Former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, for decades the most powerful politician in the state, was indicted Wednesday on federal racketeering charges alleging the 13th Ward political operation that he built was a criminal enterprise that provided personal financial rewards for himself and his associates.
The 22-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury comes after a yearslong federal investigation and alleges Madigan participated in an array of bribery and extortion schemes from 2011 to 2019 aimed at using the power of his office for personal gain.
Both Madigan and his attorneys denied the allegations in written statements Wednesday and said they intended to fight them in court.
Also charged in the indictment was Madigan’s longtime confidant, Michael McClain, a former state legislator and lobbyist who is facing separate charges alleging he orchestrated an alleged bribery scheme by Commonwealth Edison.
That same alleged scheme forms the backbone of the indictment returned Wednesday, outlining a plan by the utility giant to pay thousands of dollars to lobbyists favored by Madigan in order to win his influence over legislation the company wanted passed in Springfield.
The indictment also accused Madigan of illegally soliciting business for his private property tax law firm during discussions to turn a state-owned parcel of land in Chinatown into a commercial development.
Though the land deal never was consummated, it’s been a source of continued interest for federal investigators, who in 2020 subpoenaed Madigan’s office for records and communications he’d had with key players.
Then-Ald. Daniel Solis, who was secretly cooperating with the investigation, recorded numerous conversations with Madigan as part of the Chinatown land probe, including one where the speaker told Solis he was looking for a colleague to sponsor a House bill approving the land sale.
“I have to find out about who would be the proponent in the House,” Madigan allegedly told Solis in the March 2018 conversation. “We gotta find the appropriate person for that. I have to think it through.”
The indictment also alleged that Madigan met with then Gov-elect J.B. Pritzker in December 2018 in part to discuss a lucrative state board position for Solis, ostensibly as a reward for helping Madigan win law business.
Before that meeting, Solis allegedly recorded Madigan telling him the speaker’s communication with Pritzker did not need to be in writing,” according to the indictment. “I can just verbally tell him,” Madigan allegedly said.
Pritzker was not accused of any wrongdoing. His office issued a statement Wednesday saying Pritzker “does not recall” Madigan ever asking him to consider Solis “for any position” and that the administration has no record of the alleged recommendation.
In addition to the criminal charges, the indictment also contains a forfeiture allegation against Madigan seeking $2.8 million in alleged ill-gotten gains.
Madigan, 79, a Southwest Side Democrat who was dethroned from his role as speaker in January 2021 and later resigned his House seat, has previously denied wrongdoing.
He was not arrested Wednesday and was expected to appear for arraignment at a later date.
At a news conference Wednesday at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, U.S. Attorney John Lausch said the indictment was yet another sign of the state’s seemingly intractable issue of public corruption.
“Unfortunately, this type of criminal conduct drastically undermines the public’s confidence in our government,” Lausch said. “Simply put, it’s not a good thing.”
In his written statement Wednesday, Madigan said he never engaged in any criminal activity and that prosecutors were “attempting to criminalize” legal political actions such as job recommendations.
“That is not illegal, and these other charges are equally unfounded,” the statement read. “Throughout my 50 years as a public servant, I worked to address the needs of my constituents, always keeping in mind the high standards required and the trust the public placed in me. I adamantly deny these accusations and look back proudly on my time as an elected official, serving the people of Illinois.”
His criminal defense lawyers, Sheldon Zenner and Gil Soffer, said in their own statement the charges were “baseless” overreach by prosecutors and that the evidence would prove so in court.
McClain, 74, of Quincy, is currently on bond in his other federal case and will also be arraigned later on the new charges. His attorney, Patrick Cotter, also could not be reached.
The long-awaited charges punctuate a stunning downfall for Madigan, the longest serving leader of any legislative chamber in the nation who held an ironclad grip on the state legislature as well as the Democratic party and its political spoils.
A major focus of the indictment is what prosecutors call the “Madigan Enterprise,” an ongoing arrangement with Madigan, McClain, the speaker’s 13th Ward Democratic Organization, Madigan’s chairmanship of the state Democratic Party and his property tax appeals firm, Madigan and Getzendanner.
The purpose of the enterprise was exercise, preserve and enhance Madigan’s political power and financial well-being, reward his political allies and workers financially for their loyalty and to generate income for members and associates through illegal activities.
The indictment alleges the illegal acts ranged from Madigan using his vast power as speaker, including his ability to virtually pass or block legislation, to reward friends and political allies.
The indictment was the culmination of a long-running federal probe of Madigan that broke wide open in the summer of 2020, when prosecutors identified him as “Public Official A” in bribery charges against ComEd.
Four people, including McClain, former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, former lobbyist John Hooker, and Jay Doherty, a consultant and longtime leader of the City Club of Chicago, were charged that November with bribery conspiracy and are awaiting trial. A fifth, former ComEd Vice President Fidel Marquez, has pleaded guilty to his role and is cooperating with investigators.
By bringing new charges against McClain, the U.S. Attorney’s Office seems to be putting the squeeze on him to cooperate. If he doesn’t, he’ll going to be left simultaneously fighting both the racketeering case and separate ComEd bribery case, which is set for trial in September.
News of the racketeering charges broke as two of the state’s top elected officials — Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot — joined U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen for an event at the University of Illinois at Chicago to promote President Joe Biden’s economic agenda.
Neither Pritzker nor Lightfoot mentioned Madigan by name in response to reporters’ questions, which came before the indictment was handed down, but the mayor, drawing on her years as a federal prosecutor, said Lausch’s office will have built its case carefully.
“This is a kind of case, if this is in fact true, of such incredible significance — somebody who has really shaped Illinois politics for 40 years, dominated almost every aspect of life, from a political standpoint, from a legislative standpoint — you better have a tight case because you’re going to take the shot, you’re not going to want to miss,” Lightfoot said.
By indicting Madigan, a famously shrewd tactician who rarely used emails or cell phones, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago has reached the apex of the state’s political food chain, even in the pantheon of Illinois political figures who’ve gone down on corruption charges before him.
Four Illinois governors went to prison during Madigan’s five decades in Springfield—one for crimes after leaving office and three others for misdeeds while serving as public officials. Madigan even held the gavel in the House when Illinois, for the first time, impeached a governor, Democrat Rod Blagojevich.
But none of those politicians had the staying power of Madigan, who used patronage jobs and other perks to build an army of foot soldiers sent to work campaigns on key legislative seats that reinforced Madigan’s position. His stature, in turn, brought him considerable personal wealth by helping land clients at his law firm, which handles high-dollar property tax appeals on some of Chicago’s biggest buildings.
The investigation into Madigan, which broke wide open in summer 2020 when prosecutors identified him as “Public Official A” in bribery charges against ComEd, had already taken a toll, with waning political support forcing Madigan to give up the Speaker’s gavel in January 2021, followed by his abrupt resignation weeks later from the legislative seat he’d held since 1971.
The probe came on the heels of another bombshell case — the racketeering indictment against Chicago Ald. Edward Burke, who like Madigan represented one of the last vestiges of Chicago machine politics.
Just two weeks before Burke was indicted for alleged corruption at City Hall, federal agents in May 2019 quietly executed search warrants on McClain’s home, as well as the homes of Madigan allies Kevin Quinn and Chicago Ald. Mike Zalewski.
The first public hint of the burgeoning probe came the next month when the Chicago Tribune reported that Quinn’s South Side home had been raided. Over the next several months it became clear that federal prosecutors were interested in money flowing from ComEd lobbyists to operatives in Madigan’s vast political operation. In November, the Tribune reported McClain’s cell phone had been tapped by the FBI.
In July 2020, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced it had charged ComEd with bribery as part of a deferred prosecution agreement that called on the company to pay a record $200 million fine and cooperate in exchange for charges being dropped after three years.
ComEd officials on Wednesday declined to comment beyond it.
“We are not in a position to comment on charges related to the former Speaker or beyond what is in the statement of facts in ComEd’s deferred prosecution agreement, which resolved the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s investigation into ComEd and Exelon,” ComEd spokeswoman Shannon Breymaier said in a statement. “ComEd has cooperated fully with the investigation, been transparent with customers, and implemented comprehensive ethics and compliance reforms to ensure that the unacceptable conduct outlined in the agreement never happens again.”
Documents filed at that time clearly implicated Madigan, who was referred to only as “Public Official A.
Four months later, McClain, whose friendship with Madigan dates to when they served in the House in the 1970s and early 1980s, was indicted on charges of bribery conspiracy alleging he quarterbacked the ComEd scheme on the speaker’s behalf.
In May 2021, former Madigan chief of staff Timothy Mapes, another key member of his inner circle, was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice for allegedly lying to a federal grand jury about Madigan’s relationship with McClain as well as other matters involving the ComEd scheme.
In addition to a goal of financial gain, the indictment returned Wednesday alleged Madigan as part of the criminal enterprise used his speakership to mete out punishment, such as taking away staff if a lawmaker didn’t go along with the speaker’s wishes.
One previously highlighted example of Madigan and McClain protecting the speaker’s interests came in 2016, when McClain allegedly interceded with Pramaggiore to restore legal work that ComEd sought to cut back from the law firm of Victor Reyes, a Madigan operative in the Hispanic community. Reyes has not been charged.
The Madigan push to re-up the Reyes’ law firm’s ComEd contract allegedly came in connection with the company’s desire to reward the speaker for the promotion and passage of major legislation in 2016 to get consumers to underwrite costs of two power plants.
ComEd allegedly looked the other way when some of Madigan’s choices for internships for students coming out of the 13th Ward didn’t hit a minimum grade point average, according to the indictment. The company at times waived the requirements for the Madigan internships, the indictment alleged.
The indictment alleged code-names were used when speaking about Madigan. Prosecutors formally said people in the conspiracy referred to Madigan as “our friend” or a “friend of ours” rather than using Madigan’s actual name.
The Tribune had previously reported McClain referenced Madigan with another cozy nickname: “Himself.”
Emmerson Buie Jr., the FBI’s special agent in charge of the Chicago office, said the indictment “demonstrates a commitment to Chicagoans, Illinoisans and the American public” to keep the confidence of the public.
“Words like accountability, trust and integrity just can’t be words on a sheet of paper or words we say arbitrarily, but they have to be our outward sign of our inward grace in everything we do,” Buie said.
Tribune reporters Dan Petrella and John Byrne contributed to this story