As CEO of Illinois’ powerful ComEd utility company, Anne Pramaggiore had to take risks.
On Thursday, she took another as she stepped to the witness stand at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse downtown, to testify in her own defense.
Pramaggiore is one of four former ComEd executives or lobbyists fighting charges they illegally doled out jobs and other bribes as means of influencing then-Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, and winning his support for legislation that netted ComEd and its parent company billions.
After nearly five weeks of witnesses called by prosecutors, Thursday was the first full day the defense was in command.
Pramaggiore – wearing her dark hair in a bob rather than her trademark tight ponytail – relied on her executive poise to detail her side of the saga to the jury, sharing her perspective in matter-of-fact fashion, interspersed with jokes and asides.
She looked at the jury as she talked, beginning by saying she was aging herself by sharing that she was into the ’68 Olympics – an interest that she parlayed into becoming the Ohio state youth racing walking champ.
Pramaggiore went on to recount when the company plucked the DePaul law school graduate from her job as an anti-trust attorney at a Chicago law firm through her rise at ComEd, and how when she reached the top ranks she got in the trenches, and learned from lower-level employees how badly the company needed to be turned around.
Stories took a personal bent, as she shared that she relied on leadership lessons from a book by Gen. Colin Powell to get ComEd linemen to open up about how problems with trucks and scheduling caused a hinderance for repairs. She also described how she accompanied co-defendant, and former ComEd head of government and external affairs, John Hooker, to some of Chicago’s most under-resourced neighborhoods.
She said the visits allowed her to witness how primarily Black areas in the city suffered more from power outages – a lesson she said she parlayed into giving those neighborhoods extra attention and infrastructure when a law she helped to pass in Springfield allowed ComEd to change its rate structure to pay for investments in a “smart” electric grid.
Pramaggiore was last to testify Thursday before court takes a break until Monday, leaving limited time for more material testimony, but as her attorney Scott Lassar asked about her relationship with other key figures, it was clear he was working to establish that Pramaggiore was not particularly close to Madigan.
She said they had a “professional” relationship of “mutual respect” but that when ComEd and its parent company Exelon hosted fundraisers that included a dinner with Madigan, she didn’t sit by him; rather, she was on the “kids’ end” of the table.
In contrast, Pramaggiore talked about a closer relationship with another co-defendant: Madigan’s good friend, lobbyist Mike McClain, who counted ComEd among his clients.
Even as her predecessor’s hand-picked Pramaggiore for the ComEd CEO job, Pramaggiore said she was out of place with the “ferociously competitive,” hard-partying, boy’s club culture. She therefore relied on McClain, whom she’d initially gotten to know when she, McClain and Madigan were among a small group on a trip to Turkey in 2010.
The defense showed an email in which she effusively thanked McClain for helping her son, whom McClain nicknamed “Red Jack” (Lassar pointed to a man sitting in the courtroom’s first bench, to “let the record reflect” that Jack is red-headed) to find his life’s passion and opportunity to work at two Democratic National Conventions.
The email also said that thanks to McClain, “ComEd was saved. And Illinois won #1 in Smart Grid policy across the U.S. And northern Illinois customers had the best reliability in the country in 2016. And JDPower voted ComEd most improved utility in customer sat in US. And Illinois is now moving to first place in clean energy. And thousands of jobs were saved and thousands have jobs that wouldn’t otherwise be able to find work.”
Despite her closeness with McClain, and McClain’s with Madigan, Pramaggiore testified that she believed Madigan to be “skeptical” of ComEd.
Asked point blank whether she believed Madigan to be a ComEd ally? She said no. Asked whether she believed ComEd had influence with Madigan, that she could call the Speaker to get bills passed? She said no.
That read was similar to an earlier defense witness, Joseph Dominguez, who took over as ComEd CEO when Pramaggiore was promoted to CEO of Exelon Utilities.
Dominguez told the jury that during his time working legislation in the capitol, nothing he saw led him to believe ComEd was bribing Madigan.
It was Dominguez, however, who signed a deferred prosecution agreement announced in July 2020 in which ComEd paid $200 million and admitted to the bribery scheme – an admission the jury isn’t supposed to know about, and which the prosecution may not focus on in court.
Things got dramatic when Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bachu pressed Dominguez to admit he wasn’t initially fully forthright with the feds a year earlier as part of a proffer, which requires witnesses to be wholly truthful; in exchange the government agrees to not use anything said in the interviews to prosecute the witness.
Bachu indicated that Dominguez didn’t talk with the FBI about a conversation in which McClain spoke about how back in the day Madigan used to use an “old-fashioned patronage system” to have ComEd hire meter readers.
Dominguez, on a video, said ComEd played that system “like a chip.”
Bachu also interrogated Dominguez about a statement made in a secretly recorded conversation with former ComEd executive Fidel Marquez in Dominguez’s early days in his top position with ComEd.
Marquez, who unbeknownst to anyone outside the FBI at the time was cooperating with the feds, told Dominguez about a handful of men allegedly hired by ComEd at Madigan’s orders but who did no work for their paychecks.
As Bachu seemingly aimed to combat Dominguez’s testimony that he was unaware of attempts to influence Madigan, Bachu pressed Dominguez on when he’d responded to news of the ghost payrollers by telling Marquez there was stuff he wanted to know, and stuff he didn’t want to know.
Dominguez, who serves now as head of Exelon spin-off Constellation Energy based in Baltimore, appeared to take offense to the suggestion, and said it was a matter of triage as he was settling into a new, high-powered job and also preparing for a medical procedure.
Dominguez said he was truthful with the FBI to the best of his ability and memory.
The exchange got heated when Dominguez pushed back and shared what Bachu had said during a proffer session, to which Bachu warned, “you might want to not do that, that might not work out well for you.”
It caused an audible stir in the courtroom, with at least one member of the defense team saying “whoa” and another protesting that was akin to a “threat.”
Pramaggiore will likewise need to face cross-examination from prosecutors, potentially as early as Monday.
It’s unknown whether any of the other defendants – Hooker, McClain or lobbyist Jay Doherty, who is accused of helping to coordinate the scheme by allowing ComEd to pay Madigan’s hires through his firm – will take the stand.
Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky