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‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’: Secretly recorded videos show ComEd lobbyists discussing alleged bribery scheme

Former ComEd lobbyists Mike McClain (left) and Jay Doherty are pictured in secretly recorded videos from 2019 that were shown to a jury Tuesday in their federal trial for accused bribery and corruption.
Screenshots from video presented as evidence in court
Capitol News Illinois
Former ComEd lobbyists Mike McClain (left) and Jay Doherty are pictured in secretly recorded videos from 2019 that were shown to a jury Tuesday in their federal trial for accused bribery and corruption.

Government’s star witness in bribery trial caught defendants discussing Madigan-connected subcontractors

Longtime Commonwealth Edison contract lobbyist Jay Doherty thought he was merely reminiscing and giving advice to a colleague and friend in a February 2019 meeting set up by ex-ComEd executive Fidel Marquez.

But Marquez was wearing a hidden camera, having just a few weeks prior agreed to cooperate with the government’s investigation of the utility’s alleged bribery of former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. FBI agents had paid a 6 a.m. visit to his mother’s house where he’d been staying in Chicago.

“This is just you and me talking,” Doherty told Marquez, detailing how he’d been paying a handful of allies close to Madigan through his lobbying contract with the utility for years. “I don’t even know who else knows this.”

But Marquez’s camera ensured his conversation with Doherty would not stay between the two of them. On Tuesday, a federal jury watched the video along with an audience in a Chicago courtroom, with both Doherty and Marquez looking on.

Doherty is one of three ex-ComEd lobbyists accused of orchestrating a yearslong bribery scheme to curry favor with Madigan, along with former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore. On Tuesday, Doherty and Pramaggiore, along with ex-lobbyists and codefendants Mike McClain and John Hooker, sat stone-faced while the video played on several TV monitors in the courtroom. Marquez was on the witness stand for a second day of questioning by prosecutors.

Much of Monday and Tuesday centered on Doherty’s longstanding arrangement in which he used a substantial portion of his monthly lobbying stipend from ComEd to pay men close to the powerful House speaker anywhere from $4,000 to $5,000 per month.

But the long-running arrangement was potentially hitting a snag: Pramaggiore had been promoted from her position as ComEd’s CEO that past summer, and her replacement, Joe Dominguez, was a former federal prosecutor from New Jersey.

As a newly minted cooperating witness in the government’s investigation, Marquez set up meetings with Doherty, McClain and Hooker – and a phone call with Pramaggiore – with dual purposes. The first goal was to get them to acknowledge the subcontractors did little to nothing on the company’s dime and were just a favor to Madigan.

The second goal was to address the possibility that Dominguez would object to the arrangement, and Marquez was seeking advice from Pramaggiore, McClain, Hooker and Doherty on how to explain the subcontractor arrangement to Dominguez.

After Marquez asked Doherty point blank what the subcontractors do, Doherty responded, “not much,” and explained that he barely even knew any of them, aside from his newest acquisition, former Chicago Alderman Mike Zalewski.

But he did give Marquez a piece of advice:

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it with those guys,” Doherty said. “...And to keep Mike Madigan happy, I think that’s worth it.”

In the video, Doherty recounted how the first of the subcontractors – former Chicago Ald. Frank Olivo – came on board with him years earlier.

“John Hooker calls and said, ‘Jay, I got a sub(contractor) for you…Olivo,” Doherty recalled. “‘We’re going to pay him every month and you just —’

Doherty held up four fingers to indicate the $4,000 monthly stipend Olivo would be paid out of what would eventually become Doherty’s $37,000 per month lobbying contract with ComEd. Doherty would eventually add two of Madigan’s top precinct captains from the speaker’s 13th Ward political base on Chicago’s southwest side: Ray Nice and Ed Moody, at $5,000 and $4,500 monthly, respectively. Zalewski was the last addition after his retirement from the Chicago City Council in the summer of 2018, at $4,000 per month.

In a separate lunch a couple weeks prior to the meeting with Doherty, Marquez secretly recorded Hooker – his direct predecessor at ComEd – at Chicago’s Union League Club.

Federal agents had directed Marquez to schedule the meeting with Hooker on the pretense that Marquez was looking for career advice, though he also sought Hooker’s counsel on how to approach Dominguez about the subcontractors.

“Well, I was the one who…I had to explain it to Frank,” Hooker said in the video where only the top of his head made an appearance most of the time.

Marquez testified Hooker had been referring to Frank Clark, the CEO of ComEd who directly preceded Pramaggiore. Hooker said he “couldn’t afford it,” referring to the cost of Doherty’s contract under his purview as senior vice president of external affairs at ComEd – the utility’s top internal lobbyist.

Doherty’s contract had been paid out of the CEO’s budget ever since, and Marquez told Hooker that he worried Dominguez wouldn’t approve the massive expense, which had ballooned to $400,000 annually.

Hooker’s advice was to have Doherty write a report on what each of the subcontractors did.

But Marquez received conflicting advice from McClain at a similar lunch meeting the two had in Springfield a couple weeks later.

“I would say to you, don’t put anything in writing,” McClain counseled in between bites of pizza at Saputo’s, a staple restaurant in Springfield’s political circles. “…All that can do is hurt ya.”

Marquez had testified Monday that he first learned of the subcontractors in June 2013, after he’d been in his role as ComEd’s top lobbyist for nearly a year and a half.

Marquez had received a forwarded email from Pramaggiore containing a request from McClain to move one of the subcontractors, Ed Moody, from his contract to Doherty’s “or someone else’s.”

“Can you clue me in?” Marquez wrote to McClain.

McClain responded with an “Of course…”

Marquez said he learned in a subsequent phone call that McClain had been paying Moody out of his contract for a while at that point, and that Doherty had been doing the same with Olivo and Nice. All three men, McClain explained, were valuable to Madigan.

“I didn’t expect for them to be doing any work for ComEd…because I knew they were brought on as a favor to Michael Madigan,” Marquez told the jury Monday.

In a recording of a wiretapped phone call played for the jury from May 2018, before Marquez was cooperating with the feds, Pramaggiore told McClain that she’d directed Marquez to add the not yet retired Zalewski to Doherty’s contract.

“I told Fidel to hire him, to get it done,” Pramaggiore said.

But though Marquez said he’d thought Zalewski could be valuable to ComEd while the utility renegotiated its franchise agreement with the city of Chicago, he never ended up doing that work. Negotiations were put on hold after then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced he wouldn’t run for a third term.

Marquez explained that he’d come to understand the subcontractor arrangement as a way for ComEd to gain Madigan’s favor after years of disdain for the utility.

And nearly six years after learning about the subcontractors, it had become Marquez’s job to justify the arrangement to ComEd’s new CEO.

Eventually, Marquez said, he had that conversation with Dominguez while cooperating with the feds.

“‘There’s stuff I want to know, and there’s stuff I don’t want to know,’” Dominguez allegedly said, per Marquez’s testimony.

The trial continues at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide, as well as hundreds of radio and TV stations. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

Hannah Meisel is a reporter at Capitol News Illinois, based in Springfield. Email: hmeisel@capitolnewsillinois.com

She’s had a number of assignments covering the Statehouse and Illinois government since the 2014 legislative session, most recently serving as Statehouse editor for NPR Illinois from 2020 until after the November 2022 election. Prior to that, Meisel worked at The Daily Line, Law 360 and Illinois Public Media in addition to various assignments for other outlets.