Apr 25, 2023 - News

"ComEd Four" bribery trial nears end

Photo illustration of Michael Madigan with lines radiating from him.

Photo illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios. Photo: Bloomberg via Getty Images

Closing arguments continue in the "ComEd Four" trial Tuesday.

Driving the news: The four defendants are accused of conspiring to bribe then-Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan to gain favorable legislation for the utility company.

Why it matters: The trial is illuminating the way politics and lobbying were done under the powerful former House speaker.

  • And despite Madigan's having been charged separately, with a trial set for April 2024, he's been the focal point of the federal government's case.

What they're saying: Federal prosecutors have tried to portray Madigan as a greedy politician who wanted to get jobs for his friends by abusing his relationship with ComEd.

  • They've alleged that because Madigan was prohibited by law to give his cronies public sector jobs, he found a workaround with the private utility company.
  • And they've accused ComEd executives and lobbyists of actively working to make that happen.

The other side: The defense has portrayed Madigan as a shrewd, powerful politician who wouldn't waste his time on a couple of board appointments. They argue the former speaker was a master politician who knew where the ethical guard rails were and wouldn't go near something as rudimentary as a bribery scheme.

  • They also contend that there's no evidence tying Madigan to favorable ComEd legislation.

Yes, but: The feds point to Madigan-backed legislation in 2011 that gave ComEd more control over how they charged customers.

The intrigue: For Illinois political junkies, testimony from Madigan's longtime precinct captain Ed Moody highlights the backbone of the "Chicago machine" that Madigan was allegedly running.

  • Moody knocked on doors for Madigan's political campaigns and was allegedly rewarded with a $45,000 contract with one of the ComEd lobbyists. He said Madigan told him, "I control that contract, and if you stop doing political work, you'll lose that contract.”
  • Moody was the only one from Madigan's operation to testify for the prosecution, although the defense pointed out that Moody was given immunity from other charges for his testimony.

Zoom in: A recorded phone call between Madigan and defendant Mike McClain also provided some juicy tidbits. It's at the heart of the prosecution's allegation that Madigan gave orders to get former ComEd board member Juan Ochoa hired in exchange for favors.

  • Madigan and McClain refer to another Chicago politician, former U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who Ochoa testified had a close relationship with Madigan.

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