70 witnesses on deck as ComEd bribery trial set to begin Tuesday | Illinois

(The Center Square) – Federal prosecutors plan to call 70 witnesses to prove that four former ComEd employees and lobbyists doled out jobs, contracts and payments to illegally influence one of Illinois’ most powerful politicians.

The four are accused of a multi-year scheme to gain former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan’s backing for legislation that would benefit the utility’s bottom line.

Former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, former ComEd lobbyist John Hooker, former ComEd consultant Jay Doherty and former lobbyist and state lawmaker Michael McClain have all pleaded “not guilty” to conspiracy, bribery, and willfully falsifying ComEd books and records.

Tuesday will mark the first time the four defendants appear in court after being indicted in November 2020. The trial is expected to run for six to eight weeks at the Everett McKinley Dirksen United States Courthouse in Chicago. 

ComEd, the state’s largest electric utility, agreed to pay $200 million in July 2020 to resolve a criminal investigation into the years-long bribery scheme. As part of a deferred prosecution agreement, ComEd admitted it arranged jobs, vendor subcontracts and payments in a bid to influence Madigan.

Jurors won’t hear about that 38-page agreement at trial. Judge Harry Leinenweber granted a motion to keep that agreement out of the trial. Defense attorneys had argued “allowing the jury to learn of ComEd’s agreement to pay $200 million would severely prejudice defendants because jurors may conclude that ComEd thought that its officers committed a very serious crime if they paid a $200 million fine,” according to pre-trial motions.

The judge also ruled that prosecutors can’t call an expert witness to explain the Chicago political machine. Leinenweber said the jury doesn’t need an explanation and that a detailed history of the corruption of the Chicago political machine could prejudice the jury regarding the four defendants.

Madigan served in the Illinois House from 1971 to 2021. He served as speaker of the Illinois House from 1983 to 1995 and again from 1997 to 2021. He wielded additional power as chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois. Madigan, who resigned after losing the House speakership in January 2021, has been charged with 23 counts of racketeering, bribery and official misconduct in a separate case that could go to trial in April 2024. He has pleaded “not guilty.”

This article First appeared in the center square

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