I don’t have enough yarn and thumbtacks in stock to make the connections that put Democratic Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan under indictment or even plausible suspicion in this seemingly huge local political scandal.
But now, even though Madigan’s name is rattling through the news because the FBI reportedly has a recording of a meeting he had with a developer in 2014, and even though former Gov. Bruce Rauner and others are ready to fit Madigan with a prison jumpsuit for his “Mafia behavior,” it appears Madigan has once again stayed on the legal side of the line.
In fact, Madigan said nothing remotely incriminating in that meeting as recounted in a Sun-Times report posted Tuesday that has so many eyebrows dancing.
The developer was hoping to build a hotel in Chinatown, according to a confidential 120-page federal court affidavit obtained by the Sun-Times, the paper said.
He met with the veteran speaker in Madigan’s capacity as a private attorney whose firm, Madigan & Getzendanner, handles property tax appeals.
“We represent buildings like that on the real estate taxes,” Madigan said in the meeting, according to the Sun-Times’ account of the affidavit. “And we do quite a few hotels. And, uh, we have a little different approach to representation on hotels than the other law firms that do the work. … We’re not interested in a quick killing here. We’re interested in a long-term relationship.”
Sounds to me like a basic sales pitch, and a fairly bland one at that.
Of course there is the bigger question about the seemliness of any legislator — let alone the most powerful one in the state — doing work on the side related to the politically combustible issue of property taxes.
But unless and until such work is outlawed, the belief of the conspiratorially minded that Madigan is running a criminal enterprise — Rauner, the one who made the mob reference, has referred to Madigan as a crook and called him corrupt — remains merely a fever dream.
As my colleagues Jeff Coen and Ray Long reported in a Page One story Wednesday, investigators have come up empty in several probes of Madigan’s conduct over the decades.
I’ve long been of the belief that Madigan is too experienced, too savvy, too clever and too controlled to overtly commit a crime — to offer to perform an official act in exchange for a private benefit for himself, for instance. Even when he’s confident no one is listening.
But then, admittedly, I believed the same about former Republican Gov. George Ryan when serious allegations began swirling around him in 2000. No way would someone who’d served for nearly 30 years at so many levels of state government have risked it all on clumsily venality!
Ryan spent five years and eight months in prison after his conviction on charges of racketeering conspiracy, mail fraud, lying to the FBI, obstruction and tax fraud.
And I long believed the same about 14th Ward Ald. Ed Burke, the dapper dean of the City Council, the student of local political history who has seen so many colleagues wind up in the dock for brazen abuse of their power. Burke was charged in a federal criminal complaint Jan. 3 with attempted extortion in connection with an evidently wide-ranging corruption probe tangentially related to the recording made in Madigan’s law office.
Though Burke retains the presumption of innocence, the presumption that wily, veteran pols are too canny to get caught up in greasy little enrichment schemes is out the window.
Maybe the feds have incriminating recordings of Madigan not mentioned in the affidavit leaked to the Sun-Times, though given how long ago the reported recording was made, the likely inference is they don’t.
And maybe illegal acts by Madigan will be uncovered — instead of just speculated about — in the pair of ongoing civil lawsuits contending that his organization’s heavy-handed campaign tactics crossed the line.
The Tribune recently obtained transcripts of depositions in one of those cases, a suit alleging Madigan’s organization violated federal civil rights voting protections by putting up sham candidates to run against him in order to dilute opposition votes. But, our story noted, that “the speaker and his aides proved adept at providing short, clipped answers that do little to reveal motive or methods.”
Stay tuned, in other words, but back off from the edge of your seat.
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January 31, 2019 at 10:43PM