Lawyers for 4 charged in ComEd bribery case say no quid pro quo with Madigan, ask for charges to be dismissed

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Former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan had no arrangement with anyone to help Commonwealth Edison win key legislation in Springfield in exchange for bribes, lawyers for four people charged in the bombshell corruption case argued in a court filing Tuesday.

The filing on behalf of Michael McClain, Anne Pramaggiore, John Hooker and Jay Doherty asked U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber to toss several of the key elements of the case, including allegations of bribery conspiracy involving jobs doled out by ComEd to associates of the then-powerful House speaker.

The filing argued that the U.S. attorney’s office has improperly used the federal bribery statute to criminalize recommendations forwarded by Madigan to ComEd officials — what the defense lawyers called a routine practice that falls well within the bounds of legal political horse-trading.

“The government does not allege any connection between the jobs and any actions by (Madigan),” the filing stated. “Adopting the government’s view would put huge numbers of American citizens at risk of prosecution for their ordinary participation in the political process.”

The argument had the familiar ring of many other federal political corruption cases in Chicago, where defense attorneys have long accused prosecutors of bending the law in order to charge a high-profile elected official.

In fact, the brief cites the case against former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who famously argued that his efforts to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama in 2008 were not tied directly to any campaign donations, jobs or other things of value, and therefore did not constitute a bribe.

It also references another famous Illinois politician, Abraham Lincoln, noting that the revered former president once asked in May 1863 that U.S. Trust Corp. hire the nephew of a Union Army general killed in a Civil War battle.

“Even Abraham Lincoln, renowned for his honesty, made job recommendations while serving as president,” the motion stated.

The motion marked the second legal challenge in the case since the indictment was brought last November. Last month, attorneys for Doherty, a onetime consultant to ComEd and former head of the City Club of Chicago, argued in a legal filing that prosecutors had failed to present to the grand jury any evidence that jobs, internships or board seats mentioned in the indictment were not bona fide.

The 50-page indictment accused McClain, a retired lobbyist and one of Madigan’s closest confidants, of orchestrating the nearly decadelong scheme by ComEd to win Madigan’s support for its legislative agenda.

The indictment alleged that beginning in 2011, the 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, the onetime CEO of ComEd, 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.

The motion filed Tuesday asked Leinenweber to toss the specific counts related to Reyes and Ochoa, as well as a count alleging the defendants conspired in 2019 to pay key members of Madigan’s 13th Ward operation $5,000 a month in “consulting” fees through Doherty’s firm, Jay D. Doherty & Associates.

“There are no allegations that any defendant expected that ComEd would receive any benefit from (Madigan) in exchange for those things of value,” the motion stated. “Nor are there allegations that any defendant understood that he or she was obtaining anything at all from (Madigan) in exchange.”

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 and later resigned his legislative seat, has not been charged in the case and has denied wrongdoing.

The alleged scheme first came to light in July 2019, when the U.S. attorney’s office announced ComEd was being charged with bribery under a deferred prosecution agreement in which the company agreed to pay a record $200 million fine.

jmeisner@chicagotribune.com

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