Judge cites ‘common sense,’ legal precedent in denying bid to dismiss counts in ComEd bribery probe

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A federal judge on Thursday denied a motion to dismiss key counts against a longtime confidant of ex-House Speaker Michael Madigan and three others charged in the ongoing ComEd bribery probe, saying “common sense” and legal precedent dictated that the charges outlined in the indictment were sufficient.

U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber’s 25-page ruling was widely expected, as higher courts in Illinois and elsewhere have consistently ruled that prosecutors do not need to allege an explicit quid pro quo to charge someone with trying to bribe a public official.

The judge also said it was “common sense” that the benefits the defendants allegedly intended to lavish on Madigan — which included do-nothing jobs given by Commonwealth Edison to a slew of Madigan loyalists — need not be paid directly to Madigan in order for them to be considered bribes.

“The fact that these incentives were laundered partially through jobs does not invalidate the indictment,” Leinenweber wrote in the opinion. “A company cannot use its payroll line on its accounting ledger to circumvent all government oversight of public corruption.”

The ruling paves the way for the bombshell case to get to trial in September. Charged are Michael McClain, a former state legislator and lobbyist who was part of Madigan’s inner circle; former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore; former ComEd lobbyist John Hooker; and Jay Doherty, a consultant for the utility and one-time head of the City Club of Chicago.

A 50-page indictment filed in November 2020 alleged that beginning in 2011, McClain and the other defendants “arranged for various associates” of Madigan — including his political allies and campaign workers — to “obtain jobs, contracts and monetary payments” from ComEd even in instances where they did little or no actual work.

McClain and the other defendants also conspired to have ComEd hire a Madigan-favored law firm and lawyer, previously identified in public testimony as Victor Reyes of Reyes Kurson, and to accept into ComEd’s summer internship program a certain number of students who lived in Madigan’s 13th Ward, according to the charges.

Pramaggiore and McClain also allegedly took steps to have Juan Ochoa, the former head of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority of Chicago, appointed to ComEd’s board of directors at the request of Madigan and McClain, the indictment stated.

All four defendants have pleaded not guilty to the indictment. Another former ComEd executive, Fidel Marquez, pleaded guilty to bribery conspiracy last year and is cooperating with prosecutors in the probe.

Madigan, who stepped down from his role as speaker in January 2021 and later resigned his legislative seat, has not been charged in the case and has denied wrongdoing.

Leinenweber’s ruling on Thursday had been in the works since last summer, when lawyers for the defendants asked him to toss several of the key elements of the case, arguing that there was no quid pro quo agreement and that jobs, contracts and other payments to chosen Madigan political operatives constituted legal lobbying.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu wrote in response that the federal bribery law does not require a quid pro quo, and even if it did, the allegations in the indictment make clear that Madigan, identified only as Public Official A, was well aware of and benefited from the scheme.

Over an eight-year period, Bhachu wrote, ComEd provided at least $700,000 in benefits to key Madigan political operatives that “did not consist merely of lobbying” and proved to be an effective means to gain influence at the Illinois Capitol.

“The stream of benefits defendants conferred on Public Official A are alleged to have had the desired result—ComEd’s substantial legislative success in Springfield,” Bhachu wrote.

Leinenweber agreed, saying in his ruling that the clear language of the federal bribery statute doesn’t require proof that a public official intended to receive the benefit, “only that the person attempting to provide the illegal gratuity ‘corruptly gives, offers, or agrees to give’ a thing of value.”