CHICAGO (AP) — Michael Madigan, the former speaker of the Illinois House and for decades one of the nation’s most powerful legislators, was charged with racketeering and bribery on Wednesday, becoming the most prominent politician swept up in a federal investigation of entrenched government corruption in the state.
Madigan, 79, is charged with 22 counts, according to the indictment.
Madigan, who resigned from the Legislature a year ago amid the investigation, was the longest-serving state House speaker in modern U.S. history and was nicknamed the “Velvet Hammer” for his insistence on strict party discipline. A procession of top state politicians, including three governors, has been charged during his tenure, but politicians long believed the savvy Madigan would never be among them.
In 2020, the Chicago Democrat was implicated in a long-running bribery scheme involving the state’s largest electric utility, ComEd. Court filings at the time didn’t name Madigan directly but made it clear he was the person in documents referred to as “Public Official A.”
Madigan is charged with racketeering conspiracy, using interstate facilities in aid of bribery, wire fraud, and attempted extortion.
The 22-count indictment accuses Madigan “of leading for nearly a decade a criminal enterprise whose purpose was to enhance Madigan’s political power and financial well-being while also generating income for his political allies and associates,” according to a statement from the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago.
The charges allege Madigan used not just his role as speaker but also his various power positions to further his alleged criminal enterprise, including as chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party and as a partner in a Chicago law firm.
ComEd admitted in court filings that it secured jobs and contracts for associates of Public Official A from 2011 to 2019 for favorable treatment in regulatory rules impacting the utility. ComEd agreed in August 2020 to pay $200 million in a settlement to defer prosecution, though that agreement did not preclude criminal charges against any individual.
The federal complaint came after more than half a dozen Democrats — including Madigan’s longtime chief of staff and other confidants — who were charged with crimes or had their offices and homes raided by federal agents.
As speaker, the ever-confident Madigan tended to shrug off the political scandal of the day. A spokeswoman for Madigan last year denied the ComEd-related allegations and said Madigan would cooperate with the investigation “which he believes will clearly demonstrate that he has done nothing criminal or improper.”
That wasn’t good enough for members of his House Democratic caucus, many of whom weren’t born when Madigan was first inaugurated in 1971. Despite his determination to win a 19th term as speaker in January, support peeled away and he was unable to garner the 60 votes needed to retain the gavel. Relegated to the rank and file of the 118-member House, he resigned his seat in the Legislature and as chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois in February 2021.
Madigan, the son of a Chicago precinct captain, became House speaker in 1983. He was a throwback to the style of machine politics for which Illinois was once famous, especially during the 22-year mayoral reign of Chicago’s Richard Daley, when patronage and party connections controlled who was hired and which projects got built.
Madigan wielded power through stern control of his caucus and meticulous knowledge of legislation, determining which bills received hearings and which quietly died. His loyalists received choice legislative assignments and campaign cash. He controlled the drawing of district boundaries after a census.
Madigan’s former chief of staff, Timothy Mapes, was indicted in May for lying under oath to a federal grand jury investigating ComEd. The indictment said Mapes was granted immunity to testify and that his words or evidence can’t be used against him in a criminal case unless he committed perjury.
Four people, including an associate of Madigan’s, were indicted in November on charges accusing them of orchestrating a bribery scheme with ComEd.
Among them was Michael McClain, who served with Madigan in the House in the 1970s and early 1980s before becoming a lobbyist. One of his clients was ComEd.
The others charged included former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggirore; lobbyist and former ComEd executive John Hooker; and Jay Doherty, a consultant and former head of the nonprofit City Club of Chicago.
All pleaded not guilty.
In addition to jobs and contracts, the defendants were accused of conspiring to have ComEd hire a law firm favored by Madigan and to accept into ComEd’s internship program students who resided in Madigan’s 13th Ward, even though some didn’t meet its requirements, according to the indictment.
Former ComEd executive Fidel Marquez pleaded guilty to bribery in September and agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors.
Madigan held the gavel in the House for all but two years from 1983 to 2021, driving the political agenda regardless of which party controlled the governor’s office or the other legislative body. He served through the terms of seven governors. One, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, complained that Madigan, not he, was in charge of the state.
His power base was a middle-class district near Midway International Airport on Chicago’s Southwest Side, where his loyalists, many on government payrolls, reliably turned out to canvass neighborhoods and register voters. With an eight-figure campaign fund, he could pick and choose Democratic candidates across Illinois to run for office and finance their races. The Chicago Tribune in 2014 found more than 400 current and retired state and local government workers with campaign ties to Madigan. Madigan’s daughter, Lisa, served as Illinois attorney general from 2003 to 2019.
Pay-to-play allegations were raised against Madigan, but he denied them and none resulted in criminal charges. In 2013, the head of Chicago’s Metra Rail transit system claimed after being forced out that Madigan pressured him to give jobs and raises to political favorites.
In September 2019, FBI agents raided the state Capitol office of a Madigan ally, then-state Sen. Martin Sandoval. Sandoval’s Senate district encompassed Madigan’s, and one federal subpoena sought communications between Madigan and Sandoval.
The former Senate Transportation Committee chairman pleaded guilty earlier in 2020 to taking thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from a red-light camera company in exchange for blocking legislation that would hurt it. Sandoval had agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in their ongoing corruption probe as part of his plea agreement, but he died in December from COVID-19 complications.
Court papers mistakenly unsealed in another case revealed that the FBI had placed a recording device on a businessman to secretly record a conversation with Madigan in 2014.
Prosecutors have brought charges against another veteran Chicago Democrat, City Council member Ed Burke, accusing him of taking official actions for private gain. He has pleaded not guilty.
In October 2019, former Democratic state Rep. Luis Arroyo, a Madigan lieutenant, wascharged with bribing a legislative colleague with an offer of $2,500 a month in exchange for the state senator’s support of sweepstakes-related legislation. He pleaded guilty and resigned.
Madigan has a reputation for spurning the media and rarely speaking in public. But when reporters asked in 2019 if he was an investigative target, Madigan was emphatic.
“No, I’m not a target of anything,” he said.
As scrutiny of Madigan intensified, he also wrote a letter to House colleagues, denying wrongdoing or personal knowledge of any bribery scheme. He has said he never expected someone to be hired for a job in exchange for an action he took. “Helping people find jobs,” he said, “is not a crime.”
O’Connor reported from Springfield, Illinois.
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