Bloomberg Law
March 23, 2023, 2:18 AM

Ex-Exelon Counsel Testifies About ‘Pressure’ in ComEd Four Trial

Holly Barker
Holly Barker
Legal Reporter

Exelon Corp.'s former senior vice president and general counsel Tom O’Neill, told a jury Wednesday that he felt “persistent pressure” to hire a Chicago law firm with ties to former Illinois house speaker Michael Madigan (D).

O’Neill’s testimony in the trial of former Exelon and Commonwealth Edison lobbyists and one of its chief executives focused primarily on interactions with longtime ComEd lobbyist Michael McClain and its former chief executive officer Anne Pramaggiore over recommendations for law firm hires, employee recommendations, and a board appointment. According to the prosecution, ComEd made the offers to appease Madigan in order to advance legislation.

McClain was pestering O’Neill and arguing with him over the minutia of the terms of the firm’s contract, and O’Neill said he didn’t understand why the speaker would be so interested in ComEd’s contract with the Reyes Kurson law firm.

“I started to wonder if he was using speaker’s name for impact,” O’Neill said.

Michael Madigan (D), one of the most powerful politicians in Illinois history, served as house speaker for decades before he was forced out and subsequently indicted on charges of bribery and racketeering in a separate case.

The power of O’Neill’s testimony came somewhat undone, however, on cross examination by defense counsel. The initial ask to hire Reyes Kurson came from senior executives at Exelon—not McClain—and O’Neill said he had already decided to hire the firm when defendant John Hooker, at the time a lobbyist employed by ComEd, asked him to get it done.

The only thing that Hooker’s pressure impacted, O’Neill said, was the timing of the contract. He said he was busy working on the state Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act when Hooker approached him.

Hiring Reyes

O’Neill said he was advised by McClain that it was “important” to hire Victor Reyes’ firm, and he took that to mean it was, by extension, important to Madigan to hire Reyes.

Reyes, once an assistant to former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley (D), for a time ran the state’s politically influential Hispanic Democratic Organization, which had supported Madigan in his reelection bids.

The initial three-year contract between ComEd and Reyes’s firm was finalized just as a vote to override the EIMA legislation veto of then-Gov. Pat Quinn (D) was approaching. The act, which created predictable, automatic formula rate hikes and called for the installation of “smart meters,” among other things, was essential to ComEd’s stability, he said. Before passage of the legislation, Exelon couldn’t be sure that it would earn a return on critical investments in ComEd’s infrastructure, O’Neill said.

The smart meters would automatically report on customers’ energy usage and eliminate the need for ComEd to send meter readers to people’s homes. ComEd eventually filled over 1,000 hours of Reyes Kurson’s time, assigning the firm to handle administrative matters involving people who had resisted installation of the new meters.

O’Neill testified that he believed the legislation was not just the right thing for ComEd, but it was the right thing for consumers. The rates have remained largely flat for consumers since EIMA, while customer satisfaction and reliability improved, he said.

‘Double Dipping’

Later, when the Reyes Kurson contract was expiring and up for renegotiation, O’Neill said he learned that ComEd also had a contract with Reyes’s political consulting firm, Roosevelt Strategy Group.

He forwarded related email correspondence to defendant Pramaggiore without comment, and testified that he thought it was significant because he felt Reyes was “double dipping.”

The renegotiation of the contract occurred around the same time ComEd was starting work on another piece of major utility legislation, which would eventually come to be known as the Future Energy Jobs Act.

O’Neill said McClain called him about renewing the contract and then emailed repeatedly. O’Neill said that after he told his boss, Pramaggiore, that they were running low on work, she told him to go forward with the agreement anyway.

But on cross, it wasn’t so clear that O’Neill’s testimony on that point was reliable. When he was interviewed by the government, he said that Pramaggiore told him to keep working with McClain. He hadn’t said that Pramaggiore told him to just execute the agreement.

According to O’Neill, McClain reached out to Pramaggiore directly—going over his head—about renewing the contract.

“Well, I hate to bring this to your attention but I must. Sorry. I am sure you know how Valuable Victor is to our Friend,” McClain wrote to Pramaggiore.

“I know the drill and so do you. If you do not get involved and resolve the 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,” McClain wrote. “Is this a drill we must go through?”

The drill was more than a drill; it was months of negotiation. By the time ComEd executed the agreement, O’Neill had cut the hours by about a third, although he did agree to an increase on a fixed fee component of the deal.

Critically, O’Neill said he didn’t believe the agreement was tied to getting any piece of legislation passed. He just wanted McClain off of his back.

O’Neill also testified about the appointment of Joan Ochoa to ComEd’s board, which was allegedly done to appease Madigan. But Madigan’s office wasn’t the only one to recommend Ochoa—former Governor Rahm Emmanuel (D) had recommended him also.

The ultimate decision was made by Exelon’s chief executive officer, and O’Neill said he was a suitable candidate.

Although O’Neill’s testimony may have been a wash for the prosecution, it is early in what is expected to be a six-to-eight week trial, and the government only needs to make one of its theories stick. The government has lots of wiretaps that don’t look good for the defense.

Beyond the alleged bribes in the form of the retention of Reyes Kurson, the government says ComEd paid certain Madigan associates retained as subcontractors for no work, and it hired certain interns recommended by Madigan via McClain to curry favor.

McClain is represented by Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale PC. Pramaggiore is represented by Sidley Austin LLP. Hooker is represented by Monico & Spevack. Doherty is represented by Gabrielle Rose Sansonetti.

The case is United States v. McClain, N.D. Ill., No. 1:20-cr-00812, trial 3/22/23.

To contact the reporter on this story: Holly Barker in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at; Maya Earls at; Andrew Harris at; Carmen Castro-Pagán at

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