Anne Pramaggiore was one of Chicago’s most high-profile executives, serving as CEO of ComEd, as well as chair of the Federal Reserve Board of Chicago’s Board of Directors, and on the boards of DePaul University and Motorola.
All of those titles are gone now and replaced with another: defendant.
Pramaggiore rose through the ranks at ComEd, starting as a lawyer, then becoming its CEO, then CEO of Exelon Utilities.
On a May 2018 call she didn’t know was being recorded by the FBI, Pramaggiore told co-defendant Mike McClain, a longtime lobbyist for the utility, that her final promotion “never would’ve happened without you, and John, and the speaker,” and that “the only reason I’m in this position is ‘cause ComEd has done so well, and you guys have been my, my spirit guides.”
The path that advanced her career was also her downfall, and could land her in prison on conspiracy charges, though she spent all Monday on the witness stand, doing her best to prevent that from happening.
Pramaggiore told a federal jury that she was thankful to McClain, John Hooker — another co-defendant and ComEd executive — but, only added appreciation for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan on that call because she was doing the CEO version of kissing up.
“I always included the speaker when I’m talking to Mike McClain. He revered the speaker. The speaker loomed large in his life and I knew that,” she said. “It’s kind of like throwing in something about a family members, ‘I enjoyed meeting your spouse or your son or daughter.’”
The jury will decide whether Pramaggiore, McClain, Hooker and lobbyist Jay Doherty awarded jobs in an attempt to bribe Madigan as ComEd worked to get significant legislation passed in the General Assembly.
In response to questioning from her attorney, Scott Lassar, Pramaggiore said they were not, and that she was not part of any conspiracy.
She said while she knew that Madigan was recommending hires through McClain, she rejected them about half the time, and that she constantly was receiving job recommendations, including from other politicians such as former Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, Mayor Richard M. Daley, former Congressman Luis Guitierrez, former state Rep. Luis Arroyo and former Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.
Repeatedly, almost like the chorus of a song interspersed with verses of courtroom questioning, Pramaggiore’s attorney asked her:
Did she or ComEd consider Madigan an ally? She said no.
Did Madigan, or McClain, ever say that Madigan would support ComEd in exchange for hires? She said no.
Did anyone ever say ComEd had influence with Madigan? She said no.
Did McClain ever indicate that Madigan would seek revenge on ComEd if the company refused to take on employees names he’d forwarded? Again, Pramaggiore said no.
“We hired people associated with a lot of public officials,” she said. “We wanted to create goodwill with those people.”
She said she was unaware of any plan to hire Madigan associates who would do little or no work, and she would not have agreed to such a plan.
The defense played back a recorded call from Feb. 16, 2019, previously introduced by the prosecution.
At the time, Pramaggiore didn’t know ComEd’s government relations senior VP Fidel Marquez was cooperating with the feds.
On it, Marquez talks about subcontractors who were part of ComEd’s lobbying team, namely a handful of Madigan-recommended hires who weren’t paid outright by the company, but rather were paid through Doherty's lobbying firm.
On the call, Marquez talks about how subcontractors like former Chicago Ald. Frank Olivo did no work, saying he met with Doherty who indicated that “all these guys do is pretty much collect a check,” and that the setup dates back to “way back when,” before Pramaggiore’s time as head of ComEd.
“Oh my god,” Pramaggiore said on the call.
The defense was clearly trying to establish that this was news to her.
She testified that until the investigation into ComEd became public, she didn’t know anything about the ghost payroll subcontractors, but that had she been asked to pay lobbyists via Doherty she would have been alright with it because she would have presumed it was legitimate.
ComEd is known in Springfield for having a phalanx of lobbyists, who swarm to get the utility’s way.
Pramaggiore’s attorney shared a screenshot of her busy schedule, including the day of the call with Marquez. She said that as a new Exelon CEO who was consumed with getting up to speed on new utility matters, traveling and meetings, she regularly signed contracts without reading the fine print and that she didn't read every email, because she had people who filtered all of it and she trusted her deputies, like Marquez.
Pramaggiore said it didn’t cross her mind that there was anything potentially criminal when Marquez told her about individuals getting paid for little work; if anything she thought it was poor management by Marquez.
However, later on that same call, Pramaggiore suggested to Marquez that it wouldn’t be wise to make changes to the roster of lobbyists and workers while the legislative session is ongoing “because we do not want to get caught up in a, you know, disruptive battles where, you know, somebody gets their nose out of joint and we’re trying to move somebody off and then we’re forced to give ‘em a five-year contract because we’re in the middle of needing to get something done in Springfield.”
Marquez in late March testified that the “somebody” whose nose Pramaggiore was concerned with was Madigan.
On Monday, Pramaggiore said she was merely concerned with changing course while lawmakers were in session, given the limited window the legislature meets.
Prosecutors will on Tuesday do their best to undercut Pramaggiore’s testimony, when they get their first crack at questioning her.
Her professed ignorance belies what the U.S. Attorney’s team had worked to establish Pramaggiore's direct involvement in Springfield matters, and her propensity for detail.
It’s unclear what other witnesses the defense may call thereafter. Lawyers for the defendants indicated that they could be done as early as Thursday.
Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky