ComEd Charged With Bribery For Steering Jobs, Other Benefits To Speaker Michael Madigan

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Commonwealth Edison on Friday stated that it has steered jobs, contracts and payments to Public Official A, who’s later referred to as the Illinois House Speaker in a highly explosive court filing released Friday morning.

Michael Madigan has been the Speaker of the House since 1971. He has not been charged with wrongdoing.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago had been investigating whether ComEd hired politically connected contractors – some with ties to Madigan – in order to win favorable government actions, including electricity rate increases. Friday’s agreement came less than a year after WBEZ first disclosed the nature of the probe.

According to the agreement — known as a deferred prosecution — ComEd is charged with one count of bribery. So long as ComEd pays a $200 million fine and complies with regulations for three years, that bribery charge will be dropped.

By agreeing to the deferred prosecution, ComEd avoids the specter of a politically explosive criminal trial into its lobbying activities by settling with federal prosecutors probing the clout-laden power company’s Springfield muscle.

In exchange for agreeing to the deferred prosecution, the company will not face criminal prosecution, as long as they meet the terms of the agreement. But it does not prevent prosecutors for pursuing charges against several ex-ComEd executives and contractors who parted ways with the company after getting caught up in the probe.

The highest-profile departure came last October when then-Exelon CEO Anne Prammigiore abruptly left the company as the corruption investigation appeared to be deepening. ComEd cut ties with one of its top in-house lobbyists, Fidel Marquez, Jr., the previous month. Neither have been charged with a crime. 

The sprawling criminal investigation into the utility giant’s lobbying activities has reached into multiple corners of Illinois’ civic and political circles.

Federal agents have repeatedly sought information on Madigan, the state’s most powerful politician and the head of Illinois’ Democratic Party. WBEZ has previously reported on how several ex-Madigan aides and political allies have ended up lobbying for ComEd. Madigan has not been charged with wrongdoing, and told reporters last year, “I’m not a target of anything” in relation to the investigation.

The probe has also caught up retired ComEd lobbyist and former consigliere to Madigan, Michael McClain, whose downstate Quincy home was raided by the feds in May 2019. McClain told WBEZ in January that federal prosecutors had asked him to cooperate with their investigation, but intimated that he would not.When WBEZ asked if it would be hard to betray someone like his longtime friend Madigan, McClain paused and then said, “It would be hard to betray myself.”

Exelon also disclosed receiving a second subpoena from federal agents seeking communications with then-State Sen. Martin Sandoval. The Southwest Side Democrat later pleaded guilty to federal bribery and tax evasion charges.

In the raid last year at Sandoval’s office in Springfield, court records show that agents sought documents on four unidentified Exelon officials and on issues supported by ComEd and Exelon at the state Capitol, “including but not limited to rate increases.”

ComEd is regulated by state government officials, and has traditionally employed an army of lobbyists to advance its interests in the Capitol.

WBEZ was the first to report last year that federal agents raided the Michigan Avenue offices of the City Club of Chicago, a non-profit public affairs club known for drawing the biggest names in politics to speak for a downtown crowd of movers and shakers.

The City Club’s president, Jay Doherty, earned more than $3 million over the last decade as a ComEd lobbyist. He eventually resigned as City Club president and ComEd cut ties with him. He’s hung up on WBEZ multiple times when contacted about the investigation.

Last month, WBEZ reported that ComEd paid the powerhouse law firm of Jenner & Block nearly $2.4 million in 2019 — more than what the power company had reported paying the firm in the previous four years combined. Two sources with knowledge of the federal probe told WBEZ that Jenner & Block is helping the company deal with federal authorities who are conducting the investigation.In addition, two former consultants for ComEd said they had been contacted by the company to see whether they would sit for interviews with Jenner & Block attorneys as part of the utility’s own internal investigation. According to one of the former ComEd consultants, who was interviewed, the lawyers for the company made clear they were sharing their findings with the feds.With a deferred prosecution, prosecutors generally agree not to pursue charges filed against an individual or company in exchange for some kind of remediation, whether that be fines, repayment of funds, drug or alcohol rehabilitation or community service. It’s used most often with first-time low-level offenders, but has been used by authorities across the country.

Federal prosecutors in Chicago last March worked out a deferred prosecution deal with former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, who was charged with using his campaign and government funds as a personal piggy bank. Schock had to pay back taxes and stay out of trouble for six months, after which prosecutors dropped all charges.

Around the country, federal prosecutors have used deferred prosecutions for Chipotle, which paid a $25 million fine and got a three-year-deferred prosecution deal after its tainted food sickened more than 1,000 people. Wells Fargo entered into a $3 billion deferred prosecution agreement after it was accused of opening fake accounts with customers’ information, among other charges.

Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics. Follow him @tonyjarnold.

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via WBEZ Chicago

July 17, 2020 at 08:34AM

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