Guilty verdicts in ComEd bribery trial are a bad omen for Mike Madigan, but a good sign for Illinois

After weeks of testimony in the federal trial of four Mike Madigan allies, the jury wasn’t willing to give a pass to the old, corrupt ways of doing business. The rest of us shouldn’t be either.

SHARE Guilty verdicts in ComEd bribery trial are a bad omen for Mike Madigan, but a good sign for Illinois
Clockwise from upper left: Michael McClain, Anne Pramaggiore, Jay Doherty, John Hooker

Clockwise from upper left: Michael McClain, Anne Pramaggiore, Jay Doherty, John Hooker

Sun-Times

When the man once known as the most powerful politician in Illinois was indicted on federal racketeering charges last year, it sent a clear message that the law will eventually catch up to you no matter who you are.

Jurors late Tuesday afternoon echoed that message and signaled their strong distaste for corruption when they found four defendants guilty on all counts of bribing once-powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan in exchange for his support of legislation that would benefit Commonwealth Edison, one of the nation’s largest public utilities.

Madigan has yet to stand trial for his alleged role in the bribery scheme. But the verdict, after 27 hours of deliberation, seems an obvious big blow not just to the four defendants, but to Madigan as well, the man who wielded power for decades in Springfield.

Consider what one juror in the “ComEd Four” trial had to say about Madigan, whose own trial is scheduled for next year: “He really did cause this all to happen,” the woman told reporters.

The others, she said, were good people who made bad decisions.

Editorial

Editorial

Not good for Madigan. But the verdicts are a good sign for the rest of us in this state, who deserve honest, ethical government. Jurors showed they weren’t buying the idea that years of corruption were just a “dark theory” concocted by overzealous prosecutors, or that all of this was just “classic, honest, legal lobbying,” as defense attorneys claimed.

The jury wasn’t willing to give a pass to the old, corrupt ways of doing business. The rest of us shouldn’t be either.

ComEd customers paid the price

Madigan loomed large in the high-profile case against his confidante Michael McClain, former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, ex-ComEd lobbyist John Hooker and onetime City Club President Jay Doherty.

The jury repeatedly heard Madigan’s voice on secret FBI recordings played during five weeks of testimony about the bribery scheme involving do-nothing jobs, contracts and money for Madigan allies in exchange for his support of ComEd-friendly legislation.

The jury also got an earful, through court testimony, of Madigan’s decadeslong dominance in Springfield, which prosecutors said was instrumental in making his allies $1.3 million richer — courtesy of ComEd.

As Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Streicker put it, “In short, Madigan wanted, the defendants gave, and the defendants got.”

Meanwhile, ComEd customers paid the price. The utility got legislation that allowed it to go from a “dire” financial position in the 2000s to record earnings in 2022. The utility in 2020 paid a $200 million fine and acknowledged engaging in the yearslong bribery scheme.

ComEd’s criminal conduct that was “almost comical in its audacity, breadth and sheer enthusiasm,” as this editorial board noted three years ago.

‘What’s important to the speaker is important to ComEd’

With the guilty verdicts from the case that spawned Madigan’s indictment and led to his eventual resignation in 2021, the attention will now turn to him. Madigan will have his day in court, of course, with high-powered lawyers working on his behalf against federal prosecutors, who will surely try to use Tuesday’s huge victory to bolster the case against the Southwest Side Democrat.

Witness after witness had plenty to say about Madigan’s heavy influence and wide-ranging power, as the Sun-Times’ Jon Seidel and Tina Sfondeles reported during the trial.

Madigan ruled “through fear and intimidation” in the Illinois House, state Rep. Robert “Bob” Rita testified.

Thomas O’Neill, ComEd’s former general counsel, said Pramaggiore told him, “What’s important to the speaker is important to ComEd.”

And the prosecution’s star witness, former ComEd executive turned government informant Fidel Marquez, said Pramaggiore “wanted to make sure that we did everything possible to make sure that Michael Madigan had a favorable disposition toward the company.”

Leaders on both side of the aisle were eager Tuesday to call for ridding Springfield of the sleazy politics that have tarnished it for decades.

“The behavior brought to light and put on display at this trial was shockingly gluttonous and unhealthy to democracy,” said Illinois Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park.

State Rep. Tom Weber, R-Lake Villa, called on Democrats to help pass stricter laws that will hold “politicians and lobbyists accountable...”

“Today’s verdict in the ‘ComEd Four’ trial is a small victory for the people of Illinois, but it can’t stop here,” Weber said. Indeed.

It’s easy for politicians to show outrage after a guilty verdict. But it won’t mean a thing unless it’s followed by action, from both parties.

The outcome of this case may not bode well for Madigan. But as each guilty verdict was read, the courtroom walls echoed what many Illinois have been screaming for years about corruption: “Enough.”

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