ComEd, Madigan focus of federal bribery trial in Illinois

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)

CHICAGO — (AP) — Jury selection began Tuesday at a federal trial in Chicago that could offer an inside look at pay-to-play politics in Illinois that prosecutors say involved the state’s largest electric utility and one of its most powerful politicians at the time.

The four defendants are accused of arranging contracts, jobs and money for associates of then-Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, who for decades was one of the most powerful legislators in the U.S. Prosecutors say the goal was to curry favor with Madigan to ensure proposed bills favorable to ComEd actually became law.

Opening statements are expected sometime this week.

While Madigan, 80, will feature in much of the testimony and evidence, he won’t be in court. He has been indicted, but he isn’t a defendant at the current trial in U.S. District Court. He isn’t expected to testify either. His own trial is scheduled for next year.

The defendants at the current trial are onetime Madigan confidant Michael McClain, former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, former ComEd lobbyist John Hooker, and former ComEd consultant Jay Doherty. All have pleaded not guilty to multiple counts that include bribery conspiracy.

Defense attorneys have said they will aim to demonstrate that their clients were engaged in run-of-the-mill lobbying and that they never crossed lines into illegality.

Judge Harry Leinenweber asked some prospective jurors about feelings they had for Madigan and lobbyists in general, the Chicago Tribune reported. Some were excused after saying that sitting in on the trial for the up to eight weeks it could last would pose major hardships.

Key evidence for the government is expected to include secret recordings of Madigan and other key figures. Leinenweber ruled Tuesday that media would have access to recordings once they are played to jurors.

He rejected an argument from McClain’s lawyer, Patrick Cotter, that jurors could end up hearing what “the media considers to be the greatest hits” of the recordings outside court and thereby influence jurors’ verdicts, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Madigan was indicted in 2022 on charges that included racketeering and bribery. He’s denied wrongdoing. A year earlier, he resigned from the Legislature as the longest-serving state House speaker in modern U.S. history amid speculation that he was a federal target.

The indictment accused Madigan, among other things, of reaping the benefits of private legal work illegally steered to his law firm.