In a career at Commonwealth Edison spanning almost four decades, Fidel Marquez Jr. rose from summer intern to a top executive position that brought him into close contact with Illinois power brokers and paid far more than $1 million a year.
Marquez was deeply familiar with the technical aspects of delivering electricity, the giant power company’s business interests — and the politics swirling around the state-regulated utility.
But last week, the electrical engineer once known as ComEd’s jack of all trades added yet another title to his extensive and varied resume: federal criminal defendant.
The fresh corruption case against Marquez left some of the biggest names in Illinois politics scrambling this weekend to give away thousands of dollars in contributions he made to their campaigns before retiring last year from ComEd.
Prosecutors have charged Marquez, 58, with conspiracy to commit bribery, alleging he played an important role in a scheme to funnel ComEd jobs and contracts to cronies of longtime Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Democrat from Chicago’s Southwest Side.
The office of U.S. Attorney John Lausch revealed the government’s case against Marquez on Friday in what is called a “criminal information,” rather than a grand-jury indictment. Legal experts said that distinction indicates Marquez will almost certainly cop a guilty plea — and potentially prove highly valuable in the ongoing federal probe.
“This is an unequivocal indication that Marquez is cooperating,” said Juliet Sorensen, a Northwestern University law professor and a former federal prosecutor who investigated corruption cases.
Although Madigan has not been charged and vehemently denied wrongdoing, ComEd admitted in its own bribery case in July that it had paid about $1.3 million to Madigan-connected “subcontractors” who actually did little or no work.
The ghost consultants played a key part in an eight-year-long, illicit initiative to win Madigan’s favor, and ComEd got approval for lucrative legislation that generated more than $150 million for the utility during the scheme, according to the agreement that settled the federal investigation into the company.
The feds’ deal with ComEd and the new case against Marquez are “signals by the U.S. attorney’s office that more is in the works,” Sorensen said.
“I expect that this is the tip of the iceberg,” she said.
Marquez could not be reached for comment Saturday. His lawyer did not return messages.
A windfall for Illinois charities
In recent years, Marquez personally gave a total of more than $60,000 in political contributions, according to state campaign-finance reports. The recipients included ComEd’s political action committee and a who’s who of the most influential elected officials in Chicago and Illinois.
On Saturday, a spokeswoman for Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said her campaign would donate $1,500 from Marquez to a charity.
Lightfoot was one of four candidates for mayor in the 2019 election who got financial help from Marquez. Records show he also contributed to the mayoral bids of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle ($3,000), former Chicago school board president Gery Chico ($1,500) and Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza ($1,500).
Chico declined to comment on Marquez, and aides to Preckwinkle and Mendoza did not return messages. In contributions before the 2019 mayor’s race, Marquez had given $1,750 to Mendoza and $1,500 to Preckwinkle, their campaigns reported.
Lightfoot’s City Council floor leader, 36th Ward Ald. Gilbert Villegas, said he would divest his campaign of a $250 contribution from Marquez in 2017.
“I plan on donating the amount contributed to a food bank in my area,” Villegas said.
Illinois Atty. Gen. Kwame Raoul’s campaign will give away the $1,500 he got from Marquez in his 2018 run for the state government’s top law-enforcement post, said Hanah Jubeh, a political consultant for Raoul.
And in the Illinois General Assembly, when he was ComEd’s top in-house lobbyist, Marquez gave to politicians on both sides of the aisle, writing checks to the campaign funds of all four legislative leaders, records show.
On Saturday, aides to the top Republican lawmakers, state Rep. Jim Durkin of Western Springs and state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington, said they would make charitable donations in the amounts they got from Marquez.
Durkin got $250 from Marquez in 2018. He will give that much to the Greater Chicago Food Depository, a Durkin spokeswoman said.
Brady’s spokesman said the Senate minority leader “will make a charitable contribution to the Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington in the amount he received from this individual.” Brady got $500 from Marquez in 2010.
Madigan’s spokesman and the spokeswoman for the state Democrats did not return messages Saturday.
In early 2019, a few months before Marquez retired, he received a personal invitation to the state House inauguration from Madigan, according to correspondences obtained by WBEZ from the speaker’s office.
ComEd’s ‘jack of all trades’
The invitation underscored Marquez’s long rise from humble roots in a heavily industrial Chicago neighborhood.
In a 2015 video for ComEd that highlighted his “inspiring story,” Marquez encouraged youth to study science.
“As a young Latino growing up in South Chicago, I would never have imagined to be where I am today,” he said, adding that he focused on becoming an engineer after winning a science fair.
“Today, as a senior vice president of governmental affairs at ComEd, not a day goes by when I don’t think how far my education has taken me,” Marquez said.
According to his on-line LinkedIn profile, Marquez graduated from Bowen High School, in South Chicago, got bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology and a master’s in business administration from Northwestern.
He joined ComEd in 1981 and worked there for all but a couple years until retiring last October, as news of the federal corruption investigation into the company became public.
He became a senior vice president in 2003, and the company reported paying Marquez $1.7 million last year, $1.1 million in 2018 and about $1.4 million in 2017.
Outside of work, he served in several prominent civic positions, including as chairman of the board at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen and on the board of Easterseals.
According to a 2013 article in Hispanic Executive magazine — titled “A Jack Of All Trades” — Marquez started as a student intern for ComEd. He thrived in a variety of roles, “from a technician at a nuclear energy plant to working in the HR Department,” and enjoyed riding his six Triumph motorcycles in his “precious little downtime.”
In his final role at ComEd, Marquez helped win approval for massive state subsidies for nuclear power plants. The legislation, approved in 2016, was one of two landmark bills that greatly enhanced ComEd’s bottom line during the bribery scheme in Springfield, according to federal court records.
In a photo from a news conference that touted the measure’s passage, Marquez appears with three prominent Democratic lawmakers. Two of those three Springfield politicians — Martin Sandoval and Luis Arroyo — also got charged with corruption in the past year and have stepped down.
Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter on WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team. State politics reporters Dave McKinney and Tony Arnold contributed to this story.