CHICAGO — Federal prosecutors in Chicago delivered their opening statement to jurors in the bribery case involving former executives and lobbyists for the ComEd, the largest electric utility in Illinois.
For more than an hour, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Streicker laid out a years-long effort to influence and curry favor with Michael Madigan, the former Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives who controlled the flow of legislation in the state capitol for more than three decades.
“The defendants sought to bribe Mike Madigan in order to influence his actions in the General Assembly, to ensure that he didn’t take action to hurt the company in the General Assembly and to reward past beneficial conduct to ComEd in the general assembly with legislation that was worth hundreds of millions of dollars,” Streicker told jurors.
Between 2011 and 2019, the four defendants conspired to arrange jobs and contracts for Madigan’s “cronies” and others in his orbit in exchange for his support on three key pieces of legislation, Streicker said.
“In short: Madigan wanted. The defendants gave. And the defendants got. It’s that simple,” she added.
The four defendants, charged in November 2020, are former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore; former ComEd Vice President and lobbyist John Hooker; Jay Doherty, a former ComEd lobbying contractor and President of the City Club of Chicago; and Michael McClain, another former ComEd lobbying contractor and consultant who, for decades, has been a close confidant of Madigan. All have pleaded not guilty.
The trial is expected to last two months, and Streicker told jurors — six men and six women, with five other women and another man serving as alternates — that prosecutors would play more than 100 wiretap recordings in which the defendants discussed their illegal efforts.
Patrick Cotter, McClain’s lead defense attorney, told the jurors that McClain’s actions were simply those of an experienced, well-connected lobbyist who knew how the machinery of Springfield worked.
“Mike lived the General Assembly. He lived Springfield. It was his life,” Cotter said. “He got to know everybody and everybody got to know him. He learned the rules. He learned how that arcane world works.”
“Politics is not on trial here,” Cotter added. “Knowing about politics is not on trial. Dealing with politics, real-world politics, is not on trial.”
Scott Lassar, Pramaggiore’s defense attorney, told the jury that his client was well aware that Madigan was only concerned with his political well-being.
“Anne knew, and others knew at ComEd, that Mike Madigan was only concerned with one thing, and that was staying in power, staying the Speaker of the House, staying has head of the Democratic Party,” Lassar said. “Anne knew that Mike Madigan was not a friend of ComEd, never was and never would be. And she was right.”
Jacqueline Jacobson, Hooker’s attorney, told jurors: “John never conspired or agreed with anyone to bribe Madigan in connection with ComEd legislation or to falsify the internal books and records of ComEd. Because John never, never had any corrupt intent.”
Doherty’s attorney, Gabrielle Sansonetti, characterized the longtime ComEd lobbyist and former City Club of Chicago president as a savvy and loyal representative for the utility who specialized in Chicago and Cook County politics, not the dealings of Springfield.
Sansonetti said Doherty hired four subcontractors — which prosecutors have said was a bribe to please Madigan — at the direction of Fidel Marquez, a former ComEd executive who wore a wire and is cooperating with the government.
The prosecution’s first witness, former north suburban State Rep. Carol Sente, was called to testify at the end of the day, and the first questions posed to her concerned the legislative process in the Illinois state capitol.
Asked to characterize Madigan’s control over the Illinois House of Representatives, Sente said it was “extremely firm.”
Sente’s testimony will resume Thursday.
During her opening statement, Streicker said the government’s first witnesses would all be former state legislators. They are expected to describe for the jury how legislation moves through the state capitol and how Madigan typically controlled whether or not the bill would succeed.
Less than a year before the four defendants were charged, federal prosecutors in Chicago announced that ComEd had entered into a deferred prosecution agreement, in which the utility admitted that it engaged in years-long bribery scheme in an effort to ensure the passage of favorable legislation. As part of the agreement, ComEd agreed to pay a $200 million fine.
Madigan, who in 2021 chose to not seek reelection after 50 years in the state general assembly, faces racketeering and bribery charges in a separate, yet closely related, case that is set to go to trial in April 2024.