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Opening statements could begin Wednesday in ComEd bribery case


(The Center Square) – Opening statements could begin Wednesday in a two-year-old case accusing four former ComEd executives and lobbyists of a multi-year scheme to corruptly influence longtime former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Judge Harry Leinenweber led the jury selection process Tuesday with input from prosecutors and defense attorneys. Most of the jury selection questioning was done via sidebar, which could only be heard by the prosecutors, defendants and their attorneys listening through headphones.

They worked through the first batch of 70 potential jurors. More than two dozen were dismissed because they said there were hardships that would make it difficult for them to attend a trial expected to last six-to-eight weeks. Late Tuesday afternoon, the judge brought in a second batch of potential jurors for questioning. Some were questioned at length. Others were quickly sent home. The judge plans to impanel 12 jurors with six alternates.

Former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, former ComEd lobbyist John Hooker, former ComEd consultant Jay Doherty and former lobbyist and state lawmaker Michael McClain have all pleaded “not guilty” to conspiracy, bribery, and willfully falsifying ComEd books and records.

Before the jury selection began Tuesday, Leinenweber allowed an attorney representing media outlets to intervene to get access to copies of recordings admitted as evidence in the trial. The judge granted the media motion over objections from McClain’s attorney, Patrick Cotter.

Prosecutors plan to introduce wiretap evidence during the trial. They also plan to call 70 witnesses.

Once a jury is impaneled, opening statements could begin.

ComEd, the state’s largest electric utility, agreed to pay $200 million in July 2020 to resolve a criminal investigation into the years-long bribery scheme. As part of a deferred prosecution agreement, ComEd admitted it arranged jobs, vendor subcontracts and payments in a bid to influence Madigan.

Jurors won’t hear about that 38-page agreement at trial. The judge granted a motion to keep that agreement out of evidence. Defense attorneys had argued “allowing the jury to learn of ComEd’s agreement to pay $200 million would severely prejudice defendants because jurors may conclude that ComEd thought that its officers committed a very serious crime if they paid a $200 million fine,” according to pre-trial motions.

Fidel Marquez, a former ComEd official, pleaded guilty to bribery charges in September 2020. Marquez is expected to testify that “he participated in a conspiracy to provide benefits to Madigan’s associates with the intent to induce Madigan to take action as Speaker that was favorable to ComEd, including support of ComEd’s efforts to pass legislation beneficial to ComEd,” according to court documents.

Madigan served in the Illinois House from 1971 to 2021. From 1997 to 2021, he served as speaker of the Illinois House. He wielded additional power as chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois.

Madigan, who resigned after losing the House speakership in January 2021, has been charged with 23 counts of racketeering, bribery and official misconduct in a separate case that could go to trial in April 2024. He has pleaded “not guilty.”

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