SPRINGFIELD – Hours after filing a court document implicating — but not charging — Illinois’ House Speaker Michael Madigan in a years long bribery scheme, federal officials took to the courtyard of the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago on Friday, July 17 to deliver a message to those engaging in public corruption: “We will find you too.”
The charges in the document filed Friday are officially against Commonwealth Edison, Illinois’ largest electric utility company, which has agreed to pay $200 million and to continue cooperating with an ongoing federal corruption probe in order to defer prosecution for a single count of bribery. Per that agreement — which is still pending approval from a judge —prosecution against the utility giant would be delayed for three years and potentially dismissed in exchange for the company’s cooperation.
The bombshell in the report, however, is that ComEd admitted to — from 2011 until 2019 — seeking to “influence and reward Public Official A” for that person’s favorable action on legislation. While Public Official A is not directly named in the document, that person is later identified as “the Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives and the longest serving member of the House of Representatives.”
The current House Speaker is Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat who has held that position since 1983, except for a brief stint from 1995 to 1997. The documents did not contain his name or any charges against the person identified as “Public Official A.”
At their news conference Friday afternoon, federal authorities said the FBI does not name those who are not charged.
The implications were clear, however, as federal officials said ComEd “admitted it arranged jobs, vendor subcontracts, and monetary payments associated with those jobs and subcontracts, for various associates of a high-level elected official” in order to advance legislation that would bring the company monetary benefits that “exceeded $150 million.”
This occurred “even in instances where these political allies and workers did little to no work that they were reportedly hired to perform,” John Lausch Jr., U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, said at a Chicago news conference.
“In many ways, this agreement — including and specifically ComEd’s statement of facts — it speaks for itself,” Lausch said. “But it also speaks volumes about the nature of a very stubborn public corruption problem we have here in Illinois. The admitted facts detail a nearly decade-long corruption scheme involving top management at a large public utility, leaders in state government, consultants, and several others inside and outside of government.”
Later on Friday, a statement issued via a communications firm on behalf of Madigan said he had “accepted subpoenas” at his offices asking for documents related to job recommendations “among other things.”
“He will cooperate and respond to those requests for documents, which he believes will clearly demonstrate that he has done nothing criminal or improper,” according to the statement distributed by Maura Possley of the BoycePossley firm.
“The speaker has never helped someone find a job with the expectation that the person would not be asked to perform work by their employer, nor did he ever expect to provide anything to a prospective employer if it should choose to hire a person he recommended. He has never made a legislative decision with improper motives and has engaged in no wrongdoing here. Any claim to the contrary is unfounded,” Possley said in the emailed statement.
‘Intent to influence and reward Public Official A’
The statement was a direct rebuttal to the claims made by prosecutors, who said ComEd “corruptly gave, offered, and agreed to give” jobs, subcontracts and monetary payments to Public Official A and Public Official A’s associates, “with intent to influence and reward Public Official A.”
Lausch, however, said it was a “complex question” as to whether a public official has to benefit directly from an action for it to constitute criminal activity.
“The short answer is, sometimes a corruption charge is appropriate if it does benefit someone personally, and other times a charge is appropriate if it benefits somebody else,” he said.
The public utility company, which is subject to heavy state regulation, admitted it “understood that, as speaker of the House of Representatives, Public Official A was able to exercise control over what measures were called for a vote in the House of Representatives and had substantial influence and control over fellow lawmakers concerning legislation, including legislation that affected ComEd.”
The electric utility also admitted in the court document that it appointed an individual to its board of directors and retained a particular law firm “at the request of Public Official A.” It also accepted into an internship program “a specified target number of students who primarily resided in a Chicago ward that Public Official A was associated with.”
In a statement, Christopher Crane, CEO of ComEd’s parent company, Exelon, said, “In the past, some of ComEd’s lobbying practices and interactions with public officials did not live up to” the company’s standards.
“When we learned about the inappropriate conduct, we acted swiftly to investigate. We concluded from the investigation that a small number of senior ComEd employees and outside contractors orchestrated this misconduct, and they no longer work for the company,” he said. “Since then, we have taken robust action to aggressively identify and address deficiencies, including enhancing our compliance governance and our lobbying policies to prevent this type of conduct.”
Pritzker: If true, ‘he’s gonna have to resign’
Gov. J.B. Pritzker — who was also a subject of headlines regarding a public corruption investigation Friday — said at an unrelated news conference in Waukegan that if the allegations against Madigan are true, “He’s gonna have to resign.”
“The speaker has a lot that he needs to answer – to authorities, to investigators, and most importantly, to the people of Illinois,” Pritzker said. “If these allegations of wrongdoing by the speaker are true, there is no question that he will have betrayed the public trust. And he must resign.”
The Chicago Sun-Times reported Friday morning that it had obtained documents that “show the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago has asked Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi for all emails and any other communications dating to 2012 regarding the tax break that Kaegi’s predecessor, Joseph Berrios, gave Pritzker.”
The documents requested reportedly pertained to the $330,000 property tax break that Pritzker — before he got into elected politics — received on his Chicago mansion after he purchased a neighboring property and removed toilets to render it uninhabitable.
Pritzker’s properties were among 118 for which prosecutors sought information about property tax appeals granted during Berrios’ tenure from 2010 to 2018.
Pritzker has consistently denied wrongdoing and did so again Friday, noting neither he nor his wife had been contacted by federal authorities on the issue.
“There’s nothing new to tell you. … I learned about this from a reporter,” he said. “The facts about this matter have been public for some time and have extensively been discussed as they were in the 2018 election, and they’ve been fully aired. And as I’ve always said, any review will show that all the rules were followed.”
Republican officials looked to tie the dueling Pritzker and Madigan headlines together.
“The announcement against ComEd and “Public Official A” and the ongoing investigation of Cook County property tax corruption are another sad commentary on the state of our state,” House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said in a videoconference. “The deep federal investigations into the highest members of the Democratic Party and their abuse of the Cook County property tax system is finally coming to light.”
He suggested the state should reexamine laws beneficial to ComEd, and said he would like to see a special session for ethics reforms, which he accused Madigan of blocking in recent weeks.
“The allegations presented today are troubling and downright depressing,” he said. “Speaker Madigan needs to speak up on this issue. And if the allegations are true, he must resign immediately. Just as important, I hope that members of the General Assembly in the majority party, the Democrat Party, finally have the courage to stand up and demand an explanation of their leader that they have, for decades, elected to rule.”
‘We will find you too’
In the courtyard of the Dirksen federal building Friday, Lausch signified more federal action could be forthcoming.
“It’s not good,” he said. “But our federal investigations of corruption in Illinois are ongoing. We have a lot of work ahead of us, and we will get that work done.”
Federal authorities have been conducting a seemingly wide-sweeping probe of public corruption that first breached the public’s radar in the second half of 2019.
State Sen. Tom Cullerton, a Villa Park Democrat, was indicted on embezzlement charges in August that alleged he took a salary and benefits from a labor union without doing any work. He continues to serve in the chamber and pleaded not guilty to the charges.
In September, federal agents raided the Statehouse office of then-state Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago. He resigned his Senate seat in November, and in January he pleaded guilty to a bribery and tax fraud charge pertaining to his dealings with a red light camera company and agreed to continue to work with investigators.
Luis Arroyo, also a Chicago Democrat and former state representative, was arrested in October for allegedly passing a bribe to a state senator for favorable treatment of legislation pertaining to gambling devices known as sweepstakes machines. He pleaded not guilty to the bribery charges in February, but waived a right to be indicted by a federal grand jury, “again signaling plans to eventually plead guilty in his corruption case,” according to a report in the Chicago Sun-Times.
Investigations of local Chicago officials have been ongoing as well.
On Friday, Kathy Enstrom, special agent-in-charge of the Chicago office of the IRS Criminal Investigation Division, said the office is committed to “investigating fraud and political corruption on all levels.”
“We shine bright lights in dark corners and exposed financial fraud and corporate misconduct wherever they exist,” she said. “Organizations involved in this type of criminal activity should take today’s actions as both a warning and opportunity — We will find you too. It is not too late to get on the right side of the law.”