One year after Madigan’s indictment, former House speaker’s allies prepare for trial

‘ComEd Four’ set for trial this month while former chief of staff’s trial scheduled for August

Former Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan parks a car in the garage of his home, Wednesday afternoon, March 2, 2022, in Chicago. Madigan, the former speaker of the Illinois House and for decades one of the nation’s most powerful legislators, was charged with racketeering and bribery on Wednesday March 2, 2022, becoming the most prominent politician swept up in the latest federal investigation of entrenched government corruption in the state. (Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

SPRINGFIELD — One year ago as of March 2, former House Speaker Michael Madigan – for decades the most powerful figure in Illinois politics – was indicted on 22 counts of racketeering, bribery, wire fraud and extortion.

The anniversary comes about two years after Madigan’s fellow Democrats forced him to cede the title of longest-serving speaker of any legislature in U.S. history. His ouster in January 2021 was followed by his resignation from both the House seat he’d held since 1971 and as chair of the state Democratic Party he’d molded in order to further consolidate power.

And a little over a year from now, Madigan is scheduled to stand trial in a case that federal prosecutors have been building for the better part of a decade. Along the way, the wide-ranging probes of Madigan and his associates have nabbed more than a dozen other Democratic politicians, lobbyists and business executives, upending Chicago and Illinois politics.

The man on the other end of the massive criminal probe, U.S. Attorney John Lausch, said Wednesday that his last day on the job will be March 11, after signaling his intent to step down in January. Lausch, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, stayed on even after President Joe Biden gained control of the White House at the urging of Illinois’ two Democratic U.S. senators, Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth.

Lausch will step down after seeing some of the public corruption cases he’s overseen go to court, resulting in prison sentences for a handful of former elected officials. But he’ll likely be a private citizen when Madigan’s case and the two others related to the former speaker go to trial – the first of which begins later this month.

U.S. Attorney John Lausch listens, as Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during a news conference at the Department of Justice, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

‘ComEd Four’ trial

On a Friday morning in July 2020, Lausch announced that Chicago-based electric utility giant Commonwealth Edison had agreed to pay $200 million after admitting it had engaged in a yearslong bribery scheme in an attempt to curry favor with Madigan, dubbed “Public Official A” in the feds’ court filing.

Madigan denied wrongdoing, but the cloud of corruption followed the speaker and his party into general election season. Republicans, who had long tried to weaponize Madigan as the face of corruption in Illinois, finally saw that tactic succeed. Voters rejected Gov. JB Pritzker’s graduated income tax ballot initiative and – for the first time in history – blocked the retention of a Democratic judge on the Illinois Supreme Court. TV ads blanketed the state tying both to Madigan and painting both as inherently corrupt.

Democratic leaders like Pritzker, Durbin and others blamed Madigan for their party’s Election Day defeats and began to inch toward calling on the speaker to resign.

But after three former ComEd lobbyists and a former executive at the company were indicted for allegedly orchestrating the bribery scheme later that month, the hinting at Madigan’s ouster became full-throated demands from some in his party.

Prosecutors allege that, starting in 2011, the executive and lobbyists – including longtime Madigan confidant Mike McClain – sought to influence Madigan in order to ensure passage of three major pieces of legislation benefiting the utility’s bottom line, in addition to killing a fourth bill that would have expanded assistance for low-income electric customers. That doomed legislation was pushed by Madigan’s own daughter, then-Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

The feds allege that Madigan in exchange sought influence on ComEd’s oversight body, ultimately getting his preferred candidate appointed to the utility’s board after a 17-month push. Additionally, ComEd hired paid interns from Madigan’s 13th Ward on Chicago’s Southwest Side and awarded contracts to Madigan allies, which often involved “little to no work,” prosecutors said.

Madigan maintains that the feds have built up a case “attempting to criminalize a routine constituent service” – that of giving job recommendations for those in his ward, district and larger purview as House speaker.

“That is not illegal, and these other charges are equally unfounded,” Madigan said in a statement responding to his indictment last March.

FILE - In this July 15, 2015 file photo, House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, listens to during a news conference at the Illinois State Capitol, in Springfield, Ill. Three more Democrats withdrew support on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020,from Speaker Michael Madigan's continued control of the Illinois House after his closest confidant and three others were indicted in a long-running bribery scheme involving utility giant ComEd. (Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP, File)

McClain, former ComEd lobbyists John Hooker and Jay Doherty, as well as former ComEd executive Anne Pramaggiore, all have pleaded not guilty.

McClain also was charged along with Madigan in the feds’ case last year, and in October, prosecutors filed a superseding indictment, adding charges related to telecommunications giant AT&T. Those charges are similar to the ones alleged in the ComEd case: that AT&T attempted to curry favor with Madigan in order to get favorable legislation passed in Springfield in exchange for jobs for allies of the former speaker.

AT&T is cooperating with prosecutors and struck a similar deal to the one agreed to by ComEd, promising to pay $23 million after two years.

Madigan’s right-hand man

In the almost four years since federal agents raided McClain’s home in 2019 – in addition to two FBI interviews the former lobbyist sat for in 2014 and 2016, according to recent court filings – Madigan’s confidant has continued his long-held role of shield for the powerful speaker.

Loyalty to Madigan also is a trait of the speaker’s former chief of staff, Tim Mapes, who in May 2021 was indicted on one count each of perjury and obstruction of justice. Prosecutors allege that Mapes lied under oath during interviews with the feds related to Madigan.

Mapes was ousted from his roles as chief of staff and executive director of the Democratic Party of Illinois under Madigan in 2018 after being publicly accused of sexual harassment and creating an inhospitable work culture for employees of the Illinois House.

In March 2021, Mapes was called in to answer questions about Madigan’s relationship with McClain. Mapes was testifying under an immunity order shielding him from prosecution in exchange for information.

Feds allege that he was told he could be prosecuted if he lied under oath, but Mapes did so anyway, according to the grand jury’s indictment.

The grand jury’s questions of Mapes probed whether McClain “acted as an agent” for Madigan even after he officially retired from his work as a ComEd lobbyist in 2016.

“[Madigan], if he had people do things for him like I did things for him, was – didn’t distribute information freely,” Mapes told the grand jury, according to the indictment.

The partial transcript included in the indictment detailed the grand jury’s line of questioning, particularly several attempts to ask Mapes whether he knew that McClain was working with or on behalf of Madigan in any capacity.

“I’m not aware of any,” Mapes said replying to one version of the question. “I’m not aware of that activity. Let’s put it that way.”

However, according to the feds, Mapes did have direct knowledge that McClain was working on Madigan’s behalf, as he was the one fielding calls and emails from McClain with messages for the former speaker.

Prosecutors allege that communication between Mapes and McClain continued even after Mapes resigned from his posts.

Mapes’ trial is scheduled for Aug. 7.

Still raising, spending money

Madigan’s political vulnerabilities began in earnest a little over five years ago, when former political staffer Alaina Hampton alleged that Madigan’s organization did nothing to stop repeated sexual harassment from an older, married colleague.

Kevin Quinn – the brother of 13th Ward Alderman Marty Quinn – was quickly fired after Hampton went public with her accusations in early 2018. But federal prosecutors allege that even after Madigan fired Quinn under public pressure, McClain directed the speaker’s allies to make sure Quinn found a soft landing.

That soft landing allegedly included monthly checks for Quinn totaling more than $30,000. At the time, a Madigan spokesperson denied the speaker’s involvement, saying, “If a group of people were attempting to help Kevin Quinn, the speaker was not a part of it.”

But in federal court documents filed last year, a transcript of a phone call between McClain and Madigan indicates that the former speaker knew about the payments.

“So, speaker, I put four or five people together that are willing to contribute to help a monthly thing, for the next six months, like I mentioned to you,” McClain is quoted as telling Madigan in August 2018, according to an unsealed search warrant.

In spring 2019, McClain, Quinn and another Madigan ally, former Chicago Alderman Mike Zalewski Sr., saw their homes raided by the feds. The Chicago Tribune and WBEZ first reported on those raids that summer, and in November 2019, further Tribune reporting revealed that the feds were investigating the checks for Kevin Quinn.

The news capped off a fall marked by raids and other federal filings in criminal probes involving other Democratic elected officials.

Even as Madigan’s power was becoming a liability for his fellow Democrats in 2019 and 2020, the former speaker kept raising and spending money in the two campaign funds he still controls: Friends of Michael J Madigan and 13th Ward Democratic Org. The latter committee he chairs in his role as 13th Ward Democratic committeeman, his only remaining role in public life. As elections for that post coincide with presidential primaries, Madigan’s term ends next spring.

Since around the time Hampton went public with her allegations in early 2018, the former speaker has spent more than $10 million in legal fees, mostly out of his personal campaign fund. But even in the two years since mostly stepping away from politics, both of Madigan’s committees have kept paying a handful of staffers, plus bills and rent for office space in his longtime home base at the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture in Chicago’s West Lawn neighborhood.

Money keeps flowing in and out of Madigan’s campaign coffers, with transfers in from sources including trade unions long loyal to the former speaker, and payments out for items as ordinary as office supplies, as vague as “services” and intriguing as “gifts” from a home décor store in the upscale north suburb of Glenview.

In the fourth quarter of last year, the 13th Ward Democratic Org spent more than $2,100 on ice, according to publicly available campaign finance records.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide, as well as hundreds of radio and TV stations. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

Hannah Meisel - Capitol News Illinois

Hannah Meisel is a state government reporter for Capitol News Illinois