formally pleaded not guilty in court, it also admitted to the allegations in what’s known as a deferred-prosecution agreement that could ultimately lead to the dismissal of a bribery charge filed against it. It was also expected to pay a $200 million fine — believed to be the largest criminal fine ever in Chicago’s federal court.

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That case, as well as the indictment in November of former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore and three other Madigan allies, has threatened Madigan’s hold on the speaker’s gavel. He has not been charged with a crime and denies wrongdoing.

The Citizens Utility Board moved in October to intervene in a proposed class-action lawsuit filed against ComEd over the bribery allegations. U.S. District Judge Jorge Alonso gave the group until Tuesday to file its complaint.

The complaint alleges ComEd “continues to reap the benefits of its nearly decadelong scheme — even after admitting what it has done.” Meanwhile, it said, “hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic.”

Former Gov. Pat Quinn is among the lawyers representing CUB in the case, according to the complaint. ComEd spokesman Paul Elsberg later released a statement:

“The conduct described in the deferred prosecution agreement does not mean that consumers were harmed by the legislation that was passed in Illinois, and in fact the bipartisan legislation resulted in substantial benefits for ComEd’s customers, including 70 percent improved reliability since 2012 and billions of dollars in savings for customers, while residential customers’ bills are lower than they were nearly a decade ago,” the statement said. “This in no way excuses the conduct described in the DPA, but that is a distinct issue from the effect of the legislation for ComEd’s customers.”

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The CUB complaint accuses ComEd executives, employees, lobbyists and others of racketeering through the so-called “ComEd Enterprise” for a “nine-year-long ‘quid pro quo’ scheme.”

“The primary purpose of the ComEd Enterprise was mutual enrichment at the expense of Illinois utility consumers: to produce undue influence over the Illinois General Assembly for the financial and political benefit of ComEd, and the enrichment of ComEd Enterprise associates,” it said.

It also said members of the enterprise “bribed elected officials in order to influence the passage of legislation beneficial to ComEd in the Illinois General Assembly,” ultimately causing Illinois utility consumers to pay an additional $150 million for electricity since 2011.

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