A ComEd lobbyist faces trial on charges he and three other people used power company jobs and contracts to bribe and curry favor with deposed Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Jury selection for the trial of former Illinois representative and long-time political lobbyist Michael McClain is scheduled to start Tuesday morning at the federal court in Chicago.
Madigan, one of the most powerful politicians in Illinois history, served as top Democrat in the state’s lower house for decades, before being forced out and subsequently indicted on charges of bribery and racketeering. McClain will stand trial along with consultant Jay Doherty of Jay D. Doherty & Associates and former Commonwealth Edison executives Anne Pramaggiore and John Hooker on multiple criminal charges. The ex-Speaker was indicted in a separate case, which also includes McClain.
The indictments are among a series of cases brought by Northern District of Illinois prosecutors that reach corruption in the highest levels of the state’s government in recent years, University of Chicago law professor and former federal prosecutor Sharon Fairley said. Madigan, a part of Chicago’s political infrastructure since the ‘80s, served as Speaker of the House longer than any counterpart in any state in US history, and for a time chaired the state Democratic Party.
ComEd knew that it needed Madigan’s support to accomplish its regulatory goals. Even if his support wasn’t sufficient by itself, it was necessary, and ComEd knew it, according to the prosecution.
Among those the government said it expects to testify at trial include Fidel Marquez Jr., an alleged co-conspirator who entered into a plea agreement in September 2020, after agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors.
Marquez, who served as ComEd’s senior vice president of external and government affairs from around March 2012 through September 2019, appears on many of the emails that were publicly released as part of the Illinois House of Representative’s investigation into the corruption allegations.
The US has also said that it intends to introduce recordings obtained through wiretaps.
The alleged bribes, paid indirectly to Madigan in the form of lucrative ComEd job positions and subcontracts given to his associates, were meant to influence the trajectory of rate-regulating legislation considered essential to ComEd’s financial stability, the government says. Some of Madigan’s associates were compensated despite doing little if any work, according to prosecutors.
Pramaggiore was ComEd’s CEO from 2012 and 2018, when she was promoted to senior vice president and CEO of utilities at its parent
ComEd entered into a deferred prosecution agreement in July 2020, paying a $200 million fine to avoid corporate liability on related criminal charges.
Evidence concerning that agreement—and the admissions that ComEd made—may or may not be presented to the jury. Judge Harry D. Leinenweber said on March 9 that he was granting the defendants’ motion to exclude related evidence, at least for now.
Leinenweber also granted the defendant’s motion to exclude expert testimony by Dick W. Simpson, a professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Simpson would have testified to help the jury understand the city’s history of machine politics.
Chicago’s ‘Political Machine’
What primarily drives voters and political workers in Chicago is what they get in return for their support, “such as a job,” Simpson would have testified. According to his proffered and rejected testimony, public officials operating within the machine have a need to give material incentives to precinct captains and other political allies to maintain power.
It goes to why Madigan would have cared about whether or not his political allies were being taken care of and the connection between the alleged bribes and his official actions.
“In a typical bribery case, jurors expect to see money going into Madigan’s hands in exchange for a public act,” Eric Sussman, a partner at Barnes & Thornburg LLP said. The government will need to explain that it is more complicated than that.
The government will need to show that the political favors were being done for people instrumental to Madigan’s survival. Simpson’s testimony would have helped blunt the argument that there couldn’t be corrupt intent because Madigan didn’t see a penny of ComEd’s money, Sussman said.
The legislation that ComEd lobbied for, the Energy Infrastructure and Modernization Act in 2011 and the Future Energy Jobs Act in 2016, was worth more than $150 million to the company, at least according to the company’s deferred prosecution agreement or DPA.
Concealing the Crime
In addition to conspiracy and bribery charges, the defendants are accused of violating federal record-keeping laws to conceal their scheme.
Because ComEd and its parent Excelon have securities registered under Section 12 of the Securities and Exchange Act, they are subject to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act’s books and records and internal controls provisions.
The charges, which aren’t typically brought in cases involving allegations of purely domestic bribery, could be the prosecution’s “ace in the hole,” Michael Volkov of the Volkov Law Group LLC said.
If they can’t quite prove bribery, illegal gratuities or back scratching, they might still be able to win on the more technical charges, Volkov said. But he isn’t saying they will need it.
This is “a perfect case” for the prosecution’s 18 USC 666(a)(2) bribery charges, Volkov said. The allegations of corporate corruption admitted in the DPA are “pretty gross,” he said.
Fairley said another reason for bringing the record-keeping charges is that it carries a maximum 20-year sentence.
“Congress considers falsifying records really serious stuff,” Fairley said. “It goes to the heart and well-being of our financial system. It’s a serious offense, no question,” she said.
John R. Lausch Jr., the former US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois who initiated the prosecutions, stepped down March 11, 2023. First Assistant U.S. Attorney Morris “Sonny” Pasqual assumed the position on an acting basis.
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 U.S. v. McClain, N.D. Ill., No. 1:20-cr-00812, 3/14/23.
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