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Jury returns guilty verdicts in ‘ComEd Four’ bribery trial

The jury deliberated for five days before delivering their decision.

CHICAGO (CN) — A federal jury in Chicago has returned guilty verdicts in the criminal bribery trial of the so-called "ComEd Four," former insiders with Illinois' largest energy utility, Commonwealth Edison.

The defendants were ex-ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, ex-ComEd executive John Hooker, former ComEd lobbyist Michael McClain and former City Club of Chicago President Jay Doherty, who also performed consulting work for ComEd. All of them faced multiple bribery and fraud charges from federal prosecutors stemming from their alleged involvement in ComEd's admitted bribery scheme in the Illinois Legislature between 2011 and 2019.

Jurors deliberated for five days before reaching a verdict Tuesday, finding all four of the defendants guilty on all of the bribery, conspiracy and fraud counts they each faced. Juror Amanda Schnitker Sayers said there multiple pieces of evidence, including several recorded conversations between the defendants, that convinced the jury to convict the Four.

"There were at least three conversations in which [the defendants] were expressing their pride in themselves for this corrupt structure," Schnitker Sayers said. "That did not sit well with us."

Juror Amanda Schnitker Sayers spoke to the press after handing down the ComEd Four's guilty verdicts on May 2, 2023, saying the multi-week ordeal had made her more aware of Illinois politics. She and other jurors are planning to attend the trial of former Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan next year. "We spent eight weeks on the jury... we do want to sit down there at Madigan's trial," she said. (Dave Byrnes / Courthouse News)

The jury found Pramaggiore and McClain guilty on nine counts, while Hooker and Doherty were convicted on six counts. Each now potentially faces decades in prison for their convictions.

Prosecutors said they would wait until pre-sentencing procedures began before recommending a sentence to the court. Presiding U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber has not yet scheduled a sentencing date, while Pramaggiore's attorney Scott Lassar said he plans to appeal the verdict.

The Four's trial, which began in mid-March, revolved around the their relationship to ex-Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, the scion of a once-powerful Chicago political dynasty who was formerly one of the most influential figures in Illinois politics. Now he sits at the center of a sprawling anti-corruption campaign led by federal prosecutors from the Northern District of Illinois U.S. Attorney's Office.

In 2020, those prosecutors secured an admission from ComEd that it had worked to bribe Madigan for close to a decade in return for his support of legislation that bolstered the company's profitability. The multibillion-dollar company was offered a deferred prosecution agreement and a $200 million slap on the wrist for its cooperation, with Madigan and the ComEd Four offered up for sacrifice in its place. Madigan resigned his positions as House speaker and chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party in early 2021 amid the controversy, and in March 2022 U.S. attorneys indicted him on 23 racketeering and bribery charges.

The feds indicted Pramaggiore, Hooker, McClain and Doherty in November 2020 over their alleged role in securing jobs and payments for Madigan's allies in exchange for his help getting ComEd's favored laws through the state Legislature. These laws included the 2011 Energy Infrastructure and Modernization Act, also known as the Smart Grid Act, and the 2016 Future Energy Jobs Act.

The Smart Grid Act’s official purpose was to modernize the state’s energy grid with digital “smart meters,” but it also sparked significant rate hikes among Illinois energy consumers. The Future Energy Jobs Act was a wide-ranging overhaul of Illinois' energy regulatory process. It included provisions for extending energy efficiency programs, in which ComEd had a stake as Illinois' largest energy utility, and it also ensured that two Illinois nuclear plants operated by ComEd parent company Exelon would stay open.

ComEd reported high profits while this bribery scheme was underway, with one independent report from December 2020 finding the company made $4.7 billion more in revenue between 2013 and 2019 than it would have had those laws not passed.

"This was not lobbying, this was not politics... This was using a bribe for the purpose of convincing Madigan to help [ComEd] pass the bill they needed passed at that time," federal prosecutor Diane MacArthur said in her closing arguments last Monday.

The ComEd Four's now-concluded trial will serve as a preamble to Madigan's own, with one defense attorney even calling the defendants "collateral damage" in the feds' efforts to build a case against the former speaker.

Morris Pasqual, acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, seemed to confirm that assessment in a post-trial press conference on Tuesday evening.

"The criminal conduct in this case was undertaken... to enrich ComEd and to benefit Madigan and his associates," Pasqual said.

Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, Morris Pasqual, picked up the case against the ComEd Four after former U.S. Attorney John Lausch retired this past March. In a post-trial press conference on May 2, 2023, he said it was a difficult case to prosecute. "This was not $10,000 in a bag in a back room. It was a different type of case," Pasqual said. (Dave Byrnes / Courthouse News

Madigan's case heads to trial in April 2024. Pasqual said he hoped this case, and Madigan's, would serve as a warning to other politicians and lobbyists in Springfield.

"If you engage in corruption, the United States Attorney's Office and all our federal partners will be coming at you," Pasqual said.

Schnitker Sayers echoed Pasqual's sentiment, saying she hoped this trial would be a step towards unraveling Illinois' long history of political corruption.

"We are hoping this is a first step so Illinois can function better," the juror said.

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Categories / Business, Criminal, Politics, Regional, Trials

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