Rich Miller

Rich Miller

Silence is not at all golden

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By Rich Miller

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“Everybody gets pinched, but you did it right; you told ’em nothin’ and they got nothin’” Jimmy Conway told a youthful Henry Hill in the classic gangster movie Goodfellas after the mob-connected teenager was arrested for selling stolen cigarettes, clammed up to the police and was then released by a corrupt judge.

“You learned the two greatest things in life,” Conway told Hill. “Never rat on your friends, and always keep your mouth shut.”

Former Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s people (and they weren’t alone in this, by the way) took that vow to heart.

It’s sometimes difficult to explain to Statehouse newbies how often the people in charge back then loved cosplaying as mafiosi.

And there are more newbies than you might expect.

Lobbyist and unofficial Statehouse historian John Amdor keeps track of stuff like this, so I asked him to run the numbers. Amdor found that a 55% majority of House Democrats – 43 of the 78 – have taken office since June 6, 2018, the day Madigan’s longtime chief of staff Tim Mapes was forced to resign after being accused of harassment.

To some of us, including journalists like me who are still covering politics today, the Statehouse #MeToo cataclysm of 2018 still feels recent. But most current House Democrats had nothing to do with any of it. They only know of Mapes’ autocratic reign and dramatic fall through the news coverage they’ve seen and the stories they’ve heard from colleagues. He’s just not relevant to their lives.

RichMiller

Rich Miller

Currently, 33% of House Democrats (26) never even served under House Speaker Madigan, who left office in early 2021. If trends hold, it won’t be all that long before a majority of House Democrats never served with him.

Anyway, it’s clear from reading wiretap transcripts that those folks delighted in pretending to be part of some secret society.

That all caught up to Tim Mapes last week.

Speaker Madigan’s former chief of staff had been busted cold for lying during his grand jury testimony. The feds were fishing for information about Madigan, but Mapes wouldn’t even admit to knowing about totally legal activities.

Mapes had to have figured at the time that federal prosecutors knew he was lying (as literally everyone understands, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney rarely ask questions that they don’t already know the answers to), but he did it anyway. And he was convicted.

Before pronouncing his sentence on Mapes, U.S. District Judge John Kness called out the defendant for his almost cartoonish adherence to “the Law of Omertà,” the ancient mafia vow to never, as Judge Kness put it, “rat on your friends.”

That behavior “had no place” in a federal grand jury room, Kness told Mapes. “And you will pay the price for it.” No lawyer, no matter how connected, could possibly spring Mapes from this trap.

The price Mapes paid was 30 months in federal prison. Thirty months for lying in response to innocuous grand jury questions that weren’t even about illegal acts while he had complete immunity from prosecution. Thirty months away from his family plus who knows how many hundreds of thousands of dollars in crushing legal fees and lost income. For what?

There are probably only two explanations:

  • Mapes stupidly and stubbornly stuck to the “This is the life we chose” script on principle; or
  • Mapes knew of other illegal activities the feds might have been interested in, so he took the fall on the little stuff to avoid exposing his former boss and others to even greater legal peril.

Either way, the result is the same. Personal carnage.

Henry Hill was met by all his gangster buddies as he walked out of the courtroom that day, and they wildly applauded him for being a stand-up guy. Mapes’ friends may throw him a similar party when he is finally let loose. Cold comfort.

In the end, Henry Hill realized his silence was no longer worth the pain it was causing and he flipped. Mapes never got there.

Let’s not ever go back to those days, please. Thanks.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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