Lisa Labuz: Well, a big political corruption trial begins today in Chicago. This case involves former Commonwealth Edison officials accused of bribing former Illinois House speaker, Michael Madigan. WBEZ's Dave McKinney has a preview.
Dave McKinney: Jay Doherty wasn’t in legal trouble when he came to the lectern in 2015 at his public-affairs forum, the City Club of Chicago.
Jay Doherty: Our guest today is the speaker of the House for the state of Illinois. He is a dedicated family man who has devoted his entire adult life to public service. Ladies and gentlemen, Mike Madigan. Mr. Speaker?
Dave McKinney: The luncheon crowd rose to its feet as Madigan stepped to the microphone.
Michael Madigan: Thank you for the nice round of applause.
Dave McKinney: Almost eight years later, Doherty and Madigan are again sharing the stage in one of the most significant federal corruption trials to hit Chicago in the past decade. Madigan himself isn't expected to make a courtroom cameos because his bribery racketeering and conspiracy trial isn't until next year. But as Doherty and three former ComEd executives and lobbyists begin their trial Monday, the curtain could really be pulled back on how the legendary speaker ran Springfield. Here's Northwestern University law Professor Rebecca Holman, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago and Washington D.C.
Rebekah Holman: The trial here potentially exposes cronyism and machine politics at the highest level all the way down the line for years or decades really.
Dave McKinney: The government has signaled it intends to place secretly recorded conversations of the defendants allegedly going to extraordinary lengths to keep Madigan happy to help advance ComEd's legislative wish list. Jurors may even hear Madigan himself on those tapes.
Rebekah Holman: And what the tapes are going to do is really kind of bring the alleged scheme alive.
Dave McKinney: The feds accuse former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, Doherty, ex-ComEd lobbyist John Hooker and longtime Madigan confidante Michael McClain of illegally arranging company jobs, contracts and money for Madigan’s political backers. As a ComEd consultant, Doherty allegedly steered tens of thousands of company dollars, at ComEd’s direction, to several Madigan’s friends as no-show subcontractors. In 2020, ComEd acknowledged its attempts to bribe Madigan and paid a $200 million fine to settle a criminal charge. Here’s U.S. Attorney John Lausch.
John Lausch: The admitted facts detail a nearly decade-long corruption scheme involving top management of a large public utility, leaders in state government, consultants and several others inside and outside of government. In two words, it’s not good.
Dave McKinney: The defendants in this case have denied wrongdoing. They say the government is simply trying to criminalize politics. In 2020, WBEZ’s Dan Mihalopoulos and I caught up with McClain outside a downtown Chicago restaurant. I asked him if the government had asked him to cooperate.
Michael McClain: I’ll just say they asked.
Dave McKinney: It would be hard to betray someone like Mike Madigan?
Michael McClain: It would be hard to betray myself.
Dave McKinney: McClain often allegedly used the term, “our friend,” to describe Madigan – in case others were secretly monitoring their conversations. Consumer activist Abe Scarr, with Illinois PIRG, says such cryptic references almost sound like something out of “The Godfather.”
Abe Scarr: Everybody kind of has always thought of former Speaker Madigan and his crew as these wizards. But when we get to see their communications, they're pretty sloppy. And a lot of it kind of looks like gangster talk.
Dave McKinney: Scarr yearns for some legal accountability for ComEd’s former top brass.
Abe Scarr: Some of the policies that ComEd won through its bribery scheme are still part of the story in terms of what customers are paying for utility bills now and probably for decades to come.
Dave McKinney: As this trial plays out, it could reveal a couple of things… that old-time political patronage never truly goes away at the statehouse. And often, there’s a true cost tied to it. Dave McKinney, WBEZ News.
WBEZ transcripts are generated by an automatic speech recognition service. We do our best to edit for misspellings and typos, but mistakes do come through.