Indicted former House Speaker Michael J. Madigan.

Former House Speaker Michael J. Madigan in February 2021 after he stepped down from his longtime post as a state representative.

Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times file

Madigan’s Chinatown ‘scheme’

Since the former Illinois House speaker was indicted under a law that’s been used to go after mob bosses, the charges involving ComEd have gotten the most attention. But there’s another big piece of the case.

SHARE Madigan’s Chinatown ‘scheme’
SHARE Madigan’s Chinatown ‘scheme’

For five years, Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan and Ald. Danny Solis secretly schemed to give developers control over a prime piece of land in Chinatown owned by the state if they would hire Madigan’s law firm for their property tax appeals, according to the sweeping federal indictment of Madigan and other court records.

As outlined by prosecutors, their plans for a state-owned parking lot in the 2100 block of South Wentworth Avenue abruptly fizzled in January 2019.

They don’t say why.

The deal had faced opposition from two legislators. That also was when the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Solis had been working for years with federal authorities as an undercover informant, secretly recording conversations at City Hall, helping build what could end up being one of the biggest political corruption cases Chicago has seen.

Much of the attention since Madigan was indicted Wednesday under a law that’s been used to go after mob bosses and others accused of engaging in criminal conspiracies has focused on charges involving ComEd. That part of the indictment accused Madigan of seeking jobs, contracts and money from the utility for his associates and says he used his powerful position in Springfield to help ComEd get laws passed that benefited the company.

The behind-the-scenes machinations over the 2.7 acres of prime Chinatown real estate are another big piece of the case against the former House speaker, who is charged with operating a racketeering conspiracy involving bribery, wire fraud and attempted extortion aimed at helping him politically and strong-arming new business for his law firm.

The Sun-Times revealed three years ago that federal authorities were investigating the Chinatown dealings.

But the 106 pages of the Madigan indictment include new details of the purported scheme — including efforts to enlist the aid of Ald. Edward M. Burke’s brother, then-state Rep. Daniel Burke, D-Chicago, to help transfer the land to developers, the Sun-Times has confirmed.

The indictment details a series of conversations involving Solis and former state Rep. Michael McClain, a longtime Madigan confidant, as they repeatedly tried to pass legislation in Springfield to develop the Chinatown land. That was being done, authorities say, despite the objections of state Sen. Martin A. Sandoval, D-Chicago, who was blocking efforts to sell the parking lot.

U.S. Attorney John Lausch announcing the indictment of former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan on March 2.

U.S. Attorney John Lausch announcing the indictment of former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan on Wednesday.

Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times

Sandoval, who also was under federal investigation, later pleaded guilty to taking bribes from red-light-camera operators and began cooperating with federal agents in corruption investigations. He died in December 2020 of COVID-19.

The Chinatown scheme began in August 2014, when a developer named See Wong secretly recorded a meeting he had with Solis and Madigan about the parking lot at Wentworth and Cermak Road, owned by the Illinois Department of Transportation, next to the CTA’s Chinatown Red Line station, according to an affidavit that an FBI agent filed in 2016 to obtain a warrant to search Solis’ City Hall office.

Solis began cooperating with federal authorities in 2016, even as he continued to represent Chinatown on the Chicago City Council. He secretly recorded conversations with Madigan and with Ald. Burke (14th), who has been indicted on separate corruption charges.

Ald. Edward M. Burke (left) joking with then-Ald. Danny Solis at a Chicago City Council meeting in 2016.

Ald. Edward M. Burke (left) joking with then-Ald. Danny Solis at a Chicago City Council meeting in 2016.

Sun-Times file

Solis hasn’t been charged. He signed a deferred-prosecution agreement as part of his deal to work undercover with federal investigators.

Madigan’s indictment doesn’t mention his meeting with Solis and Wong.

It picks up the Chinatown scheme later, in July 2017, when another group of developers said they would hire Madigan’s law firm for property tax appeals if they could obtain and develop the state land.

Former Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan parking at his home on March 2, the day he was indicted.

Former Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan parking at his home on Wednesday, the day he was indicted.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Based on the indictment and the 2016 FBI affidavit, here’s a detailed look at how authorities describe Madigan’s dealings over those potentially lucrative 2.7 acres in Chinatown that the state was allowing to be used as a parking lot:

Aug. 5, 2014 — Wong — who was cooperating with federal investigators and later pleaded guilty to wire fraud — called Solis about building a hotel on the state property. Solis said he wanted to arrange a meeting with Madigan.

Developer See Wong.

Developer See Wong.

YoChicago.com

Aug. 18, 2014 — Wong and another developer, Kin Kuong Chong, discussed developing the land with Madigan, who pointed out that his law firm Madigan & Getzendanner appeals property taxes for skyscrapers, hotels and other prominent buildings. Wong secretly made audio and videotape recordings of the meeting. Solis later assured them they’d get zoning approval to build a hotel there — if they hired Madigan’s firm.

Eddie Ni.

Eddie Ni.

Provided

April 2016 — A Wong associate the Sun-Times has reported was Eddie Ni contacted City Hall about building a 30-story apartment-hotel-shopping mall on the state land. The council would need to rezone the property. But Ni couldn’t apply for zoning until he could show he controlled the land.

July 18, 2017 — Madigan and Solis discussed transferring the state land to the city of Chicago that would sell it to Ni, president of the Cleveland company the Windfall Group.

Sept. 7, 2017 — Madigan told Solis he’d talk to someone at IDOT about the property.

Sept. 13, 2017 — Madigan told Solis the developers should expect a call from McClain.

Nov. 14, 2017 — McClain, a lawyer from downstate Quincy who’s also charged in the same indictment as Madigan, met with Solis and later the developers.

Nancy Kimme in December 2014.

Nancy Kimme in December 2014.

Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times file

Dec. 15, 2017 — McClain told Solis the developers would be hiring a lobbyist who isn’t named in the indictment but previously has been identified by the Sun-Times as Nancy Kimme, former chief of staff to the late Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka. Kimme had close ties to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration. Her job was to get IDOT to sell the land.

Dec. 18, 2017 — “In the past, I have been able to steer some work to Mike [Madigan], and these guys will do the same thing,” Solis told McClain, who said Madigan would help transfer the Chinatown land.

McClain told Kimme that Madigan wouldn’t block the Illinois House from passing legislation to sell the Chinatown land.

March 26, 2018 — “I’ve been around a long time. I can be discreet,” Solis told Madigan, saying Ni’s group would hire the speaker’s law firm to appeal the development’s property taxes.

March 27, 2018 — “OK, all right, very good,” Madigan said after Solis advised him Ni’s group would hire the law firm if the speaker helped transfer the land.

But Kimme ran into problems, the Sun-Times previously reported. IDOT didn’t want to sell the land. Sandoval was blocking the sale. And state Rep. Theresa Mah, D-Chicago, who represents Chinatown, declined to sponsor the legislation that Kimme wanted. Kimme turned to state Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville, a downstate representative who already was sponsoring a bill to sell surplus state property.

State Rep. Avery Bourne speaks at a’s news conference in Springfield in March 2021.

State Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville.

BlueRoomStream

Bourne — who is now running for lieutenant governor on a ticket with Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin running for governor — amended her bill to include the Chinatown land. She later withdrew the amendment because of IDOT’s opposition.

April 24, 2018 — “After confirming that Madigan was using a private telephone, McClain reported that ‘we got troubles’ concerning the transfer of the Chinatown parcel, and Madigan suggested that a ‘big delegation’ from Chinatown visit [Sandoval] and another senator who were believed to oppose legislation” to transfer the land to the city of Chicago, according to the indictment. City Hall could then sell it to developers.

May 28, 2018 — “For the purpose of concealing Madigan’s participation in the illegal activity and making it appear that Madigan was uninvolved in efforts to transfer the Chinatown parcel, McClain told Madigan’s staff member to make sure Madigan voted ‘present’’ on the bill . . . because the bill concerned ‘a developer of his,’ ” the indictment says.

Tim Mapes, longtime chief of staff to former House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Tim Mapes, longtime chief of staff to former House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Sun-Times file

May 30, 2018 — McClain told Madigan’s chief of staff Tim Mapes that Sandoval — identified in the indictment as “State Senator A” — put a “brick” on the Chinatown transfer so the bill wouldn’t be passed by the state Senate.

May 31, 2018 — Madigan called McClain to talk about the opposition to the land deal, telling him to “put the file in the drawer for a while.”

June 20, 2018 — Madigan told Solis they expected someone else would be running IDOT after the November election, when they could make another attempt to transfer the Chinatown land.

Aug. 7, 2018 — McClain and Kimme discussed finding another legislator to sponsor the bill for selling the Chinatown property.

Nov. 2, 2018 — Madigan told McClain “we never settled on a sponsor” for the legislation to sell the Chinatown land. Since the transfer was opposed by Sandoval and Chinatown’s state representative Mah, Madigan said they should turn to Dan Burke, according to the indictment, which refers to him only as “State Representative B.”

Nov. 8, 2018 — Using what authorities say was a reference to Madigan, McClain told Burke “that a friend of ours talked to me and said that since you’re the other half of that Senate district . . . the thought was that maybe that they would hand the bill over to you and that you’d be the chief sponsor.” Burke agreed, the indictment says.

Nov. 21, 2018 — McClain told Solis that Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White had announced his opposition to the land deal after getting petitions from Chinatown businesses.

Nov. 23, 2018 — Solis advised Madigan to delay the land transfer until May 2019 because newly elected Gov. J.B. Pritzker would have taken over from Rauner by then. Solis said he had decided to retire from the council but would still steer business to Madigan’s law firm. As he thanked Solis, Madigan said he’d be meeting with Pritzker and asked, “Do you wanna go forward now on one of those state appointments?”

Nov. 29, 2018 — Federal agents raided Ed Burke’s City Hall and ward offices, signaling an ongoing corruption investigation.

Dec. 1, 2018 — Madigan called Solis, who said he was interested in an appointment to the Illinois Commerce Commission, which regulates utilities, or the Illinois Labor Relations Board.

Dec. 4, 2018 — Madigan met with Pritzker to discuss appointments to state boards. Pritzker has said he doesn’t recall Madigan asking about an appointment for Solis.

January 2019 — The Chinatown real estate scheme ended sometime this month, according to Madigan’s indictment.

Former state Rep. Daniel Burke.

Former state Rep. Daniel Burke.

Rich Hein / Sun-Times file

Jan. 2, 2019 — Daniel Burke, who lost re-election, resigned from the Illinois House, the same day federal prosecutors filed the first charges against his brother. Ald. Burke’s lawyers have said in court documents that Solis signed his deferred-prosecution agreement the following day — Jan. 3, 2019.

Jan. 23, 2019 — A Sun-Times story revealed that Solis had been secretly recording Ald. Burke for two years as part of the federal investigation. A grand jury indicted Burke in May 2019 on racketeering charges that include accusations that he was withholding city building permits from a Burger King restaurant operator that he wanted as a client for his law firm, which, like Madigan’s firm, handles property tax appeals.

Jan. 29, 2019 — The Sun-Times reported Madigan was secretly recorded during a meeting at his office with Solis and a developer seeking to build a hotel on the Chinatown property.

Jan. 29, 2019, Chicago Sun-Times front page with the headline “Feds secretly recorded Madigan.”

Solis had begun cooperating with federal authorities in 2016, after the FBI filed an affidavit with a federal judge to get the search warrant for his office. The judge ordered that the FBI affidavit be sealed from public view.

But somehow it was accessible in January 2019, when it was discovered by a Sun-Times reporter. Solis never returned to the city council.

As the grand jury went on with its investigation, Madigan continued as speaker of the House until January 2021. That’s when his Democratic colleagues refused to give him another term as speaker.

A month later, he resigned from the legislative seat that he had held for 50 years. He later also stepped aside as chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party.

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