Mike Madigan case Inside AT&T’s alleged ‘conspiracy’ to bribe power brokers at the Illinois Capitol

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Former Speaker of the House Michael Madigan parks in the garage at his Southwest Side home on the day he was indicted, March 2, 2022.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

For more than a decade, Brian Gray was AT&T’s top executive in Illinois for a critical area — dealing with politicians in a state known for its corruption.

As the director of legislative affairs, he oversaw a stable of lobbyists, and in recent years he also headed the telecom giant’s political action committee in Illinois.

Gray had joined AT&T in 2000 after serving as a military pilot and rising to the rank of commander in the Navy, according to his online professional networking profile.

But Gray was one of two longtime executives who stopped working for AT&T in Springfield last month after many years as lobbyists, records show.

And sources close to the ongoing federal investigation into political corruption at the Illinois Capitol say Gray was one of the three unnamed and unindicted employees referred to by authorities in the case filed last week against their one-time boss, the former AT&T President Paul La Schiazza.

La Schiazza pleaded not guilty to five criminal counts Friday in his first appearance in U.S. District Court in Chicago. 

AT&T is cooperating with the investigation and promises to pay a $23 million fine after admitting it used illegal means in efforts to win support for favorable legislation from former Illinois House Speaker and state Democratic boss Michael Madigan.

Prosecutors say AT&T arranged $22,500 in payments for a retired state lawmaker and Madigan ally, whom the Chicago Sun-Times has identified as Edward Acevedo. That deal was ostensibly for consulting, but allegedly Acevedo did no actual work, prosecutors say, and in exchange AT&T got approval in 2017 of a proposal lifting the requirement that the phone company continue providing landline service in Illinois.

Madigan faces similar charges that Commonwealth Edison, the state-regulated power company, bribed him by handing out ghost consulting gigs to several of the then-speaker’s cronies. Though ComEd also reached a deal with prosecutors, Madigan has denied wrongdoing.

Now, WBEZ and the Sun-Times have learned the identities of the three other AT&T executives whose roles in the alleged conspiracy are described in the recent indictment of La Schiazza. Prosecutors publicly have described the three only as “Individual ATT-1,” “Individual ATT-2” and “Individual ATT-3.” 

Sources close to the investigation say the three employees are former company lobbyists Robert Barry, Stephen Selcke and Gray.

All three no longer work for the phone company. None of the three former executives has been charged with any crime. They could not be reached for comment Friday.

A spokesman for Dallas-based AT&T declined to answer questions about Gray, Barry and Selcke but has said company executives and their contractors had “the highest ethical standards” and were “committed to ensuring this never happens again.”

According to state lobbyist-disclosure documents, Gray and Barry canceled their registrations as lobbyists for AT&T Illinois on Sept. 1. Selcke stopped lobbying for the company in January 2020, records show.

In court records, the feds described the roles of the three ex-executives of AT&T in what was described as a secret effort to funnel money to Acevedo.

Prosecutors say they obtained a flurry of emails involving La Schiazza and the lobbyists showing that they discussed the allegedly fake consulting deal for Acevedo and sought assurances that it would lead to the favorable legislation the company had been seeking in Springfield.

According to court records, “Individual ATT-3” turned in what the feds say was a “false justification via email to a fellow AT&T employee” for the payments that ended up going to Acevedo, who had served as a state representative for a South Side district.

Acevedo has not been charged in the scheme but pleaded guilty last year to tax evasion and is in prison in North Carolina, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons.

In his LinkedIn profile, Gray says he was AT&T Illinois’ director of legislative affairs, with offices in Chicago and Springfield, from June 2012 until last month. That included representing the company in Springfield and 130 municipalities in Cook County.

Gray also wrote that he “optimized and executed AT&T Illinois’ Political Contributions (corporate and PAC) budget and political events strategy to best position AT&T” from 2019 until he left.

For nearly three years before working for the company in Illinois, he was based in Brussels as AT&T’s director of international public affairs in the European Union countries.

As a Navy pilot, he said, he was “deployed to the Korean peninsula and Persian Gulf flying the S-3B Viking,” logging “more than 2000 flight hours and 475 carrier landings.”

Barry’s online profile boasted 37 years in government relations for AT&T and MCI.

Selcke was a telecom lobbyist in Springfield for decades, records show. 

Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter on WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team. Jon Seidel is the Sun-Times’ federal courts reporter.

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October 22, 2022 at 08:25AM

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