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Feds: COVID-19 pandemic did not affect grand jury that indicted Madigan pals

Prosecutors respond to an unusual defense request, which signaled the first of what is likely to be several legal challenges in the case.

House Speaker Mike Madigan listens to debate during a session of the Illinois House of Representatives at the Bank of Springfield Center in May.
Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP file

Federal prosecutors say the coronavirus pandemic did not affect the grand jury that last year indicted key members of former House Speaker Michael Madigan’s inner circle.

Madigan confidant Michael McClain, former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, onetime ComEd vice president John Hooker and ex-City Club President Jay Doherty have all pleaded not guilty in response to a 50-page indictment filed in November. It accused them of a long-term bribery scheme designed to curry favor with the powerful legislative leader.

Though Madigan has not been criminally charged and denies wrongdoing, the case helped lead to the end of his tenure as Illinois House Speaker earlier this week.

Ex-top ComEd official John Hooker, onetime lobbyist and Madigan confidant Michael McClain, former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, and ex-City Club President Jay Doherty.
Sun-Times File Photos

ComEd has separately been charged with bribery. It entered into a deferred-prosecution agreement with the feds and agreed to pay a $200 million fine — believed to be the largest criminal fine ever in Chicago’s federal court.

Another onetime ComEd executive, Fidel Marquez, has already pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

Defense attorneys in the case involving McClain and his three co-defendants raised questions following their bombshell Nov. 18 indictment about the coronavirus pandemic’s effect on grand jury selection. They questioned whether grand jurors “were representative of the community” and noted that “the pandemic has had a disparate impact on different groups.”

The unusual request signaled the first of what is likely to be several legal challenges in the case.

In a court filing Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu wrote that the grand jury was impaneled in January 2019 — more than a year before the pandemic took hold.

“No additional jurors have been selected to serve on this grand jury since the time it was impaneled,” Bhachu wrote.

He also wrote, “the pandemic could not have compromised the selection of jurors as defendants theorize.”

The prosecutor wrote that he told the defense attorneys as much after they filed their motion, and they have since revised a request for documents related to the grand jury. Bhachu wrote that he wouldn’t object to turning over records they sought confirming that all grand jurors were chosen in January 2019.

However, Bhachu wrote that defense attorneys still want records indicating which grand jurors participated on specific days, and reflecting whether any of them were excused from service during the pandemic. Bhachu objected to those requests, calling them “an unwarranted intrusion upon the secrecy of grand jury proceedings.”

Finally, Bhachu wrote that U.S. District Chief Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer should decide which records should be released.

Federal prosecutors in Chicago acknowledged a struggle early in the coronavirus outbreak to convene grand juries, though those troubles seemed to subside and indictments resumed later in spring 2020. However prosecutors said last month that a rise in COVID-19 cases — along with the holidays — meant grand jury sessions “may be limited” for a month or two.