A former Illinois lawmaker and lobbyist for Commonwealth Edison was charged Wednesday in a five-count federal tax evasion indictment.
A federal grand jury named former Democratic lawmaker Annazette Collins, a 10-year member of the Illinois House and two-year state senator, and accused her of underreporting income and failing to file taxes for herself and for a consulting firm she operated.
The alleged tax evasion occurred between 2014 and 2016, according to the indictment.
Shay Allen, a lawyer for Collins, told WBEZ late Wednesday that his client has done nothing wrong. He argued prosecutors were only charging Collins to try to get more information for their corruption investigation into ComEd’s bribery scheme aimed at influencing former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Madigan has not been charged and denies he did anything wrong. But ComEd admitted to the bribery scheme last year, and several former executives and lobbyists for the power company are facing criminal charges, including close Madigan friend Michael McClain.
“She’s absolutely going to plead not guilty,” Allen said of Collins. “I think this has to do with the government trying to go after Madigan and this ComEd situation, which Ms. Collins had absolutely nothing to do with. So at this time she will be fighting the charges vigorously.”
Allen added, “I think this was a play to attempt to get more information on that situation, but Ms. Collins has absolutely nothing to give.”
Collins, who represented parts of Chicago’s West and North sides while she was a lawmaker, became a lobbyist in 2013, and ComEd was among her clients from that point until 2019, state records show.
And between 2005 and 2010, Collins was chairwoman of the House Public Utilities Committee through which ComEd and other utility companies typically channeled legislation they were seeking.
The sparsely worded indictment gives no clear indication of whether her alleged wrongdoing relates to the ongoing federal probe in which ComEd previously acknowledged it orchestrated a long-running bribery scheme aimed at influencingMadigan in order to help win favorable utility legislation in Springfield.
But Wednesday’s charges do stem from the Chicago U.S. Attorney’s ongoing investigation into ComEd, according to a source with knowledge of the investigation who isn’t authorized to speak publicly about it.
Collins has had an earlier scrape with federal investigators, though she was not previously charged.
In 2012, a federal grand jury subpoenaed records related to tuition waivers she awarded to students living outside her legislative district under a now-disbanded state program. That program required scholarship recipients to live inside the boundaries of an awarding lawmaker’s district.
Among those who benefited from Collins’ generosity was Ald. Jason Ervin, 28th Ward. Before becoming a Chicago alderman, Ervin received a tuition waiver from Collins under the program in 2004 to complete a master’s degree program at Governors State University.
Ervin has been treasurer of Collins’ campaign fund, state records show.
Collins lost a re-election bid in 2012 to State Sen. Patricia Van Pelt, who made the former senator’s problems with the legislative scholarship program a cornerstone of her campaign.
When the ComEd investigation burst into public view, Collins was one of five former Madigan allies in the Illinois House who were lobbying for the giant utility in Springfield, WBEZ reported in 2019.
Allen, Collins’ lawyer, said she was a good lawmaker and “since she’s left [the General Assembly], she’s earned an honest living. She wants to continue to do that. Because of these charges, her reputation is in question. That’s one of the reasons we really have to fight for her.”
Dave McKinney and Tony Arnold cover state politics for WBEZ. Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter.