‘No cell phone, no email’: Ex-FBI agent testifies Madigan relied on ‘tight inner circle’

‘No cell phone, no email’: Ex-FBI agent testifies Madigan relied on ‘tight inner circle’

By HANNAH MEISEL
Capitol News Illinois
hmeisel@capitolnewsillinois.com

CHICAGO – Longtime Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan was elevated to that powerful position in 1983 – the same year Motorola launched the first-ever commercially available mobile phone and CompuServe applied to trademark the word “email.”

But Madigan, who held the speaker’s gavel for all but two years until early 2021, never had a cell phone or email address of his own. Madigan, now 81, instead relied on his “tight inner circle” to communicate on his behalf, according to former FBI special agent Brendan O’Leary’s testimony in a Chicago federal courtroom on Thursday.

O’Leary, who retired from the FBI in 2021, spent nearly the last seven years of his law enforcement career overseeing a sprawling investigation into Madigan and his inner circle. The investigation has yielded charges, guilty pleas and convictions from a number of political figures in Illinois – including Madigan himself, who is scheduled for trial on bribery and racketeering charges in April.

Madigan’s longtime chief of staff Tim Mapes wasn’t charged or implicated in any wrongdoing alleged by the feds in their yearslong investigation. But after he allegedly lied to the grand jury handling the Madigan investigation in 2021, Mapes was indicted on one count each of perjury and obstruction of justice.

His trial began this week with lawyers and witnesses alike describing Mapes as loyal and fastidious during his more than 25 years serving under Madigan. But prosecutors say that loyalty extended to the grand jury room, where he claimed not to be aware of or not remember whether his and Madigan’s mutual friend, influential Springfield lobbyist Mike McClain, was working on the speaker’s behalf after his formal retirement in 2016.

McClain is Madigan’s co-defendant in next spring’s trial, and in May he was convicted alongside three other ex-lobbyists and the former CEO of electric utility Commonwealth Edison for conspiring to bribe the powerful speaker. In that trial, the jury heard from witnesses who described McClain as a “double agent” for both his largest client, ComEd, and Madigan – and they also heard wiretapped calls and saw emails where McClain described Madigan as his “real client.”

The jury in this case has not yet heard or seen any of that same evidence, but O’Leary on Thursday was the latest witness to paint McClain as speaking for Madigan in Springfield.

“He didn’t have a cell phone, he didn’t use emails, didn’t text,” O’Leary said of Madigan. “He used McClain as a go-between…that’s how he communicated – through people he trusted. That’s how his orders went out.”

Mapes was also a prominent member of Madigan’s inner circle – until he was suddenly forced to resign in June 2018 after an employee who worked on the House clerk’s staff under Mapes publicly accused him of sexual harassment. It was the third public allegation of harassment within Madigan’s government and political organizations that spring, during the height of the #MeToo movement, and the speaker was facing pressure to clean house. “At my direction,” a statement from Madigan read at the time, “Tim Mapes has resigned.”

But for a quarter century before that, Mapes wielded “a lot” of power and ran the House like a “tight ship,” according to testimony Thursday from state Rep. Bob Rita, a high-ranking member of the House Democratic Caucus.

“He kept the trains on time, he kept a lot of moving parts moving in the direction they needed,” Rita said. “He ran it very efficiently and effectively.”

He also recalled a sign on Mapes’ desk in the Capitol that borrowed from “The Wizard of Oz,” stating: “Nobody gets in to see the wizard. Not nobody, not no how.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Julia Schwartz on Thursday asked Rita who he understood “the wizard” to be “in the analogy,” to which Rita simply replied, “Madigan.”

Schwartz underscored that point by asking how he’d set up the rare appointments to communicate with Madigan – or who would inform him he’d been invited to the occasional dinner with the speaker. On both counts, the intermediary was Mapes, Rita said.

Thursday was the third time in five months Rita was called upon to testify in public corruption trials. He was the lead House sponsor on key energy and gambling legislation at issue in both the ComEd trial this spring and a bribery trial concerning gambling issues in June.

In his March appearance on the witness stand, Rita recalled that Madigan ruled the House Democratic caucus “through fear and intimidation,” but he did not repeat that sentiment on Thursday.

Instead, he recalled in detail what prosecutors had been blocked from asking him about in the spring: an episode in 2013 when Madigan called Rita into his office and informed him he’d be taking over as lead sponsor and negotiator on gambling issues. Rita said that as he was leaving the speaker’s office, McClain was standing on the other side of the door.

“He indicated that Mike McClain would guide me and assist me with the legislation,” Rita said.

And in late 2016, when Rita was the lead sponsor of an energy bill of major financial interest to ComEd, Rita said he wasn’t sure whether McClain was representing his largest client or Madigan when he advised Rita to OK a surprise amendment in the crucial final hours of negotiations.

Rita said he didn’t know where the amendment came from and was “unaware of what it was and what it did.”

“I was not inclined to adopt it,” Rita said.

But McClain pulled Rita out of a committee hearing “and said I should go ahead and adopt (the amendment),” which he ultimately did.

Though Madigan didn’t vote on that major bill, Rita said he understood McClain’s directive as a go-ahead from the speaker.

“Mike McClain wouldn’t give me advice that would be adverse to what the speaker would want,” Rita said.

But Mapes’ defense attorneys have tried to draw a distinction between “the folklore” that surrounded the close relationship between McClain and Madigan, and what Mapes knew to be McClain’s tendency to exaggerate.

As a result, Mapes “knew better than to presume he knew anything about those private conversations,” his attorney Katie Hill told the jury in her opening statements this week.

That understanding of McClain led Mapes to take everything he said with a grain of salt, Hill said – and it’s also why he answered the grand jury’s questions the way that he did.

In a lengthy deliberation out of earshot of the jury on Thursday afternoon, Mapes’ lawyer Andrew Porter tried to convince Judge John Kness to allow the defense to introduce evidence stemming from McClain’s interviews with the FBI in 2013, 2014 and 2016. Porter hoped to use the interviews – in which McClain allegedly acknowledged he lied to a client – to suggest that McClain was unreliable. But Kness said it would likely confuse the jury and barred it.

But Porter tried another avenue while O’Leary was on the stand, questioning him about three separate outlandish allegations McClain had made in wiretapped phone calls.

One involved McClain’s unfounded concern that then Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner – an avowed political enemy of Madigan – was conspiring to bribe the state’s executive inspector general with $50,000 to $100,000 to produce a report damaging to Madigan.

“If that claim were true, that would be something the FBI would’ve investigated,” Porter said during his cross-examination of O’Leary.

“That’s correct,” the retired agent said.

Other apparently unfounded allegations McClain made on wiretapped calls included a shakedown of someone in Las Vegas and attempted extortion involving Major League Baseball. O’Leary confirmed he did not believe McClain’s statements led to any FBI discoveries or investigations.

The trial resumes at 9 a.m. Monday.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets 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.

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