‘Life’ at stake? Ominous prediction made as sentencing hearings loom in ComEd bribery case


Michael McClain outside the Everett Dirksen Federal Courthouse in Chicago. MRN File Photo

The high-stakes nature of one of this year’s biggest public corruption trials became clear Wednesday when a defense attorney predicted an ominous argument from prosecutors: That federal guidelines call for life sentences for four people convicted of conspiring to bribe then-Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan.

Prosecutors are not expected to begin disclosing their recommendations for the January sentencing hearings until next month. And even if the feds make the guideline argument predicted by defense attorney Patrick Cotter, it doesn’t mean they will actually recommend life sentences.

Nor does it mean U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber will hand down such a sentence.

But it’s a sign of just how serious all sides are taking the sentencing of longtime Madigan confidant Michael McClain, former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, ex-ComEd lobbyist John Hooker and onetime City Club President Jay Doherty. 

The four are in their 60s and 70s, meaning even lengthy sentences could effectively amount to life.

The prediction also bodes poorly for Madigan himself. The once-powerful Southwest Side Democrat faces his own trial along with McClain in April. 

Former Chicago Ald. Edward M. Burke is on trial in a prosecution stemming from the same investigation that snared Madigan and McClain. It also led to this year’s perjury trial of former Madigan chief of staff Tim Mapes, who was convicted and also set to be sentenced in January.

Businessman James T. Weiss was convicted this year as a result of a separate probe. U.S. District Judge Steven Seeger sentenced Weiss last month to five-and-a-half years in prison for bribing two state lawmakers.

Along the way, the judge echoed many of his colleagues on the bench when he decried Chicago’s reputation for corruption and said there is a cell “ready and waiting” in federal prison for anyone convicted of it. 

But a legal battle also looms in the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — and perhaps beyond — over the convictions of McClain, Pramaggiore, Hooker and Doherty. Pramaggiore attorney Scott Lassar, a former U.S. attorney, told Leinenweber in May that there’s a “significant chance that we may be trying this case again.”

Cotter, who represents McClain, made his prediction Wednesday about the feds’ upcoming argument as he and his fellow defense attorneys sought to push their clients’ sentencing hearings to February. Cotter made the point in an effort to explain to Leinenweber what was at stake.

But Leinenweber concluded “there’s been a lot of time” since the four were convicted in May, and still nearly two months until the sentencing hearings begin on Jan. 11. 

“It seems to me that there’s adequate time to get ready for sentencing without moving the date,” Leinenweber concluded.

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