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The ComEd Four (left to right): Former ComEd lobbyist John Hooker; former City Club President Jay Doherty; former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore; Michael McClain, longtime confidant to former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. 

The ComEd Four in 2023 (left to right): Former ComEd lobbyist John Hooker on March 28; former City Club President Jay Doherty on March 28; Former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore on March 15; Michael McClain, a longtime confidant to former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan on April 18.

Pat Nabong; Ashlee Rezin; Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times-file

Fate of ComEd bribery defendants could be in the dark for months

It’s a remarkable turnaround in a case that once seemed like a slam-dunk for the feds. Jurors in May 2023 convicted the four defendants of every count for which they’d been charged.

The fate of four people convicted in one of Chicago’s biggest 2023 corruption trials will remain up in the air for at least four months as a judge considers the full effect of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that threatens the jury’s verdict.

That was the bottom line after a hearing Tuesday for four former political insiders found guilty of a nearly decade-long conspiracy to bribe then-Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan to benefit ComEd.

U.S. District Judge Manish Shah laid out a plan that will likely push a definitive ruling on the fate of the case until November, at the earliest. By then, a year and a half will have passed since the jury’s guilty verdict, and four years will have passed since the four were indicted.

Convicted in the case were Madigan confidant Michael McClain, former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, ex-ComEd lobbyist John Hooker and onetime City Club President Jay Doherty. They were found guilty at the end of a six-week trial that featured about 50 witnesses.

Tuesday’s hearing was the first since Shah inherited the ComEd bribery case from the late U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber. It was also the first since the Supreme Court handed down its ruling in the separate appeal of former Portage, Indiana, Mayor James Snyder.

The high court ruled that a law prohibiting bribery among state and local officials did not also criminalize after-the-fact rewards known as “gratuities.” The law in question is involved in five of the nine counts in the ComEd bribery case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu told Shah on Tuesday that “we do not believe that a new trial is necessary,” in part because the four were also convicted on counts not affected by the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Still, Pramaggiore attorney Scott Lassar said he and his colleagues plan to renew previously denied motions for a new trial and acquittal. Shah gave them until Aug. 27 to do so. Defense attorneys also plan to seek grand jury transcripts to help prepare the motions, Lassar said.

The judge ultimately scheduled briefing on the motions to end by Nov. 14.

It amounts to a remarkable turnaround in a case that once seemed like a slam-dunk for the feds. Jurors in May 2023 convicted the four defendants of every count for which they’d been charged. Leinenweber also shot down a defense request last November — almost exactly a year before Shah’s new briefing deadline — to briefly delay sentencing hearings in the case.

But that was before the Supreme Court announced it would consider the Snyder matter, a development that put the entire case on hold for months.

As it stands, the four defendants still face serious prison time. But even if Shah ultimately sides with prosecutors, it’s unlikely they will be sentenced before 2025.

The Supreme Court’s ruling could also have implications for the separate case against Madigan, in which McClain is also a defendant. But prosecutors and defense attorneys told a judge Monday they want to keep Madigan’s case on track for trial Oct. 8.

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