Defense attorneys for the “ComEd Four” argued Thursday their clients were engaged in legal lobbying tactics, not corruptly seeking to influence former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.
The assertions were made during the cross examination of Fidel Marquez, ComEd’s former vice president of government affairs turned government witness, who’s now in his fourth day on the witness stand.
The defense is seeking to show how their clients’ actions were above board when they tried to garner Madigan’s support in Springfield on legislation that benefitted ComEd.
Ex-ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, former lobbyist Mike McClain, retired ComEd executive John Hooker and ex-City Club of Chicago president and former ComEd consultant Jay Doherty are all charged with bribery conspiracy, bribery and willfully falsifying the utility’s books and records.
Madigan has separately been indicted on federal racketeering and bribery charges and is scheduled to go on trial next year.
Marquez, the government’s star witness, previously pleaded guilty to a bribery charge for his involvement in the alleged scheme. He began cooperating with the government by secretly recording conversations and phone calls with the defendants beginning in early 2019.
Federal prosecutors have used those recordings to show jurors how the ComEd officials allegedly worked to curry Madigan’s favor on their legislative agenda by hiring Madigan allies for no-work subcontractor jobs, appointing a Madigan pick to a seat on ComEd’s board of directors and approving the speaker’s choices for summer interns with the utility company.
But defense attorneys have said no such scheme existed, arguing Pramaggiore, McClain, Hooker and Doherty never had Madigan in their pocket and simply worked to lobby him as they would any other powerful politician.
Pramaggiore's attorney, Scott Lassar, concluded his cross examination early Thursday.
McClain’s attorney, Patrick Cotter, then began questioning Marquez about lobbying strategies — like influencing elected officials to support or kill particular legislation or communicating the specific needs of ComEd in Springfield — and whether those actions were legal.
“That’s the basics of lobbying,” Marquez replied.
Cotter presented jurors with strategy emails between McClain and others, including Marquez, over the years, which referenced detailed plans for supporting or killing legislation without any reference or input from Madigan.
He also played a recorded phone call Thursday from May 2018 between Marquez, Pramaggiore and McClain in which they discussed strategies for defeating a rate increase bill backed by Madigan’s daughter, then-Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
On the call, the trio discuss using “all of our assets” — including labor unions, vendors, customers and municipal leaders — and “pulling out all the stops” to kill the legislation. But they make no mention of involving Madigan himself.
“At any point in this conversation, does McClain say, ‘Well, I’ll just go to the speaker because he owes us and I’ll ask him to ask Lisa to change the bill or pull it?’” Cotter asked.
“No. ... He never said words like that,” Marquez said.
Prosecutors have said that when McClain, a longtime friend and confidant of Madigan, made requests of ComEd, they were really coming from Madigan himself, and Marquez agreed that McClain was the “single most valuable, reliable source” of information on Madigan. But Cotter argued that it was simply part of McClain’s job to maintain that relationship with Madigan.
“Did McClain ever say to you, in any context, that he had the ability though Madigan to pass anything ComEd needed?” Cotter asked.
“No,” Marquez answered.
When asked if McClain was “serving the interests” of ComEd when he passed along job recommendations from Madigan to ComEd, Marquez testified that he indeed was, but added “I think he was serving more Mike Madigan.”
The trial, now in its 11th day, is expected to last up to two months.