CHICAGO — A long-running federal probe of corruption in Illinois politics led to the most influential figure in Illinois politics for decades now having to answer a 22 count corruption indictment.
For a politician who seemed untouchable, Wednesday is a day of reckoning.
Former House Speaker Michael J. Madigan is set for his first appearance in court on federal racketeering, bribery, wire fraud and extortion charges.
Democrats are trying desperately to move past Madigan.
“It’s important to focus on the work that this legislature is doing under new leadership,” House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch said.
But the political fallout may last through November, with the indictment providing Republicans with a chance to make Madigan the face of Democratic corruption.
WATCH: WGN Investigates looks back at the reign of Madigan as speaker
“Last week was a very convincing blow to the Democrats. I don’t know how they can recover,” House GOP Leader Jim Durkin said.
Madigan served as speaker of the Illinois House for all but two years between 1983 and 2020.
A wide-ranging 106-page indictment alleges the 79-year-old spent years leading “Madigan Enterprise,” an effort to enrich himself and loyalists criminally.
Prosecutors say Madigan solicited bribes from ComEd – jobs and money for allies – in exchange for favorable legislation.
Both Madigan and his attorneys deny the allegations hinting they’ll argue that conduct described in the charges is just the way business is done in politics.
In a statement, Madigan said: “The government is attempting to criminalize a routine constituent service: job recommendations.”
But Republicans and Democrats denounce the alleged actions.
“Anybody that breaches their duty to bring integrity to public service ought to go,” Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker said Monday.
Also charged is Madigan’s longtime confidence Michael McClain, a former state lawmaker and lobbyist who allegedly orchestrated the Com Ed bribery scheme. McClain denies the allegations.
The judge has ordered Madigan’s hearing be conducted by telephone, which is common during the pandemic. Since the start of the investigation, Madigan has reportedly spent nearly $5 million in campaign funds on legal fees.