Ex-ComEd lobbyist suspected new CEO Dominguez would be ‘wired’

Prosecutors present recordings showing Madigan confidant Michael McClain didn’t trust incoming utility boss Joseph Dominguez, a former federal prosecutor.

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Michael McClain, a longtime confidant to former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, left and Former ComEd lobbyist John Hooker.

Michael McClain, a longtime confidant to former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, left and Former ComEd lobbyist John Hooker. They and two others are accused of arranging jobs, contracts and money for Madigan’s allies.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

ComEd and Exelon faced another round of serious negotiations over legislation in Springfield early in 2019, and former ComEd lobbyist Michael McClain had a problem.

The longtime confidant of then-Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan had already retired from his lobbying job, so Madigan asked who would serve as ComEd’s “lead” on the bill. McClain couldn’t come up with a name — but he knew he didn’t trust ComEd’s new CEO, Joseph Dominguez.

“I would trust Joe to think that … this is a quid pro quo,”McClain said in February 2019 of Dominguez, a former federal prosecutor. “And that he’s wired.”

Jurors heard that comment and several others Monday as prosecutors continued to make their case that McClain and three other former political power players conspired over nearly a decade to bribe Madigan to benefit ComEd.

McClain, former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, ex-ComEd lobbyist John Hooker and onetime City Club President Jay Doherty are accused of arranging jobs, contracts and money for Madigan’s allies as legislation crucial to the utility moved through Springfield.

Defense attorneys for the four insist their actions amounted to nothing more than legal, honest lobbying, and they’ve told jurors they would “hear no words” linking job recommendations from Madigan with any piece of legislation.

But talk of favors for Madigan seemed to blend with ComEd’s legislative interests in the recordings played Monday for jurors. They also seemed to address what prosecutors have said is the “primary issue” in the trial: The intent of the four defendants.

“It’s unmentioned, but you know, that which is understood need not be mentioned,” Hooker told McClain in a March 6, 2019, call played for jurors.

Prosecutors played the recordings after ending the weeklong testimony of Fidel Marquez, a former ComEd executive who cooperated with federal investigators. He pleaded guilty to a bribery conspiracy in September 2020, but only after turning on his former friends and colleagues.

In one crucial recording played Monday, jurors could hear McClain and Hooker discussing how Madigan allies were being paid as subcontractors through a contract between ComEd and Doherty’s consulting firm.

The two men at one point laughed and boasted about the arrangement.

“We had to hire these guys because Mike Madigan came to us. That’s, it’s that simple,”McClain said in the February 11, 2019 call.“That’s how simple it is. So if you want to make it a federal court suit, OK. But that’s how simple it is.”

Hooker responds, “This was the best way to do it. This avenue is one of the best avenues,” later adding, “It was clean for all of us.”

They also threw Doherty under the bus, with McClain saying it would be his responsibility to prove the subcontractors worked, not theirs. “That’s why we set it up like this,” McClain said.

“We don’t have to worry about whether or not, I’m just making this up, whether or not Mike Zalewski Sr., is doing any work or not,” McClain said. “That’s up to Jay Doherty to prove that.”

“That’s right,” Hooker said. McClain later said, “You and I came up with it,” of the subcontractor plan.

That same month, Madigan asked McClain by phone about a bill and said, “Who’s gonna head up the negotiations, you know, who’s gonna drive the bus on this thing?”

That led to the Feb. 20, 2019, conversation between McClain, Hooker and Pramaggiore, during which McClain made the comment about Dominguez being “wired.” McClain told the group, “It’s gotta be somebody we trust.”

“There’s no one, right now, that um, I can actually tell our friend, uh ‘This is the, uh, lead, and when you call that guy will snap to, or that gal will snap to, and know what to do and uh get back to you,’” McClain said.

He added, “There’s no one in the company that has that kind of smack right now.”

Meanwhile, prosecutors also played an April 2018 recording of Ald. Marty Quinn (13th) complaining about power lines in his ward — which is also notorious for being Madigan’s power base.

At the end of the call, McClain told Quinn that, “This may have to go to Anne [Pramaggiore] because, um, Anne gets it better than anybody else … about how important the, the 13th Ward is.”

“Yep,” Quinn later said, “the 13th Ward is pretty important, Mike.”

McClain told him, “Yeah, no sh—” as the men erupted in laughter.

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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