Feds recorded Mike Madigan learning about secret payments to controversial ex-political aide, court records show

The ex-Illinois House speaker was caught on a wiretapped call in 2018 discussing with lobbyist confidant Michael McClain a plan to arrange secret payments to a political ally who’d been implicated in a sexual harassment scandal, newly released court documents show. Madigan has always denied any involvement in the scheme.

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Mike Madigan.

Former House Speaker Michael Madigan

Rich Hein / Sun-Times file

Former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan was recorded on a wiretapped phone call in 2018 discussing with lobbyist confidant Michael McClain a plan to arrange secret payments to a close political ally who had been implicated in a sexual harassment scandal, newly released court documents show.

Madigan has always denied any involvement in the scheme in which McClain allegedly arranged with a group of other lobbyists allied with the speaker to make monthly payments to Kevin Quinn, brother of Ald. Marty Quinn and a key member of Madigan’s political organization who had been ousted over his inappropriate treatment of a female co-worker, Alaina Hampton.

But in the call from Madigan to McClain on Aug. 29, 2018, McClain is quoted as telling Madigan he had put “four or five people together” who were willing to make monthly payments to Quinn for a six-month period to tide him over until he could find a job.

The call was referred to in an affidavit sworn out by an FBI agent May 13, 2019, as the feds sought permission from a judge to search McClain’s home in Quincy. A redacted version of the document was unsealed Friday in federal court in Springfield.

The 136-page affidavit amounts to one of the most detailed court documents to surface publicly about the feds’ investigation of Madigan and McClain. It provides new insights into the investigation, explaining that “the FBI’s Chicago Field Office has been conducting a wide-ranging public corruption investigation involving multiple subjects. Two of the present subjects of the investigation are Michael J. Madigan . . . and Michael F. McClain.”

Madigan defense attorney Gil Soffer declined to comment as did the lawyer for McClain, Patrick Cotter. Quinn did not return messages seeking comment.

Madigan and McClain were charged earlier this year in a 106–page racketeering indictment. In part, it alleged that Madigan and McClain sought jobs, contracts and money for Madigan’s associates from ComEd between 2011 and 2019, and that Madigan took official action to help ComEd pass favorable legislation.

But those accusations are also at issue in a separate case, filed in November 2020, in which McClain is set to stand trial Sept. 12. Also charged are ex-ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, ex-top ComEd lobbyist John Hooker and Jay Doherty, the former president of the City Club. 

Fidel Marquez, another former ComEd executive, pleaded guilty separately to a bribery conspiracy in September 2020. The newly unsealed document states that the FBI approached Marquez on Jan. 16, 2019, showed him “some of the evidence that has been gathered against him,” and he quickly began to cooperate.

During initial debriefings on Jan. 16 and 17, 2019, Marquez told the feds that McClain was ComEd’s main conduit to Madigan, who was sometimes referred to as “our friend.”

“Marquez said that when Madigan wanted someone hired by ComEd, the request would come to Marquez or Pramaggiore from McClain,” the document said.

But it also says Marquez later told the feds he “was not aware of any action by Madigan to defeat or advance a bill ComEd either opposed or supported, respectively. Marquez knew of no ‘obvious’ influence by Madigan to defeat a bill.”

No charges have been filed in connection with the Kevin Quinn matter, which erupted in the middle of the #MeToo movement and put Madigan on the political defensive as he publicly praised Hampton and sought to distance himself from Quinn.

When McClain’s efforts on behalf of Quinn were first revealed by the Chicago Tribune, a Madigan spokesperson told the newspaper: “If a group of people were attempting to help Kevin Quinn, the speaker was not a part of it.”

But the affidavit reveals that after telling Madigan about his plan, McClain then told the speaker he was prepared to talk to an individual whose name is redacted in the court document, about the arrangement, giving Madigan the option of telling that person himself.

“Yeah, I think I ought to stay out of it,” Madigan answered.

“Okay,” McClain said.

“That’s what I think,” Madigan continued.

“Okay, alright. I’ll take care of it,” McClain said.

In the affidavit, FBI special agent Edward McNamara interpreted their exchange as Madigan informing McClain “that he wanted to be able to appear to have no knowledge of the payments.”

The FBI affidavit also sets out phone conversations between McClain and several lobbyists as he attempted to enlist them in his plans to provide financial support to Quinn.

“During those calls, McClain contemplated the creation of a contract and some work product by Quinn primarily to defeat any tax investigation into why those lobbyists might deduct the payment to Quinn on tax returns as a business expense,” McNamara wrote.

In one call, McClain told the individual he was recruiting that Quinn had called him to ask for help trying to find a job.

“And uh, I know, that the Speaker said, this is between you and me, to me that, after he gets sworn in as Speaker, and he’s got the rules, he intends to help Quinn,” McClain said.

McClain is quoted as saying he was asking each of the lobbyists he contacted to kick in $1,000 to $2,000 a month for Quinn. Only one pushed back with concerns about the propriety of doing so. Most appeared eager to do what they could to please Madigan.

Regarding the request to help Quinn, McClain told another lobbyist: “And he [Madigan] doesn’t do it very often, but, you know, about every few years, he’s got somebody that he’s gotta take care of for a month or two, right?”

McClain explained to each of the lobbyists that it would be hard for Quinn to find work pending the outcome of an investigation into his conduct. A report by the state’s Legislative Inspector General later recommended Quinn be placed on the state’s do-not-hire list for his actions. 

Referring to the arrangement, McClain told another that the “only person who’ll know this will be our, our mutual friend,” which was one of McClain’s code references for Madigan.

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