By GLENN MINNIS
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) – The specter of indicted former House Speaker Michael Madigan loomed large during opening arguments in the “ComEd 4” bribery trial at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse Wednesday.
The longest serving legislative leader in U.S. history seemed everywhere during arguments while he personally was nowhere to be found during the daylong proceedings in the overflow courtroom of U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber.
As part of her opening, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Streicker left little to the imagination, telling jurors “in short, Madigan wanted, the defendants gave and the defendants got. It’s that simple.”
Longtime Madigan confidant Michael McClain, former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, ex ComEd lobbyist John Hooker and Jay Doherty, a lobbyist and consultant who once served as the head of the City Club of Chicago, are all on trial in a case that charges each of them with playing a role in masterminding a scheme to funnel jobs, cash and other perks from the utility giant to associates of Mr. Madigan in exchange for him taking a favorable stance on legislation the company stood to benefit from.
All four defendants have pleaded not guilty.
Mr. Madigan is slated to go on trial in connection with the scheme in the spring of 2024, when he will also face a separate racketeering indictment accusing him of being involved in an assortment of other corruption-related schemes. Mr. Madigan also has pleaded not guilty.
Ms. Streicker told the court ComEd doled out at least $1.3 million in payouts that were ultimately steered to the longtime lawmaker, who doubled as chairman of the state Democratic Party where he had control of its campaign war chest. As part of the scheme, Ms. Streiker alleged company officials also installed another Madigan confidant on the ComEd board and doled out coveted internship posts to families in his 13th Ward.
Over the life of the alleged eight-year scam, prosecutors say Mr. Madigan tirelessly worked behind the scenes to help the company win three lucrative pieces of legislation, including the “Smart Grid” bill in 2011 and another bill five years later that held a rate structure in place and helped keep at least two of the company’s nuclear plants operating.
As arguably the state’s most powerful lawmaker, Ms. Streicker argued much of the heavy-lifting proved easy for Mr. Madigan.
“He (could) wield that power to make or break a piece of legislation,” she added. “The defendants bribed him, and they did so by paying Madigan’s associates through jobs and contracts at ComEd.”
All four of the defendants have entered not guilty pleas, with each of their attorneys expected to argue that all the payments to Mr. Madigan’s associates fell within the parameters of legal lobbying efforts.
As Ms. Streicker fired off one salvo after another during her lengthy opening statement, Mr. McClain, known as one of Mr. Madigan’s oldest and most trusted friends, quietly sat at the defense table staring her down, including when the federal prosecutor referred to him as a “double agent” for ComEd and the Madigan machine.