SRP-IMAGE-Logo

‘Corrupt influence’ or ‘collateral damage’? Jury to decide fate of ‘ComEd Four’

By HANNAH MEISEL
Capitol News Illinois
hmeisel@capitolnewsillinois.com

CHICAGO – Before jury deliberations begin on the fate of four ex-Commonwealth Edison officials after a six-week bribery trial, an attorney for one of the defendants got emotional Monday afternoon when imparting the weight of the jury’s task.

“Be the shield that you were meant to be,” Patrick Cotter told jurors after gathering himself. “The shield between an individual citizen and a very powerful government, in this case a very powerful government committed, dedicated and on a mission to get Mike Madigan.”

Former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan’s name has been invoked countless times throughout the trial as the subject of ComEd’s alleged seven-and-a-half-year bribery scheme. Cotter on Monday echoed his opening arguments, saying Madigan was the true object of prosecutors’ aims in this case.

Madigan – along with Cotter’s client Mike McClain, a longtime ComEd lobbyist and friend to the speaker – will face a related criminal trial next year which includes racketeering charges. But the jury hasn’t been informed of that.

“Don’t let Mike McClain and these other people be collateral damage in that war,” Cotter told jurors.

Madigan gave up his speaker’s gavel under pressure from his own party more than two years ago, after McClain and his codefendants – two other longtime lobbyists for the company and ComEd’s former CEO – were indicted in late 2020. Prosecutors said the speaker, who served a record-breaking 36 years as leader of the Illinois House, was the beneficiary of “a stream of benefits” from ComEd in the utility’s alleged bribery scheme.

According to the government, ComEd allegedly gave Madigan allies jobs and contracts at the utility in exchange for an easier path for ComEd’s preferred legislation in Springfield.

In her closing arguments preceding Cotter’s on Monday morning, Assistant U.S. Attorney Diane MacArthur summed up the case with a diagram representing the alleged cycle of benefits between Madigan and ComEd.

“Madigan wanted, ComEd gave and Comed got,” MacArthur said.

During the last six weeks of trial, prosecutors spent the most time dissecting how a handful of Madigan allies did little to no work for their monthly subcontracting checks of $4,000 to $5,000, paid out by ComEd contract lobbyists.

One of the subcontractors, longtime Madigan loyalist Ed Moody, testified under an immunity agreement earlier this month. He told jurors that as precinct captain in the speaker’s 13th Ward political organization on Chicago’s southwest side, he personally appealed to Madigan for a lobbying contract – which he said the speaker ultimately controlled.

But Cotter downplayed Moody’s testimony, pointing out that when he was a subcontractor under McClain’s contract early on in the arrangement, he performed hours of door-to-door canvassing work on ComEd’s behalf.

“Mr. Moody didn’t work because Mr. Moody didn’t want to work,” Cotter said of Moody’s lack of work product after McClain passed him off to other ComEd contract lobbyists.

Cotter sought to remind the jury of the case’s roots, noting that an FBI agent testified early on in the trial that the investigation stretched back to 2014, and that the original target was Madigan. In the last several years, the sprawling federal probe has nabbed dozens of other politicians, lobbyists and business leaders in Illinois.

“I believe this is a case of a conclusion in search of evidence,” Cotter said. “If you start by assuming Madigan is guilty, then everyone near Madigan starts to look guilty.”

And there was almost no one nearer to Madigan than McClain; their friendship goes back to the 1970s when they served together as young Democratic representatives in the Illinois House. On numerous wiretapped phone calls and in letters shown to the jury during trial, McClain described himself as an “agent” of the speaker. Other witnesses described McClain as a “double agent” who always put Madigan’s interests first even as he was ComEd’s top outside lobbyist and strategist.

Also facing charges in the case are former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, longtime internal lobbyist John Hooker – although he retired from ComEd in 2012 and spent the last seven years of his career as a contract lobbyist until 2019 when the feds’ investigation became public – and Jay Doherty, a longtime contract lobbyist and former president of the City Club of Chicago.

After attorneys for Hooker and Doherty make their closing arguments on Tuesday morning and the government gives its final rebuttal, the jury will be sent to deliberate after getting a lengthy set of instructions for how to weigh the nine-count indictment against the evidence they’ve seen in 21 days of testimony.

Early on in MacArthur’s more-than-two-hour closing presentation, she told the jury that the alleged bribes in this case “are not the kids of bribes” that involve putting money in an envelope.

“There isn’t an envelope big enough in this world to fit the amount of money ComEd paid out,” MacArthur said.

The prosecutor was referring to the $1.3 million in monthly checks written to the subcontractors who worked under McClain, Doherty and two other Madigan allies not charged in the case. But her remark also encompassed the rest of the supposed conspiracy.

The other pillars of the alleged bribery scheme spanned from ComEd’s paid internship program – which allegedly gave special treatment to applicants from Madigan’s ward on Chicago’s southwest side – to a lucrative outside counsel contract for prolific Madigan fundraiser Victor Reyes.

MacArthur stressed that Madigan’s ultimate benefits from ComEd came in the form of increased political capital, like when he spent a year and a half pushing for Latino business leader Juan Ochoa to get a $78,000 one-year appointment on ComEd’s board. Ochoa was an ally of Madigan’s allies, former U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez and his successor U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, and the speaker’s 13th Ward power base had grown increasingly Latino in recent years.

But MacArthur also reminded the jury that ComEd had much to gain from the utility’s wins in Springfield. For example, the 2011 “Smart Grid” legislation included a change in how state regulators could calculate rate increases for ComEd customers, which meant millions for the utility’s bottom line. and the bill’s passage helped pull ComEd out of a period of near bankruptcy.

In the background of MacArthur’s closing arguments was a slide deck presentation she referred to, which included a timeline of the alleged bribery scheme beginning in August 2011, when the first subcontractor was hired under Doherty. MacArthur alleged the benefits to Madigan were “clustered” around the passage of legislation like Smart Grid in 2011, a 2013 fix to that law and 2016’s Future Energy Jobs Act.

However, Pramaggiore’s attorney Scott Lassar, pilloried that timeline, pointing out that by August 2011, Smart Grid had already passed in the Illinois House. It was delayed by then-Gov. Pat Quinn’s veto, which the General Assembly overrode that fall.

“The government likes to talk about timing because they have no witnesses to say this conspiracy existed,” Lassar said.

Pramaggiore last week struggled under cross-examination when she stuck to her claim that she didn’t know about the subcontractors until the feds’ investigation became public in 2019. MacArthur on Monday told the jury Pramaggiore had lied on the witness stand, pointing to prior calls, emails and texts from years past that mention the subcontractors. But Lassar doubled down on his client’s denials, stressing that none of the previous mentions to Pramaggiore about the subcontractors ever connected them to Madigan.

And Lassar said every other hire Pramaggiore was involved with for people recommended by Madigan – either directly like Ochoa or even indirectly – performed legitimate work. Therefore, Lassar said, those jobs can’t be viewed as a bribe.

MacArthur, however, told the jury to view the job recommendations from Madigan as part of the overall bribery scheme, using her oft-repeated refrain during her closing arguments.

“This was not lobbying, this was not building goodwill, this was not politics, this was a bribe,” MacArthur said.

Cotter on Monday reminded the jury of perhaps the most intense moment of the last six weeks, when prosecutors’ star witness Fidel Marquez was on the stand. Marquez, a former executive at ComEd had agreed to cooperate with the feds’ investigation after two federal agents knocked on the door of his mother’s house, where Marquez was staying, in January 2019.

He secretly recorded meetings with Hooker, McClain, Doherty and a meeting involving Pramaggiore’s successor, Joe Dominguez, all of which were played during the trial. He also allowed his phone to be wiretapped.

During cross-examination late last month, Cotter accused Marquez of saving his own skin to avoid sitting at the defense table himself. Marquez pleaded guilty to bribery charges but will be recommended for probation due to his cooperation.

Marquez admitted he was “scared” of the 33 years’ prison time he was facing, but Cotter forced him to also acknowledge that for the first year of his cooperation with the government, he was adamant that he and the four defendants in the case had done nothing illegal – that is, until he made a plea deal.

“If co-conspirator Marquez didn’t have corrupt intent, how could the others?” Cotter asked.

 

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

Leave a Comment





Local News

Peggy Zabicki

Hot dog! This is a special week

Spread the love

Spread the love. By Peggy Zabicki Your correspondent in West Lawn 3633 W. 60th Place •  (773) 504-9327 . I would like to start my column with the most important news. National Hot Dog Day is Wednesday, July 17 and is traditionally celebrated all week. I decided to suggest two West Lawn restaurants for celebrating…

GSWNH_HolidayInnRear_070524

Migrants coming to Ford City

Spread the love

Spread the love. Nearly a thousand coming this month to Holiday Inn . By Tim Hadac The Pritzker Administration is converting a vacant hotel in the Midway area to a shelter expected to house as many as 950 migrants. The action is occurring quickly, with migrants expected to move in this month. In a press…

CTAlogo

CTA hiring means more rail service

Spread the love

Spread the love. Orange Line sees 11% jump . From staff reports The Chicago Transit Authority has announced that because of what they described as continued, aggressive recruiting, hiring and training efforts, it has added 8.5% more scheduled rail service in recent weeks for a total of 9% more scheduled service added since April 2024.…

the leadershop logo

LeaderShop Alumni Association to host peaceful rally during Thursday board meeting

Spread the love

Spread the loveThe LeaderShop Alumni Association, a group of volunteers, previous staff members, former board members, funders, donors, and stakeholders who are community minded and energized by the mission of The LeaderShop, will host a peaceful rally in support of change to current leadership for the nonprofit agency. The rally will be held during The…

The Mariano’s store in Frankfort would be among the stores transferred to a new owner if the Kroger-Albertson’s merger is approved. (Photo by Bob Bong)

Comings & Goings: Palos Jewel, Oak Lawn Mariano’s to be sold in merger deal

Spread the love

Spread the loveBy Bob Bong Kroger and Albertson’s this week released the list of stores the companies plan to sell, should a merger between the grocery giants be approved by regulators. Jewel Food Stores in Alsip and Palos Heights are among the stores listed for sale as well as Mariano’s locations in Oak Lawn, Orland Park, and…

The Oak Lawn Public Library, 9427 S. Raymond Ave., kicked off its adult and teen summer reading season with a Local Author Showcase featuring a book fair and 30 authors June 12. (Photos by Enrique Reyes, Courtesy of the Oak Lawn Public Library)

Oak Lawn Library hosts Local Author Showcase

Spread the love

Spread the loveBy Kelly White Oak Lawn Public Library opened its doors to the summer season and to its local authors. The library, 9427 S. Raymond Ave., kicked off its adult and teen summer reading season with a Local Author Showcase featuring a book fair and 30 authors June 12. “Thirty authors, two hours, and…

CRR_NH

Clear-Ridge Reporter and NewsHound July 10, 2024

Spread the love

Spread the love

Palos Heights native Patrick Bertotelli won the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest July 4 in New York. (Photo courtesy of Major League Eating)

Palos Heights native is top dog in famous eating contest

Spread the love

Spread the loveBy Jeff Vorva At one time, it may have seemed impossible for Palos Heights native Patrick Bertoletti to win the Nathan’s Hog Dog Eating contest. After all, Joey Chestnut was roasting opponents year after year by winning 16 titles since 2007 and had a streak of gobbling up championships eight years in a…

Palos Park Mayor Nicole Milovich-Walters is hoping a mobile DMV will return to the village after the July 15 visit was sold out. (Photo by Jeff Vorva)

DMV sellout could mean a return visit in Palos Park

Spread the love

Spread the loveBy Jeff Vorva Palos Park Clerk Marie Arrigoni announced that appointments for the one-day mobile Department of Motor Vehicles visit to Village Hall are sold out. That’s bad news for those residents who were looking forward to taking care of DMV business right there in town. But it was good news to Mayor…

Alan Morales

LeaderShop director faces more charges from former staffers

Spread the love

Spread the loveFrom staff reports The LaGrange-based LeaderShop, a social service agency that recently lost $300,000 in funding, is facing new charges of a toxic work environment, bullying, and inappropriate behavior by Executive Director Alan Morales. Since the story was first published in the Desplaines Valley News on June 24, at least six women have…

Neighbors

Peggy Zabicki

Hot dog! This is a special week

Spread the love

Spread the love. By Peggy Zabicki Your correspondent in West Lawn 3633 W. 60th Place •  (773) 504-9327 . I would like to start my column with the most important news. National Hot Dog Day is Wednesday, July 17 and is traditionally celebrated all week. I decided to suggest two West Lawn restaurants for celebrating…

GSWNH_HolidayInnRear_070524

Migrants coming to Ford City

Spread the love

Spread the love. Nearly a thousand coming this month to Holiday Inn . By Tim Hadac The Pritzker Administration is converting a vacant hotel in the Midway area to a shelter expected to house as many as 950 migrants. The action is occurring quickly, with migrants expected to move in this month. In a press…

CTAlogo

CTA hiring means more rail service

Spread the love

Spread the love. Orange Line sees 11% jump . From staff reports The Chicago Transit Authority has announced that because of what they described as continued, aggressive recruiting, hiring and training efforts, it has added 8.5% more scheduled rail service in recent weeks for a total of 9% more scheduled service added since April 2024.…

the leadershop logo

LeaderShop Alumni Association to host peaceful rally during Thursday board meeting

Spread the love

Spread the loveThe LeaderShop Alumni Association, a group of volunteers, previous staff members, former board members, funders, donors, and stakeholders who are community minded and energized by the mission of The LeaderShop, will host a peaceful rally in support of change to current leadership for the nonprofit agency. The rally will be held during The…

The Mariano’s store in Frankfort would be among the stores transferred to a new owner if the Kroger-Albertson’s merger is approved. (Photo by Bob Bong)

Comings & Goings: Palos Jewel, Oak Lawn Mariano’s to be sold in merger deal

Spread the love

Spread the loveBy Bob Bong Kroger and Albertson’s this week released the list of stores the companies plan to sell, should a merger between the grocery giants be approved by regulators. Jewel Food Stores in Alsip and Palos Heights are among the stores listed for sale as well as Mariano’s locations in Oak Lawn, Orland Park, and…

The Oak Lawn Public Library, 9427 S. Raymond Ave., kicked off its adult and teen summer reading season with a Local Author Showcase featuring a book fair and 30 authors June 12. (Photos by Enrique Reyes, Courtesy of the Oak Lawn Public Library)

Oak Lawn Library hosts Local Author Showcase

Spread the love

Spread the loveBy Kelly White Oak Lawn Public Library opened its doors to the summer season and to its local authors. The library, 9427 S. Raymond Ave., kicked off its adult and teen summer reading season with a Local Author Showcase featuring a book fair and 30 authors June 12. “Thirty authors, two hours, and…

CRR_NH

Clear-Ridge Reporter and NewsHound July 10, 2024

Spread the love

Spread the love

Palos Heights native Patrick Bertotelli won the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest July 4 in New York. (Photo courtesy of Major League Eating)

Palos Heights native is top dog in famous eating contest

Spread the love

Spread the loveBy Jeff Vorva At one time, it may have seemed impossible for Palos Heights native Patrick Bertoletti to win the Nathan’s Hog Dog Eating contest. After all, Joey Chestnut was roasting opponents year after year by winning 16 titles since 2007 and had a streak of gobbling up championships eight years in a…

Palos Park Mayor Nicole Milovich-Walters is hoping a mobile DMV will return to the village after the July 15 visit was sold out. (Photo by Jeff Vorva)

DMV sellout could mean a return visit in Palos Park

Spread the love

Spread the loveBy Jeff Vorva Palos Park Clerk Marie Arrigoni announced that appointments for the one-day mobile Department of Motor Vehicles visit to Village Hall are sold out. That’s bad news for those residents who were looking forward to taking care of DMV business right there in town. But it was good news to Mayor…

Alan Morales

LeaderShop director faces more charges from former staffers

Spread the love

Spread the loveFrom staff reports The LaGrange-based LeaderShop, a social service agency that recently lost $300,000 in funding, is facing new charges of a toxic work environment, bullying, and inappropriate behavior by Executive Director Alan Morales. Since the story was first published in the Desplaines Valley News on June 24, at least six women have…