Jury hears Michael Madigan pressured ComEd to give jobs and money as utility sought legislation in Springfield


The prosecution’s star witness in the “ComEd Four” trial testified Wednesday that then-House Speaker Michael Madigan called upon the utility to raise $450,000 at its annual fundraiser for the Madigan-controlled Illinois Democratic Party during negotiations over a massive utility bill that would pass later that year.

Former ComEd Senior Vice President Fidel Marquez told the jury he was “surprised” by the size of the demand, which represented an increase of as much as $200,000 from previous fund-raisers coordinated for Madigan each year by ComEd and its parent company, Exelon.

Prosecutors allege ComEd repeatedly jumped through hoops to please the now-indicted ex-speaker, and it wasn’t just by providing copious sums of campaign cash.

The jury on Wednesday saw a string of emails detailing Madigan-backed demands seeking jobs and contracts for political associates, including the wife of convicted former City Clerk Jim Laski, former U.S. Rep. Morgan Murphy, and two daughters of former Cook County Democratic Chairman Joe Berrios, who doubled as county assessor.

The demands came through ComEd’s contract lobbyist Michael McClain, a longtime Madigan confidant, and emerged during the continuing testimony of Marquez, a former ComEd senior vice president turned cooperating witness who has pleaded guilty in the far-reaching alleged conspiracy.

Also Wednesday, prosecutors played a secretly wiretapped call in which McClain let Madigan know that Marquez wanted to get the speaker’s permission before he extended a labor agreement between ComEd and two major unions. Madigan checked in with the union leaders and approved sealing the deal.

“I’d like to understand what our Friend’s wishes are. .. And I want to extend that quietly before the new guy (CEO Joe Dominguez) shows up,” Marquez said on the 2018 call.

In addition, prosecutors played another recording indicating McClain had quizzed former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore about finding a job for Tim Mapes, Madigan’s longtime chief of staff who was ousted in a sexual harassment scandal.

The two discussed whether Mapes was employable at ComEd or Exelon. “

I keep thinking about how we can be helpful to (Mapes),” Pramaggiore said. “It’s hard to do anything directly.”

McClain and Pramaggiore are two of the “ComEd Four” charged in the far-reaching bribes-for-favors conspiracy case along with former ComEd executive John Hooker, a longtime top lobbyist for the utility, and Jay Doherty, a longtime ComEd lobbyist and ex-president of the City Club civic group.

Word of the Madigan-run Democratic Party request to give $450,000 in the 2016 utility fund-raiser came in an Aug. 16, 2016, email that McClain sent to utility lobbyist that provided a note of warning:

“I hope you are sitting down,” McClain wrote.

McClain then explained that “Our friend,” meaning Madigan, had called and requested moving the amount of money he wanted from the utility fund-raiser to be as much as $450,000.

In his third day on the witness stand, Marquez acknowledged under questioning that he was surprised by the big increase. He said ComEd was deep in the negotiations at that point on what became the Future Energy Jobs Act, which was passed in a frenzied fall veto session less than four months later on Dec. 1, 2016.

The defense jumped up to object to more follow-up questions about the utility’s annual fund-raiser for the state Democratic Party, where Madigan was the longtime chair.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bachu also asked Marquez questions about Madigan’s own longtime annual fund-raiser held at the Island Bay Yacht Club on Lake Springfield. The annual “Evening on the Lake” served as one of the don’t-miss moments every spring in which lobbyists, fellow lawmakers and other wannabe bigshots bought fund-raiser tickets and got brief facetime with the speaker as he shook hands at the door and inside in between food and cold drinks.

For years, the speaker would set up a House calendar that left open a single day in May when he would hold the fund-raiser, a move that avoided a conflict with a law at the time that did not allow legislative fund-raisers in Springfield on days when lawmakers were in session at the Capitol.

In August 2015, a McClain email that suggested ComEd’s political contributions were not as high as they should be and that their donations were “sticking out like a sore thumb.”

“As you know, he watches these items like a hawk, and I think we look (poorly),” McClain wrote, meaning Madigan tracks who is giving how much.

McClain also explained that he and Hooker had determined years before that it was better to wait until after the regular May 31 annual legislative deadline. Often, contributors try to wait to give donations when the legislature is not meeting to avoid any appearance of pay-to-play activity.

Madigan ousted Mapes from his three roles as chief of staff, House clerk and executive director of the Democratic Party of Illinois in June 2018 when a clerk working for Mapes accused him of sexual harassment, bullying and creating an uncomfortable atmosphere.

Marquez, who pleaded guilty and cooperated with investigators, has taken jurors to the heart of the conspiracy allegations, and has also painted a stark portrait of power politics as it was played under Madigan’s Democratic regime, with a stream of jobs and benefits flowing from ComEd to people connected to the speaker’s operation.

In addition to the nearly $1.3 million paid to the ComEd subcontractors over an eight-year period, Marquez testified Tuesday about related schemes to get former McPier boss Juan Ochoa appointed to ComEd’s board even though he was held in very low regard by many in the Hispanic community, and to hire a slew of summer interns sent from Madigan’s 13th Ward, including kids whose grades were well below the company’s standards.

‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it with those guys’: Jurors see undercover videos of Michael Madigan associates in ‘ComEd Four’ trial ]

Other potentially damaging videos played in court Tuesday included a conversation where Doherty acknowledged to Marquez that the Madigan guys he’d been paying as subcontractors did nothing for him on a day-to-day basis, but “keep their mouth shut.”

And weeks later, Marquez recorded a meeting at ComEd’s offices where he, McClain, and longtime ComEd lobbyist John Hookercq explained to Dominguez that the Madigan subcontracts were merely a different version of the state’s old-style political patronage system, which started with the utility hiring meter readers from Madigan’s ward decades ago.

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“So, that’s just what we’ve, we’ve always done for, good lord, over 20 years now,” McClain said. “Because we can’t really do meter readers, we don’t have ‘em any more.”

‘ComEd Four’ bribery trial: What you need to know ]

Charged in the case are McClain, who was a longtime ComEd lobbyist; Jay Doherty, a contact lobbyist and former head of the City Club of Chicago; former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore; and John Hooker, a former internal lobbyist for ComEd and staunch Madigan ally.

Madigan and McClain, meanwhile, are facing separate racketeering charges alleging an array of corrupt schemes, including the bribery plot by ComEd.

The defense has argued that what prosecutors say was bribery was actually nothing more than honest, legal political lobbying, and that there was no evidence Madigan did anything to directly help ComEd in exchange for benefits that flowed to his cronies.

Attorneys for the defendants, who will get the chance to cross-examine Marquez beginning on Wednesday, have sought to paint him as an opportunist who cooperated with the government to save his own skin.

They’ve also pointed out that Marquez was being coached by investigators on what to say in the conversations he recorded.


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March 29, 2023 at 02:17PM

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