Illinois Electric Utility Accused of Bribing Top State Lawmaker

(CN) — A class action filed Tuesday on behalf of Illinois electric customers claims power company Commonwealth Edison bribed Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan to enact legislation that benefitted the utility at the expense of more than 100,000 rate-paying customers.

The federal lawsuit filed in Chicago by Lawrence H. Gress of Downers Grove, Ill., alleges that Commonwealth Edison, or ComEd for short, and 100 unnamed John Doe defendants violated the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act by conspiring with Madigan, a Democrat, to solicit and pay bribes to influence passage of the Smart Grid Act, state legislation that allows utilities to automatically raise electric rates that are subject to Illinois Commerce Commission review after the fact.

The Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. (Photo via Daniel Schwen/Wikipedia Commons)

In a related action Tuesday, ComEd announced a deferred prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors delaying criminal proceedings until 2023. U.S. Attorney John R. Lausch Jr. had filed a one-count criminal information against ComEd on July 17 alleging the company “corruptly gave, offered, and agreed to give things of value, namely, jobs, vendor subcontracts, and monetary payments associated with those jobs and subcontracts” for the benefit of Madigan and his associates in order to influence legislation affecting ComEd.

In exchange for the deferred prosecution, the company agreed to cooperate in the investigation and pay a $200 million criminal penalty.

ComEd issued a statement Tuesday in response to the agreement.

“We apologize for the past conduct that did not live up to our values and have made significant improvements to our compliance practices to ensure that nothing like it ever happens again,” the company said. “The improper conduct described in the deferred prosecution agreement, however, does not mean that consumers were harmed by the legislation that was passed in Illinois. The DPA makes no such allegations, and in fact the bipartisan legislation resulted in substantial benefits for ComEd’s customers.”

Also on Tuesday, another class action was filed in Cook County Circuit Court against ComEd by Randall Kuhn, Robert Nieman, Erica Lieschke, Windward Roofing Construction Inc., In Demand Electronic Court Reporting Inc., and Standard Equipment Co., all customers of ComEd.

In the federal class action, Gress claims the bribery conspiracy resulted in changes in state law that allowed the utility to raise rates, costing the class members millions of dollars in excessive electric costs. Total damages suffered by the class of customers exceeds $150 million, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit claims ComEd hired lobbyists on behalf of Madigan and paid bribes to influence the legislation, and that Madigan used his position to solicit bribes, directly and indirectly, from ComEd and various ComEd lobbyists in exchange for the legislation that would allow the utility to increase rates.

“Beginning no later than 2011 and continuing through 2019, ComEd, along with its members and ‘lobbyists,’ created and conducted, in collaboration with Madigan, his hand-picked associates, and other public officials, a racketeering conspiracy that corruptly used bribery to create a ‘money machine’ that would automatically generate millions of dollars in revenue for ComEd, revenue that would result in unmerited tributes paid to the defendants,” the complaint states.

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