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Culture of corruption exposed in trial centering on ex-Illinois House Speaker

One witness said Michael Madigan used "fear and intimidation" to get his way.

Published: March 26, 2023 11:07pm

While the corruption trial of former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan is still a year away, the depth of his alleged scheme is already starting to be unveiled, as the Chicago Democrat remains a central figure in the corruption trial of four former ComEd officials.

Federal prosecutors allege that officials at the ComEd utility company gave benefits to Madigan's associates in exchange for favorable legislation for nearly a decade. Some of Madigan's allegedly crooked connections have slowly been revealed over the past two weeks in the trial of former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, former ComEd lobbyist John Hooker, former ComEd consultant Jay Doherty and Madigan confidante and former lobbyist Michael McClain.

In a December 2018 wiretapped call played for the court this week, Madigan can be heard talking with McClain about appointing specific committee chairs who could stall unfavorable legislation.

"I understand we have a lot of people walking around trying to find things to complain about, but every once in a while, the speaker gets to do what he wants to do," Madigan said on the call. "Every once in a while."

Democrat state Rep. Robert Rita testified at another point in the trial that Madigan had unchecked power over everything from the Illinois Democratic Party to House committee assignments, bills and more.

Prosecutors asked Rita how Madigan maintained such power. "Through fear and intimidation," he replied.

Rita said that being an elected Illinois Democrat without Madigan's support "could be very, very difficult." He told the jury that state Rep. Kenneth Dunkin sided with former GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner on a vote, and in response the Illinois Democratic party recruited and funded a challenger against Dunkin the next primary.

On another day of the trial, Rita testified that Madigan ensured the passage of a bill worth $1.8 billion to ComEd in 2016.  

Madigan did not vote on the bill, but Rita said, "If he didn't support it, it wouldn't have passed."

ComEd agreed in July 2020 to pay $200 million to settle a criminal probe into the bribery scheme.

Madigan, who entered the Illinois House in 1971, resigned from the Illinois General Assembly in January 2021 after losing the race for House speaker, a position he held from 1983 to 2021, with the exception of 1995 to 1997, when Republicans controlled the House.

Madigan has pleaded not guilty to 23 counts of racketeering, bribery and misconduct in a separate case that is set to go to trial in April 2024. 

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