When it was clear last summer that trouble was brewing for Commonwealth Edison, outside directors on the company’s board moved quickly to cut their losses.
Soon after, CEO Anna Pramaggiore announced her surprise retirement. Other high-level ComEd executives, like company lobbyist John Hooker, also left. About the same time, the flow of company money to dubious people for dubious reasons suddenly stopped.
By then, ComEd, on bended knee in the face of a sprawling federal criminal investigation, was working hand in hand with the federal government under the direction of outside lawyers to make shotgun amends and clean house.
Last week represented the culmination of ComEd’s cooperation with investigators. It entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors in which the company, as a corporate entity, acknowledged its role in a long-running bribery scheme and agreed to pay a $200 million fine.
Some have mistaken the nature of the deal.
The government’s agreement is with the corporate entity, not its former employees, a distinction the CEO of parent company Exelon was quick to point out.
“In the past, some of ComEd’s lobbying practices and interactions with public officials did not live up to that commitment” to integrity, Christopher M. Crane said. “When we learned about the inappropriate conduct, we acted swiftly to investigate. We concluded from the investigation that a small number of senior ComEd employees and outside contractors orchestrated this misconduct, and they no longer work for the company.”
In other words, ComEd bigwigs cut the key players in the alleged bribery scheme loose, and they are on their own.
It says as much on
page 8 of the agreement the utility negotiated with federal prosecutors: “... this agreement does not provide any protection against prosecution of any individuals, regardless of their affiliation with ComEd or with any of its present or former parents or subsidiaries.”
Last week’s announcement made big news because it directly implicated Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan in a long-running bribery scheme.
The utility allegedly showered Madigan’s political friends and associates with money in exchange for his favorable action on legislation that fattened the company’s bottom line.
Since then, there’s been feverish speculation about whether the feds have sufficient evidence to indict Madigan or whether the feds were rattling some cages in an effort to persuade Madigan associates to cooperate with the government to save themselves.
There’s no definitive answer to that question.
One thing, however, is clear — the feds appear to have the goods on top utility officials, as specific quotes in the government’s statement of facts make clear.
For example, an individual identified as CEO-1, presumably Pramaggiore, referred to the Madigan associates who were receiving ComEd money, either directly or indirectly, as “the roster.”
Another revealing Pramaggiore quote concerns Madigan’s efforts to press her to name a lobbyist associate, Juan Ochoa, to the company’s board of directors. In a conversation with Individual 1 — close Madigan buddy and longtime ComEd lobbyist Michael McClain — the CEO pledged to continue to push for Ochoa’s appointment to the board in the face of questions about his qualifications.
“You take good care of me and so does our friend (Madigan), and I will do the best I can to take care of you, “ Pramaggiore tells McClain.
Plenty of hearts in Springfield and Chicago almost stopped in June 2019 when The Chicago Tribune reported that the FBI had raided McClain’s Quincy home a month earlier. That bad news became worse news six months later when The Trib followed up with a report that the feds had been wiretapping McClain’s phone.
Do those taped conversations by Madigan’s best buddy represent the biggest threat ever posed to the speaker’s vast political power as well as his liberty? The answer would appear to be yes.
Consider this incriminating nugget. Madigan allegedly wanted ComEd to hire a law firm he favored. The company wasn’t keen on the idea but agreed to do so “with the intent to influence and reward” Madigan and “understood that giving this contract to Law Firm A was important” to Madigan, the government stated.
But company officials resisted renewing the deal because its contract with the law firm required it to pay for 850 hours of work and “there was not enough appropriate legal work ... to fill 850 annual hours.”
When ComEd balked, the law firm complained to McClain, who contacted Pramaggiore.
“I am sure you know how valuable (Lawyer A) is to our Friend,” he wrote, referring to Madigan. “I know the drill and so do you. If you do not get involved and resolve this issue of 850 hours for his law firm per year then he will go to our Friend. Our Friend will call me and then I will call you. Is this a drill we must go through?”
Notice how McClain repeatedly capitalized the “F” in “Friend.” That emphasis was not accidental.
Pramaggiore responded with alacrity: “Sorry. No one informed me. I am on this.”
Madigan’s office released a statement adamantly denying the allegations contained in the government’s ComEd agreement.
He made clear that
he wasn’t selling his office. The government documents, however, make it clear that ComEd was convinced it was buying Madigan’s office.
Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-351-5369.