McClain: ‘don’t put anything in writing’…’I think all that can do is hurt ya’
CHICAGO — Longtime Commonwealth Edison contract lobbyist Jay Doherty thought he was merely reminiscing and giving advice to a colleague and friend in a February 2019 meeting set up by ex-ComEd executive Fidel Marquez.
But Marquez was wearing a hidden camera, having just a few weeks prior agreed to cooperate with the government’s investigation of the utility’s alleged bribery of former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. FBI agents had paid a 6 a.m. visit to his mother’s house where he’d been staying in Chicago.
“This is just you and me talking,” Doherty told Marquez, detailing how he’d been paying a handful of allies close to Madigan through his lobbying contract with the utility for years. “I don’t even know who else knows this.”
But Marquez’s camera ensured his conversation with Doherty would not stay between the two of them. On Tuesday, a federal jury watched the video, with both Doherty and Marquez looking on.
Doherty is one of three ex-ComEd lobbyists accused of orchestrating a years long bribery scheme to curry favor with Madigan, along with former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore. On Tuesday, Doherty and Pramaggiore, along with ex-lobbyists and codefendants Mike McClain and John Hooker, sat stone-faced while the courtroom watched the video. Marquez was on the witness stand for a second day of questioning by prosecutors.
Much of Monday and Tuesday centered on Doherty’s longstanding arrangement in which he used a substantial portion of his monthly lobbying stipend from ComEd to pay men close to the powerful House speaker anywhere from $4,000 to $5,000 per month in recent years.
But the long-running arrangement was potentially hitting a snag: Pramaggiore had been promoted from her position as ComEd’s CEO that past summer, and her replacement, Joe Dominguez, was a former federal prosecutor.
As a newly minted cooperating witness in the government’s investigation, Marquez set up meetings with Doherty, McClain and Hooker – and a phone call with Pramaggiore – with dual purposes. The first goal was to get them to acknowledge the subcontractors did nothing on the company’s dime and were just a favor to Madigan.
The second goal was to address the possibility that Dominguez would object to the arrangement, and Marquez was seeking the advice of Pramaggiore, McClain, Hooker and Doherty for how to explain the subcontractor arrangement to Dominguez.
Marquez’s testimony will enter its third day Wednesday and defense attorneys have yet to cross-examine the federal government’s star witness. Prosecutors are attempting to prove the intent of the four defendants “is the primary issue in dispute in this case,” and Marquez’s cooperation is key to helping helped the feds prove that.
Prosecutors aired the video and audio recordings that Marquez made for them on Tuesday, which was the first time they had been made public, although transcripts have been in the media previously.
The recordings of McClain took the jury to a dimly lit table inside Saputo’s restaurant, the Springfield Italian institution where Madigan had his own table, often with McClain present. McClain offered a warning to Marquez there on Feb. 7, 2019: “don’t put anything in writing” regarding the complex web of ComEd’s payouts to Madigan’s people.
McClain added later in the meeting: “I think all that can do is hurt ya.”
After Marquez asked Doherty, who was recorded in Chicago a week after McClain was recorded, point blank what the subcontractors do, Doherty responded, “not much,” and explained that he barely even knew any of them, aside from his newest acquisition, former Alderman Mike Zalewski.
But he did give Marquez a piece of advice:
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it with these guys,” Doherty said. “…And to keep Mike Madigan happy, I think that’s worth it.”
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