Federal Prosecutors Oppose ‘ComEd Four’ Defendants’ Push for Sentencing Delay

(Michael Izquierdo / WTTW News)(Michael Izquierdo / WTTW News)

Federal prosecutors have once again expressed their opposition to any delay in sentencing for the “ComEd Four” defendants, arguing it’s “wishful thinking” that an unrelated case making its way before the U.S. Supreme Court could put those verdicts in jeopardy.

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The four former Commonwealth Edison officials were found guilty last May of conspiring to bribe former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan in exchange for his support on favorable legislation in Springfield.

But despite the verdicts, defense attorneys for the four now argue that the Supreme Court could rewrite the federal bribery statute that was at issue in many of the charges they were convicted on. They’ve asked a judge to delay sentencing until after the high court’s ruling, claiming that its decision could mean “the convictions are not going to stand.”

But prosecutors strongly disagree.

“Only two circuits are in the minority of the circuit split being considered by the Supreme Court,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu wrote in a response filed Friday. “The weight of the authority supports the government’s interpretation of (the statute). The defendants are therefore wrong to declare victory now, when a decision is still far off, about six months away. Until that time, the Seventh Circuit’s precedent in this area stands undisturbed.”

The “ComEd Four” — Madigan’s longtime confidant Michael McClain, ex-ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, retired ComEd executive John Hooker and former ComEd consultant Jay Doherty — were convicted of bribery conspiracy, bribery and willfully falsifying the utility giant’s books.

Prosecutors argued they did this several ways, including paying Madigan allies as ComEd subcontractors to do little or no work for the company. They also allegedly offered a lucrative contract to a law firm run by Madigan ally Victor Reyes and fought to get Juan Ochoa appointed to the ComEd board of directors at the former speaker’s behest.

Ex-City Club of Chicago president and former ComEd consultant Jay Doherty, retired ComEd executive John Hooker, former ComEd lobbyist Mike McClain and ex-ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore were found guilty. (File photos)Ex-City Club of Chicago president and former ComEd consultant Jay Doherty, retired ComEd executive John Hooker, former ComEd lobbyist Mike McClain and ex-ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore were found guilty. (File photos)

They had been scheduled to be sentenced this month, but those dates were removed and the four cannot be sentenced until late February at the earliest as U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber expects to be out of town dealing with ongoing health issues until that point.

According to the defense, the case before the Supreme Court (James E. Snyder v. U.S.) could determine whether the statute ​​criminalizes only bribery or also reaches gratuities — defined as payments in recognition of actions a state or local official has already taken or committed to take, without any quid pro quo agreement to take those actions.

A separate judge has already agreed to push back Madigan’s upcoming racketeering trial from April until October while they await a decision in the Snyder case.

Defense attorneys claimed that if the law is changed, and requires that a quid pro quo be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, it would raise concerns about whether the “ComEd Four” jury was properly instructed.

Bhachu said any jury instruction issues could be handled on appeal and argued that the late Justice Antonin Scalia — whom Bhachu described as “the pre-eminent textualist of his generation” — thought it “clear that the text of (the statute) prohibited the payment of both bribes and gratuities.”

Bhachu also took issue with what he described as the defendants’ attempts to portray themselves as “victims” of a government that tried them for conduct they now argue was not criminal.

“If anything, each defendants’ misguided and unrepentant effort to shift the blame for their obvious wrongdoing — for trying to ply Michael Madigan with over $1 million in corrupt benefits and to cook the books to hide their scheme — demonstrates their unwillingness to accept responsibility for their own conduct and should be taken into account at sentencing,” Bhachu wrote.

He argued that even if there is a substantial change to the statute, the four’s record falsification — which include possible prison sentences of up to 20 years, the most of any charge in this case — would be unaffected.

“So it is nothing more than wishful thinking,” he wrote, “that those convictions are in jeopardy.”

Contact Matt Masterson: @ByMattMasterson[email protected] | (773) 509-5431

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