POWER TRIPPED

Feds file crim­i­nal case against ComEd, im­pli­cate House Speaker Madi­gan in al­leged bribery scheme

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - BY JON SEI­DEL, TIM NO­VAK, TINA SFONDELES & ROBERT HERGUTH,

Early last year, when fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tions into pub­lic cor­rup­tion dom­i­nated the head­lines, a long­time ally of House Speaker Michael Madi­gan gave a lit­tle ad­vice to a ComEd vice pres­i­dent, ac­cord­ing to an ex­plo­sive court doc­u­ment filed Fri­day.

Lob­by­ist Mike McClain al­legedly told the util­ity ex­ec­u­tive that, “I would say to you don’t put any­thing in writ­ing.”

“All it can do is hurt ya,” he added. The two then dis­cussed a “fa­vor” for Madi­gan that fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors now say was part of a brazen, years-long Chicago-style bribery scheme that sent $1.3 mil­lion to Madi­gan’s as­so­ciates for do­ing lit­tle or no work for the util­ity, all while ComEd hoped to land Madi­gan’s sup­port for leg­is­la­tion in Spring­field worth more than $150 mil­lion.

ComEd has now been charged in fed­eral court with bribery and is ex­pected to pay a $200 mil­lion fine — be­lieved to be the largest crim­i­nal fine ever in Chicago’s fed­eral court. Sev­eral politi­cians, in­clud­ing Demo­cratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, said Madi­gan should re­sign if the al­le­ga­tions against one of the most pow­er­ful Democrats in the state are true.

While the bomb­shell case im­pli­cates sev­eral in­di­vid­u­als in the al­leged scheme, no one else has been crim­i­nally charged. And that in­cludes Madi­gan.

“Our in­ves­ti­ga­tion is on­go­ing,” U.S. At­tor­ney John Lausch said re­peat­edly at a Fri­day news con­fer­ence out­side the Dirk­sen Fed­eral Court­house when asked about ad­di­tional crim­i­nal charges.

In fact, the feds ear­lier on Fri­day hit Madi­gan with a fresh sub­poena that ap­pears to se­ri­ously ex­pand the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, with in­quiries about AT&T Ser­vices Inc., Wal­greens and Rush Univer­sity Med­i­cal Cen­ter. The doc­u­ment, ob­tained by the Sun-Times, also seeks records con­cern­ing a laun­dry list of Madi­gan’s top sup­port­ers, in­clud­ing for­mer Al­der­men Mike Zalewski and Frank OIivo, cur­rent 13th Ward Ald. Marty Quinn, ComEd and Ex­elon, McClain, prop­er­ties in Chi­na­town, pre­vi­ously writ­ten about by the Sun­Times,

and for­mer Ald. Danny Solis.

Wal­greens had no com­ment. AT&T did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment. Rush said in a state­ment only that it “has re­ceived and is co­op­er­at­ing with a sub­poena for records re­flect­ing work by, and com­mu­ni­ca­tions with, cer­tain gov­ern­ment re­la­tions con­sul­tants for the pe­riod 2014 to the present.”

The Sun-Times first re­vealed in Jan­uary 2019 that Solis has for years co­op­er­ated with fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors. It also re­ported that the FBI recorded Madi­gan dur­ing a meet­ing with Solis and a de­vel­oper hop­ing to build a ho­tel also in the

Chi­na­town neigh­bor­hood. The Sun­Times re­port about the feds’ Madi­gan record­ing, also in Jan­uary 2019, landed nine days be­fore McClain told the ComEd vice pres­i­dent on Feb. 7, 2019, not to put things in writ­ing.

Solis also helped the feds build their case against in­dicted 14th Ward Ald. Ed Burke. A grand jury num­ber on the sub­poena de­liv­ered to Madi­gan on Fri­day matches the grand jury num­ber in the Burke case, court records show.

A Madi­gan spokes­woman said Fri­day in a state­ment that he plans to co­op­er­ate and “has done noth­ing crim­i­nal or im­proper.”

“The speaker has never helped some­one find a job with the ex­pec­ta­tion that the per­son would not be asked to per­form work by their em­ployer, nor did he ever ex­pect to pro­vide any­thing to a prospec­tive em­ployer if it should choose to hire a per­son he rec­om­mended,” the state­ment said. “He has never made a leg­isla­tive de­ci­sion with im­proper mo­tives and has en­gaged in no wrong­do­ing here. Any claim to the con­trary is un­founded.”

The court doc­u­ment out­lin­ing the bribery de­tails against ComEd largely paints a pic­ture of McClain pres­sur­ing ComEd of­fi­cials to give jobs, con­tracts and money to Madi­gan as­so­ciates.

It al­leges that Madi­gan and McClain sought ComEd jobs, con­tracts and money for var­i­ous Madi­gan as­so­ciates be­tween 2011 and 2019, and that McClain acted on Madi­gan’s be­half.

The court doc­u­ments in the case do not iden­tify Madi­gan, or even McClain, by name. Rather, they refer to a “Pub­lic Of­fi­cial A” who serves as the speaker of the Illi­nois House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. The Sun­Times has separately iden­ti­fied McClain as the per­son iden­ti­fied in the doc­u­ments as “In­di­vid­ual A.”

Madi­gan’s quiet but iron-fisted con­trol over his cham­ber has earned him the nick­name “The Vel­vet Ham­mer,” and lob­by­ists and fel­low leg­is­la­tors fre­quently toss around the maxim, “Never bet against the speaker.” The 78-yearold harkens back to the days of the late Mayor Richard J. Da­ley, whom Madi­gan con­sid­ers his men­tor.

The crim­i­nal charge against ComEd fol­lows more than a year of in­trigue re­gard­ing the feds’ pub­lic cor­rup­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tions and whether their work would ever touch Madi­gan. The new al­le­ga­tions against him be­came pub­lic as part of a deal ComEd struck with the U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice com­monly known as a de­ferred-pros­e­cu­tion agree­ment. If ComEd abides by the terms of the three-year ar­range­ment, the bribery charge filed Fri­day is ex­pected to be dis­missed.

The agree­ment said ComEd will co­op­er­ate in the pros­e­cu­tors’ in­ves­ti­ga­tions. Un­like in other such agree­ments, though, ComEd is not ex­pected to plead guilty and for­mally ad­mit to the crim­i­nal con­duct. A judge still has to ap­prove the deal.

A state­ment of facts at­tached to the agree­ment lays out the de­tails of the al­le­ga­tions. They in­clude claims that Madi­gan sought a job for Zalewski upon his re­tire­ment from the City Council, that Madi­gan had for decades run an “old-fash­ioned pa­tron­age sys­tem” in­clud­ing get­ting peo­ple jobs as ComEd me­ter read­ers, that Madi­gan had an as­so­ci­ate ap­pointed to ComEd’s board of di­rec­tors in 2019 — for­mer McPier CEO Juan Ochoa — and even that ComEd hired stu­dents from Madi­gan’s ward for an in­tern­ship pro­gram.

The al­le­ga­tions in the doc­u­ment date back to 2011, when it said McClain and a lob­by­ist iden­ti­fied by the Sun-Times as John Hooker de­vel­oped a plan to help two Madi­gan as­so­ciates by fun­nel­ing money through a con­sult­ing com­pany and treat­ing them as sub­con­trac­tors. ComEd would not pay the uniden­ti­fied men di­rectly but rather in­crease its pay­ments to the con­sult­ing com­pany to cover the two Madi­gan as­so­ciates. Mean­while, con­tracts and in­voices made it falsely ap­pear that those pay­ments were in re­turn for the con­sul­tant’s ad­vice on “leg­isla­tive is­sues” and “leg­isla­tive risk man­age­ment ac­tiv­i­ties.”

In May 2018, Madi­gan — through McClain — al­legedly asked thenComEd CEO Anne Pra­m­ag­giore to hire Zalewski, the feds al­lege. An­other deal was then struck to pay Zalewski $5,000 monthly as a sub­con­trac­tor for the con­sul­tant. Pra­m­ag­giore al­legedly agreed that Madi­gan would get to tell Zalewski about the ar­range­ment.

A spokesman for Pra­m­ag­giore, who later be­came a se­nior ex­ec­u­tive for Ex­elon but re­tired last year, said in a state­ment that “Ms. Pra­m­ag­giore has done noth­ing wrong and any in­fer­ence to the con­trary is mis­guided and false.”

Also in May 2018, McClain al­legedly told the ComEd vice pres­i­dent — iden­ti­fied by the Sun-Times as Fidel Mar­quez — why the Madi­gan as­so­ciates were be­ing paid. He ex­plained that one of them was “one of the top three precinct cap­tains” who also “trains peo­ple how to go door to door . . . so just to give you an idea how im­por­tant the guy is.”

Mar­quez could not be reached for com­ment Fri­day, nor could McClain.

In Fe­bru­ary 2019, McClain al­legedly told Hooker how to ex­plain the pay­ments within the com­pany.

McClain al­legedly said, “We had to hire these guys be­cause (Madi­gan) came to us. It’s just that sim­ple.”

Two days later, the con­sul­tant al­legedly cau­tioned Hooker that ComEd should not tam­per with the ar­range­ment be­cause “your money comes from Spring­field” and the con­sul­tant had “ev­ery rea­son to be­lieve” McClain had spo­ken to Madi­gan about the deal.

The con­sul­tant al­legedly added that the Madi­gan as­so­ciates “keep their mouth shut, and, you know, so. But, do they do any­thing for me on a day-to-day ba­sis? No.” He said the pay­ments were made “to keep (Madi­gan) happy, I think it’s worth it, be­cause you’d hear oth­er­wise.”

The doc­u­ment also al­leges Madi­gan sought the ap­point­ment of Ochoa to the ComEd board of di­rec­tors through McClain in 2017. How­ever, op­po­si­tion within the com­pany to that ap­point­ment in May 2018 al­legedly prompted Pra­m­ag­giore to ask McClain if Madi­gan would be sat­is­fied with a part-time job for Ochoa that paid the same amount as the board po­si­tion — $78,000 a year.

McClain al­legedly told Pra­m­ag­giore that Madi­gan would ap­pre­ci­ate it if she would “keep press­ing” for the ap­point­ment. Pra­m­ag­giore al­legedly agreed to do so, telling McClain later in the year that, “you take good care of me and so does our friend (Madi­gan) and I will do the best that I can to, to take care of you.”

Fi­nally, the doc­u­ment al­leges that ComEd agreed in 2011 to re­tain a law firm in an at­tempt to in­flu­ence Madi­gan. When that law firm’s con­tract came up for re­newal in 2016, it said ComEd sought to re­duce the hours of le­gal work down from 850 hours spec­i­fied in an ear­lier agree­ment. An at­tor­ney from the law firm then com­plained to McClain.

That’s when McClain al­legedly wrote to Pra­m­ag­giore, re­mind­ing her “how valu­able” that lawyer was to “our Friend.”

He added, “I know the drill, and so do you. If you do not get in­volve (sic) and re­solve this is­sue of 850 hours for his law firm per year then he will go to our Friend.” He al­legedly wrote that Madi­gan “will call me, and then I will call you.”

He con­cluded, “Is this a drill we must go through?”

AP FILES

AP FILES

House Speaker Michael Madi­gan

Mike McClain

SUN-TIMES FILES

A ComEd Train­ing Cen­ter at 3536 S. Iron St. ComEd has now been charged in fed­eral court with bribery and is ex­pected to pay a $200 mil­lion fine — be­lieved to be the largest crim­i­nal fine ever in Chicago’s fed­eral court.

A fed­eral court doc­u­ment filed Fri­day says House Speaker Michael Madi­gan sought a ComEd job for for­mer Ald. Mike Zalewski upon Zalewski’s re­tire­ment from the City Council.

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