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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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Verb placement and punctuation matter — and not just to fuss-budget English teachers worried about sentence form.

Right now, they’re the focus of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, who’s contemplating his future after one of the major players in the ComEd bribery scandal has indicated he’s copping a plea and planning to tell what he knows.

Here’s the grammatical conundrum under wide contemplation in political circles throughout the state following events late Friday afternoon at the U.S. Courthouse in Chicago.

Is it, “The dominoes are starting to fall.”

Or is it,Are the dominoes starting to fall?”

There’s a big difference.

Fidel Marquez, a former top executive at ComEd, last week was charged by federal prosecutors with handing out cash and contracts to Madigan associates as part of a long-running bribery scheme.

Rather than charge Marquez by grand jury indictment, prosecutors filed a criminal information against him that is generally considered to be a signal that the person charged plans to plead guilty and is cooperating with investigators.

He’s the first insider to cave under the pressure of a pending federal criminal investigation and a potentially long stretch in prison. Who, if anyone, is next?

Marquez held ComEd’s post of senior vice president of governmental and external affairs from 2012 to September 2019, when he submitted a shotgun resignation in the aftermath of news reports about the alleged bribery scheme.

He was followed out the door about a month later by ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore.

Both individuals were featured prominently in the deferred prosecution agreement authorities made public in July when they revealed the length and breadth of the conspiracy and the utility company’s admitted role in it.

Madigan, generally, operates through political cutouts. So the obvious question — how close are they? — relates to Marquez’s relationship to the 78-year-old Madigan.

WBEZ in Chicago reports that the two men are close enough that “Speaker Michael Madigan invited (Marquez) as his personal guest to House inauguration festivities last year.”

The charge against Marquez describes how the executive worked closely with Madigan friend Michael McClain, a former legislator turned ComEd lobbyist, to provide $37,500 in company money to an unidentified company with the expectation that the cash would be provided to Madigan associates.

Authorities have alleged that Madigan’s friends did “little or no work” for the money. The alleged purpose of the cash was to keep Madigan happy and ensure he would look favorably upon the utility’s legislative proposals.

Overall, federal authorities have alleged that the utility spend $1.3 million on Madigan’s political friends and associates, receiving an estimated $150 million in benefits through higher rates on customers in return.

In exchange for agreeing to the deferred prosecution agreement, ComEd paid a $200 million fine. Since then, it’s been hit with a series of civil lawsuits related to its criminal conduct.

ComEd also agreed to fully cooperate in the federal investigation and make structural reforms to ensure wrongdoing not be repeated in the future.

If ComEd meets its obligations fully by the end of the investigation, it will not be prosecuted even though it has admitted its participation in the bribery scheme.

For his part, Madigan has denied all allegations of wrongdoing. He’s seemingly admitted helping friends find employment with the utility but denied any improper expectations or agreed upon quid pro quos.

He issued a similar denial in the aftermath of the Marquez bombshell.

Madigan, who is both House speaker and chairman of the state Democratic Party, issued a statement saying he “never helped anyone find a job with the expectation they would not be asked to perform work” or “made a legislative decision with improper motive.”

“Any claim to the contrary is unfounded,” the Madigan statement reads.

While ComEd has admitted its criminal conduct, no one besides Marquez has been charged in this alleged multi-player conspiracy. But it appears to be only a matter of time before Pramaggiore and McClain, among others, are.

Before the feds unveiled their charges against ComEd that outlined the entire scheme — including Madigan’s allegedly pivotal role — McClain was named in a series of news reports.

The FBI raided his Quincy home. More ominous for those targeted in the probe, investigators eavesdropped on McClain’s phone, including some incriminating quotes in the ComEd deferred prosecution agreement.

The drip-drip-drip nature of the scandal has created a tidal wave of concerns in politics throughout Cook County and the state.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has tried to separate himself from Madigan, urging him to cooperate fully with investigators and answer all questions in public. At the same time, some Democrats — mostly fringe players in their party’s politics — have called on Madigan to resign both his legislative and party posts.

Most regular Democrats either have tried to avoid adding the Madigan issue or announcing that “if” Madigan is proved guilty of the allegations he must resign.

Republicans, naturally, have tried to take advantage of the scandal. Last week, they used House rules to win approval for a legislative investigation of Madigan that is scheduled to start on Thursday.

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