Michael Madigan was still the House speaker and most powerful politician in the state in early November 2018 when he called a longtime confidant for a rundown of the latest thorny political issues.
After Madigan’s friend, Michael McClain, remarked “today’s not a slow day for you,” the speaker laughed.
“Oh, it’s — it’s been crazy around here,” Madigan said.
It turns out Madigan, the iron-fisted leader often touted for his ability to see three moves ahead, had no idea how crazy things really were.
Not only was the FBI listening in on that call, within weeks, two agents would knock on the door of a top Commonwealth Edison executive and convince him to cooperate in a burgeoning bribery investigation implicating the speaker.
And that spring, investigators executed a series of raids on McClain’s home in Quincy, the City Club of Chicago, and other locations around Chicago that marked the end-game of a yearslong investigation into Madigan and his vaunted political organization.
Prosecutors played the call between Madigan and McClain for the first time last week in the trial of the “ComEd Four,” charged with funneling at least $1.3 million to his hand-picked Madigan associates in exchange for the powerful speaker’s influence over legislation the utility giant wanted passed, or blocked, in Springfield.
On trial are McClain, 75, an ex-ComEd lobbyist; former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, 64; ex-ComEd lobbyist John Hooker, 73; and Jay Doherty, 69, a lobbyist and consultant who formerly led the City Club of Chicago.
The indictment in the case alleged ComEd poured $1.3 million into payments funneled to ghost “subcontractors” who were actually Madigan’s cronies, put a Madigan-backed person on the ComEd board, and gave coveted internships to families in his 13th Ward, all part of an elaborate scheme to keep the speaker happy.
The defendants’ attorneys contend that the so-called scheme was nothing more than legal lobbying, part of the state’s high-stakes, often-messy politics where myriad interest groups and stakeholders compete for access to lawmakers.
Madigan and McClain, meanwhile, are facing separate racketeering charges alleging an array of corrupt schemes, including the bribery plot by ComEd.
The recordings played for the jury Thursday were the first of what’s expected to be more than a hundred wiretapped phone calls and secretly recorded meetings that prosecutors have said will lay out the scheme in the defendants’ own words.
The tapes have built a foundation on which prosecutors hope to show that when Madigan gave orders, legislators, lobbyists and executives alike snapped into action to please him.
More tapes are expected to be played when the trial resumes Monday. Also expected to testify Monday is state Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, who was a co-sponsor of one of ComEd’s massive pieces of legislation that passed in 2016.
Prosecutors also want Rita to testify about how he was made a sponsor of major gambling legislation after a meeting in Madigan’s office in 2013. According to prosecution filing last week, Rita would testify that Madigan pointed to McClain and said “he will guide you.”
Defense attorneys wants to bar any testimony about the gaming bill, saying it’s irrelevant and possibly prejudicial given the negative connotations surrounding gambling.
The calls played last week focused on an effort in late 2018 by Madigan and McClain to force then-state Rep. Lou Lang, a longtime Madigan ally, to resign. Word had begun circulating that a woman was threatening to go public with a second potential #MeToo moment for Lang, who had overcome sexual harassment allegations made in May of that same year.
Though he called the May accusations “absurd,” Lang stepped down from the high-ranking position of deputy majority leader in Madigan’s House Democratic caucus and called for an investigation by the Illinois legislative inspector general.
Lang, 73, testified in federal court Thursday that he’d been cleared of the May allegations by the IG, who wrote a “preponderance of the evidence does not support” the accuser’s allegations.
But the recorded calls played in court underscored how the speaker was on high alert, still feeling the effects of separate #MeToo scandals involving his own misbehaving aides.
Earlier that year, a former campaign aide, Alaina Hampton, had called out one of Madigan’s top local lieutenants, Kevin Quinn, over allegations of sexual harassment. Madigan ousted Kevin Quinn, the brother of the speaker’s hand-picked 13th Ward Ald. Marty Quinn, in February 2018.
Another former staffer-turned lobbyist, Shaw Decremer, also soon would be cut loose from Madigan’s political operations after complaints from then-Rep. Deb Conroy, long before she would become the chair of the DuPage County Board. Though she did not accuse Decremer of sexual harassment, she cited his abusive behavior during his assistance on campaigns.
Madigan took responsibility for the misbehavior happening around him and repeatedly said he wished he’d done more. But the sexual harassment issue raised questions about how the speaker handled inappropriate actions of his staff and lawmakers.
In June 2018, the speaker also dumped Timothy Mapes, his longtime chief of staff who now faces unrelated charges of perjury, after a staffer working for him accused him of sexual harassment and fostering a “culture of sexism and bullying that creates an extremely difficult working environment.”
Against that backdrop, the recordings in the ComEd probe captured a moment of Madigan and McClain in the process of calculating how to end Lang’s 32-year legislative career over optics.
On Sept. 7, 2018, Madigan called McClain and described how Lang had called the speaker to say the IG had cleared him of the allegations made in May and that he wanted to talk about getting back on Madigan’s House leadership team.
“I think the guy’s gonna be a continuing problem, that’s my expectation,” Madigan told McClain, referring to Lang.
With the November 2018 election only weeks away and Lang running unopposed, McClain told Madigan in late October that he was exploring how to move Lang from the House and into lobbying job, what McClain jokingly calls the “dark side.”
But as they continued to talk, McClain said he’d heard about a different woman prepared to “go public” with new allegations about Lang if Madigan put him back in a leadership post.
“And that lady was going to call Lou,” McClain said, adding he would put in motion a plan to “make sure that woman makes that call.”
Before hanging up, McClain gave Madigan an assurance: “I have a phase-in program, and I’m on it.”
In a Nov. 3 conversation, McClain asked pointedly when Madigan wanted him to “lower the boom” on Lang, and Madigan said the “sooner rather than later.”
Five days later, Nov. 8, McClain called Lang, who long dreamed of moving up to majority leader and then one day to speaker, about “moving along to another career.”
McClain made clear “we know the woman who’s threatening that if you’re in leadership she’s going to go public.”
McClain left no doubt that he was on a mission for the speaker: “This is no longer me talking. I’m an agent, somebody that cares deeply about ya, who thinks that you really oughta move on.”
Lang was clear that the message from Madigan but asked for a week to think it over. “I wouldn’t do anything to damage my speaker or my caucus,” Lang said. “He’s been very good to me. And I’m not gonna do anything nasty to him.”
McClain then reported back to Madigan.
In five more days, on Nov. 13, 2018, Madigan called McClain to say Lang met with the speaker and agreed to “bow out.”
“Good,” McClain replied. “Perfect.”
Lang wound up resigning to become a lobbyist in January 2019, just days before he was set to be sworn in for his 17th term.
In federal court Thursday, he loudly denounced a defense attorney’s question that referenced “sexual harassment charges.” Lang shot back: “I was not facing sexual harassment charges. I’ll tell you right here in federal court that I resent the allegation and the inference.”
In addition to the recorded calls, jurors Thursday learned new details of how Marquez, the ComEd executive in in charge of the utility’s lobbying, came to be a secret government informant.
The sun had not yet risen on a frigid Tuesday morning in mid-January 2018 when two FBI agents knocked on the door where Marquez had been staying with a relative, according to testimony by FBI Special Agent Ryan McDonald, one of the lead investigators in the sprawling criminal probe.
Marquez answered the door at 6 a.m. and invited them in, he said.
By that time, investigators had been recording Marquez’s phone calls for more than nine months, and when they got inside, McDonald and his partner, Special Agent Brian Hanner, got down to brass tacks.
“We played Marquez a couple of recordings from our wiretaps,” McDonald testified Thursday in the ComEd Four trial. One recording was a of a conversation with Doherty about the subcontractor scheme, McDonald said, while another depicted Marquez and Pramaggiore talking about the plan to put Ochoa on ComEd’s board.
McDonald said they asked Marquez if he would cooperate, but before the conversation went much further, relatives began to stir in the home, so they moved to a nearby strip mall parking lot.
It was there that Marquez agreed to help the investigation, including wiring up on his colleagues and using a hidden video camera to capture in-person meetings.
After about 45 minutes, Marquez told the agents he “had to go to work” and the meeting ended, McDonald said.
At the time Marquez was confronted, the FBI had already gotten court approval to execute search warrants in the ComEd case. Instead those searches were delayed by months as Marquez continued to gather evidence for investigators.
The raids finally occurred on May 14, 2019, at McClain’s home, Doherty’s offices at the City Club of Chicago, and at the homes of more than half a dozen Madigan associates who were being paid by ComEd.
Prosecutors are expected to play some of the recordings Marquez made for the jury as soon as this week.
Among them was a lunch meeting with McClain at a Springfield restaurant on Feb. 7, 2019, just three weeks after Marquez had flipped.
At that meeting, which was video recorded, Marquez tells McClain he’s worried that new ComEd CEO Joseph Dominguez, a former federal prosecutor, might raise alarms when he sees how much money is being paid on a monthly basis.
“I forget the amount, Mike, but it’s a monthly amount,” Marquez said, according to a transcript in court records. “Equal to a yearly amount, and it’s a pretty hefty amount.”
McClain responded it was “168 grand” just for Madigan’s associates, plus “probably 10 grand a month at least” for Doherty himself.
Later in the conversation, McClain said, “If that hour (Dominguez) got his ex-prosecutor hat on, he’s gonna say we can’t do this,” according to the transcript. “It’s very possible that that’s what his reaction is going to be, and then I think you have to have, at least I’d ask you to recommend that, ‘Before you do anything, can McClain and you have a sit-down?’”
A week later, Marquez secretly recorded a meeting with Doherty in Marquez’s ComEd office, according to court records. After Marquez against brought up the thorny issue of Dominguez’s reaction to the subcontractor payments, Doherty said he would remind the new boss that ComEd’s money “comes from Springfield.”
“And, you know, I would, if it were me, and again, Mike Madigan’s not my best friend, but if I called him right now, he’d call or he’d say, Jay, if I want to go see him, I’d go see him,” Doherty said on the tape, according to court records. “But, my bottom line advice would be, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ with those guys.”
Marquez also recorded a meeting between him and McClain and Hooker on Feb. 27, 2019, court records show. During this meeting, Marquez asked how “our friend,” meaning Madigan, would react if the Doherty contract was canceled, according to prosecutors.
Hooker allegedly said Madigan could tank ComEd’s legislative agenda, prosecutors said.
“‘Oh. Okay. You’re not going to do it?’” Hooker said in describing Madigan’s possible reaction. “You’re not going to do something for me, I don’t have to do anything for you.”
Defense attorneys in their opening statements painted Marquez as an opportunist who was trying to save his own skin and can’t be trusted. They also said there are innocent explanations for what is said on the recordings.
Doherty’s lawyer, Gabrielle Sansonetti, explained that when Doherty suggested “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” in his conversation with Marquez, he was simply saying that subcontractors like Moody, Nice, and Zalewski were important to ComEd’s overall lobbying effort.
“Jay doesn’t admit to a crime,” Sansonetti said. “He gives him advice.
The recordings also buttressed allegations that McClain acted as an “agent” for the famously reclusive speaker, delivering messages and completing “assignments” for his boss even after McClain’s retirement from lobbying in 2016.
In May 2018, for example, McClain called Madigan’s office in Chicago looking for the speaker, but he was on the other line with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, according to a transcript of the call played for jurors.
Madigan’s secretary told McClain she’d have the speak get back to him when he was through. “He can call from this phone, is that OK?” she asked. “Or the other one?”
“Um, probably ought to call from the other one,” McClain said.
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In December 2018, the feds recorded a call between McClain and an associate where McClain repeatedly referred to Madigan as “himself,” one of several nicknames that the indictment alleged was “coded language” to hide the speaker’s involvement.
“It always goes back to, you’re nothing without (Madigan), yeah right?” the associate said.
“I always told these young pups, when they started lobbying,” McClain replied, “I said, ‘Hey guys you only have one client. Long as you treat that client well, you’ll do real well for the people that are paying you.’ … You’d be amazed how many drift away because of the almighty buck.”