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updated: 7/18/2020 7:39 AM

Pritzker 'furious'; Madigan denies wrongdoing as feds unfurl bribery case

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  • Video: Pritzker on Michael Madigan

 
 

In a move with seismic repercussions for the state, utility giant ComEd pleaded guilty to bribery in a public corruption case linked to House Speaker Michael Madigan and will pay $200 million in fines, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois John Lausch announced Friday.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said if allegations made about Madigan are true, the longtime speaker and chair of the Illinois Democratic Party must step down.

"If these allegations of wrongdoing by the speaker are true, there is no question that he will have betrayed the public trust, and he must resign," Pritzker said during a noon event in Waukegan.

Madigan's office said the speaker did nothing wrong. He was served with subpoenas Friday for "among other things, documents related to possible job recommendations. He will cooperate and respond to those requests for documents, which he believes will clearly demonstrate that he has done nothing criminal or improper."

The Chicago Sun-Times reported that it got a copy of a subpoena served to Madigan that appears to seriously expand the investigation, with inquiries about AT&T Services Inc., Walgreens and Rush University Medical Center. The document also seeks records concerning a laundry list of Madigan's top supporters.

ComEd officials admitted to giving or offering jobs, contracts, subcontracts and payments that benefited Madigan or his associates over a period of eight years, authorities said.

The scheme was "to influence and reward the official's efforts to assist ComEd with respect to legislation concerning ComEd and its business," prosecutors said.

"ComEd admitted that its efforts to influence and reward the high-level elected official began in or around 2011 and continued through in or around 2019," a court filing states.

The filing later identifies the official as the speaker of the Illinois House, without using Madigan's name.

"During that time, the Illinois General Assembly considered bills and passed legislation that had a substantial impact on ComEd's operations and profitability, including legislation that affected the regulatory process used to determine the electricity rates ComEd charged its customers."

The penalty on ComEd is believed to be the largest criminal fine issued in Chicago's federal court.

Madigan has not been criminally charged. He has been speaker for all but two years since 1983. Elected from Illinois' 22nd District on Chicago's Southwest Side, he is up for election on Nov. 3.

Madigan "has never helped someone find a job with the expectation that the person would not be asked to perform work by their employer, nor did he ever expect to provide anything to a prospective employer if it should choose to hire a person he recommended," his office's statement said. "He has never made a legislative decision with improper motives and has engaged in no wrongdoing here. Any claim to the contrary is unfounded."

Walgreens did not comment to the Sun-Times, and AT&T did not respond to a request for comment. Rush said in a statement only that it "has received and is cooperating with a subpoena for records reflecting work by, and communications with, certain government relations consultants for the period 2014 to the present."

Pritzker said he's "deeply troubled" and "furious" about what is being reported.

"The speaker has a lot that he needs to answer for to authorities, to investigators, and most importantly, to the people of Illinois," the governor said during the Waukegan event that had been organized to discuss jobs for youths.

The situation speaks volumes about corruption in Illinois, Lausch said in a news conference outside the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago. He described a "decadelong corruption scheme involving top management at a large public utility company and leaders in state government."

The scheme trickled down to ComEd customers by enabling rate hikes, prosecutors said. "It demonstrates how far the reach of corruption can go," FBI Chicago Special Agent-in-Charge Emmerson Buie Jr. said.

Madigan steered favorable legislation for ComEd and also swayed lawmakers, prosecutors said. The company admitted it orchestrated hiring and contracts for Madigan's cronies even "in instances where those people performed little or no work that they were purportedly hired by ComEd to perform. "

ComEd also stated it placed a Madigan designee on its board of directors and hired interns residing in the speaker's Chicago ward.

The Sun-Times reported that indirect payments to Madigan's associates, who performed little or no work for Madigan, totaled more than $1.3 million from 2011 to 2019.

Anne Pramaggiore, CEO of ComEd parent company Exelon Utilities, abruptly retired in October after Exelon and ComEd acknowledged they had been subpoenaed in the probe.

Meanwhile, Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider asked, what about ComEd ratepayers? "Shouldn't ComEd pay their fine but also refund customers for rate increases corruptly negotiated?"

ComEd is a subsidiary of Exelon, whose CEO Christopher M. Crane stated: "We are committed to maintaining the highest standards of integrity and ethical behavior. A small number of senior ComEd employees and outside contractors orchestrated this misconduct, and they no longer work for the company."

The allegations sent shock waves through the state Capitol. The speaker looms large over Springfield and reaction from Democratic state representatives has been muted.

But Democratic Sen. Melinda Bush of Grayslake said "it is clear from the contents of this case that (Madigan) was intimately involved in both the planning and execution of a long-standing bribery scheme with Illinois' largest utility company."

Madigan should resign from office and "step down as chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois, effective immediately," Bush said in a statement.

The scandal breaks at a sensitive time for Pritzker, who is pushing a graduated income proposal on the November ballot, and Republicans seized on the moment.

Republican Senate Leader Bill Brady characterized it as a "massive tax increase" while "residents are again confronted with Democratic corruption at the highest levels of their state government." He said Madigan should resign if the charges are true.

Republican Rep. Deanne Mazzochi of Elmhurst echoed the sentiment.

"This isn't the first time and it certainly won't be the last time that Speaker Madigan has been implicated in corruption," she said in a statement Friday evening. "He must resign immediately. Culture starts at the top, and Speaker Madigan is standing between a government that works for Illinoisans and a government that works for political insiders."

If Madigan stays, it presents an odd situation for Democrats who want him to step down, state Rep. David McSweeney noted. "The ball's in their court," the Barrington Hills Republican said.

The General Assembly is not in session until after the Nov. 3 election, so if a censure of Madigan was desired, the speaker would need to call the House back into session. The governor also has that authority, Sweeney noted, saying the fall election presents a golden opportunity for "Republicans to run on reform and take control of the House."

Pritzker said the allegations strike at the core of what public service means, calling it a high calling where elected officials serve "with a sacred trust to put the people first."

In the meantime, Pritzker said he's urging Madigan to fully cooperate with the investigation and answer all questions as quickly as possible.

ComEd is required to continue assisting prosecutors in an ongoing corruption probe and enhance its compliance program, plus provide annual reports to the government involving compliance.

To other entities involved in similar crime, "we will find you," IRS Criminal Investigation Division-Chicago Special Agent-in-Charge Kathy A. Enstrom said. "It's not too late to get on the right side of the law."