Chicago Sun-Times


Veteran state lawmaker tells jurors in ComEd bribery trial how Madigan ruled Illinois House

- BY JON SEIDEL, FEDERAL COURTS REPORTER | @SeidelCont­ent Contributi­ng: Tina Sfondeles, WBEZ political reporter Dave McKinney

A veteran Democratic state lawmaker who sponsored major gaming legislatio­n in the Illinois House of Representa­tives told a federal jury Monday that former Speaker Michael Madigan once ruled that chamber “through fear and intimidati­on.”

When asked what Madigan valued most in other legislator­s, state Rep. Robert “Bob” Rita answered, “loyalty.”

And before the trial of four former political power players broke for the day, the Blue Island Democrat cited the case of a fellow Democrat who dared side with Republican­s — only to have Madigan’s organizati­on turn on him in an election.

Rita took the stand only 40 minutes before testimony ended for the day.

He’s expected to resume his testimony Tuesday and further explain his comments about Madigan.

Rita’s testimony came during the trial of Madigan confidant Michael McClain, former ComEd

CEO Anne Pramaggior­e, ex-ComEd lobbyist John Hooker and onetime

City Club President Jay Doherty. The four are accused of arranging for jobs, contracts and money for Madigan’s associates while legislatio­n crucial to ComEd moved through Springfiel­d.

Madigan resigned from the Legislatur­e in 2021 and faces a separate racketeeri­ng indictment. His trial is set for April 2024.

Like former state Rep. Lou Lang, who took the stand last week, Rita’s testimony is expected to further underscore the notion that McClain acted as an agent for Madigan and passed along the speaker’s demands. When asked who, besides Madigan’s senior staff, had a close relationsh­ip with Madigan, Rita named McClain, who served in the Legislatur­e decades ago.

Rita called McClain a “former member of the House and a lobbyist and a friend [of Madigan’s].”

He also explained to jurors how, after onetime Democratic state Rep. Ken Dunkin sided with Republican­s on key votes, the Madiganled Democratic Party of Illinois successful­ly ran a candidate against him, forcing him out of office.

Rita has been known as a fixer of sorts in Springfiel­d for taking on tough issues and getting them over the finish line. That was certainly the case in 2020, when he helped shepherd the measure that cleared the way for a Chicago casino — a feat decades in the making.

Rita is now an assistant majority leader in the Illinois House.

Federal prosecutor­s planned to have Rita testify about McClain’s role in the gaming legislatio­n. They alleged in a court filing that Rita met with the speaker in his office in 2013, where Madigan told Rita that Rita would sponsor a major gaming bill. When the meeting ended, Madigan walked Rita out of his office and McClain was standing near the doorway. Madigan pointed to McClain and said “he will guide you,” according to the feds.

U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenwebe­r barred prosecutor­s Monday from getting into the topic of gaming at the request of defense attorneys, though. Rita is also likely to testify about the influence that McClain — a ComEd lobbyist — had on the passage of another bill Rita sponsored: the Future Energy Jobs Act, or FEJA.

FEJA is one of the key pieces of legislatio­n at issue in the trial.

Rita’s testimony capped a broader day of testimony Monday, in which jurors heard recordings of Madigan complainin­g about former Senate President John Cullerton, and a ComEd executive discussing how FEJA and other legislatio­n turned the utility’s finances around.

In a recorded phone call from Sept. 5, 2018, McClain discussed with Madigan a “stupid Cullerton move,” which apparently involved anti-Madigan political ads from Senate Democrats. It happened two months before the election in which Democrat J.B. Pritzker successful­ly challenged then-Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican.

“This is a general election,” Madigan complained.

“This is the time to be against the Republican­s.”

McClain told him on the recording that “you’re more of [a] street fighter than anybody knows, except for maybe guys like me. And if you want to put the squeeze on the guy, you could hurt him pretty badly.”

“Yeah. Yeah, alright. I’ll think about it,” Madigan told him.

Scott Vogt, vice president of strategy and energy policy for ComEd, also testified Monday. He explained that ComEd’s finances had been in “dire” shape prior to the passage of the Energy Infrastruc­ture and Modernizat­ion Act in 2011, as well as FEJA in 2016. The bills helped ComEd more reliably predict the rates they could charge customers.

Vogt estimated the value of FEJA to ComEd at $1.8 billion, and he said the bills helped take ComEd from a low point of earnings in 2006 or 2007 to “highest earnings on record in 2022.”

Vogt also told jurors he was generally familiar with the faces of ComEd’s many lobbyists in Springfiel­d. But then prosecutor­s showed him photos of four Madigan associates paid by ComEd through a thirdparty firm, supposedly as lobbyists.

Asked if he’d seen them before, Vogt repeatedly said, “not that I recall.”

 ?? ASHLEE REZIN/SUN-TIMES FILE ?? State Rep. Bob Rita (shown in 2020) testified for 40 minutes on Monday in the ComEd bribery trial and is expected to take the stand again today. He said former Speaker Michael Madigan most valued “loyalty” in the House.
ASHLEE REZIN/SUN-TIMES FILE State Rep. Bob Rita (shown in 2020) testified for 40 minutes on Monday in the ComEd bribery trial and is expected to take the stand again today. He said former Speaker Michael Madigan most valued “loyalty” in the House.
 ?? ?? Former Speaker Michael Madigan
Former Speaker Michael Madigan
 ?? ?? Michael McClain
Michael McClain

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