Home Illinois ComEd board appointment allegedly prompts Madigan to look to Illinois’ odd political...

ComEd board appointment allegedly prompts Madigan to look to Illinois’ odd political friends – Chicago Tribune


One of the leading charges in the ComEd Four bribery conspiracy trial, which is expected to begin Tuesday with jury selection, promises a fascinating look at how the never-ending struggle for political power in Illinois can create some strange alliances.

According to the indictment, then-House Speaker Michael Madigan was involved in a two-year effort to appoint former political foe Juan Ochoa to a lucrative position on Commonwealth Edison’s board of directors, part of a broader scheme by the utility company to exploit the Democratic Party. the influence of the speaker in Springfield.

Ochoa, a businessman, failed political candidate and former head of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, has not been charged.

Instead, he is expected to become a key witness for prosecutors, recounting how the appointment came about, starting with meetings with Madigan, the longest-serving impeached speaker in American history, and several other members of Chicago’s elite political class, including two powerful Latinos and a former mayor.

Ochoa’s testimony, bolstered by wiretapped phone calls and emails, is expected to provide jurors with details about how he overcame a fractured relationship with Madigan to ascend to a cushy $78,000-a-year position on ComEd’s board despite significant refusing utilities from executives who had questions about his resume.

Ochoa’s attorney, Ricardo Meza, declined to comment for this story, but previously told the Tribune that Ochoa “will testify truthfully about everything he knows.”

Defendant in ComEd Four case were longtime Madigan confidant Michael McClain, 75, of Quincy, Ill., former ComEd CEO Anne Promaggiore, 64, former ComEd lobbyist John Hooker, 73, and Jay Doherty, 69, former head of the City Club of Chicago. All the accused pleaded not guilty.

Another ComEd official, former Vice President Fidel Marquez, pleaded guilty in September 2020 and is expected to testify against his former colleagues about the Madigan influence scheme as well as the conversations he recorded for the FBI.

The charges allege that McClain, a former Democratic lawmaker and lobbyist whose ties to Madigan date back to their time in the Illinois House in the 1970s, orchestrated a scheme to funnel jobs and hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments and other benefits to Madigan. communal services. -approved consultants in exchange for the speaker’s help with legislation the utility giant wanted passed — or blocked — in Springfield.

Prosecutors alleged that this overarching scheme included a plan to get Ochoa on the ComEd board, which began in November 2017 with Ochoa reaching out to then-U.S. Congressman. According to a recent statement by prosecutors, Ochoa believed the congressman owed Madigan a political favor because the congressman endorsed the speaker in the previous election.

Although the document did not identify the congressman, “Tribune” previously reported. that he is former U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a Chicago Democrat and longtime friend of Ochoa.

Sources told the Tribune that Gutierrez and Ochoa met personally with Madigan to push the idea, as well as with then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Copies of Emanuel’s official calendars from the time, released to the Tribune through an open request, show Emanuel met with Ochoa and Gutierrez at City Hall on Nov. 17, 2017.

US Representative Jesus "Listen" Garcia, second from left, then a Cook County commissioner, stands with Juan Ochoa, center, and former U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, right, at a news conference in February 2013 when Ochoa was running for Cicero city president.

Two months later, Madigan called Ochoa himself and said he would be “contacted by someone from ComEd” about the appointment, prosecutors allege. But that plan allegedly hit a snag later in 2018, when Pramaggiore said she had received negative feedback from other ComEd employees about Ochoa’s qualifications and issues surrounding him.

On May 2, 2018, Madigan called McClain to discuss the issue.

“Yeah, so they only have a little pushback,” McClain allegedly said during the conversation, which was recorded by the FBI. “I guess (Ochoa) has had some financial issues in the past and things like that.”

McClain said Promaggiore pitched him the idea of ​​finding a job for Ochoa at ComEd that would pay the same as a board position while it wasn’t as important to Madigan to be on the board, according to an FBI search warrant filed during the investigation and unsealed last year.

“If it is, she’s going to keep pushing, and if it’s not, you’re just trying to help him, then she’s going to try to find something to compensate him the same way,” McClain said, according to the affidavit. .

“And Mike, how much does a board member get paid?” Madigan asked. When McClain replied that it was $78,000 a year, Madigan laughed and said, “Maybe I’ll take the meeting,” according to the affidavit.

“Yes, Mike, I would suggest that we continue to support (Ochoa) … but keep me posted on how strong the pushback is,” Madigan was quoted as saying in the affidavit.

Two weeks later, Madigan called McClain again to discuss the situation. Again, the speaker said “go ahead with Ochoa” even with his obvious baggage. “If the only complaint against him is that he’s twice bankrupt, so is Harry Truman,” quipped Madigan.

Less than an hour after that conversation, McClain called Pramaggiore to tell her that Madigan “would appreciate it if you could keep pressing,” the affidavit alleged. “Okay, got it,” Pramaggiore replied. “I’ll keep pushing.”

It was another two months before the next phone call, which the FBI records show. On July 17, 2018, Promaggiore, who had just taken over as CEO of ComEd’s parent company, Exelon Utilities, told McClain that the utility was “moving forward” with Ochoa’s appointment pending a dinner party and some final hurdles.

And showing how the two seemingly worked in tandem, Pramaggiore told McClain to let Madigan know that he could be the one to tell Ochoa that ComEd was closing in on a deal.

“So, yeah, it’s been a little bit, you know, it’s taken a little bit, but um, yeah, we’re good,” Pramaggiore allegedly said.

“It’s interesting how long some things take isn’t it Ann?” McClain responded, according to the affidavit.

McClain called Madigan later that day to tell him the good news. Meanwhile, when Promaggiore called Marquez that evening, they both agreed that completing the Ochoa deal was “huge” for Madigan. “It’s huge. This is huge,” Marquez, who has not yet cooperated with the investigation, allegedly said during the recorded conversation.

But the work is not over yet. In early September, Pramaggiore contacted McClain by phone, saying she did not want to release her updates “in writing,” according to the affidavit. She told McClain that “barring something amazing,” the deal will still be done, but there are still legal forms and final agreements.

Promaggiore also expressed frustration with some of her colleagues’ potential reasoning for Ochoa.

“Did he have a foreclosure or something? I wanted to get over it, you know, just get over it,” Promaggiore told McClain, according to the affidavit. McClain told her he appreciated the effort.

“Of course,” Pramaggiore allegedly replied. “You take good care of me and so does our friend (Madigan) and I will do my best to take care of you. You are well done.”

McClain quipped, “Well, don’t let it out.”

Former ComEd President and CEO Anne Promaggiore during a press conference in July 2017.

It would be another five months before there was any movement. In February 2019, Pramaggiore called McClain to tell him that Ochoa’s appointment had finally happened. McClain asked if Madigan could call Ochoa directly, but Pramaggiore said ComEd bosses would like to do it themselves.

What happened, according to court records, was a classic Chicago political tussle.

On February 19, 2019, Madigan was recorded telling McClain that Ochoa had left a message in his office that morning asking if he and U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chewy” Garcia could meet with the speaker, according to an FBI search warrant. . At the time, Garcia, who lost his bid for Chicago mayor last month, formed an unlikely political alliance with Madigan.

“Okay, you see there’s a request from Ochoa, and Ochoa being Ochoa, the message says, ‘Ochoa and Congressman Garcia,'” Madigan told McClain, according to the affidavit. “So I called Chuu and he really didn’t know anything about it. … But Chuy knew there was a delay in Ochoa’s appointment.”

Garcia, whose mentions are in the phone calls first reported by the Tribune in January is not charged with wrongdoing and has denied any role in pushing Madigan to appoint Ochoa to the utilities board.

According to the affidavit, Madigan ordered McClain to call Ochoa and assure him that the wheels were in motion.

McClain allegedly made that call about 20 minutes later, telling Ochoa, “I wanted to keep the anxiety down, you know? … It took quite a while.”

Ochoa agreed that it had been “more than a year” since his benefactors first initiated the arrangement, but said his call to Madigan earlier in the day was actually to meet about the political action committee that Garcia, Gutierrez had formed , Ochoa and other Latin Americans. recently formed, the affidavit said.

“So I called (Madigan’s) office today to see if (Chuy) and I could go see him,” Ochoa said, according to the affidavit and sources who identified Garcia’s redacted name. “But really it has more to do with the Latin American Leadership Council organization that we’ve created, we just wanted to make him aware of that.”

“Oh, well, (Madigan) explained that you were calling because you were disappointed that this meeting wasn’t scheduled,” McClain said.

Afternoon briefing

Every day

Top articles from Chicago Tribune editors delivered to your inbox every day.

Ochoa said, “I probably would have brought it up, but that wasn’t the intention.”

Two months after that call, on April 25, 2019, Pramaggiore sent McClain a short text message that said, “Just sent out the board’s approval of Juan’s appointment to the ComEd board,” records show.

ComEd made it official the next day, writing in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that Ochoa would get the job.

According to ComEd, Ochoa received about $78,000 in salary and meeting fees during his year on the board. He quietly resigned in April 2020.

Three months later, the U.S. Attorney’s Office dropped the bomb: ComEd admitted to a bribery scheme — including appointing Ochoa — in a deferred prosecution agreement that names Madigan as “Public Official A.”




Previous articleWhether the Chicago Bears leave or not, taxpayers face mounting debt for Soldier Field – Chicago Tribune
Next articleWho are the “ComEd Four”? – Chicago Tribune