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ComEd pleads not guilty to bribery scheme despite admissions made in government deal

During its arraignment by telephone Wednesday, U.S. District Judge John Kness also agreed to put off the case against ComEd for three years.

A ComEd crew works on a utility poll.
ComEd pleaded not guilty through an attorney Wednesday to a federal bribery charge.

Despite last month admitting its role in a scheme that allegedly sent $1.3 million to allies of House Speaker Michael Madigan while it tried to land Madigan’s support for favorable legislation, ComEd on Wednesday pleaded not guilty through an attorney to criminal conduct.

U.S. District Judge John Kness insisted on the formal plea during ComEd’s arraignment by telephone on one count of bribery.

Lawyers had previously said no plea would be necessary because the utility company also struck a three-year deal with prosecutors known as a deferred-prosecution agreement. If ComEd abides by the terms of the deal, the bribery charge is expected to be dropped.

But at no point was ComEd expected to plead guilty, despite the admissions it made as part of that deal. During Wednesday’s hearing, Kness also agreed to put off the case against ComEd for three years.

The deal calls for ComEd to pay a $200 million fine — believed to be the largest criminal fine ever in Chicago’s federal court. It is expected to pay half of that fine this month and the other half by October, according to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

ComEd officials are also expected to cooperate with the feds in their ongoing investigations. Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu told Kness that ComEd’s cooperation will help prosecutors make sure people who took part in criminal wrongdoing “are held accountable in the future.”

Though details of the scheme outlined in court filings implicates several individuals — including Madigan — no one else has been criminally charged. Madigan now faces increasing calls for his resignation, though.