Despite cache of secret FBI recordings, ex-ComEd CEO tells jurors in bribery trial she didn’t view Madigan as an ally of utility

Anne Pramaggiore will face more questions when the ComEd bribery trial resumes Monday, when she will surely face vigorous cross-examination by prosecutors in the high-stakes case.

SHARE Despite cache of secret FBI recordings, ex-ComEd CEO tells jurors in bribery trial she didn’t view Madigan as an ally of utility
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Former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore walks into the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in the Loop.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Federal jurors have spent five weeks listening to the voice of former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, caught in a cache of secret FBI recordings in which prosecutors say she conspired with her colleagues to bribe then-Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

But late Thursday, the polished former energy executive and theater major finally got the chance to speak directly to the people who will help decide her fate.

Pramaggiore took the witness stand in the ComEd bribery trial and told the jury she never viewed Madigan as an ally of the utility she led. She also denied that a longtime Madigan friend on trial beside her, Michael McClain, ever claimed that Madigan owed ComEd a favor.

Alternating her gaze between the jury and her defense attorney, Pramaggiore explained how she began to grow her “professional” relationship with Madigan on a trip to Turkey sponsored by a nonprofit. She called Madigan a “very quiet person” who “doesn’t say a lot.”

“We had mutual respect for each other,” Pramaggiore said of Madigan. “It was, you know, somewhat remote. I didn’t see him a lot. But when I did, I think we had regard for each other.”

However, Pramaggiore’s testimony began only 50 minutes before the scheduled end of court Thursday. That meant it barely had time to scratch the surface of the case before the trial wrapped up its fifth week. Pramaggiore’s defense attorney, Scott Lassar, will likely have far more questions to ask when the trial resumes Monday.

But that’ll be the easy part. When Lassar is finished, Pramaggiore will surely face a vigorous cross-examination by federal prosecutors in the high-stakes case. They gave her a hint Thursday of what might be to come with their questioning of another witness called by Pramaggiore’s legal team — Joseph Dominguez, another former ComEd CEO.

Pramaggiore, McClain, ex-ComEd lobbyist John Hooker and onetime City Club President Jay Doherty are accused of arranging for jobs, contracts and money for various Madigan allies in an illegal bid to sway Madigan as legislation crucial to ComEd moved through Springfield.

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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Federal prosecutors have told the jury Pramaggiore cultivated a close relationship with Madigan, and that she ultimately authorized the bribery scheme. The utility’s former general counsel told jurors her legislative strategy amounted to “what’s important to the speaker is important to ComEd.”

Pramaggiore will also likely be forced to explain comments caught on various recordings by the FBI. For example, jurors just last week heard a recording in which McClain told Pramaggiore that Madigan “would appreciate it” if she “would keep pressing” to have former McPier boss Juan Ochoa appointed to ComEd’s board at Madigan’s recommendation.

“OK, got it,” Pramaggiore said upon hearing that instruction. “I will keep pressing.”

Another potentially incriminating piece of evidence is a recorded February 2019 phone call between Pramaggiore and fellow ComEd executive Fidel Marquez. They were discussing a contract between ComEd and Doherty’s consulting firm, as well as a group of subcontractors that happened to be Madigan allies.

Marquez told her “all these guys do is pretty much collect a check.” Pramaggiore advised him to “make a switch” but wait until the end of the legislative session.

“We do not want to get caught up in a, you know, disruptive battle where, you know, somebody gets their nose out of joint and we’re trying to move somebody off, and then we get forced to give ‘em a five-year contract because we’re in the middle of needing to get something done in Springfield,” Pramaggiore said.

By the time of that recording, Marquez had agreed to cooperate with investigators after being quietly approached by the FBI in January 2019. Marquez took the stand in the trial late last month, and his cross-examination provided one of its most dramatic moments so far.

The feds provided a similar moment with their cross Thursday of Dominguez, who succeeded Pramaggiore as ComEd’s CEO in August 2018. Though his name has come up often in the trial — and often not in a flattering light — he was not called to testify by prosecutors.

Rather, Dominguez was called to testify by attorneys for Pramaggiore, who in the recorded February 2019 phone call with Marquez was caught referring to Dominguez as “a very insecure person.”

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Joseph Dominguez.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Dominguez, now CEO of Constellation Energy, acknowledged on the witness stand that he and Pramaggiore had been rivals within ComEd’s parent company, Exelon. But he said he “liked Anne as a person” and “respected the skills that she had.”

He discussed the massive lobbying campaign behind the Future Energy Jobs Act, which passed in 2016 and is one of the key pieces of legislation at issue in the trial. He denied that he ever saw anything that suggested ComEd had been bribing Madigan. Rather, he described getting into a shouting match with Madigan attorney Heather Wier Vaught.

Things turned tense Thursday when Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu began asking Dominguez, a former federal prosecutor, about comments he was recorded making in a March 2019 meeting with Marquez and McClain.

During that meeting, McClain told Dominguez that Madigan viewed ComEd as an “old-fashioned patronage system.” McClain said that Madigan would name people to be meter readers. He then said ComEd “played it like” — and Dominguez interrupted with the words, “like a chip.”

Bhachu pointed out that Dominguez learned about the feds’ investigation when he received a subpoena only a few months later, in May 2019. Bhachu also said Dominguez met with prosecutors in September 2019 while being represented by a criminal defense attorney.

Bhachu alleged that Dominguez failed to tell the feds about that back-and-forth he’d had with McClain, and that he’d allegedly told Marquez “there’s stuff I want to understand and there’s stuff I don’t want to understand” during a separate chat about the subcontractors.

In that separate conversation, Dominguez also purportedly told Marquez that “everything we do needs to, you know, in the light of day … you have to be able to say ‘this is the right thing.’”

Dominguez insisted to Bhachu on Thursday that he’d answered the feds’ questions “to the best of my ability.” But as he tussled with Bhachu, Dominguez also pushed back by trying to characterize how Bhachu had “portrayed” things when they met.

“If you’re going to start talking about what I said, you might want to not do that,” Bhachu told him. “That might not work out well for you.”

The prosecutor’s comment elicited groans around the courtroom, along with a remark from the defense tables about threatening a witness.

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