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

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Baseball fans are looking to the playoffs these days for rousing games of hardball.

But fans who don’t like the sterile no-fans, no-fun atmosphere need only to turn their eyes to Chicago, where a different but intriguing exercise in ferocity is underway.

Federal prosecutors stunned Illinoisans in July when they announced details of the Commonwealth Edison bribery conspiracy and identified Democratic Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan as the ringleader of the corrupt enterprise.

As Madigan vehemently denied allegations of wrongdoing, the feds’ announcement immediately set off speculation about when or if the all-powerful Chicago Democrat would be charged in the case.

Speculation surely grew more intense last week when the feds showed part of their legal hand.

They demonstrated how much they’re willing to give to gain the cooperation of key co-conspirators in the case. At the same time, they dropped a big hint about how far they’re willing to go to induce that cooperation.

Prosecutors happily gave away the store to persuade former top ComEd executive Fidel Marquez to plead guilty and tell everything he knows.

“If the government determines (Marquez) has continued to provide full and truthful cooperation ... (the government) shall recommend a sentence that does not include a term of imprisonment as a component of the sentence,” the Marquez plea agreement states.

That “he talks, he walks” arrangement surely will get the attention of the many other individuals — both identified and unidentified — who are implicated in this conspiracy.

Testifying for the government might be unpleasant, but time in the joint is worse.

But just as the feds revealed the carrot they can offer to gain information that incriminates Madigan, they also brandished a stick.

Take so-far-unindicted co-conspirator Michael McClain, the former Quincy legislator turned lobbyist who’s a close Madigan friend.

Identified only as Individual 1, McClain is described in the plea agreement as a conduit to and from Madigan.

“Based on his discussion with (McClain) and others, Marquez knew that (McClain) had a close personal relationship with (Madigan) and, among other things, sometimes communicated on behalf of (Madigan),” the plea agreement states.

The feds desperately want McClain’s cooperation because of his central role in the conspiracy to provide Madigan’s friends and associates with no-work jobs in exchange for Madigan supporting the utility’s legislative agenda.

McClain, however, has stated publicly he has no interest in cooperating.

He apparently is willing to take his chances with the investigation.

So it was no accident that the feds indicated just how they may try to change McClain’s mind.

The plea agreement states that McClain is a former legislator and lawyer who “along with (McClain’s) spouse, operated an entity (McClain’s firm) that provided lobbying services,” the agreement states.

That raises a question — how much exposure does Cinda Awerkamp McClain have in the federal investigation?

Might she be subject to indictment for her role, however small, in her husband’s activities?

The bottom line is this: Would Michael McClain be willing to sacrifice his wife to the ugliness of indictment and trial to avoid telling prosecutors about the entirety of his and Madigan’s alleged roles in the alleged conspiracy?

ComEd’s deferred-prosecution agreement reveals the extent to which McClain could testify about Madigan’s efforts to get ComEd to provide no-show jobs for his friends and political supporters.

In a February 2019 recorded conversation between McClain and former ComEd executive John Hooker, McClain explained that Madigan had made it clear he wanted certain individuals to receive payments through the utility.

“We had to hire these guys because (Madigan) came to us. It’s just that simple,” McClain told Hooker in a conversation recorded by the feds.

There’s clear precedent for making stubborn potential witnesses make tough choices.

In former Gov. George Ryan’s corruption trial, prosecutors won the cooperation of close Ryan associate Scott Fawell by giving him a choice.

Fawell’s wife-to-be was involved with Fawell in criminal activities. Prosecutors offered her a pass if Fawell testified against Ryan.

Fawell reluctantly agreed, testifying in court that prosecutors had his “head in a vice.”

Although ComEd admitted paying about $1.3 million in bribes to gain $150 million in benefits, Marquez was charged with conspiracy to commit bribery for overseeing a $37,500 payment to Company 1, “a substantial portion of which was intended for associates” of Madigan.

Marqez’s plea agreement allows him to escape a prison sentence of up to five years — if the trial judge accepts prosecutors’ recommendation.

But Marquez is still exposed to a possible fine and restitution that will be determined when at his sentencing.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at jdey@news-gazette.com or 217-351-5369.