Feds drop hammer on Madigan’s inner circle in ComEd bribery case

Illinois Capitol News

ILLINOIS (NEXSTAR) — Federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against four of House Speaker Michael Madigan’s longtime associates on Wednesday.

According to court documents, former ComEd lobbyists Michael McClain, Jay Doherty, and John Hooker and former ComEd chief executive Anne Pramagiorre are accused of falsifying company records and creating off-book accounts to conceal or disguise payments made in an eight-year-long corruption scheme.

Madigan has not yet been charged, and has denied any wrongdoing. ComEd previously admitted to the scheme and agreed to pay a $200 million fine and cooperate with the investigation in a deal to avoid criminal charges.

The indictment also alleges the part of the conspiracy involved ComEd hiring ‘Law Firm A’ in order to influence or reward ‘Public Official A’ in connection with ‘Public Official A’s official duties.’ According to prosecutors, Hooker and McClain recommended that ComEd hire the law firm on a contract deal in 2011, and that Pramaggiore prompted company attorneys to renew the contract in 2014.

In a letter to the House Special Investigative Committee, Madigan claimed any attempt to influence his official duties would have been unwelcome and unsuccessful.

According to testimony from Exelon’s top compliance officer, who appeared before the House Special Investigative Committee earlier this year, ComEd placed Juan Ochoa on the Board of Directors without seeking other qualified candidates, and did so at the request of someone in Madigan’s office.

The federal indictment filed Wednesday adds further details to Ochoa’s board seat, describing how Pramaggiore “took steps to cause ComEd to appoint ‘Individual BM-1’ to the board of directors, including urging other ComEd executives to agree to and to arrange for [Ochoa’s] appointment.”

The charging documents claim McClain, Doherty, Hooker and Pramaggiore would routinely refer to Madigan as “our friend” or as “a friend of ours” as if to conceal his identity in their conspiracy.

Direct quotes from a February 2019 phone call between Pramaggiore and Fidel Marquez, a former ComEd executive who entered a guilty plea in September, appear to show federal prosecutors were apparently listening in when Pramaggiore openly discussed the corrupt pay-to-play arrangement.

“We do not want to get caught up in a, you know, disruptive battle where, you know, somebody gets their nose out of joint and we’re trying to move somebody off, and then we get forced to give ’em a five-year contract because we’re in the middle of needing to get something done in Springfield,” she allegedly told Marquez in the wire-tapped call.

The indictment also adds a new angle to the conspiracy, suggesting political operatives who worked in Madigan’s ward could get paid through ComEd as summer interns.

In February of 2015, McClain asked Marquez, “Our Friend’s ward? Summer interns? 10 jobs or 12 or what is the ceiling?”

Two months later, in a related email thread, Marquez replied, “There is pressure to hire. Hope she interviews well.”

Later that month, court documents show the candidate won the paid internship.

Three years later, McClain notified Marquez in an email that, “I am pretty sure the ‘ask’ will be to ‘put aside’ or ‘save’ ten summer jobs for the 13th Ward.”

Federal prosecutors allege that once McClain gave ComEd his blessing on an intern, that candidate would not have to compete for the job. They would land on the payroll and immediately win “favorable treatment” from the company. Later in the process, a friendly nudge from Marquez would promote that intern to a paid employee in ComEd. Other standards, such as academic requirements for grade point average, were waived for candidates who had worked for Madigan.

In another email exchange, McClain characterized Madigan’s nature as vindictive if he didn’t get what he wanted.

“I am sure you know how valuable [Lawyer A] is to our Friend,” McClain wrote to Hooker and Pramaggiore. “I know the drill and so do you. If you do not get involve [sic] and resolve this issue of 850 hours for his law firm per year then he will go to our Friend. Our Friend will call me and then I will call you.”

McClain continued the pitch, spelling out his apparent role as the middle-man and choke point to Madigan’s power and influence.

“Is this a drill we must go through?” he asked. “For me, Hook…I just do not understand why we have to spend valuable minutes on items like this when we know it will provoke a reaction from our Friend.”

“Sorry,” Pramaggiore replied. “No one informed me. I am on this.”

The court documents lay out 61 separate payments totaling $2.27 million to Jay Doherty and Associates, and alleges Pramaggiore helped to coordinate and conceal the transactions from internal review in order to influence Madigan.

Their court dates are not on the calendar yet, but the defendants are already denying the charges.

In an emailed statement, McClain’s defense attorney Pat Cotter dismissed the accusations as “the result of a misguided investigation and misapplication of the law, driven by an obvious desire to find some way to criminally implicate a current elected official, who happens to be Mike McClain’s longtime friend.

“In its zeal to find any evidence of criminal misconduct by that official, the Government is attempting to rewrite the law on bribery and criminalize long-recognized legitimate, common, and normal lobbying activity into some new form of crime,” Cotter said. “The goal of these meritless charges is clear: to apply maximum pressure on Mike McClain, and others, to help the Government in its efforts against his friend. But Mike McClain cannot agree to allegations that are untrue, even to escape the crippling weight of the Government’s attacks.

“Mike McClain absolutely denies that he has committed any crime, and he will fight these charges as long as it takes, and as long as his age and health allow, to restore his well-earned honest and honorable reputation.”

Read the 50-page federal indictment below:

Editor’s note: this story has been updated to include a statement from Mike McClain’s attorney.

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