The trial of former Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan is still a year away, but a federal jury fired a dire warning shot Tuesday when it convicted four former political insiders of a nearly decade-long conspiracy to bribe the once-powerful Southwest Side Democrat.
Following 27 hours of deliberations at the end of a trial that featured about 50 witnesses over six weeks, the 12 jurors convicted longtime Madigan friend and confidant Michael McClain, former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, ex-ComEd lobbyist John Hooker and onetime City Club President Jay Doherty on every count in an indictment handed up in November 2020.
That indictment was the result of an aggressive federal investigation into Chicago-style politics that has had Madigan at its center since 2014. It helped end Madigan’s record-breaking grip on power in the Illinois House of Representatives in January 2021.
But it’s also clearly bound for the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and maybe beyond.
The panel of seven women and five men listened over the last two months as lawyers battled in a 17th-floor courtroom at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse over the difference between honest, legal lobbying and criminal activity.
In the end, the jury rejected the idea that the allegations amounted to politics as usual.
Jury foreperson Sarah Goldenberg told the Chicago Sun-Times that she thought Madigan “had a heavy hand in how this corruption and coercion took place.” Another juror, Amanda Schnitker Sayers, said Madigan’s involvement in the scheme “was, of course, key.”
“Our perception was that [Madigan] really did cause this all to happen,” Schnitker Sayers, of Logan Square, told reporters. “If it wouldn’t have been for him, then these people would not have been in the position that they would need to commit crimes in the first place.”
Madigan is set to face his own trial in April 2024 on a separate indictment that alleges the same scheme, in addition to others, for which federal prosecutors just secured a resounding victory. Schnitker Sayers said members of the panel she served with plan to sit in on at least one day of Madigan’s trial “to watch him go through his own process.”
A member of Madigan’s defense team declined to comment on the jury’s decision Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber read the verdict around 5 p.m. The defendants all face potentially significant prison sentences, but their sentencing hearings have not been scheduled. In all, their trial stretched across eight weeks.
McClain’s wife could be heard saying “Oh dear God” just before the verdict was read. She held hands with two family members.
Defense attorney Patrick Cotter put a hand on McClain’s shoulder and told him, “It’s not over.” Cotter later left the courthouse without acknowledging reporters seeking comment.
The eyes of a longtime neighbor of Pramaggiore’s, Karen Rosene, welled up when she heard the verdict. She attended the trial and watched Pramaggiore take the stand last month. On Tuesday, she was among the last to leave the courtroom as she waited for her neighbor.
Pramaggiore told her, “Thank you so much,” as she wrapped Rosene in a hug.
A relative of McClain’s was seen hugging Pramaggiore’s son.
McClain was hustled past reporters by a family member as he left the courthouse more than an hour after the verdict was read.
“You look like you want to say something,” a reporter shouted, prompting a broad grin across McClain’s face.
“Don’t say anything!” the relative insisted when McClain opened his mouth, as if to speak.
McClain remained silent as he climbed into the back of a silver sedan parked on West Adams.
Pramaggiore waited until reporters were told to leave the courthouse lobby around 8 p.m., but she was still greeted by a half-dozen photographers. She did not comment.
Earlier, in the courthouse lobby, Acting U.S. Attorney Morris Pasqual acknowledged that “the state of Illinois, unfortunately, has a deep-seated public corruption problem.” But he said he hoped the case served as a warning.
“It seems like a lot of people are slow to getting the message,” Pasqual said. “Hopefully the convictions in this case, the guilty verdict, will bring that message home clearer so people perhaps will think twice before they start down that path.”
Scott Lassar, a former Chicago U.S. attorney who represented Pramaggiore, told reporters “we are disappointed with the verdict and we plan to appeal.”
Lawyers for Hooker and Doherty left the courthouse without comment.
Several state lawmakers rushed to offer reactions after the verdict. Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s spokeswoman said in a statement that he “believes we must restore the public’s trust in government, and today’s verdicts are proof that no one is above the law.”
McClain, Pramaggiore, Hooker and Doherty were accused of arranging for jobs, contracts and money for Madigan allies in an illegal bid to influence him as legislation moved through Springfield. It took ComEd from a “dire” financial situation in the 2000s to record earnings in 2022.
Their defense attorneys insisted the feds had concocted a “dark theory” out of what was really honest, legal lobbying. Pramaggiore and Hooker testified during the trial, but McClain and Doherty did not.
Jurors heard that five Madigan allies were paid $1.3 million by ComEd over eight years. The money was paid through intermediaries, including Doherty’s consulting firm, but the men allegedly did little or no work for ComEd. The recipients were former Alds. Frank Olivo and Michael R. Zalewski, former Cook County Recorder of Deeds Edward Moody, former state Rep. Edward “Eddie” Acevedo and longtime Madigan campaign worker Raymond Nice.
No charges have been filed against Olivo, Zalewski, Nice or Moody, though prosecutors have said Moody was not charged in exchange for truthful testimony. He testified in the trial April 11. Acevedo has not been charged as part of the scheme, but he recently served a six-month prison sentence for tax evasion in a spinoff prosecution.
The feds also pointed to three other schemes allegedly designed to influence Madigan. One involved the 2016 renewal of an unusual contract for the law firm Reyes Kurson — where political operative Victor Reyes is partner — in which the firm was assured 850 billable hours a year. Another was an effort by Madigan and McClain between 2017 and 2019 to put former McPier boss Juan Ochoa on ComEd’s board.
Finally, the defendants were accused of making sure internship positions at ComEd were set aside for people associated with Madigan’s power base in Chicago’s 13th Ward.
The formal allegations first came to light in July 2020, when then-U.S. Attorney John Lausch announced a bribery charge against ComEd. The utility entered into a three-year deal with the feds in which it agreed to pay a $200 million fine and admitted to the conduct at issue. However, its lawyers formally pleaded not guilty in court and, if it holds up its end of the deal, prosecutors will ultimately seek dismissal of the bribery charge.
A status hearing in ComEd’s case is set for July 17.
A grand jury followed up four months after ComEd was charged with the indictment against McClain, Pramaggiore, Hooker and Doherty. The allegations were also explored by a legislative committee that fall. Then, in January 2021, Madigan failed to secure the votes he needed to retain the speaker’s gavel.
Madigan was not criminally charged until March 2022 in a separate indictment. That indictment also included additional charges against McClain, meaning he could face trial all over again next year, too.
The public corruption trials are among several set to play out at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse over the next year. Outgoing Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) is set to stand trial in November, for example.
Jurors in this trial heard how former state Rep. Lou Lang was told to resign by McClain, allegedly acting as an agent of Madigan. They heard current state Rep. Robert “Bob” Rita say that Madigan ruled his chamber “through fear and intimidation.” They heard testimony from elusive former Madigan aide Will Cousineau and from Moody, once a top precinct captain for Madigan.
They watched as a parade of FBI agents explained how they fanned out to raid the homes of Madigan allies but struggled to find evidence that they ever did any work for ComEd. And they saw FBI cooperator Fidel Marquez share undercover recordings he made — including in Springfield political haunt Saputo’s restaurant.
The recordings made by Marquez were crucial to the case. He is a onetime ComEd executive who agreed in January 2019 to work undercover for the FBI. Over the course of several weeks in early 2019, he recorded the defendants discussing the arrangement in which Madigan allies were paid through Doherty’s firm.
Marquez spent about a week on the stand during the trial, telling jurors he once regarded the defendants as friends. He was then grilled by a defense attorney over his decision to work with the FBI against them in a bid to avoid prison time.
Marquez will likely take the stand again next year, if Madigan goes to trial. Marquez has pleaded guilty to a bribery conspiracy but has not been sentenced.
ComEd had a new CEO by the time Marquez began cooperating for the feds — Joseph Dominguez. So Marquez told McClain, Pramaggiore, Hooker and Doherty he had to figure out how to explain to Dominguez the arrangement in which Madigan’s allies were paid through Doherty’s contract.
Prosecutors showed jurors a video Marquez made at a dimly lit table inside Saputo’s on Feb. 7, 2019. There, McClain offered a warning to Marquez about the arrangement: “Don’t put anything in writing.” Later in the meeting McClain added, “I think all that can do is hurt ya.”
The feds then recorded Hooker and McClain chatting on Feb. 11, 2019, about how they had conceived the arrangement, with Hooker saying, “It’s clean for all of us.”
“We had to hire these guys because Mike Madigan came to us … It’s that simple,” McClain said.
In a meeting two days later, Marquez spoke with Doherty and asked him what work the subcontractors did for him. Doherty answered, “Not much.” He went on to tell Marquez that “my bottom-line advice would be, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ with those guys.”
In a Feb. 18, 2019 phone call, Marquez told Pramaggiore that he’d learned from Doherty that “all these guys do is pretty much collect a check.” She advised him to “make a switch,” but also told him to wait until the end of the legislative session. She said they didn’t want someone to get “their nose out of joint,” meaning ComEd would be forced to give someone a “five-year contract because we’re in the middle of needing to get something done in Springfield.”
On the witness stand last month, Pramaggiore insisted she didn’t realize Marquez was talking about people tied to Madigan. She said the call actually “proves my innocence.”
Finally, in a Feb. 27, 2019, meeting between Marquez, McClain and Hooker, Marquez asked how “our friend” — meaning Madigan — might react to the end of the arrangement.
Hooker responded by saying, “You’re not gonna do it? You’re not going to do something for me, I don’t have to do anything for you.”
During his testimony last month, Hooker told a prosecutor he was confused during that conversation and actually thought Marquez was asking him how Madigan might react to a labor dispute.