Feds charge former ComEd vice president with scheme to bribe Madigan

Feds charge former ComEd vice president with scheme to bribe Madigan

The sweeping federal corruption investigation threatens to derail Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s progressive tax hike amendment, which voters will decide Nov. 3.

Federal prosecutors charged a former top official for Illinois’ largest utility company with bribery conspiracy Sept. 4, alleging he orchestrated a scheme to pay allies of House Speaker Mike Madigan in exchange for the speaker’s support in Springfield.

Fidel Marquez served as vice president of governmental affairs for Commonwealth Edison from 2012 to 2019.

The feds’ four-page criminal information against Marquez lays out allegations of his involvement in a conspiracy to give Madigan’s associates “jobs, contracts, and monetary payments … even in instances where such associates performed little or no work” in order to influence the speaker’s official actions in Springfield.

Charges via criminal information – as opposed to a grand jury indictment – indicate Marquez is likely to plead guilty.

In July, federal prosecutors announced ComEd had been charged with a years-long bribery scheme that sought to “influence and reward” Madigan by arranging for $1.3 million in jobs, contracts and payments to his political cronies. At the same time, Madigan’s office was served with a grand jury subpoena seeking information on hiring and lobbying at AT&T, Walgreens and Rush University Medical Center.

Many of the payments were allegedly arranged by former ComEd lobbyist and longtime Madigan confidant Michael McClain. Prosecutors detailed in the deferred prosecution agreement with the utility giant that a consultant told a ComEd executive he believed McClain spoke to Madigan about the payments, saying they served to “keep [Madigan] happy [and] I think it’s worth it, because you’d hear otherwise.” The Chicago Tribune has identified that executive as Marquez.

ComEd executives did hear otherwise on at least one occasion, prosecutors allege.

The deferred prosecution agreement also detailed how ComEd retained a particular, unnamed law firm in 2011 in an attempt to sway the speaker. When that firm’s contract came up for renewal in 2016, an attorney from the firm complained to McClain that ComEd was seeking to reduce their hours to 850 per year. McClain then wrote to ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore to remind her “how valuable” the firm was to “our Friend.”

“I know the drill, and so do you. If you do not get involve (sic) and resolve this issue of 850 hours for his law firm per year then he will go to our Friend,” McClain continued. “[Madigan] will call me, and then I will call you … is this a drill we must go through?”

The CEO responded: “Sorry. No one informed me. I am on this.”

Madigan was not charged as part of the case, but was identified in court documents as “Public Official A.” As part of the deal, ComEd agreed to pay a $200 million fine, admit to seeking Madigan’s help in passing legislation worth more than $150 million to the company and continue to cooperate with the ongoing federal investigation into public corruption.

Illinois House Republicans recently invoked a little-known rule to convene a special committee to investigate the speaker’s involvement with ComEd. That bipartisan committee is scheduled to convene for the first time in Springfield Sept. 10. Madigan called that investigation a “political stunt,” and denied he did anything wrong or for the wrong reasons.

Lawmakers from both parties and from across the state ­– including 10 state House and Senate Democrats – have called for Madigan to resign his positions as House speaker and chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois. But Gov. J.B. Pritzker has refused to call for his immediate resignation.

Pritzker is relying on support from Madigan’s political army to convince voters to pass a progressive tax constitutional amendment on Nov. 3. But experts believe the speaker’s scandal could tank its chances, with voters reluctant to grant broad new taxing authority to state leaders perceived as corrupt.

“Not just the general circumstances with COVID, but also the burgeoning bribery allegations implicating Madigan and ComEd means the people’s trust in state government is at a pretty low ebb,” said University of Illinois at Chicago political science Prof. Dick Simpson.

“Because it requires an affirmative vote, you’re asking people to say, ‘Yeah, I trust the state and I want them to have more money.’”

Madigan is the fifth key backer of Pritzker’s progressive tax to face federal corruption scrutiny, some for tax evasion. Pritzker himself is under federal investigation for a $331,000 property tax dodge on his Gold Coast mansion.

After betraying the public’s trust and avoiding their own taxes, it takes a special arrogance to ask voters Nov. 3 to trust state lawmakers with greater authority to say who should be taxed how much, including retirees.

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