Madigan, ComEd face racketeering suit for over $450 million in ratepayer damages

Madigan, ComEd face racketeering suit for over $450 million in ratepayer damages

Six House Democrats have called for the longtime speaker to step down.

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and Commonwealth Edison are accused of racketeering in a civil lawsuit seeking at least $450 million in damages for utility customers.

The lawsuit filed Aug. 10 stems from the prosecution agreement ComEd signed that outlines $1.3 million in contracts and bribes to Madigan cronies intended to curry his support for legislative benefits worth at least $150 million. That $150 million in “ill-gotten gains” to which ComEd admitted plus at least $300 million in damages allowed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act should be paid to ratepayers, lawyers argue.

The lawsuit also seeks to curb Madigan’s power to legislate utility issues or shape politics.

“We filed our civil RICO case now to protect Illinois ratepayers from further damage by Michael Madigan – in both his capacity as Speaker and as Chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois – and also to get our clients back the damages they have suffered from ComEd’s and Madigan’s bribery scheme,” attorney Stuart Chanen, a former federal prosecutor, told The Center Square.

Attorneys are seeking class-action status in U.S. District Court for the Northern District, Eastern Division. The civil suit is the third since the ComEd prosecution agreement was filed July 17.

“We apologize for the past conduct that did not live up to our values and have made significant improvements to our compliance practices to ensure that nothing like it ever happens again,” ComEd spokesman Paul Elsberg told the Chicago Tribune after an earlier lawsuit was filed. “The improper conduct described in the deferred prosecution agreement, however, does not mean that consumers were harmed by the legislation that was passed in Illinois.”

The prosecution agreement includes ComEd’s promise to cooperate with federal prosecutors and pay a $200 million penalty. It involves regulations in the Illinois House starting in 2011, but Elsberg said reliability is up and rates are down now as a result of state lawmakers’ actions.

Madigan has not been charged with a crime. He has refused to resign from his leadership roles despite calls from nine Democratic state lawmakers and over 50 other Democratic leaders, including two former gubernatorial candidates.

Some of those Democratic lawmakers have pushed for Madigan’s ouster because they fear he will damage efforts to pass their “fair tax” on Nov. 3. That fear is warranted.

Federal corruption probes have targeted or resulted in charges against five of the state lawmakers responsible for pushing the hike in state income taxes. The referendum asks voters to abandon the Illinois Constitution’s flat tax protection and entrust state lawmakers with greater power to decide who is taxed by how much, including taxes on retirees, a marriage penalty and taxes up to 47% higher on the small businesses that create most of Illinois’ jobs.

With Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker also facing a federal probe of an attempt to dodge $331,000 in property taxes, voters’ ability to trust state leaders with more power over their taxes may be too low for Pritzker to buy back – even with a $56.5 million persuasion campaign.

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