A cache of emails released Wednesday in the Illinois House probe of Speaker Michael Madigan provides a deeper look into how a close confidant pressed Commonwealth Edison on positions ranging from a seat on the utility’s board of directors to student internships.
The email trail buttresses federal allegations that ex-lobbyist Michael McClain pushed on Madigan’s behalf to have former McPier CEO Juan Ochoa put on ComEd’s board and highlights how 13th Ward loyalist Ed Moody, now the Cook County recorder of deeds, was shifted from one secretive contract with a lobbyist to another.
ComEd dumped the 220 pages of emails on the House Special Investigating Committee looking into Madigan’s actions with ComEd on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, traditional timing for masking unfavorable news. The panel plans to meet again Dec. 14.
Madigan has staunchly defended his right to recommend people for jobs and has denied wrongdoing in the federal ComEd case. A Madigan spokeswoman on Wednesday had no immediate comment.
The emails released Wednesday show that McClain, who long represented ComEd and has long been one of Madigan’s closest allies, repeatedly acted as a go-between for the speaker, whom he frequently referred in the documents to as “Friend” or “our friend,” and the utility in an ardent push to place people in ComEd positions.
They also showed that McClain also pushed the recommendations of others, including House Republican Leader Jim Durkin.
Democratic Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch of Hillside, who chairs the House committee, said a “full, honest reading of these documents shows that associates of ComEd assisted with job recommendations for people from both parties, both chambers and multiple branches of government.”
Many of the emails were between McClain and Fidel Marquez, a former ComEd senior vice president who has pleaded guilty to a count of bribery conspiracy. But it also involved officials as high up as Anne Pramaggiore, the former ComEd CEO and Exelon official.
McClain and Pramaggiore were indicted on bribery and bribery conspiracy charges along with ComEd lobbyists John Hooker and Jay Doherty. All have denied wrongdoing.
In July, ComEd entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. attorney’s office and agreed to pay a $200 million fine while pledging cooperation in the ongoing federal investigation.
McClain’s emails to Marquez often provided context for the job recommendations, with one reading, “His Father is a former Representative and … the Father, is close to a Friend of ours.”
When McClain got an email from ComEd that suggested the utility could take six summer internships, McClain fired back an email that Madigan’s 13th Ward usually got 10.
In the case of Ochoa, the speaker’s recommendation for him to be on the ComEd board, an issue prosecutors previously alleged, was underscored by an email that showed an aide to Madigan sending Ochoa’s resume to Pramaggiore in November 2017.
Federal documents filed in the ComEd case have indicated that Pramaggiore met internal company resistance, but Ochoa was eventually appointed to the board in April 2019. Ochoa, who could not be reached for comment, is no longer on the board.
Ed Moody’s name came up in a June 5, 2013, email from McClain to Pramaggiore that asked if she would consider “moving Ed off my contract and onto Jay Dougherty’s or someone else’s? I know Hook and you have talked about it. You and I have casually talked about it but I wanted session to be over first.”
McClain concluded with a one-word reasoning for the request: “Optics.”
Marquez, in an apparent reference to subcontractors, explained in one email how former state Rep. Eddie Acevedo, D-Chicago, had been placed with lobbyist Shaw Decremer in February 2017 and removed from Roosevelt Group, which is headed by former Daley administration political enforcer Victor Reyes.
Later emails show ComEd cut ties with Decremer after Madigan dumped him as a top lieutenant with his political organization following complaints of “inappropriate behavior by a volunteer toward a candidate and staff.”
Acevedo previously told the Tribune he had worked as a contract consultant paid by former Rep. John Bradley and that he had previously worked for Decremer.
Moody and Acevedo could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
The emails also show McClain and Marquez discussing the hiring of former Republican state Sen. Tom Walsh, an ally of Durkin, as a lobbyist in 2015.
McClain sent Marquez an email in late October of that year with the subject line “FW: Walsh’s resume” that read: “How can we accelerate this item, please? ... PS: I think his son is Durkin’s political person now.”
Marquez replied that Walsh’s existing relationship with Peoples Gas was “a bit problematic.”
“Also, what does he add to team we currently need to enhance?” Marquez wrote. “Bringing on (redacted) will already require me to trim the current external lobbying team budget.”
Walsh eventually was brought on as a contract lobbyist. Durkin spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis said David Glockner, ComEd parent Exelon’s executive vice president for compliance and audit, was asked specifically about Walsh’s hiring when he testified before the House committee earlier this fall.
“I’m not aware that particular hire was with an effort to curry favor … with Leader Durkin,” Glocker testified.
Some of the documents released suggest Madigan had knowledge of what was going on.
On Oct. 18, 2014, for example, McClain forwarded Marquez an email with the subject line “Mike, Attached are 3 resumes for a meter reading position/or appropriate with ComEd,” though the original sender is unclear.
Six days later, on Oct. 24, 2014, McClain wrote in the same email thread, “Fidel, this is what our Friend was talking about with you.”
Marquez replied: “I received these three earlier. I may have misinterpreted what our Friend told me last night.”
Some emails could conflict with Madigan’s contention that he was simply making job recommendations and that those receiving the recommendations were free to use them as they saw fit.
In a March 2015 email to Marquez, McClain wrote, “our Friend cornered me and told me that (redacted) has NOT been contacted for an interview with the company which is contrary to what I had previously told him that he would be.”
Another series of emails from McClain to Marquez show the longtime Madigan confidant pushing aggressively for a job for an unidentified woman “somewhere downtown or near the 13th Ward.”
After apparently not getting a satisfactory response from Marquez, McClain emailed Hooker about two weeks later, writing: “This has been going on for months ... it is our Friend’s request. I have had to pivot to Choose Chicago because cannot get movement in ComEd. Our Friend knows.”
Former Democratic Illinois Senate President John Cullerton’s name also showed up in the trove of emails. A person whose name and email address were redacted emailed the former legislative leader, who retired in January, in 2014 at his law office email address about a job they were seeking with ComEd.
The person identified themselves in the email as a part-time customer service representative for ComEd who was seeking an energy tech position, and wrote, “Anything you can do would be greatly appreciated. I also want to thank you for everything you’ve done for me.”
Cullerton forwarded the email to Pramaggiore several days later.
In January 2015, Cullerton was copied in an email McClain sent to an address that was redacted. In it he wrote, “As you know I am uncomfortable about how slow ComEd was in addressing your potential employment. I again apologize. ComEd does not walk alone in these waters but I still think it took way too long.”
McClain also wrote in an email to Marquez in January 2015 contending they “look bad on how we handled” someone whose name is blacked out in the documents who had been recommended by Cullerton and a staffer.
ComEd released the documents Wednesday at the request of both Republicans and Democrats on the special investigating committee.
The utility blacked out information such as the names of individuals who are not named in the agreement with federal prosecutors, both ComEd employees and people referred to the company for internships or jobs.
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