Former ComEd CEO testifies that secretly recorded call central to bribery case against her actually ‘proves my innocence’

Anne Pramaggiore went toe-to-toe with Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Streicker, who questioned Pramaggiore for around two and a half hours and challenged the assertions Pramaggiore made Monday on the witness stand.

SHARE Former ComEd CEO testifies that secretly recorded call central to bribery case against her actually ‘proves my innocence’
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Former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore leaves the Dirksen Federal Courthouse Tuesday.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere | Sun-Times

Former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore held her ground while being cross-examined by a federal prosecutor in her corruption trial Tuesday, insisting that a secretly recorded call central to the feds’ case against her “proves my innocence.”

But Pramaggiore’s toe-to-toe encounter with Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Streicker may have left jurors with questions about her selective memory. That’s because they learned that Pramaggiore met with prosecutors months after the chat, in which she was told people paid by ComEd through a contractor “pretty much collect a check” without working, yet she claimed to have forgotten all about it.

Regardless, Pramaggiore’s roughly nine hours on the witness stand apparently did not deter one of her fellow defendants in the ComEd bribery trial. Former ComEd lobbyist John Hooker took the witness stand a short time later, taking the same gamble as Pramaggiore of testifying in his own defense — and subjecting himself to cross-examination by the feds, likely Wednesday.

Pramaggiore and Hooker are on trial with two others for an alleged bribery conspiracy aimed at former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. The four are accused of arranging for jobs, contracts and money for Madigan allies in an illegal bid to sway him as legislation crucial to ComEd moved through Springfield.

Also on trial are Madigan confidant Michael McClain and onetime City Club President Jay Doherty.

Streicker’s cross-examination of Pramaggiore could turn out to be a pivotal moment in the trial of the four former political power players, now in its sixth week. Things turned tense early on as Streicker began questioning Pramaggiore. The prosecutor asked Pramaggiore about her background as a theater major.

“You wanted to be an actor?” Streicker asked.

“I did,” Pramaggiore said. “That didn’t go so well for me.”

But the questioning turned most intense when Streicker asked Pramaggiore about a secretly recorded phone call between Pramaggiore and Fidel Marquez on Feb. 18, 2019. Marquez was an executive at ComEd at the time, but he was also working undercover for the FBI. Pramaggiore had moved on from her role as ComEd’s CEO and had been promoted to CEO of Exelon Utilities.

Marquez told Pramaggiore he was trying to figure out how to explain a contract between ComEd and Doherty’s consulting firm to ComEd’s new CEO, Joseph Dominguez. The feds claim the defendants used Doherty’s firm and other intermediaries to funnel $1.3 million to Madigan allies for do-nothing jobs.

Marquez told Pramaggiore that Doherty’s subcontractors “pretty much collect a check.” He explained that messing with it could mean things go “bad for us in Springfield.” He also mentioned former Ald. Frank Olivo, who once represented Madigan’s 13th Ward power base on the Chicago City Council.

Pramaggiore suggested that Marquez tell Dominguez that “it’s probably a good time to make a switch.” But she suggested he wait until after the end of the legislative session. She said they did not want someone to get “their nose out of joint,” forcing ComEd to give someone “a five-year contract because we’re in the middle of needing to get something done in Springfield.”

The feds have alleged that the call ties the bribery scheme to legislation in Springfield.

Pramaggiore told jurors on Monday that she didn’t realize Marquez was talking about subcontractors tied to Madigan, despite his reference to Olivo. Then while being questioned by Streicker on Tuesday, Pramaggiore insisted she had actually forgotten about the call by the time two FBI agents showed up with a search warrant for her phone on May 14, 2019.

“I think I shared that with you,” she told Streicker. That led Streicker to ask about an interview between Pramaggiore and prosecutors in September 2019. During that meeting, Pramaggiore also claimed to have forgotten about the conversation, as well as subcontractors working under Doherty.

Jurors also heard Tuesday that the September 2019 interview ended after the feds played the recorded phone call for Pramaggiore and her attorneys.

Meanwhile, Pramaggiore insisted to Streicker that, if she had remembered the call, “I would have shared it with you because it proves my innocence.”

At one point in the February 2019 call with Marquez, Pramaggiore can be heard saying “oh my God.” She testified this week that it was because she was “taken aback” by some of Marquez’s comments.

“You were so taken aback you forgot this call?” Streicker asked Tuesday.

Pramaggiore said she’d told Marquez what to do and “I would assume it would have been taken care of.”

“I sent [Marquez] to his boss, the CEO of ComEd, to address it,” Pramaggiore testified.

Streicker challenged Pramaggiore once again, asking, “and in a matter of weeks, you forgot about this call with [Marquez], right?”

But Pramaggiore stuck with her story: “It probably didn’t take that long,” she remarked.

Later, after very brief testimony from a Hooker family member and a former ComEd colleague, Hooker took the stand. There, he explained his “Hookerisms” — sayings he said he adopted from his grandfather — which were referenced in FBI recorded tapes.

Hooker said he didn’t remember going to then-ComEd general counsel Thomas O’Neill about a contract with the clouted law firm Reyes Kurson and telling him “it’s important we get this done.”

“My lane was not to get into legal business other than to try to help do some coordinating when we were in Springfield,” Hooker said. “But I would not tell a peer of mine to just ‘get it done.’ That’s not how I talk.”

He also spoke at length about going from the “mailroom to the boardroom” in his 44.5 years at ComEd — and how difficult it was to move up the ranks in the 1960s and 1970s as a Black man.

“Needless to say they did not value that, or value me or thought that I was qualified to be there,” Hooker said. “They associated that with just affirmative action. So it was tough.”

He often drew laughter in the courtroom, including from jurors: “I passed the typing test too,” Hooker said as he described how he passed a test to get a job at ComEd.

He described an experience in Springfield as he rose to a job in regulatory affairs, where he struggled to find someone to even show him where the bathroom was.

“A couple of them looked at me like I was from Mars,” he said to laughs.

But Hooker said one man stepped up to help: McClain.

“He did work with me and he took me under his wing and told me where the bathroom is,” Hooker said. “And how do you go and look up bills. … Mike helped me a lot.”

Hooker said, “I haven’t forgotten that today.”

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