CHICAGO (CBS) -- Four former ComEd executives and consultants, including a longtime confidant of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to federal charges accusing them of orchestrating a long-running bribery scheme that sought to curry favor with the speaker.
Lobbyist Michael McClain, former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, former ComEd vice president John Hooker, and former ComEd consultant Jay Doherty made their first court appearance by video Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber.
At the start of the arraignment hearing, Leinenweber informed the defendants' attorneys he once served in the Illinois General Assembly at the same time as McClain, but hadn't seen him in nearly 40 years, and didn't expect their ties would be an issue in the case. The judge said his wife also served on the board for Constellation Energy before it merged with ComEd in 2012. None of the defendants raised any objections to Leinenweber serving as the judge in the case.
All four defendants were indicted last month, charged with bribery conspiracy, bribery, and willfully falsifying ComEd books and records. The most serious charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison if they are convicted.
After all four pleaded not guilty, federal prosecutors said they would begin providing evidentiary documents to the defense attorneys starting in the next couple weeks. Prosecutors said the evidence in the case is "quite voluminous," so will be provided on a rolling basis. Leinenweber scheduled the next hearing in the case for Feb. 16.
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The four defendants will remain free on $10,000 recognizance bonds, meaning they only have to pay bail if they miss a required court date. Leinenweber granted a request excusing the defendants from having to appear for future status hearings before trial, which has yet to be scheduled.
The indictment largely mirrors a deferred prosecution agreement earlier this year with ComEd, in which the utility giant admitted to a yearslong bribery scheme that sought to curry Madigan's favor in advancing legislation relaxing state regulation of ComEd's rates by directing $1.3 million in payments to the speaker's associates. ComEd acknowledged it stood to benefit by more than $150 million from that legislation.
Last month's indictment accuses McClain, Pramaggiore, Hooker, and Doherty of using their influence to reward "Public Official A" – not specified by name as Madigan but referred to in the indictment as Speaker of the Illinois House – for about eight years beginning in 2011. McClain is one of Madigan's closest longtime confidants.
The indictment claims the four defendants conspired to influence and reward the speaker by arranging for jobs and contracts for his political allies and workers. The jobs sometimes involved little or no work, the U.S. Attorney's office said.
The defendants are also accused of creating false contracts, invoices, and other records to disguise some of the payments and get around ComEd internal controls, the U.S. Attorney's office said.
Further, the defendants are accused of making other efforts to try to influence Madigan, including having ComEd retain a law firm that was favored by the speaker, and accepting a certain number of students from the official's Chicago aldermanic ward into the ComEd internship program, prosecutors said.
Pramaggiore and McClain are also accused of working to have someone appointed to the ComEd Board of Directors at the request of the speaker and McClain.
Madigan has not been charged with a crime, and has denied any wrongdoing. In a statement released after the indictment, the speaker said if anyone at ComEd sought to bribe him, "it was never made known to me."
"If it had been known to me, it would have been profoundly unwelcome. Nothing in either this indictment or in the earlier filings by the U.S. Attorney's Office alleges otherwise. In addition, nothing in this indictment or in the earlier filings alleges that I did anything in my official capacity related to ComEd's legislative agenda as a result of whatever internal decisions ComEd made or didn't make," Madigan said in a statement." Any such allegation would be false. If there was an attempt to influence me in my official capacity, it failed, although knowing most of the people who were charged, I doubt there was any scheme as characterized by the government."
Madigan also defended recommending people for jobs at ComEd, saying he believes it's part of his duty as an elected official to help qualified people find jobs.
"I have never helped someone find a job with an expectation that the person would not be asked to perform work by his or her employer. Anyone who has ever worked for or around me knows I value, above all else, hard work and dedication, whether it's knocking on doors, collecting garbage, or representing a client," Madigan said. "I have also never promised, implicitly or explicitly, to take any action benefiting a prospective employer if it should choose to hire a person that I recommended. Nor have I ever recommended someone for a job with an expectation or understanding that the prospective employer would hire that person to reward me for an action it believed I took. I do not inquire into an employer's rationale for making particular hiring decisions, nor do I treat that employer differently depending on those decisions. This has been my practice for decades."
Another former ComEd executive, Fidel Marquez, pleaded guilty in the bribery scheme in September. Madigan was specifically named in that case as the one whose support Marquez and other ComEd executives sought for legislation that would benefit ComEd.
Marquez, who is cooperating with the federal investigation of ComEd's lobbying practices, pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit bribery, which carries a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison, but federal prosecutors said they will recommend a sentence of probation only if he fully cooperates.
According to court documents, Marquez helped direct a $37,500 payment to an unnamed company, "a substantial portion of which was intended for associates of [Madigan]."
ComEd has entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the feds, and has agreed to pay a $200 million fine, enact a number of reforms, and cooperate with investigators in exchange for prosecutors dropping charges in 2023 if ComEd lives up to its obligations.
While Madigan has not been charged with a crime, he is facing increased pressure to step down as both Illinois House Speaker and as chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois. He is the only state house speaker in the nation to also serve as his party's chairman.
At least 19 Illinois House Democrats have said they won't vote to re-elect Madigan as speaker after the new Illinois General Assembly is sworn in next month. Madigan needs at least 60 votes to keep his leadership position, and Democrats are expected to hold 73 seats, so if the lawmakers who've said they won't support him hold firm, he'd be six votes shy of winning another term as speaker.
According to published reports, Rep. Kathleen Willis (D-Addison) was the latest House Democrat to announce she won't support Madigan for another term as speaker. Willis is a member of Madigan's leadership team, serving as House Democratic caucus chair, making her the highest-ranking House Democrat to pull support for Madigan.
Nonetheless, Madigan has said he plans to run for another term as speaker in January, and has said he still has "support from a significant number of House Democratic caucus members."
Meanwhile, after the November election, Gov. JB Pritzker argued Republicans were able to use Madigan "as their foil" in this year's elections, and said it's time for new leadership for the Democratic Party of Illinois.
The governor also has said Madigan should "answer every last question" about the scandal or step down as speaker.
Pritzker said he agrees with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin that Republicans were able to use the controversies recently swirling around Madigan to their advantage on Election Day, when Illinois voters rejected Pritzker's signature proposal to allow for a graduated income tax, and voted out an Illinois Supreme Court justice who has received millions of dollars in campaign cash from funds controlled by Madigan. A handful of Republican challengers also defeated Democratic incumbents in the Illinois House.
U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth also has said it's time to consider replacing Madigan as both Democratic Party chair and Illinois House Speaker.
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