One year after exit from politics, former Ill. House Speaker Mike Madigan indicted
More than a year after his ouster as the longest-serving legislative leader in the country, former House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago) has been indicted on charges of racketeering, bribery, wire fraud and extortion, federal prosecutors revealed Wednesday afternoon unsealing a case several years in the making.
Prosecutors framed the power Madigan accumulated via his positions as state representative and House Speaker, Chicago’s 13th Ward Democratic committeeman, chair of the state’s Democratic Party and partner in his law firm as a criminal enterprise whose purpose was, in part, “to exercise, to preserve and to enhance Madigan’s political power and financial well-being.”
The “Madigan Enterprise,” as feds dubbed it in their 22-count indictment, also served to “financially reward Madigan’s political allies, political workers and associates for their loyalty, association with and work for Madigan, and to generate income for members and associates of the enterprise through illegal activities,” according to the indictment.
Feds allege those within Madigan’s orbit used “threats, intimidation and extortion” to achieve the powerful speaker’s aims.
Hours after the indictment was made public, Madigan issued a brief statement denying the allegations, saying he was proud of his 50 years in public service.
“I was never involved in any criminal activity,” Madigan said through his attorneys. “The government is attempting to criminalize a routine constituent service: job recommendations. That is not illegal, and these other charges are equally unfounded.”
In a rare press conference Wednesday, U.S. Attorney John Lausch said his years-long investigation into public corruption — which has nabbed a host of current and former elected officials and other politically connected actors — is still ongoing, declining to comment on much beyond what was outlined in the indictment.
“Unfortunately, this type of criminal conduct drastically undermines the public's confidence in our government,” Lausch said. “Simply put, it's not a good thing. As I've said before, we have a very stubborn public corruption problem here in Illinois, rooting out and prosecuting public corruption has been and will always be a top priority of this office.”
McClain and the ‘Madigan Enterprise’
Madigan failed to secure a historic 19th term as Illinois House speaker last January, losing key support from the Democratic caucus he spent decades building. Though he was not charged, a $200 million deferred prosecution agreement the feds entered into with electric utility Commonwealth Edison named Madigan “Public Official A” in the summer of 2020, breathing new life into an old story of corruption in Illinois politics, both proven and implied.
Many of the allegations in Wednesday’s indictment have already been revealed both legal filings and news outlets over the past three years, including Madigan’s influence over a trio of major legislation that passed in Springfield in the past decade, benefitting ComEd, and the way the utility gave internships, jobs and lobbying contracts to those loyal to Madigan. Those jobs and contracts “often” involved “little or no work,” according to prosecutors.
The feds repackaged those previously known elements of the indictment into the framework of the so-called Madigan Enterprise.
Madigan took advantage of ComEd’s resources as one of the nation’s largest utilities, forming a sort of symbiotic relationship with the company. ComEd would even set aside 10 spots for young people associated with Madigan’s 13th ward, prosecutors alleged. Those applicants would get favorable treatment compared with the general applicant pool, according to the feds, and even bend the rules to waive the requirement for a minimum GPA if a candidate didn’t meet that standard.
Key to the enterprise, according to prosecutors, was Madigan’s longtime friend and confidant Mike McClain, who was indicted alongside Madigan on Wednesday. McClain, who for decades worked as a top lobbyist for ComEd, has been fighting related charges since late 2020. In that case, McClain — along with two other former ComEd lobbyists and the utility’s former CEO — are accused of orchestrating a years-long bribery scheme within ComEd with the aim of currying favor with Madigan.
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As part of that scheme, prosectors allege one of McClain’s co-defendants, lobbyist Jay Doherty, received a series of bloated contracts with ComEd dating back to late 2013. Those contracts not only covered costs for Doherty’s lobbying services, the feds allege, but also because “a significant portion” of the money ComEd paid Doherty was actually going to several people loyal to Madigan “in an effort to influence and reward” the speaker, despite their doing “little or no legitimate work for ComEd,” according to the indictment.
A 2019 phone exchange between then-ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore and former ComEd vice president Fidel Marquez — the only high-ranking ComEd actor to plead guilty to his role in the alleged bribery scheme and cooperate with the feds — included in Wednesday’s indictment illustrates the pressure the utility’s executives felt from Madigan’s camp.
Though Pramaggiore had been informed that some of Doherty’s subcontractors merely “collect a check” for their purported work for ComEd, she told Marquez to not make any changes to Doherty’s lobbying contract.
“We do not want to get caught up in a, you know, disruptive battle where, you know, somebody gets their nose out of joint and we’re trying to move somebody off, and then we get forced to give ’em a five-year contract because we’re in the middle of needing to get something done in Springfield,” Pramaggiore is quoted as saying.
But it wasn’t Madigan making calls to ComEd’s executive team directing contract renewals for Doherty’s lobbying firm. Instead, McClain served as the speaker’s intermediary — and sometimes muscle — when dealing with ComEd or a whole host of other issues “in order to shield Madigan from direct contact with third parties in connection with the discussion of the enterprise’s criminal activity,” the feds alleged Wednesday.
As first revealed in a Tribune story in late 2019, McClain used coded language to accomplish that, referring to Madigan as “our friend” or “Himself,” a term imported from Irish culture that’s used to talk about an important person. McClain employed this vocabulary several times in a 2016 email to Pramaggiore and fellow ComEd lobbyist John Hooker — his two other future co-defendants — to pressure the utility to restore a contract for legal work by Victor Reyes, a Madigan ally close to Chicago’s growing center of Latino political power.
“I am sure you know how valuable [Reyes] is to our Friend,” Madigan wrote to Pramaggiore and Hooker. “I know the drill and so do you. If you do not get involve [sic] and resolve this issue of 850 hours for his law firm per year then he will go to our Friend. Our Friend will call me and then I will call you. Is this a drill we must go through? For me, Hook and I am sure you I just do not understand why we have to spend valuable minutes on items like this when we know it will provoke a reaction from our Friend.”
In one instance where Madigan did speak directly with a beneficiary of a do-nothing Doherty subcontract, prosecutors noted that the unnamed 13th ward committeeman “expressed concern” to the speaker that he wasn’t actually doing any work for ComEd, despite having been paid $261,000 under three separate contracts spanning from early 2014 to late 2018.
“Madigan told [the precinct captain] not to worry, and explained that what [he] was doing, that is, campaign work for Madigan, was what was important to Madigan and that [he] was doing what…ComEd wanted,” according to the indictment.
In addition to getting three key laws centered around energy and electric utilities passed during the nine years the feds’ investigation centers on, prosecutors also allege ComEd successfully shut down legislation in 2018 that would have regulated so-called alternative retail electric suppliers — an endeavor McClain punctuated with an email saying “a friend of ours” had authorized McClain to “go ahead and kill it.”
McClain also played a key role in a two-year campaign to get the politically connected former head of Chicago’s Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority, Juan Ochoa, appointed to ComEd’s board of directors. After more than a year of trying, McClain allegedly told Madigan in a phone call that Pramaggiore was experiencing pushback to the idea of Ochoa’s appointment to the board, and proposed instead finding Ochoa a job that would pay the same amount as a ComEd board director — about $78,000 annually.
“Yeah, Mike, I would suggest that we continue to support [Ochoa],” was Madigan’s response, according to the indictment.
A little less than a year later, Ochoa was finally appointed to the board in April 2019 after more cajoling from McClain, including a phone call in which McClain told Pramaggiore,
“You take good care of me and so does our friend and I will do the best that I can to take care of you,” according to the feds.
Quid pro quo interrupted
Wednesday’s indictment also includes new allegations only ever hinted at before: A charge that Madigan used his consolidated power to “reap the benefits of private legal work unlawfully steered to his law firm,” Madigan & Getzendanner, a property tax-focused firm Madigan co-founded in 1972.
To help boost business for his firm, Madigan allegedly agreed to help then-Chicago Ald. Danny Solis (25) get appointed to a state board — a job that ideally would pay more than $100,000 annually — in exchange for Solis steering clients to Madigan & Getzendanner.
As part of that agreement, Solis — then the chair of the city council’s zoning committee — floated a complicated plan to transfer a parcel of state-owned land in Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood to the city, which the city would then turn around and sell to developers looking to build a hotel. Solis would strongly advise those developers to retain Madigan’s firm.
Both the plan to appoint Solis to a state board and the scheme pass legislation to sell the land in Chinatown hit major snags, never coming to fruition. But what Madigan didn’t know was that Solis was cooperating with the feds and had secretly recorded multiple conversations with the speaker while talking about plans to drive business to Madigan’s law firm.
In one such conversation in 2017, Solis updated Madigan about the progress of an apartment project, telling the speaker that the developer seemed to be open to retaining Madigan & Getzendanner for help.
“I think they understand how this works, you know, the quid pro quo, the quid pro quo,” Solis allegedly told Madigan, to which he replied, “Okay…Very good.”
The next week as the pair prepped for a meeting with the developer, Madigan allegedly advised Solis to not use the phrase “quid pro quo,” suggesting a “false pretext” for introducing the developer to Madigan in his capacity as a property tax attorney, despite the fact that Solis had never expressed doubt that the property taxes on the future apartment building could stymie the project.
“You’re just recommending…because if they don’t get a good result on their real estate taxes, the whole project will be in trouble…So you want high quality representation,” Madigan allegedly coached Solis.
The next summer, Madigan told Solis he would approach then-gubernatorial candidate JB Pritzker about appointing Solis to a state board assuming he won the November election in exchange for more property tax business stemming from the “good stuff happening in my ward,” as Solis put it, referring to building projects.
“Just leave it in my hands,” Madigan allegedly said.
After Pritzker won, Madigan met with the governor-elect to discuss a variety of issues, but he told Solis that he’d recommend him for a board position and a relative of Solis’ for another state job after the apartment developer agreed to give Madigan & Getzendanner its property tax business, according to the indictment.
According to reporting from the Tribune, Pritzker did not recall that meeting but his office on Wednesday revealed he’d recently been interviewed by federal law enforcement officers at his home about the case as a witness speaking to “his experiences with and knowledge of Mike Madigan,” a spokeswoman said, adding that the governor was “pleased to cooperate” in the investigation.
Lausch on Wednesday also emphasized that there was “no allegation in this indictment against the governor or his staff.”
A 2020 investigation from WBEZ found Pritzker hired 35 people whose names appeared on job recommendation lists Madigan’s office sent to the new governor, but Solis did not appear on those lists.
Though Wednesday’s indictment doesn’t indicate that McClain was involved in Madigan’s dealings with Solis, McClain was active in jockeying for the legislation to sell the parcel of land in Chinatown, serving as a go-between and point person for a small group of key lawmakers and a lobbyist.
Prosecutors allege McClain also sought to conceal Madigan’s behind-the-scenes push for the land sale by telling a staffer to cast a “present” vote for the speaker on the bill to “mak[e] it appear that Madigan was uninvolved in efforts to transfer the Chinatown parcel.”
But the bill ultimately stalled and never became law.
Gone but ever-present
Madigan hasn’t been in the public eye for more than a year now, but his influence is still felt in Springfield and beyond, echoing in the power structures he built over decades.
Republicans, who have been weaponizing Madigan as the face of corruption in Illinois for years — to varying degrees of success — are ramping up for another election year campaign tying Democrats up and down the ticket to the albatross that is the former speaker.
And Democrats, who are mostly eager to move past Madigan and redefine their party, are still working within largely the same legislative and political framework the former speaker created.
State Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago), who stepped outside the party line on multiple occasions in recent years to oppose Madigan, on Wednesday compared the former speaker to a malignant growth.
“This is about Speaker Madigan and what he did and to what extent he influenced the culture of this building,” Cassidy said. “The first thing you do when you get cancer is you cut out the cancer. Then you treat what happened afterwards.”
Wednesday’s indictment points to a classic complaint from House Democrats, who were mostly bound to Madigan’s political system, intertwined as it was with official legislative business.
“Madigan utilized his position as Chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois to influence and garner loyalty from legislators by providing or withholding staff and funding to legislators and their campaigns,” the feds alleged.
State Rep. Terra Costa Howard (D-Glen Ellyn), who, along with Cassidy was early in calling for Madigan’s resignation after the speaker was named “Public Official A” in ComEd’s deferred prosecution agreement, was one of those members to whom funding was withheld.
Costa Howard still received some support from Madigan’s deep campaign coffers in 2020, but not nearly as much as her colleagues in similar suburban districts that had historically been GOP territory.
On Wednesday, Costa Howard’s voice wavered in a news conference put on by the group of 19 House Democrats who publicly said prior to last year’s lame duck session that they wouldn’t vote for Madigan as speaker again — a decisive number that ended up attracting even more dissidents to block the speaker’s path.
“This was not easy for any of us,” Costa Howard said. “But at the end of the day, I know that I can look my daughters in the face and tell them doing what's right isn't always easy.”
The first election cycle without Madigan at the helm has proven a bit rocky so far. With just a few days remaining until the State Board of Elections begins accepting petitions for candidates to get on the ballot, some Democrats who always depended on the former speaker’s political organization to come through for them are floundering.
And while Madigan’s prolific fundraising abilities may not be missed immediately as Pritzker has pledged some of his vast personal wealth to help fund Democratic races up and down the ticket, Democratic leaders have lagged on fundraising, calcifying a known hurdle to rebuilding and restructuring the party.
Lawmakers’ first year without Madigan directing traffic was tumultuous too; a once-in-a-decade redistricting process devolved into a bitterly partisan fight at the same time that members of both parties tried brokering a complicated and fragile deal over a massive climate change and energy bill — the very sort of legislation ComEd and the former speaker historically would have controlled.
And without the notoriously non-ideological former speaker intentionally slowing down legislation and forcing negotiations, new House Speaker Chris Welch’s (D-Hillside) more hands-off approach to his Democratic supermajority caucus has led to a deeper splintering between existing factions.
Republicans have pounced, with House Minority Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) repeatedly claiming that Welch is still taking cues from Madigan, and on Wednesday hearkening back to a rare legislative panel Welch chaired in late 2020. The panel was meant to decide whether Madigan, at that point named “Public Official A” as the target of ComEd’s bribery scheme, was still fit to serve in the General Assembly. Democrats slow-walked the process and ultimately dissolved the committee.
“We were stymied at every turn by those who would rather protect Mike Madigan than reform our state,” Durkin said at a news conference. “For those Democrats who protected Michael Madigan at the Special Investigat[ive] Committee…History will not be kind to you.”
Welch fired back in a statement saying he’d “made it clear” in 2020 that the Madigan issue needed to be handled within the justice system, rather than in the legislature.
“As is evident by this federal indictment, the full weight of the justice system was needed to ensure all charges are investigated properly and thoroughly,” Welch said. “At my direction, the Office of the Speaker has fully cooperated with the investigation and will continue to do so.”
Senate President Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), called the allegations in the indictment “obviously disturbing.”
“I have confidence in our system of justice,” Harmon said. “Like everyone else, I will be watching to see how this unfolds.”
Madigan began shedding titles after failing to win another term as House speaker. He handed the gavel over to Welch, and then lived a little over a month as a mere state representative before resigning from the House.
Shortly after using his weighted votes as 13th Ward Democratic committeeman to hand pick his successor, the famously fastidious former speaker suffered an embarrassment as his protege became the subject of unspecified allegations, forcing a do-over on the whole process four days later.
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Madigan then resigned as chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois, but kept his positions as state central committeeman and 13th Ward Democratic committeeman — the job he’s held the longest.
But after Wednesday’s indictment, Democratic leaders called on the former speaker to resign from both positions. U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.), Madigan’s successor as DPI chair, called the feds’ allegations a “stark reminder that elected leaders must hold themselves to the highest ethical standards.”
“We will observe the legal process as it unfolds, but there can be no tolerance of anyone guilty of violating the public trust,” Kelly said in a statement. “While he stepped down as party chair more than a year ago, Michael J. Madigan remains a State Central Committeeman from the 3rd Congressional District. He should resign from that position as well.”
In a pair of tweets, the Cook County Democratic Party, led by Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, called on Madigan to resign as 13th Ward committeeman, saying the party doesn’t “have the legal means” to remove him.
“These allegations are disqualifying to continue to hold this position or any public office,” the party tweeted.