ComEd will pay $200 million as part of an 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 only as “Public Official A," for nearly a decade, prosecutors announced Friday.
The court filing identifies that elected official as "Speaker of the Illinois House and the longest serving member of the House of Representatives," a description that seems only to fit Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.
A spokeswoman for Madigan issued a statement Friday afternoon on behalf of the state's most powerful lawmaker, denying any wrongdoing while confirming that he had been subpoenaed and would cooperate with the ongoing investigation.
“The Speaker has never helped someone find a job with the expectation that the person would not be asked to perform work by their employer, nor did he ever expect to provide anything to a prospective employer if it should choose to hire a person he recommended," Madigan spokeswoman Maura Possley said in a statement. "He has never made a legislative decision with improper motives and has engaged in no wrongdoing here. Any claim to the contrary is unfounded."
“This morning the Speaker accepted subpoenas related to his various offices for documents, asking for, among other things, documents related to possible job recommendations," the statement continued. "He will cooperate and respond to those requests for documents, which he believes will clearly demonstrate that he has done nothing criminal or improper."
ComEd "arranged jobs, vendor subcontracts, and monetary payments associated with those jobs and subcontracts, for various associates of a high-level elected official for the state of Illinois, to influence and reward the official’s efforts to assist ComEd with respect to legislation concerning ComEd and its business," the office of U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois John Lausch said in a statement.
The largest electric utility in Illinois "understood that, as Speaker of the House of Representatives, Public Official A was able to exercise control over what measures were called for a vote in the House of Representatives and had substantial influence and control over fellow lawmakers concerning legislation, including legislation that affected ComEd," the court filing reads.
Thus, ComEd admitted to engaging in efforts "to influence and reward" Public Official A beginning in around 2011 and continuing through 2019, prosecutors say.
"The company admitted that it arranged for jobs and vendor subcontracts for Public Official A’s political allies and workers even in instances where those people performed little or no work that they were purportedly hired by ComEd to perform," the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a statement.
Reports of a sweeping federal corruption investigation into Illinois politics - including ComEd, Madigan and other prominent figures - have swirled for more than a year. Madigan is the longest-serving House speaker in U.S. history, having held the post for all but two years since 1983. He also chairs the state's Democratic Party.
"In addition to the jobs and contracts, ComEd further admitted that it undertook other efforts to influence and reward Public Official A, including by appointing an individual to ComEd’s Board of Directors at the request of Public Official A; retaining a particular law firm at the request of Public Official A; and accepting into the company’s internship program a certain amount of students who resided in the Chicago ward where Public Official A was associated," the statement continues.
In exchange, prosecutors said the General Assembly "considered bills and passed legislation that had a substantial impact on ComEd’s operations and profitability, including legislation that affected the regulatory process used to determine the electricity rates ComEd charged its customers."
ComEd acknowledged to investigators that the "anticipated benefits" of the legislation favorable to the utility company exceeded $150,000,000, the court filing says.
"We are committed to maintaining the highest standards of integrity and ethical behavior. In the past, some of ComEd’s lobbying practices and interactions with public officials did not live up to that commitment," Exelon CEO Christopher M. Crane said in a statement. "When we learned about the inappropriate conduct, we acted swiftly to investigate. We concluded from the investigation that a small number of senior ComEd employees and outside contractors orchestrated this misconduct, and they no longer work for the company. Since then, we have taken robust action to aggressively identify and address deficiencies, including enhancing our compliance governance and our lobbying policies to prevent this type of conduct. We apologize for the past conduct that didn’t live up to our own values, and we will ensure this cannot happen again.”
Prosecutors filed a one-count charge of bribery against ComEd Friday, as well as a deferred prosecution agreement in which the U.S. Attorney's office will delay prosecution on the charge for three years then seek to dismiss it if ComEd abides by certain conditions. Those conditions include continued cooperation with "ongoing investigation of individuals or other entities related to the conduct described in the bribery charge," as well as the payment of the $200 million fine, among other requirements.
ComEd cannot seek to recover the fine through customer surcharges or take a tax deduction, Lausch said. The agreement is subject to court approval, prosecutors say, though a court date has not been set.