CHICAGO (CBS) — A grand jury returned an indictment Wednesday against four former Commonwealth Edison executives and consultants, who are accused of conspiring to curry favor from Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan in advancing legislation benefiting the utility.
One of the four people indicted is a close Madigan ally.
Earlier this year, federal prosecutors accused ComEd of a yearslong bribery scheme that sought to curry Madigan’s favor in advancing legislation relaxing state regulation of ComEd’s rates by directing $1.3 million in payments to the speaker’s associates. ComEd acknowledged it stood to benefit by more than $150 million from that legislation.
Madigan has not been charged with a crime and has denied any wrongdoing.
The indictment came down late Wednesday in U.S. District Court. Charged with bribery conspiracy, bribery, and willfully falsifying ComEd books and records were:
• Michael McClain, 73, who worked as a lobbyist for ComEd after a stint in the Illinois House of Representatives in the 1970s and early 1980s. McClain is a Madigan confidant;
• Anne Pramaggiore, 62, chief executive officer of ComEd from 2012 to 2018 and then a senior executive at ComEd subsidiary Exelon Corp.;
• John Hooker, 71, who served as vice president of external affairs for ComEd from 2009 to 2012 and then worked as an external lobbyist for ComEd;
• Jay Doherty, 67, owner of Jay D. Doherty & Associates, which performed consulting services for ComEd from 2011 until 2019.
The indictment accuses the defendants of using their influence to reward “Public Official A” – not specified by name as Madigan but referred to in the indictment as Speaker of the Illinois House – for about eight years beginning in 2011.
The indictment claims the four defendants conspired to influence and reward the speaker by arranging for jobs and contracts for his political allies and workers. The jobs sometimes involved little or no work, the U.S. Attorney’s office said.
The defendants are also accused of creating false contracts, invoices, and other records to disguise some of the payments and get around ComEd internal controls, the U.S. Attorney’s office said.
Further, the defendants are accused of making other efforts to try to influence Madigan, including having ComEd retain a law firm that was favored by the speaker, and accepting a certain number of students from the official’s Chicago aldermanic ward into the ComEd internship program, prosecutors said.
Pramaggiore and McClain are also accused of working to have someone appointed to the ComEd Board of Directors at the request of the speaker and McClain.
In a statement Thursday morning, Madigan again denied any wrongdoing, noting he has not been charged with a crime. The speaker said if anyone at ComEd sought to bribe him, “it was never made known to me.”
“If it had been known to me, it would have been profoundly unwelcome. Nothing in either this indictment or in the earlier filings by the U.S. Attorney’s Office alleges otherwise. In addition, nothing in this indictment or in the earlier filings alleges that I did anything in my official capacity related to ComEd’s legislative agenda as a result of whatever internal decisions ComEd made or didn’t make,” Madigan said in a statement.” Any such allegation would be false. If there was an attempt to influence me in my official capacity, it failed, although knowing most of the people who were charged, I doubt there was any scheme as characterized by the government.”
Madigan also defended recommending people for jobs at ComEd, saying he believes it’s part of his duty as an elected official to help qualified people find jobs.
“I have never helped someone find a job with an expectation that the person would not be asked to perform work by his or her employer. Anyone who has ever worked for or around me knows I value, above all else, hard work and dedication, whether it’s knocking on doors, collecting garbage, or representing a client,” Madigan said. “I have also never promised, implicitly or explicitly, to take any action benefiting a prospective employer if it should choose to hire a person that I recommended. Nor have I ever recommended someone for a job with an expectation or understanding that the prospective employer would hire that person to reward me for an action it believed I took. I do not inquire into an employer’s rationale for making particular hiring decisions, nor do I treat that employer differently depending on those decisions. This has been my practice for decades.”
Pramaggiore decried the charges Wednesday night through a spokesperson:
Anne Pramaggiore unequivocally rejects the government’s charges that she engaged in unlawful behavior. She agrees with Commonwealth Edison that no one at the company committed a crime.
“Throughout her distinguished career as the first female CEO of Commonwealth Edison, Ms. Pramaggiore led the complete turnaround of the utility from one of the nation’s worst performing to one of its best, driving dramatic improvements in reliability and greater value for consumers and enhancing employee engagement.
“During her tenure, Exelon and its subsidiaries, through both current and former executives, received, evaluated, and granted many requests to consider candidates who could bring appropriate and valuable services to the companies. None of these actions constitutes unlawful activity nor do they support the implication that consumer-oriented, complex energy legislation, which was negotiated over multiple years involving hundreds of stakeholders, passed as a result.
“After enduring months of baseless innuendo and misinformation, Anne Pramaggiore welcomes a full and truthful accounting of the facts in this matter. She is confident a review will reaffirm her unwavering adherence to the highest ethical standards and finally put to rest the damaging speculation that any actions she took constitute illegal activity.”
Another former ComEd executive, Fidel Marquez, pleaded guilty in the bribery scheme in September. Madigan was specifically named in that case as the one whose support Marquez and other ComEd executives sought for legislation that would benefit ComEd.
Marquez, who is cooperating with the federal investigation of ComEd’s lobbying practices, pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit bribery, which carries a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison, but federal prosecutors said they will recommend a sentence of probation only if he fully cooperates.
According to court documents, Marquez helped direct a $37,500 payment to an unnamed company, “a substantial portion of which was intended for associates of [Madigan].”
ComEd has entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the feds, and has agreed to pay a $200 million fine, enact a number of reforms, and cooperate with investigators in exchange for prosecutors dropping charges in 2023 if ComEd lives up to its obligations.
An Illinois House committee is also investigating possible disciplinary action against Speaker Michael Madigan over his ties to the scandal.
Meanwhile after the election, Gov. JB Pritzker argued Republicans were able to use Madigan “as their foil” in this year’s elections and said it’s time for new leadership for the Democratic Party of Illinois.
Madigan is the only state house speaker in the U.S. who also serves as his state party’s chairman.
Pritzker said he agrees with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin that Republicans were able to use the controversies recently swirling around Madigan to their advantage on Election Day, when Illinois voters rejected Pritzker’s signature proposal to allow for a graduated income tax, and voted out an Illinois Supreme Court justice who has received millions of dollars in campaign cash from funds controlled by Madigan. A handful of Republican challengers also defeated Democratic incumbents in the Illinois House.
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