Opinions Editor

Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is jdey@news-gazette.com.

Listen to this article

With multiple federal public corruption investigations under way in Chicago, Cook County and the General Assembly in Springfield, a favorite parlor game involves speculating about who is and/or may be caught up in the wide net that has been cast.

Participants are well-advised to be aggressive in this name-game because with so much monkey business identified — pay-for-play construction contracts, red-light cameras, no-show jobs, corporate payoffs and more — many prominent people now find themselves in legal jeopardy.

“This thing is going all over the place,” writes Capitol Fax’s Rich Miller.

One name, however, stands out above all others, and it’s a big one — Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Two questions are swirling around the all-powerful Chicago pol.

Are the feds after him? If so, will they get him?

Federal investigators clearly are looking into multiple Madigan associates as it relates to their employment as lobbyists for Exelon/Commonwealth Edison. The working theory seems to be that the corporation allegedly hired Madigan associates for no-show lobbying jobs, and in return, the company received favorable treatment, including rate increases on millions of people, from the General Assembly.

No one, however, should hold their breath awaiting an indictment. Criminal investigations take time. Further, the Diminutive Don is a clever character.

Madigan may not have committed any criminal offenses. He’s a smart guy who knows how to make plenty of money within the law. But if he did, Madigan would never make it easy for investigators to catch him.

The FBI recorded thousands of phone calls made by indicted Chicago Alderman Ed Burke. News reports indicate Madigan doesn’t use a cellphone, and he doesn’t rely on email. He’s also not inclined to say anything more than necessary to make his points.

“The cash register has not yet run,” Burke said in an incriminating recorded call about one of his allegedly illegal deals.

There will be no such declarations from Madigan.

Then again, he has reportedly spent more than $1.5 million in legal fees over the past year.

Even allowing for his involvement in civil cases — one concerned his penchant for running phony candidates in one of his Illinois House races to divide up the anti-Madigan vote — that’s a lot of money.

More than $1 million was paid from Madigan’s political fund to Hinshaw & Culbertson, the firm that employs onetime U.S. Attorney and Madigan lawyer William Roberts.

Although the utility company has limited its public comments, it has acknowledged it is under investigation and claimed to be “cooperating fully.”

It has also disclosed in regulatory filings that the company response to federal inquiries is being overseen by “outside directors” and an “outside lawyer.”

What’s wrong with the utility’s insiders? Well, there are fewer of them now than there were just a month ago.

Two top utility officials — Chief Executive Officer Anne Pramaggiore and Vice President of Government and External Affairs Fidel Marquez — submitted out-of-the-blue resignations earlier this month.

Investigators reportedly have sought company lobbying records as well as more specifics involving their lobbyists and at least one politically connected employee, the daughter of a state senator — Martin Sandoval — who has been targeted by the feds.

Investigators also have been conducting searches at the homes and offices of Madigan loyalists who are utility lobbyists: former Alderman Michael Zalewski and former state Rep. Michael McClan.

They also conducted a search at the residence of a former Madigan campaign worker, Kevin Quinn, who was dismissed by Madigan after he was linked to sexual harassment complaints. The feds reportedly want to know why utility lobbyists are writing checks to help out Quinn.

The latest disclosure involves rather old news. It was reported recently that federal investigators executed a search warrant months ago at the City Club of Chicago, where utility lobbyist and club President Jay Doherty holds sway.

WBEZ in Chicago, which has broken a series of stories on this corruption conflagration, reported the search warrant sought information and records involving multiple individuals, including Madigan.

The City Club issued a statement indicating it is “not the subject of the investigation,” just “one of many entities and individuals” subjected to requests for information. It said it has “not had any further requests since its last production in July.”

Given all that is in play, there’s obviously much more going on behind the scenes. That means Chicago’s criminal defense bar is fully engaged and operating on two traditional theories: Whoever makes the first deal gets the best deal, and those on the lower end of the investigatory chain can help themselves a lot if they have information about those on the higher end. Obviously, no one is higher up than Madigan, the 77-year-old speaker of the House and chairman of the state’s Democratic Party.

Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is jdey@news-gazette.com.