Prosecution rests in ComEd bribery trial as defense says former CEO Anne Pramaggiore will testify

Prosecutors called three dozen witnesses over four weeks as they sought to prove four former political players conspired to bribe Madigan by arranging for jobs, contracts and money for his allies.

SHARE Prosecution rests in ComEd bribery trial as defense says former CEO Anne Pramaggiore will testify
Former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore walks into the Dirksen Federal Courthouse.

Former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore walks into the Dirksen Federal Courthouse.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The former CEO of ComEd will take the stand in federal court Thursday as she faces charges she put allies of Michael Madigan on the utility’s payroll to secure the former Illinois House speaker’s support on legislation that helped the power company’s bottom line.

Prosecutors on Wednesday closed out their case against former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore and co-defendants lobbyist and Madigan confidant Michael McClain, ComEd lobbyist John Hooker and former City Club of Chicago President Jay Doherty.

After nearly five weeks of government witnesses and testimony that Madigan arranged consulting jobs at ComEd that involved little or no work, Pramaggiore’s lawyers called a string of witnesses who attested to Pramaggiore’s character and cast the process of passing a string of ComEd-backed bills as typical, and legal, lobbying.

After the jury was sent home for the day, Pramaggiore’s lawyer, Scott Lassar, said Pramaggiore would begin her testimony Thursday and would take “all day.”

Prosecutors have said that ComEd paid out more than a million dollars to Madigan allies hired as consultants over nearly a decade.

Pramaggiore witness Lois Gates, assistant director of the Misericordia Home, pointed out that ComEd also put Misericordia residents with disabilities on its payroll to give presentations on energy conservation. A ComEd engineer testified that Pramaggiore led projects that invested in safer, more reliable infrastructure.

Former ComEd executive Val Jensen testified that neither Pramaggiore nor anyone else at the utility had informed him that Madigan owed the company favors as the utility pressed for legislation that would allow rate increases that would pour millions into the company’s coffers.

Madigan’s office demanded conditions on the legislation that cut into the company’s profit margins and pressed other measures ComEd disliked, he said. Jensen also testified to Pramaggiore’s character, saying he had previously worked mostly in the public sector and was drawn to a ComEd job in part because he was impressed by Pramaggiore.

Utility executives “are not always the most awesome guys to hang out with. ... She was described as being very different,” Jensen said. “All I was told was, do the right thing and do what we promised the legislature we were going to do.”

Pramaggiore retired in 2019, after ComEd was issued a federal subpoena in an ongoing investigation of alleged influence peddling and bribes in the state house, a stunning fall from grace for the fast-rising executive, who had become a fixture in Chicago’s philanthropic scene.

The electric utility in 2020 reached a deferred prosecution deal with federal prosecutors, agreeing to pay $200 million and admitting it arranged jobs and payouts for a “high-level elected official” in exchange for help with legislation — though Judge Harry D. Leinenweber has ruled jurors will not hear about the deal.

Among hundreds of recordings played by prosecutors over the previous five weeks of trial, jurors have heard Pramaggiore’s voice on wiretapped phone calls, including one in which she refers to her co-defendants as her “spirit guides,” and other calls where she discusses putting Madigan ally Juan Ochoa into a paid seat of ComEd’s board.

The second witness called on Pramaggiore’s behalf was David Ellis, a former top lawyer for the House Democrats under Madigan. Ellis, who served as lead prosecutor in the 2009 impeachment of Gov. Rod Blagojevich, was elected to the state appellate court in 2014 and said Wednesday that Madigan ran his campaign for the seat.

But when Madigan hired him to be lead counsel for the House Democrats back in 2009, Ellis said he made it clear to Madigan’s then-chief of staff, Tim Mapes, that he wanted to stay out of political work.

“I told him I did not work on politics or campaign work, I just want to be a state lawyer,” Ellis recalled. “He said that’s all we want you to do.”

But, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Streicker pointed out that Ellis wasn’t present for all Madigan’s negotiating sessions with the utilities, or his conversations with insiders like McClain. While Ellis acknowledged that McClain was a frequent dinner companion of the former speaker’s, he could clearly recall having dining with Madigan and McClain.

“I think after the impeachment of Blagojevich, the three of us went out to dinner,” Ellis said.

Earlier in the day, defense attorneys asked the judge to toss charges in the case, arguing that the feds failed to prove their clients’ guilt — a routine, and seldom-granted motion that comes near the end of the prosecution case. The judge denied their motions.

ComEd trial timeline

ComEd scandal timeline

This timeline looks at the key players involved in the trial and the main events that led to it. Scroll through it here.

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