Lawyers for ‘ComEd Four’ seeking to bar evidence of utility’s deal with feds, expert on Chicago political corruption from upcoming bribery trial newstrendslive

In a flurry of pretrial filings, lawyers for the so-called “ComEd Four” are seeking to keep large swaths of evidence away from the jury next month, including the utility’s admissions of a scheme to influence then-House Speaker Michael Madigan, the millions of dollars in campaign contributions ComEd showered on lawmakers, and a prosecution expert who would testify about machine politics and corruption.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, want to bar the defense from making a Blagojevich-esque “Play all the Tapes!” argument, and keep them from suggesting to the jury that government played favorites by not charging certain individuals in the case — including Madigan.

The motions filed late Monday were the first in what’s expected to be a weekslong battle over what specific evidence can come into the bombshell bribery conspiracy trial, which begins with jury selection March 6 at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse.

Charged in the case were Madigan’s longtime confidant, Michael McClain, 75, of downstate Quincy, former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, 64, ex-ComEd lobbyist John Hooker, 73, and former City Club of Chicago head Jay Doherty, 69. All of the defendants have pleaded not guilty.

The trial, which is scheduled to last up to two months, is the first arising from the years-long corruption investigation into ComEd’s lobbying practices in Springfield, and will offer a preview of the criminal case against Madigan, who was indicted separately in March 2022 and is currently set for trial next year.

The ComEd conspiracy charges alleged McClain, a former legislator and lobbyist whose connections to Madigan go back to their time in the General Assembly together in the 1970s, orchestrated a scheme to funnel jobs and hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments from the utility to Madigan-approved consultants in exchange for Madigan’s assistance with legislation the utility giant wanted passed in Springfield.

The indictment also alleged ComEd agreed to hire numerous summer interns from Madigan’s 13th Ward, and install former McPier boss Juan Ochoa on the company’s board of directors in order to curry favor with the then-powerful speaker.

ComEd, meanwhile, entered into a deferred prosecution deal with prosecutors in July 2020, agreeing to pay a record $200 million fine and cooperate with the investigation in exchange for bribery charges being dropped in three years.

In his filing Monday, Pramaggiore’s attorney, Scott Lassar, argued that ComEd’s deal with prosecutors was “irrelevant” when it comes to the defendants on trial, and that allowing the jury to hear evidence about it would be improper.

“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,” Lassar wrote.

Attorneys for the defendants have also asked U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber to bar certain testimony from former ComEd Vice President Fidel Marquez, who cooperated in the investigation after being confronted by agents in January 2019 and made secret recordings of his colleagues.

Lassar said Marquez was acting as a government agent when he made the recordings and therefore his statements should be considered hearsay. The fact Marquez was cooperating also “calls into question the truth and accuracy” of his statements, Lassar wrote, “because the language he used may have been suggested by the government or tailored by Mr. Marquez to conform to what he believed the government wanted to hear.”

All four defendants are also seeking to bar evidence of their salaries and other compensation from ComEd, saying it’s irrelevant and could prejudice the jury.

The Tribune has previously reported that Pramaggiore received as much as $1.8 million in pay and benefits in 2011 alone. Hooker received $1.15 million in compensation and benefits that same year for similar “non-lobbying” activity, while McClain received $438,000 from ComEd for “non-lobbying” work after he had retired from lobbying.

A chart filed with the Illinois Commerce Commission also showed Doherty’s consulting firm received $3.7 million from 2010 through 2019 for duties ranging from promoting positive relations with ward organizations to working with the office of the mayor and city agencies.

Among the other evidentiary issues the defense raised in its motions Monday was a request to bar the expert testimony of Professor Dick Simpson, a former Chicago alderman, whom prosecutors have tapped to describe for jurors “the structure, method, and operation of the Chicago political machine.”

Lawyers for the defendants described Simpson’s proposed testimony as “unreliable, irrelevant, cumulative, and prejudicial” and a “transparent attempt to paint the four defendants with the broad brush of Chicago political corruption.”

“Even if the 150-year history of Chicago political corruption were at all relevant to the facts at issue, the jury needs no special expertise to understand that there has historically been political corruption in Chicago,” the defense motion stated.

McClain’s attorney, Patrick Cotter, argued that testimony about two alleged subcontractors under Doherty’s consulting company who were “separately appointed” to paid public board positions would be irrelevant because it has nothing to do with benefits to ComEd.

Lawyers for Hooker, meanwhile, are seeking to bar evidence that Madigan in 2018 “delegated control” over major gambling legislation to McClain, who then “gave directions and advice to Madigan’s staff and to the bill’s sponsor,” state Rep. Bob Rita.

Hooker’s attorney also wants to bar evidence about Kevin Quinn, the Madigan lieutenant who received monthly payments from the speaker’s loyalists after he was ousted in a sexual harassment scandal — a story first revealed by the Tribune in 2019.

The ComEd Four trial promises to be the biggest political corruption trial at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse since ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich was convicted by a jury in 2011.

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Among those expected to testify is Ochoa, the former boss of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, who was appointed to a lucrative position on ComEd’s board after pressure allegedly from Madigan and McClain.

The Tribune has reported that in 2017, Ochoa enlisted the help of then-U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez to lobby Madigan for the board appointment and also met with then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Ochoa’s testimony could also touch on U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a political ally of Ochoa’s who at the time had formed an unusual political alliance with Madigan, the Tribune has reported.

Garcia, who is now running for mayor, has denied any involvement in Ochoa’s appointment to the board.

The trial will also offer a preview of many of the allegations against Madigan himself, who was indicted along with McClain last March on racketeering conspiracy charges alleging an array of corrupt schemes, including the alleged plan to use the power of his office to steer ComEd money to his cronies. That case has been set for trial in April 2024.

Madigan, who was dethroned from the speakership in January 2021, has pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges against him. He’s also vigorously defended making job recommendations, both before and after his indictment. Not only is “helping people find jobs not a crime,” Madigan wrote in 2020 to a legislative panel, it’s not even “ethically improper” for politicians to make job recommendations.

“To the contrary, I believe that it is part of my duties as a community and political leader to help good people find work — from potential executives to college interns, and more,” Madigan wrote. “What an employer chooses to do with that recommendation rests solely with their discretion.”

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