The FBI secretly recorded Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan trying to get business for his private law firm from a developer brought to him by Ald. Danny Solis, who was weighing the developer’s request to build a hotel in Chinatown, according to a federal court affidavit obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.
The affidavit makes clear for the first time that the federal investigation that has snared powerful Chicago Ald. Edward M. Burke extends beyond City Hall and into the Illinois statehouse, examining politicians’ longstanding practice of merging personal and political business.
The Sun-Times previously reported that Solis secretly recorded conversations he’d had with Burke, who recently was charged with attempted extortion for trying to shake down a Burger King franchisee who wanted to remodel a restaurant in Burke’s 14th Ward.
Madigan, who isn’t facing any criminal charges, was recorded by an associate of the developer during a meeting at Madigan’s law office that Solis had arranged, according to the affidavit. That associate, who’d been secretly working for the feds, made a “video and audio recording” of the meeting, which occurred in 2014.
In a statement through his attorney on Monday, Madigan denied any wrongdoing and “to our knowledge, neither the speaker nor his law firm is under investigation.”
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Madigan’s law firm’s legal fees were discussed during the meeting — and the Southwest Side Democrat made it clear he wanted more than a short-term deal with the developer.
“We’re not interested in a quick killing here,” Madigan said during the meeting. “We’re interested in a long-term relationship.”
Solis, who chairs the City Council’s powerful Zoning Committee, told the associate after the meeting, outside the presence of Madigan that “if he works with the speaker, he will get anything he needs for that hotel,” according to the document.
Later, the alderman added, “he’s going to benefit from being with the speaker . . . okay?”
An FBI agent alleges in the 120-page affidavit: “I understand Solis to mean that by hiring Madigan’s private firm, [the developer] would ensure that Solis and Madigan would take official action benefitting [the developer] in their capacity as public officials.”
Madigan’s attorney, Heather Wier Vaught, said in a statement to the Sun-Times: “The speaker recalls attending several meetings with Ald. Solis over the past five years, including meetings with individuals in need of legal representation. If indeed, some of his conversations were being recorded, the speaker did not know that, but he has no concern if they were. The speaker has no recollection of ever suggesting that he would take official action for a private law firm client or potential client. To our knowledge, neither the speaker nor his law firm is under investigation.”
Although Solis hasn’t been criminally charged, the affidavit states that “there is reasonable cause to believe that Solis and others have committed” bribery, fraud and other potential criminal offenses “by engaging in a series of transactions that involve the abuse of Solis’ position as a public official.”
Joseph Fitzpatrick, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office, declined to comment.
The details of the allegations against Solis are contained in a 2016 search warrant application filed by federal prosecutors seeking to search Solis’ City Hall office, campaign and ward office, homes and a North Side massage parlor where Solis allegedly received free sex acts.
The associate of the Chinese developer told the FBI in May 2014 about efforts to seek a zoning change for the proposed hotel, which would have been built in Chinatown in Solis’ 25th Ward. The developer was trying to secure a “letter of support” for the project from Solis, who initially said he would support the zoning change on two conditions, according to the affidavit.
First, Solis said a second hotel should not be built on an adjacent piece of land. Second, he said he wanted to see letters of support from community groups.
The associate provided multiple letters of support, according to the document. When Solis said the most important letter he needed to see was from the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, that was delivered, too.
Then, in August, Solis reached out to the associate and asked him and the developer to attend the meeting with Madigan. The associate explained that he would need to translate for the developer, who did not speak English.
The meeting happened on Aug. 18, 2014, at the Madigan & Getzendanner law office on LaSalle Street. Madigan and his law partner sat down with the developer and his associate. Solis and two members of his staff arrived later.
Before Solis and his staff arrived, the associate explained that the developer was “trying to do a hotel in Chinatown right now.” Madigan replied, “Good, good.”
Later, Madigan said, “well, our interest would be that we represent buildings like that on the real estate taxes . . . And we do quite a few hotels. And, uh, we have a little different approach to representation on hotels than the other law firms that do the work.”
Later on in the meeting, Madigan’s partner explained that the firm’s fee would be 12.5 percent of any tax savings generated, or a fixed fee of $3,000 to $3,500 annually. Solis added, “there is no better firm than this firm in terms of doing real estate taxes in the state,” according to the affidavit.
Later, Madigan asked about the “status of the representation of this hotel we’re talking about” and whether the developer was “committed to other people.” The associate replied, “not yet.”
After confirming that his firm was under consideration, Madigan said, “we’re not interested in a quick killing here. We’re interested in a long-term relationship.”
The associate called Solis on Aug. 21, 2014, to tell him that the developer had agreed to hire Madigan’s law firm. Five days later, Solis wrote a letter of support for the hotel.
Later, on Sept. 15, 2014, the developer’s associate called Madigan at Madigan’s district office, according to the document. They spoke about a time to meet with Madigan about the retention of his firm.
“I think what you want to do is to come in and sit down, and we’ll, um, we’ll, we’ll, we’ll agree that we’re going to represent the property,” Madigan said.
The associate then called Solis to tell him he had spoken to “Mr. Speaker.”
“Excellent. Excellent. Very, very good,” Solis told him. “Thank you.”
Despite that conversation, neither the businessman nor his associate had signed a retention agreement with Madigan’s firm by the time the FBI agent wrote the 2016 affidavit. The land got zoning approval from the City Council, but the hotel was never built.
Contributing: Tim Novak, Mark Brown