Ex-House Speaker Michael Madigan, long the state’s most powerful pol, indicted on federal racketeering charges

·11 min read
Ex-House Speaker Michael Madigan, long the state’s most powerful pol, indicted on federal racketeering charges

Former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, for decades the most powerful politician in the state, was indicted Wednesday on federal racketeering charges alleging his elected office and political operation were a criminal enterprise that provided personal financial rewards for him and his associates.

The 22-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury comes after a yearslong federal investigation and alleges Madigan participated in an array of bribery and extortion schemes from 2011 to 2019 aimed at using the power of his office for personal gain.

The long-awaited charges punctuate a stunning downfall for Madigan, the longest serving leader of any legislative chamber in the nation who held an ironclad grip on the state legislature as well as the Democratic party and its political spoils. He was dethroned as speaker in early 2021 as the investigation swirled around him, and soon after resigned the House seat he’d held since 1971.

Both Madigan and his attorneys denied the allegations in written statements Wednesday and said they intended to fight them in court.

Also charged in the indictment was Madigan’s longtime confidant, Michael McClain, a former state legislator and lobbyist who is facing separate charges alleging he orchestrated an alleged bribery scheme by Commonwealth Edison.

Michael Madigan, ComEd and corruption: Timeline of how the investigation unfolded »

That same alleged scheme forms the backbone of the indictment returned Wednesday, outlining a plan by the utility giant to pay thousands of dollars to lobbyists favored by Madigan in order to win his influence over legislation the company wanted passed in Springfield.

The indictment also accused Madigan of illegally soliciting business for his private property tax law firm during discussions to turn a state-owned parcel of land in Chinatown into a commercial development.

Though the land deal never was consummated, it’s been a source of continued interest for federal investigators, who in 2020 subpoenaed Madigan’s office for records and communications he’d had with key players.

Then-Ald. Daniel Solis, who was secretly cooperating with the investigation, recorded numerous conversations with Madigan as part of the Chinatown land probe, including one where the speaker told Solis he was looking for a colleague to sponsor a House bill approving the land sale.

“I have to find out about who would be the proponent in the House,” Madigan allegedly told Solis in the March 2018 conversation. “We gotta find the appropriate person for that. I have to think it through.”

The indictment also alleged that Madigan met with then Gov-elect J.B. Pritzker in December 2018 in part to discuss a lucrative state board position for Solis, ostensibly as a reward for helping Madigan win law business.

Before that meeting, Solis allegedly recorded Madigan telling him the speaker’s communication with Pritzker did not need to be in writing,” according to the indictment. “I can just verbally tell him,” Madigan allegedly said.

His office issued a statement Wednesday saying Pritzker “does not recall” Madigan ever asking him to consider Solis “for any position” and that the administration has no record of the alleged recommendation.

A spokesperson for Pritzker also revealed the governor was informed by federal law enforcement that he was “only a witness” in the investigation, and that he agreed to a voluntary interview in his home in late February.

Pritzker spoke to investigators for about an hour “about his experiences with and knowledge of Mike Madigan” and that “he was pleased to cooperate and provide information.”

Both Madigan, 79, of Chicago’s Southwest Side, and McClain, 74, of downstate Quincy, were scheduled to be arraigned on the charges March 9 before U.S. District Judge Robert Blakey.

It was unclear as of Wednesday evening whether that hearing would be conducted in person or by telephone under the courthouse’s COVID-19 protocols.

In addition to the criminal charges, the indictment also contains a forfeiture allegation against both Madigan and McClain seeking $2.8 million in alleged ill-gotten gains.

At a news conference Wednesday at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, U.S. Attorney John Lausch said the indictment was yet another sign of the state’s seemingly intractable issue of public corruption.

“Unfortunately, this type of criminal conduct drastically undermines the public’s confidence in our government,” Lausch said. “Simply put, it’s not a good thing.”

In his written statement Wednesday, Madigan said he never engaged in any criminal activity and that prosecutors were “attempting to criminalize” legal political actions such as job recommendations.

“That is not illegal, and these other charges are equally unfounded,” the statement read. “Throughout my 50 years as a public servant, I worked to address the needs of my constituents, always keeping in mind the high standards required and the trust the public placed in me. I adamantly deny these accusations and look back proudly on my time as an elected official, serving the people of Illinois.”

His criminal defense lawyers, Sheldon Zenner and Gil Soffer, said in their own statement the charges were “baseless” overreach by prosecutors and that the evidence would prove so in court.

McClain’s attorney, Patrick Cotter, said in a statement that the government for years has been trying to force him to cooperate “in its quest” against Madigan and that the latest charges are nothing more than a “continued attempt to pressure” him to do prosecutors’ bidding.

“He remains innocent of the recycled and new charges in this latest indictment,” Cotter said. “He will never testify falsely about himself or anyone, no matter how many indictments are brought against him. We will fight to prove his innocence.”

A major focus of the indictment is what prosecutors call the “Madigan Enterprise,” an ongoing arrangement with Madigan, McClain, the speaker’s 13th Ward Democratic organization, Madigan’s chairmanship of the state Democratic Party and his property tax appeals firm, Madigan and Getzendanner.

The purpose of the enterprise was to exercise, preserve and enhance Madigan’s political power and financial well-being, reward his political allies and workers financially for their loyalty and to generate income for members and associates through illegal activities.

The indictment alleges the illegal acts ranged from Madigan using his vast power as speaker, including his ability to virtually pass or block legislation, to reward friends and political allies.

The indictment was the culmination of a long-running federal probe of Madigan that broke wide open in summer 2020, when prosecutors identified him as “Public Official A” in bribery charges against ComEd.

Four people, including McClain, former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, former lobbyist John Hooker, and Jay Doherty, a consultant and longtime leader of the City Club of Chicago, were charged that November with bribery conspiracy and are awaiting trial. A fifth, former ComEd Vice President Fidel Marquez, has pleaded guilty to his role and is cooperating with investigators.

In bringing new charges against McClain, the U.S. attorney’s office seems to be putting the squeeze on him to cooperate. If he doesn’t, he’ll be left simultaneously fighting both the racketeering case and separate ComEd bribery case, which is set for trial in September.

By indicting Madigan, a famously shrewd tactician who rarely used email or cellphones, the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago has reached the apex of the state’s political food chain, even in the pantheon of Illinois political figures who’ve gone down on corruption charges before him.

Four Illinois governors went to prison during Madigan’s five decades in Springfield — one for crimes after leaving office and three others for misdeeds while serving as public officials. Madigan even held the gavel in the House when Illinois, for the first time, impeached a governor, Democrat Rod Blagojevich.

But none of those politicians had the staying power of Madigan, who used patronage jobs and other perks to build an army of foot soldiers sent to work campaigns on key legislative seats that reinforced Madigan’s position. His stature, in turn, brought him considerable personal wealth by helping land clients at his law firm, which handles high-dollar property tax appeals on some of Chicago’s biggest buildings.

The investigation into Madigan had already taken a toll, with waning political support forcing Madigan to give up the speaker’s gavel in January 2021, followed by his abrupt resignation weeks later from the legislative seat he’d held since 1971.

The probe came on the heels of another bombshell case — the racketeering indictment against Chicago Ald. Edward Burke, who like Madigan represented one of the last vestiges of Chicago machine politics.

Just two weeks before Burke was indicted for alleged corruption at City Hall, federal agents in May 2019 quietly executed search warrants on McClain’s home, as well as the homes of Madigan allies Kevin Quinn and Chicago Ald. Mike Zalewski.

The first public hint of the burgeoning probe came the next month when the Chicago Tribune reported that Quinn’s South Side home had been raided. Over the next several months it became clear that federal prosecutors were interested in money flowing from ComEd lobbyists to operatives in Madigan’s vast political operation. In November, the Tribune reported McClain’s cellphone had been tapped by the FBI.

In July 2020, the U.S. attorney’s office announced it had charged ComEd with bribery as part of a deferred prosecution agreement that called on the company to pay a record $200 million fine and cooperate in exchange for charges being dropped after three years.

“ComEd has cooperated fully with the investigation, been transparent with customers, and implemented comprehensive ethics and compliance reforms to ensure that the unacceptable conduct outlined in the agreement never happens again,” ComEd spokeswoman Shannon Breymaier said in a statement.

Four months after the ComEd charges were announced, prosecutors charged McClain, whose friendship with Madigan dates to when they served in the House in the 1970s and early 1980s and who later, as a lobbyist, was one of the only people in the General Assembly to have consistent access to the speaker on a broad range of issues.

In May 2021, chief of staff Timothy Mapes, another key member of his inner circle, was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice for allegedly lying to a federal grand jury about Madigan’s relationship with McClain as well as other matters involving the ComEd scheme.

In addition to a goal of financial gain, the indictment returned Wednesday alleged Madigan as part of the criminal enterprise used his speakership to mete out punishment, such as taking away staff if a lawmaker didn’t go along with the speaker’s wishes.

One previously highlighted example of Madigan and McClain protecting the speaker’s interests came in 2016, when McClain allegedly interceded with Pramaggiore to restore legal work that ComEd sought to cut back from the law firm of Victor Reyes, a Madigan operative in the Hispanic community. Reyes has not been charged.

The Madigan push to re-up the Reyes’ law firm’s ComEd contract allegedly came in connection with the company’s desire to reward the speaker for the promotion and passage of major legislation in 2016 to get consumers to underwrite costs of two power plants.

ComEd allegedly looked the other way when some of Madigan’s choices for internships for students coming out of the 13th Ward didn’t hit a minimum grade-point average, according to the indictment. The company at times waived the requirements for the Madigan internships, the indictment alleged.

The indictment alleged code-names were used when speaking about Madigan. Prosecutors formally said people in the conspiracy referred to Madigan as “our friend” or a “friend of ours” rather than using Madigan’s actual name.

The Tribune had previously reported McClain referenced Madigan with another cozy nickname: “Himself.”

The indictment also describes how Madigan allegedly gave ComEd a heads-up in April 2018 about legislation that they may want to oppose. He allegedly made the move around the time he was pressing to put Juan Ochoa, the former chief of McPier, into a slot on the board of directors of ComEd, a company regulated by the state.

On May 2, 2018, McClain allegedly informed Madigan of ComEd’s resistance to Ochoa’s appointment, and Madigan instructed McClain that they “continue to support” Ochoa, who was only identified as Individual BM-1 in the indictment.

The indictment described a series of calls in which McClain talked individually to Madigan, Pramaggiore and Hooker, noting in some that Madigan first “warned” of the potentially adverse legislation, that he pressed for Ochoa’s appointment and that he gave McClain permission to “kill” the bill.

The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat who was an assistant majority leader soon to become majority leader, a trusted member of Madigan’s leadership team.

The bill would have made a series of changes to the state public utilities act, including a requirement that some retail electric suppliers submit rate information every year to the Illinois Commerce Commission and the attorney general as well as assorted other provisions.

Harris, who later served as Madigan’s majority leader, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Beyond the board of director job, the indictment also alleged McClain worked with ComEd officials to steer payments to other Madigan allies.

In December 2018, McClain informed an unidentified intermediary of “Madigan’s decision to terminate payments” to one person and instructed the intermediary to “make it falsely appear that a remaining payment” was simply a “holiday bonus” even though the person had performed little or no work, according to the indictment.

Chicago Tribune’s Dan Petrella and John Byrne contributed.

jmeisner@chicagotribune.com

rlong@chicagotribune.com