(The Center Square) – Prosecutors in the long-awaited “ComEd Four” trial on Wednesday told jurors that the four defendants participated in a scheme to bribe longtime former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan in order to gain his support for legislation favorable to the utility.
In their counter opening argument, defense attorneys said the scheme “overzealous” prosecutors allege was not a conspiracy and nothing more than the defendants doing their job.
Assistant U.S. District Attorney Sarah Streicker first took to the podium for opening arguments, telling the recently impaneled pool of 12 jurors and six alternates that the case centered on bribes steered to Madigan, one of the state’s longest-serving lawmakers and most powerful politicians, in a scheme aimed at influencing his decision-making on issues deemed to be crucial to the utility giant’s bottom line.
Representing defendant Michael McClain, attorney Patrick Cotter countered that “overzealous” investigators bent on bringing down Madigan got it “terribly, tragically wrong.”
Cotter argued, “It’s not a conspiracy, and you know what? It’s not even suspicious. It’s a profession.”
Streicker told the court that ComEd steered upwards of $1.3 million in payments, contracts and perks to ghost “subcontractors” who were actually Madigan’s close allies. As another part of the alleged scheme, prosecutors assert a Madigan-backed person was placed on ComEd’s board of directors and much sought after internships were routinely given to families in his 13th Ward.
“Mike Madigan was the most powerful person in the Illinois General Assembly,” Streicker argued. “He [could] wield that power to make or break a piece of legislation.”
Streicker pointed to instances where Madigan helped ComEd win three pieces of legislation that proved to be lucrative for the utility, including the “Smart Grid” bill in 2011 and another bill in 2016 that held a rate structure in place and extended the life of two of the company’s nuclear plants through bailouts.
McClain, a longtime close friend and associate of Madigan, is now on trial with former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, ex-ComEd lobbyist John Hooker and Jay Doherty, a lobbyist and consultant who formerly led the City Club of Chicago. All four have pleaded not guilty to charges of bribery conspiracy, with Cotter going on offense on Day 1 on behalf of his client, who he described as one of the finest lobbyists in the state.
“Mike lived the General Assembly,” Cotter told the court, adding that he and Madigan became friends nearly 50 years ago. “He lived Springfield. It was his life. He got to know everybody and everybody got to know him. … He was absolutely committed to his clients’ best interest.”
Later, Pramaggiore’s attorney Scott Lassar said his client was a “wonderful woman,” a “Girl Scout” who rescued ComEd from tumultuous times. He added that she “knew that Mike Madigan was only concerned with one thing, and that was staying in power, staying speaker of the House.”
Madigan himself faces more than 20 counts of corruption-related charges but is not scheduled to go to trial until 2024. He also has pleaded not guilty.