An ex-member of Commonwealth Edison’s board of directors said he received updates on his pending appointment from then-Speaker Michael Madigan, rather than the utility company itself, and learned that it was thanks to a “group” effort that included former CEO Anne Pramaggiore that he ultimately secured his board seat.
Juan Ochoa, who served on ComEd’s board for one year, testified Thursday at the ongoing trial of the “ComEd Four,” who are accused of corruptly seeking to influence Madigan. Federal prosecutors claimed Ochoa’s appointment to the board was part of that conspiracy to further garner support from the former speaker in Springfield.
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.
Ochoa — the former CEO of Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority and current leader of the Miramar International Group — said it took nearly two years from the time he was approached about the ComEd board seat to the time he was actually appointed in April 2019.
He testified that he sent his resume to Madigan in November 2017 and learned five months later that he would be seated on the board.
According to Ochoa, he sought the support of Madigan and then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel to bolster his chances at the board seat. But the board was undergoing an overhaul at that time in 2017, and Ochoa was told it might take some time before he was officially appointed.
He testified that throughout that time, he heard from Madigan about the status of his pending appointment, rather than any ComEd officials. Asked if he felt this was odd, Ochoa said: “I didn’t give it much thought, but it was not common in my experience.”
When Ochoa was finally appointed, he received word from McClain, who called to inform him that he’d be placed on the board beginning in April 2019. On that call, which was recorded and played for jurors in court Thursday, McClain said he was calling Ochoa to make sure “everything’s cool” and to “keep any angst down” because it’d taken so long to finalize his appointment.
Ochoa testified that he was surprised to hear from McClain, because to that point he’d had no contact with him about the board seat.
Fidel Marquez, ComEd’s former vice president of government affairs turned government witness, previously testified that he asked Pramaggiore where the idea to appoint Ochoa came from, and she allegedly told him it came from McClain.
Marquez told jurors last week that if McClain had said to appoint Ochoa, that meant it was actually Madigan who was pushing for it. When Marquez learned that the appointment had been approved, he testified that he told Pramaggiore: “That’s great for the speaker.”
Marquez has pleaded guilty to a bribery charge for his involvement in the alleged scheme and began cooperating with the government by secretly recording conversations and phone calls with the defendants beginning in early 2019.
Following his first board meeting, Ochoa said he called McClain to express his gratitude for the appointment, expecting that this sentiment would be shared with Madigan. He told jurors that McClain indicated it was more of a “team” effort to get his appointment finalized and that he should also “whisper” a thanks to Pramaggiore.
In a recorded phone call from May 2018 played in court Thursday, Madigan and McClain discussed “pushback” regarding Ochoa’s appointment. At one point, when discussing the $78,000 annual salary for board members, Madigan quipped, “Maybe I’ll take the appointment.”
McClain also spoke on the phone with Pramaggiore about Ochoa, telling her in May 2018: “I talked to (Madigan) about Juan Ochoa, and he would appreciate it if you’d keep pressing,” according to a recorded phone call. Pramaggiore indicated she would “keep pressing” to secure his appointment. In a July 2018 call, when she informed Marquez that Ochoa would be appointed, Marquez said, “That’s huge” for Madigan.
Under cross-examination questioning from Pramaggiore’s legal team, Ochoa indicated that Madigan never asked for anything in exchange for his recommendation and that the only thing Madigan did get out of this was Ochoa’s “goodwill.”
Ochoa further stated he previously earned seats on numerous other boards, which he obtained without any assistance from Madigan, and that he never offered anything that could be considered a bribe to the former speaker to get his support.
Ochoa ultimately served on the board for just one year, attending all four scheduled board meetings, he testified.
Prosecutors have indicated they plan to rest their case next Tuesday. At that point, defense attorneys for Pramaggiore are expected to begin calling witnesses, followed by attorneys for Hooker, then Doherty and finally McClain.
The trial, which began with jury selection March 14, is expected to last up to two months.