CHICAGO (CN) — Federal prosecutors indicted former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan on 23 counts of criminal bribery and racketeering on Wednesday, concluding a grand jury investigation into the former speaker launched over two years ago.
The indictment accuses the 79-year-old Democratic operative of, among other things, conspiring to help pass legislation benefitting energy corporation Commonwealth Edison, or ComEd. ComEd, along with its parent company Exelon Corporation, is Illinois' largest electricity provider and admitted in 2020 to bribing multiple state legislators between 2011 and 2019.
Though multiple other state officials have already been charged in connection to the yearslong scheme, and Madigan resigned as speaker in February 2021, he has until now avoided criminal prosecution. Federal prosecutor John Lausch said this indictment is meant to make sure Madigan doesn't escape consequences.
“The indictment alleges a long-term, multifaceted scheme to use public positions for unlawful private gain," Lausch said in a prepared statement. "Rooting out and prosecuting the kind of corruption alleged in the indictment will always be a top priority for this office.”
It was Lausch's office that in 2019 launched an anti-corruption investigation of multiple state legislators, ultimately resulting in three of them having to resign their seats over their involvement with ComEd. Now-former Democratic state Sen. Tom Cullerton, who pleaded guilty last week in federal court to embezzling from the Teamsters, was another lawmaker swept up in the investigation.
Madigan and the other lawmakers' involvement with ComEd dates to the 2011 passage of the Energy Infrastructure and Modernization Act, aka the Smart Grid Act, through the Illinois General Assembly.
The Smart Grid Act’s official purpose was to modernize the state’s energy grid with digital “smart meters,” but it also allowed private utilities like ComEd to automatically raise electric rates as they see fit. The rates are subject to review by the Illinois Commerce Commission, but only after the utility has already sent the bill.
From 2013 to 2019, ComEd reported consistently high-earning years, turning over $4.7 billion in profits. But according to a 111-page report published in 2020 by the independent nonprofit Illinois Public Interest Research Group, very few Illinoisans have actually seen the improvements ComEd promised would come with their modernization plan.
“ComEd promised that [the Energy Infrastructure and Modernization Act] would deliver significant customer benefits: more information, choice and control, more energy efficiency, and more clean energy. Not only did the company fail to deliver the promised benefits, in some cases it actively blocked them,” the group wrote in its report.
ComEd paid $200 million to the federal government in 2020 to wash its hands of any criminal liability for the scheme, and District Judge Jorge Alonso, an Obama appointee, tossed a civil class action suit against the company in 2021. This left Madigan holding the bag alongside a few members of his inner circle, including former Democratic state Rep. Michael McClain.
The federal indictment released Wednesday named McClain alongside Madigan as being part of the "Madigan Enterprise," which besides its involvement with ComEd allegedly shook down members of the private sector in exchange for money and political favors.
McClain's job, the indictment alleged, was to act as a "smokescreen" obscuring Madigan's involvement with any illegal activity.
"McClain served the enterprise by, among other things: making unlawful demands on Madigan’s behalf to third parties, such as corporate executives and lobbyists, for jobs and payments to be made to Madigan’s political allies, political workers, and associates, thereby acting as an intermediary in order to shield Madigan from direct contact with third parties in connection with the discussion of the enterprise’s criminal activity," the indictment alleged.
The indictment accuses Madigan himself of using the speaker position, as well as his standing in the Democratic Party, to enrich himself and maintain his and his allies' political power. It also alleges that he illegally directed work to his private law firm Madigan & Getzendanner.
"Madigan utilized his position as Chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois to influence and garner loyalty from legislators by providing or withholding staff and funding to legislators and their campaigns," the indictment states. "[He] utilized his position as a partner in Madigan & Getzendanner to reap the benefits of private legal work unlawfully steered to his law firm."
In total, the indictment calls for the forfeiture of over $2.8 million that Madigan and co. have allegedly accrued since 2014. If convicted on the charges they now face, Madigan and McClain could also both face life in prison. Their case is part of a larger effort undertaken by federal agencies in recent years to uproot Illinois' — and particularly Chicago's — decades-long culture of political corruption and quid-pro-quo dealing.
"Today’s indictment underscores our commitment to this work in a collaborative effort to promote honest and ethical government at all levels, and to prosecute those who allegedly violate the public’s trust,” Justin Campbell, Special Agent-in-Charge of the IRS Criminal Investigation Division in Chicago, said in a prepared statement.
Prior to his resignation last year, Madigan spent over 36 years as Illinois Speaker of The House. He released a statement upon his resignation in which he denied committing the kind of corruption charges he now faces, labeling them "vicious attacks." In his statement he maintained that he was proud of the work he did for Illinoisans over his long political career.
“It’s no secret that I have been the target of vicious attacks by people who sought to diminish my many achievements lifting up the working people of Illinois," Madigan wrote in 2021. "The fact is, my motivation for holding elected office has never wavered. I have been resolute in my dedication to public service and integrity, always acting in the interest of the people of Illinois.”
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.