Defense finally gets crack at feds’ key witness in ComEd bribery trial, says he was ‘scared’ when FBI agents came to his door
CHICAGO — Michael McClain laughed inside Saputo’s restaurant in Springfield as he shared with then-ComEd executive Fidel Marquez his story about his 2016 retirement, and how he handed his list of duties over to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Madigan and McClain were longtime friends. McClain has described himself as an “agent” of Madigan. And after McClain handed Madigan that list, Madigan purportedly handed it back and told McClain “I don’t think you’re done yet.”
“Is that like tendering your resignation but it gets, uh, denied? It gets rejected?” Marquez asked over a slice of pizza on Feb. 7, 2019.
“Yeah,” McClain said.
Jurors at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse saw video of that moment Wednesday as Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu ended his 13-hour direct-examination of Marquez, who weeks before munching on the Saputo’s pizza had agreed to cooperate with investigators and secretly record McClain and three others now on trial for trying to bribe Madigan to benefit ComEd.
Former U.S. Attorney Scott Lassar, now a defense attorney representing onetime ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, stepped up next to question Marquez. Lassar quickly confirmed that Marquez was “scared” when FBI agents showed up at his mother’s house around 6 a.m. on Jan. 16, 2019.
Though the agents suggested he might have committed federal crimes, Lassar said, “You told them you had done nothing illegal, and you believed that, right?”
“Yes,” said Marquez, who nonetheless pleaded guilty to bribery conspiracy in September 2020.
Lassar is expected to continue his cross-examination Thursday. When he’s done, Marquez will be questioned by attorneys for McClain and two others on trial: former ComEd lobbyist John Hooker and onetime City Club President Jay Doherty.
Federal prosecutors used Marquez’s marathon testimony over three days to show how Pramaggiore made sure ComEd “did everything possible” to stay on Madigan’s good side.
The feds played damaging recordings that allegedly revealed a scheme to funnel more than $1 million to Madigan allies with do-nothing gigs. And they detailed how top ComEd executives were pulled into controversies about low-level jobs if recommended hires came from Madigan.
In emails and in recorded conversations, Bhachu on Wednesday detailed the extent to which Madigan and McClain pressured Marquez and others at ComEd, and in some cases Exelon, to hire people — some of whom were either former legislators or relatives of Illinois politicians.
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