Closing Arguments Begin in ‘ComEd Four’ Trial: ‘Madigan Wanted, ComEd Gave and ComEd Got’

After volumes of recorded phone calls, testimony about interactions between powerful executives and one of Illinois’ most powerful politicians, it could all come down to the performances lawyers gave in court Monday, as six weeks of action is distilled for a federal jury in closing arguments.

Prosecutors in the so-called ComEd Four trial say the defendants are liars and bribers. Defense attorneys say their clients are talented at their jobs, and merely were caught in a government witch hunt aimed at Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Thanks to our sponsors:

View all sponsors

The jurors’ task: wade through it all, and determine whether the defendants were part of a conspiracy to bribe Madigan in exchange for jobs and favors for his allies.

Prosecutors say the seemingly complicated case is simple enough.

That the defendants — ComEd contact lobbyist and former City Club leader Jay Doherty, former ComEd VP and lobbyist John Hooker, ComEd contract lobbyist and Madigan confidant Mike McClain and former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore — were a close knit group of “conspirators” who plotted to give “a continuous stream of benefits” to “corruptly influence and reward Madigan.”

As the Assistant U.S. Attorney Diane MacArthur repeated, as if to drill home the point, the group practiced a cycle of “Madigan wanted, ComEd gave and ComEd got.”

When Madigan said jump, she said, the defendants asked “how high.”

Or, MacArthur half joked, in the case of ComEd hiring paid interns from Madigan’s ward with GPAs below the company’s cutoff, “how low?”

The jury once again saw how lucrative this could be for some of Madigan’s recommendations, when the prosecution played a Feb. 2019 video of Doherty, who put the hires on his lobbying firm’s payroll, holding up four fingers to indicate that he passed through $4,000 a month to Frank Olivo, the former alderman of Madigan’s 13th Ward.

That he didn’t say the figure aloud and indicated, “I don’t even know who else knows this,” shows that the players made an effort to keep the scheme quiet, MacArthur said.

Olivo was one of several such subcontractors, a point MacArthur made by replaying more of the clandestine video.

When government witness and former ComEd CEO Fidel Marquez asked Doherty “you cut ‘em a check. Do they do anything?” Doherty responded with a pause and said “…not much, to answer the question, not much.”

The prosecution also showed the jury a timeline of when folks recommended by Madigan got contracts with ComEd, and when legislation lucrative to ComEd and its parent company, Exelon, passed.

Sometimes, jobs were given right before a bill succeeded, in which case the job was meant to influence Madigan, MacArthur said.

Other times, it was right after, in which case she said it was a “reward.”

At no point on the tapes did defendants discuss the hires’ capabilities or skills, which MacArthur said shows the jobs weren’t given for goodwill or for skill; it was part of an attempt to “corruptly influence” an elected official, she said.

She also said that the two defendants who testified during the trial, Hooker and Pramaggiore, lied on the stand as cover for their roles.

For example, Pramaggiore said she didn't know about the subcontractors and their Madigan connections until the investigation was public in 2019. The U.S. attorney’s office played a tape of a call from a year earlier that MacArthur said proves, that’s a lie.

McClain’s attorney Patrick Cotter said while jurors may find some of what they heard distasteful, and while they may not like politics or lobbyists in general, it was all above board and legal.

“Lobbying and politics are not illegal,” Cotter said. “Don’t let what some of you may have as a natural dislike for politics and politicians and lobbying and lobbyists interfere with your ability to judge this case. This case isn’t about lobbying or politics.”

Cotter contended that Marquez was tantamount to a liar in that he was a “really good actor” who cooperated with the government “out of fear” he would otherwise be facing a 33-year prison sentence.

Most of what was heard and shown at trial, Cotter said, was evidence that McClain was an incredibly good lobbyist, and that he and the others “worked their heads off” to pass bills that invested in the power grid and bailed out nuclear power plants that he said were good both for ComEd and Exelon, as well as good public policy.

Every action by Mike McClain that the evidence produced at trial provided to you is in fact, if you look at it, legal. And most of it is really good lobbying,” Cotter said. “They say he was in a nine-year-long criminal conspiracy, but everything he did was legal.”

What McClain and the others weren't so great at, Cotter argued, was committing a conspiracy that he says never existed.

He says the prosecution “failed utterly” in their attempt to prove one, in that they offered no witnesses or evidence that Madigan took action to help ComEd with legislation, and that despite the jobs given to Madigan allies from the group ever even asked for such a favor.

This is a conspiracy that failed utterly. There’s no evidence that Madigan ever did anything for ‘em,” Cotter said. “Yet they say that’s the whole purpose of the conspiracy, that’s what this is all about. It never happened. “

While the government acted like job recommendations from government officials was a “dirty word,” it was “completely normal,” Cotter said.Further, “ComEd is a private company. Private companies can hire and fire whoever they want.”

Pramaggiore attorney Scott Lassar made similar arguments.

He said Madigan was never a friend to ComEd, and that while his client said flattering things on reported calls, it was because she’s nice.

Lassar said hires she made were for “real jobs,” and that it isn’t a crime for a woman to be a successful CEO.

While the government proved that “Madigan is very powerful, secondly that ComEd hired some people at the request of Madigan” and that “ComEd got some important legislation passed,” Lassar said the government did not prove that “the people were hired with the intent of influencing Madigan on legislation.”

They couldn’t prove it, he said, “because it didn’t happen.”

No witness said that there was an agreement to bribe Madigan, no one said Madigan owes us, none said we’re going to ask Madigan for help to pass legislation. Could it be clearer that ComEd was not bribing Madigan?” Lassar said.

Attorneys for Doherty and Hooker will make their closing arguments on Tuesday before the government gets a chance to have the final word.

Cotter got worked up, as if choking back tears, as he told the jury that though they won’t get a chance to hear from him again, to please remember his arguments.

Follow your oath. Be the shield that you were meant to be. The shield between an individual citizen and a very powerful government. In this case a very powerful government committed, dedicated and on a mission to get Mike Madigan. Don’t let Mike McClain and these other good people be collateral damage in that war,” he said.

 Madigan and McClain are scheduled to go on trial for a separate racketeering case in April 2024.

Thanks to our sponsors:

View all sponsors

Thanks to our sponsors:

View all sponsors