It’s not Madigan’s trial, but the feds’ big upcoming case is all about the former speaker

MCCLAIN MADIGAN

CHICAGO — Michael J. Madigan will likely never step foot in the federal courtroom where four former political power players are about to face trial, accused of trying to bribe the longtime Illinois House speaker to benefit ComEd.

But the case starting Tuesday is all about Madigan.

And once it’s underway, it is expected to finally pull back the curtain on an aggressive federal investigation that reshaped Illinois politics, forced Madigan out of office in 2021 and landed him last year under a separate indictment for racketeering.

The trial will give jurors a close-up view of how Springfield operated in the last decade. They’ll hear talk of an “old-fashioned patronage system.” And they’ll learn how an apparent obsession with pleasing Madigan might have prompted four officials to cross a legal line as ComEd sought to pass legislation it valued at more than $150 million.

But jurors will also watch as lawyers explore that line, between legal lobbying and criminal activity.

At the defendants’ tables will be longtime Madigan confidant Michael McClain of Quincy, former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, ex-ComEd lobbyist John Hooker and onetime City Club President Jay Doherty. They are each charged with bribery conspiracy and falsifying ComEd’s books and records, and they could face serious prison time if convicted.

They are accused of arranging for jobs, contracts and money for certain Madigan associates in an illegal bid to influence him as the legislation affecting ComEd moved through Springfield, where Madigan held considerable sway.

ComEd admitted to the scheme in 2020, agreeing to pay a $200 million fine.

The overall conspiracy allegedly lasted from 2011 until 2019. But jurors are likely to be taken back even further in time, to when ComEd apparently faced potential bankruptcy in 2005. Its operational capabilities remained poor years later, court records show. When Pramaggiore took over as CEO in 2012, she allegedly viewed ComEd’s business through a political lens.

She was even known to say things like, “What’s important to the speaker is important to us,” according to court records.

McClain worked as a lobbyist or consultant for ComEd after his decade in the Illinois House of Representatives, which began in 1972. People within the utility would refer to him as a “double agent,” though, because he had close ties to Madigan.

Prosecutors say he often relayed messages between the speaker and the utility. They say he and others would refer to Madigan as “our friend” to avoid using the speaker’s name. However, the feds have also acknowledged that McClain disclosed to them in a pair of interviews, in 2014 and 2016, that “our friend” amounted to “a code word for Madigan.”

When he retired as a lobbyist in 2016, McClain allegedly sent Madigan a letter in which he wrote that he “wanted to let my ‘real’ client know that I am retiring.”

In a handwritten addendum, McClain allegedly told Madigan that “Illinois is a great state because of your hand on the rudder, and you know instinctively now, just like Richard J. Daley, when to start, slow or turn off the engine.”

The trial is expected to last two months. It’s one of three major public corruption trials scheduled at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in the next 13 months, all of them targeting old-school Chicago politics. Madigan’s own trial is set for April 2024.

CLICK HERE FOR MORE FROM THE CHICAGO SUN-TIMES

A letter that federal prosecutors say Michael McClain sent to then-House Speaker Michael Madigan in 2016. –
U.S. District Court records

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