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Feds zero in on Madigan in $200 million ‘plea’ deal with ComEd over bribery claims

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan gives an interview following a committee hearing on October 31, 2017.

(The Center Square) – Referring to him as “Public Official A,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office implicated House Speaker Michael Madigan in announcing criminal charges against utility company ComEd as part of a sweeping corruption and bribery probe that also has taken down state lawmakers.

The utility, which provides power to much of northern Illinois, agreed to pay a fine of $200 million to end a federal criminal investigation into a years-long bribery scheme tied directly to state government, federal prosecutors say.

ComEd “arranged jobs, vendor subcontracts, and monetary payments associated with those jobs and subcontracts, for various associates of a high-level elected official for the state of Illinois, to influence and reward the official’s efforts to assist ComEd with respect to legislation concerning ComEd and its business,” the office of U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois John Lausch said in a statement.

Under the agreement, the federal government will defer charges, but only if ComEd cooperates with ongoing investigations.

In a news release, federal prosecutors refer to an unnamed public official that is described in a way that runs parallel to Madigan.

“Public Official A controlled what measures were called for a vote in the Illinois House of Representatives and exerted substantial influence over fellow lawmakers concerning legislation affecting ComEd,” they said. “The company admitted that it arranged for jobs and vendor subcontracts for Public Official A’s political allies and workers even in instances where those people performed little or no work that they were purportedly hired by ComEd to perform.”

The formal criminal complaint against ComEd says Public Official A is the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Madigan’s spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Long-time Madigan friend Michael McClain, a former state lawmaker-turned lobbyist for ComEd, arranged payments to Kevin Quinn, a political operative for the speaker, in the days after he was expelled from his positions within the state’s Democratic Party after he was publicly accused of harassing former campaign worker Alaina Hampton. In emails from McClain to others – who sent a total of $30,000 in checks to Quinn in exchange for contract work that required little or no effort – McClain told the lobbyists writing the checks and Quinn that the matter was confidential.

Madigan is the longest-serving statehouse speaker in the U.S., having served in the position for all but two years since 1983. He also is head of the state Democratic Party.

In a statement made on behalf of Madigan, the speaker confirmed that he was served federal subpoenas seeking documents related to his job recommendations.

“The speaker 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,” the statement reads. “He has never made a legislative decision with improper motives and has engaged in no wrongdoing here. Any claim to the contrary is unfounded.”

Madigan has not been charged.

ComEd parent Exelon in a news release apologized for its involvement in the corruption and bribery scandal.

“We are committed to maintaining the highest standards of integrity and ethical behavior. In the past, some of ComEd’s lobbying practices and interactions with public officials did not live up to that commitment,” Exelon CEO Christopher Crane said. “When we learned about the inappropriate conduct, we acted swiftly to investigate. We concluded from the investigation that a small number of senior ComEd employees and outside contractors orchestrated this misconduct, and they no longer work for the company. Since then, we have taken robust action to aggressively identify and address deficiencies, including enhancing our compliance governance and our lobbying policies to prevent this type of conduct. We apologize for the past conduct that didn’t live up to our own values, and we will ensure this cannot happen again.”

Illinois GOP Chairman Tim Schneider released a statement Friday morning.

“The people of Illinois now live in a state where both the Speaker of the House and the Governor are under criminal investigation. Even for a state with a history of corruption, this is unprecedented,” Schneider said. “Crimes of bribery and tax fraud cannot be tolerated from our elected officials. As we learn more about the bribery investigation into Speaker Madigan and the property tax fraud investigation into Governor Pritzker, our hearts go out to the people of Illinois who are once again left yearning for elected leaders who work for them, not for themselves. The Democratic culture of corruption in Illinois must come to an end.”

In naming Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Schneider referred to a federal inquiry regarding Pritzker’s property tax break at his Gold Coast Mansion by removing toilets, rendering the structure “uninhabitable.”

At a Friday news conference, Pritzker was asked about Madigan’s connection to the ComEd criminal filing.

“If these things are true, he’s going to have to resign,” Pritzker said.

The formal announcement that ComEd is cooperating with federal investigators is a significant step toward finalizing a larger investigation, said Prof. David X. Parker, director of the Center for the Study of Fraud and Corruption at Saint Xavier University.

“It’s a tool to leverage,” he said. “They’re agreeing to continue to help and assist with other investigations that are going on. That’s a huge part of it.”

In addition to ComEd, federal corruption investigations have involved several lawmakers in the past couple years. Former state Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Cicero, pleaded guilty to accepting bribes to protect a red-light camera company in January. In October, former state Rep. Luis Arroyo, D-Chicago, was charged with bribing an unnamed state senator. State Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, was charged with embezzling from a labor union. He’s pleaded not guilty and remains in office.

In October, then Exelon CEO Anne Pramaggiore abruptly resigned amid questions about the company’s lobbying activity and connection to Sandoval.

Federal lawmakers also are investigating local officials in Illinois, including longtime Chicago Alderman Ed Burke, who in a 14-count indictment was accused of accepting bribes.

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