Former House Speaker Michael Madigan indicted in political corruption probe

Madigan is now one of the most significant politicians in Illinois history ever to face criminal charges, despite having left office more than a year ago.

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Former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan parks in the garage at his Southwest Side home Wednesday afternoon.

Former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan parks in the garage at his Southwest Side home Wednesday afternoon.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Former Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan wielded enormous power and shattered records in his decades-long tenure under Springfield’s Capitol dome. 

But in a federal courthouse in Chicago’s Loop, a grand jury on Wednesday said he also spent years leading what’s been dubbed the “Madigan Enterprise” — designed to criminally enrich himself and those loyal to him.

That blockbuster allegation appears in a wide-ranging, highly anticipated, 106-page indictment that appears to be the culmination of an aggressive, yearslong federal assault not just on old-school Chicago politics, but on some of Illinois’ most well-known political dynasties. 

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Madigan is now one of the most significant Illinois politicians to face criminal charges, despite having left office more than a year ago. The Southwest Side Democrat, known as the “Velvet Hammer” for his quiet but forceful use of power, had held his seat in the state House of Representatives since 1971 and served as speaker for all but two years between 1983 and 2020.

The indictment was built, in part, on the work of former longtime Chicago City Council member Danny Solis (25th) whose cooperation with federal prosecutors was first exposed by the Chicago Sun-Times in January 2019, and who helped the feds build a similar indictment against Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), the longest-serving member of the council.

The Sun-Times also exclusively reported in January 2019 on an affidavit detailing the investigation that led to Solis’ cooperation. That document revealed that the feds secretly recorded Madigan in his law office at Madigan & Getzendanner in August 2014. Court records filed in connection with Madigan’s indictment Wednesday confirm the investigation goes back to the same year.

In March 2019, the Sun-Times also reported on a potential deal involving Solis and a Chinatown parking lot that is now part of Madigan’s indictment. 

Solis declined to comment Wednesday.

In addition to Burke and Madigan, U.S. Attorney John Lausch’s office just weeks ago secured the conviction of former Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson — grandson and nephew of Chicago’s two longest-serving mayors.

Now, Madigan, 79, is charged with a racketeering conspiracy and using interstate facilities for bribery, wire fraud and attempted extortion. Also named in Wednesday’s indictment was longtime Madigan confidant Michael McClain, 74, who faces similar charges. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge John Blakey, and an arraignment is set for March 9.

Madigan and his defense attorneys labeled the charges “baseless” and accused Lausch’s office of overreach.

“I was never involved in any criminal activity,” Madigan said in a statement. “The government is attempting to criminalize a routine constituent service: job recommendations. That is not illegal, and these other charges are equally unfounded. Throughout my 50 years as a public servant, I worked to address the needs of my constituents, always keeping in mind the high standards required and the trust the public placed in me. I adamantly deny these accusations and look back proudly on my time as an elected official, serving the people of Illinois.”

Madigan defense attorneys Sheldon Zenner and Gil Soffer also said, “Mr. Madigan vehemently rejects the notion that he was involved in criminal activity — before, during or after his long career as a public servant. The government’s overreach in charging him with these alleged crimes is groundless, and we intend to prevail in court.”

Patrick Cotter, McClain’s defense attorney, said in a statement that McClain is innocent, and that prosecutors have been trying to get McClain to cooperate “for years.”

“He will never testify falsely about himself or anyone, no matter how many indictments are brought against him,” Cotter said. “We will fight to prove his innocence.”

Though it’s been more than a year since Madigan was forced from office by the very probe that led to Wednesday’s indictment, it still sent shockwaves through Illinois. Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who is mentioned but not accused of wrongdoing in the document, called it “a condemnation of a system infected with promises of pay-to-play.” He said, “the era of corruption and self-dealing among Illinois politicians must end.”

A Pritzker spokeswoman later confirmed the governor spoke to federal investigators in late February virtually, from his home, for an hour on a voluntary basis. She said he answered every question, that he was pleased to cooperate, and that he was told he was only a witness.

During a news conference at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, Lausch told reporters that the conduct alleged in Madigan’s indictment “drastically undermines the public’s confidence in our government . . . As I’ve said before, we have a very stubborn public corruption problem here in Illinois.”


U.S. Attorney John Lausch announces federal criminal charges Wednesday against former House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Anthony Vázquez/Sun-Times

Lausch also said there’s more “work ahead of us,” as the investigation remains ongoing.

It’s unclear what the charges will mean for a separate indictment filed in November 2020 that accused McClain and others of trying to sway Madigan in favor of legislation beneficial to ComEd. Also charged in that case are ex-ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, former ComEd lobbyist John Hooker and onetime City Club President Jay Doherty. 

They are set for trial Sept. 12.

ComEd was charged with bribery in July 2020, in a case that first implicated Madigan. ComEd agreed to pay a $200 million fine and entered into a so-called deferred-prosecution agreement with Lausch’s office. The three-year deal is already beyond its halfway point.

Similar to the November 2020 indictment of McClain and others, the indictment on Wednesday alleges that Madigan and McClain sought jobs, contracts and money for Madigan’s associates from ComEd between 2011 and 2019 and that Madigan took official action to help ComEd pass favorable legislation.

But it also reveals a new alleged scheme involving Solis in his final weeks as a secret government cooperator. The indictment alleges that Madigan agreed to help Solis land a spot on a state board paying at least $93,926 a year following his retirement from the City Council. 

During a meeting Aug. 2, 2018, Madigan allegedly told Solis he would help Solis land the spot by going to Pritzker, who is identified in the indictment as “the future Governor of the State of Illinois.” Madigan allegedly told Solis, “you’d come in as [Pritzker’s] recommendation.”

Madigan allegedly told Solis, “just leave it in my hands” but then also asked Solis to help a relative of Madigan’s, as well as that person’s employer. 

Later, on Oct. 26, 2018, after Solis told Madigan that an individual not named in the indictment had agreed to give business to Madigan’s law firm, Madigan allegedly told Solis he would induce the governor to appoint Solis to a state board. 

In a Nov. 23, 2018, meeting, Solis told Madigan he would not run for re-election. Madigan allegedly thanked Solis, asked for Solis’ resume and said he wanted to let Pritzker “know what’s coming next.” By then Pritzker was governor-elect. 

Madigan allegedly said his communication with Pritzker did not “need to be in writing. I can just verbally tell him.” Madigan and Pritzker then met on Dec. 4, 2018, according to the indictment. 

Lausch stressed Wednesday that “there’s no allegation in this indictment against the governor or his staff.” Pritzker spokeswoman Emily Bittner said the governor “does not recall Michael Madigan ever asking him to consider Danny Solis for any position. In addition, the administration has no record of Solis being recommended by Madigan. In addition, he was never vetted, appointed or hired for any role in the administration.”

The Sun-Times revealed Solis was a federal informant seven weeks after the meeting mentioned in the indictment. Two months after that, the Sun-Times also reported on unsuccessful efforts supported by Solis to transfer a Chinatown property from the state to the city to clear the way for a developer’s proposal. 

The new indictment alleges that Madigan agreed to help make the transfer happen in exchange for business for his firm. For example, after Solis allegedly told McClain around Dec. 18, 2017, that, “in the past, I have been able to steer some work to Mike, and these guys will do the same thing,” McClain allegedly agreed that Madigan would assist with the parcel’s transfer. 

And on March 27, 2018, after Solis told Madigan that a development group would “appreciate it” and send work to Madigan’s firm if Madigan could take care of the parcel’s transfer, Madigan allegedly said, “Okay, alright, very good.”

However, McClain told Solis on Nov. 21, 2018, that a “major hurdle” had come up in the form of petitions from people in the Chinatown business community opposed to the transfer. So two days later, Solis allegedly told Madigan it was best to wait until after the upcoming elections and try to pass the bill in May 2019. Madigan allegedly agreed.

By May 2019, Solis’ cooperation with the feds was well known.

Read the indictment against Madigan:

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