Michael Madigan’s attorneys seek to toss recordings, dismiss part of his indictment

The election night deadline for Madigan’s attorneys to file the motions was set in January by U.S. District Judge John Blakey, who presides over the case.

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Indicted former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan

Illinois’ former Speaker of the House Mike Madigan speaks during a committee hearing on the Southwest Side to decide who will take over as state representative in the 22nd House District seat, a position held by Madigan since 1971, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021.

Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times file

Former Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan asked a federal judge Tuesday to toss secret recordings made by investigators and dismiss part of the bombshell racketeering indictment the feds spent years building against him.

The more than 100 pages of motions filed in federal court amount to the most substantive response yet from Madigan’s defense attorneys to the aggressive public corruption investigation that swirled around him long before he was indicted in March 2022.

They also offer new context to a secretly recorded August 2014 meeting between Madigan, then-Ald. Danny Solis, a hotel developer and a secret government informant. The Chicago Sun-Times exposed details of that recorded meeting in January 2019 in a report that first revealed the feds’ interest in the powerful Southwest Side Democrat.

Though Madigan did not appear to cross any legal lines in that meeting, Madigan’s attorneys painted it Tuesday as the starting point of the feds’ lengthy pursuit of Madigan — and wrongly so, they say.

They said the feds submitted an application the next month to the city’s chief federal judge. It allegedly theorized that Madigan and Solis had conspired to withhold Solis’ approval of a zoning change unless the developer hired Madigan’s law firm.

Madigan’s firm was not hired by the developer.

“A full and fair review of the audio and video recording of the meeting, as well as analysis of the surrounding circumstances, demonstrates that the government’s inferences were not objectively reasonable,” defense attorney Sheldon Zenner wrote. “In fact, they were purposefully false.”

Zenner and the rest of Madigan’s legal team wrote that the application, filed on Sept. 26, 2014, amounted to the “first time that the government sought authority to intercept Madigan’s communications.”

The meeting took place two years before Solis began cooperating with the feds and making his own secret recordings of Madigan and others. Madigan’s team wrote that the feds later pressed Solis about the meeting, including in 2016, and again for two days in 2018.

Solis purportedly said the hotel developer would have received the zoning change he sought “regardless” of his decision to hire Madigan’s law firm.

Madigan’s attorneys wrote that “each and every application” aimed at electronically surveilling Madigan until 2019 used the same information as the Sept. 26, 2014 application.

“The government’s own cooperator … essentially explained that their theory about what happened in August 2014 was factually wrong, and the government failed to disclose that to the chief judge,” the defense attorneys wrote.

Prosecutors finally did so in a footnote in 2018, the defense attorneys alleged.

They have asked a judge for a hearing.

The motions are reminiscent of those filed by defense attorneys for indicted Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), whose separate racketeering case was built in part on evidence gathered by Solis. U.S. District Judge Robert Dow denied those motions in June.

Tuesday’s election night deadline for Madigan’s attorneys to file the new motions was set in January by U.S. District Judge John Blakey, who presides over the case.

The man who secretly recorded the August 2014 meeting, See Y. Wong, was sentenced two months ago to 16 months in prison for an unrelated fraud scheme. During that hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu described Wong as a “catalyst” in the feds’ investigation.

The details of the meeting were contained in a May 2016 FBI affidavit obtained by the Sun-Times. It said Wong began providing information to the FBI in May 2014, while he was representing a Chinese businessman who wanted a zoning change to build a hotel in Chinatown.

To secure that zoning change, Wong turned to Solis, who was then the head of the City Council’s zoning committee. As a result, Wong wound up in the meeting that August with Solis and Madigan at the law firm of Madigan & Getzendanner.

Madigan and his law partner explained the firm’s services and fees during the meeting, and at one point Madigan said, “We’re not interested in a quick killing here. We’re interested in a long-term relationship,” according to the affidavit.

After the meeting and outside Madigan’s presence, Solis allegedly told Wong that “if he works with the speaker, he will get anything he needs for that hotel.”

Madigan was indicted in March 2022, and the feds expanded their case against him last October. He is accused in multiple schemes — some involving Solis — but among them is the bribery scandal involving ComEd. None of the charges are a direct result of the August 2014 meeting.

Madigan confidant Michael McClain, former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, ex-ComEd lobbyist John Hooker and onetime City Club President Jay Doherty all face trial March 14 for their alleged roles in the ComEd scheme.

In a motion asking Blakey to dismiss parts of the separate indictment against Madigan — which also levels charges against McClain — Madigan’s attorneys insist it is common for public officials to make job recommendations. They acknowledged that some people may even be hired to curry favor with public officials.

But, they wrote, “currying favor with government officials — even those with the capacity to influence legislation of interest to the employers — is legal.”

What’s not legal, they wrote, is “corruptly soliciting something of value in return for official action.”

The indictment against Madigan, they insist, “blurs that distinction entirely.”

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