Two former ComEd executives and two consultants, one a longtime confidant of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, have pleaded not guilty to federal charges against them alleging that they conspired in a bribery scheme to influence the powerful lawmaker, who has not been charged with any criminal wrongdoing but now faces a massive uphill political battle to retain his long-held leadership role amid the scandal.
Anne Pramaggiore, John Hooker, Michael McClain and Jay Doherty all pleaded not guilty to multiple charges during their arraignment, held via conference call, on Wednesday morning.
All four were each charged with multiple counts of bribery conspiracy, bribery and willfully falsifying ComEd records in an indictment filed last month. The defendants were told Wednesday that the most serious counts in the indictment could carry a penalty of up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
All four remain free on bond, with a status hearing next scheduled in the case for Feb. 16.
Pramaggiore, 62, is the former CEO of ComEd who headed the utility from 2012 to 2018 and later served as an executive at an affiliate of Exelon Corporation, according to the indictment.
Hooker, 71, formerly served as ComEd's executive vice president of legislative and external affairs until 2012. Hooker also worked as an external lobbyist for the company after his departure.
McClain, 73, worked as a lobbyist and a consultant for ComEd and is a longtime friend and confidant of Madigan’s after the two served together in the Illinois House for 10 years beginning in 1972.
Doherty, 67, owned a consulting company that performed services for ComEd from 2011 to 2019, the indictment reads. He previously served as head of the City Club of Chicago, a nonprofit public affairs forum that often hosts speaking events with prominent business and political leaders in the city and state, before resigning late last year under the cloud of the federal investigation.
Prosecutors say the four defendants attempted to influence and reward “Public Official A” for a period of approximately eight years between 2011 and 2019.
The indictment identifies "Public Official A" as the Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives and Democratic committeman for Chicago's 13th Ward - a description that seemingly only fits Madigan, the longest serving statehouse speaker in the U.S. who also serves as the chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois.
“During that time, ‘Public Official A’ controlled what measures were called for a vote in the Illinois House of Representatives and exerted substantial influence over fellow lawmakers concerning legislation affecting ComEd,” the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois said in a statement announcing the charges.
The indictment alleges that the defendants in the case attempted to arrange for jobs and contracts for “Public Official A’s” allies and employees as part of the scheme.
Madigan has not been charged with any criminal wrongdoing and has repeatedly denied any involvement in or knowledge of the alleged behavior of the four charged.
"After a lengthy investigation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has charged, but of course has not proven, that certain ComEd employees, consultants, and lobbyists allegedly conspired with one another in the hope of somehow influencing me in my official capacity," Madigan said in a statement when the charges were announced. "Let me be clear: if that attempt ever happened, it was never made known to me. If it had been known to me, it would have been profoundly unwelcome. Nothing in either this indictment or in the earlier filings by the U.S. Attorney’s Office alleges otherwise."
"In addition, nothing in this indictment or in the earlier filings alleges that I did anything in my official capacity related to ComEd’s legislative agenda as a result of whatever internal decisions ComEd made or didn’t make," he continued. "Any such allegation would be false. If there was an attempt to influence me in my official capacity, it failed, although knowing most of the people who were charged, I doubt there was any scheme as characterized by the government."
In July, ComEd agreed to pay $200 million as part of a deferred prosecution agreement to resolve a federal criminal investigation into a bribery scheme in which investigators say the utility company admitted to arranging jobs and payments for associates of an elected official, referred to again only as “Public Official A,” for nearly a decade.
The scandal has prompted at least 19 Democrats in the Illinois House to publicly say they would not back Madigan for another term as speaker beginning in January.
That total appears to leave him six votes short of the 60 needed to retain the position he's held for all but two years since 1983, making him the longest serving statehouse speaker in U.S. history. No legislative action can be taken before the election of a speaker, according to the rules of the House.
Madigan said in a statement last month that he planned to remain a candidate for the role, noting that he had "confirmed that I continue to have support from a significant number of House Democratic caucus members."