Lawyers for former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan argued in a series of court filings late Tuesday that the racketeering charges against him fail to allege any connection between benefits the powerful speaker allegedly received from utility giants Commonwealth Edison and AT&T Illinois and any action he took — or didn’t — on particular legislation.
Madigan’s legal team also accused federal prosecutors of misleading the chief judge in applications to tap the phones of former Ald. Daniel Solis and later members of Madigan’s inner circle, saying they deliberately misconstrued an innocent 2014 meeting with Chinatown developers at the speaker’s law office as a possible shakedown, then later buried crucial “exculpatory” information in a footnote.
The motions to dismiss most of the charges in the 23-count indictment and to suppress the Title III wiretaps were part of a first round of what’s expected to be a protracted legal battle over the bombshell charges against Madigan and his longtime confidant, Michael McClain.
The motions run some 110 pages and go deep in the legal weeds at times, but at their core, they represent the essence of Madigan’s defense: That the government, in its zeal to land a prized political target, cut corners in its investigation and ultimately filed charges that intentionally blurred the bribery statute and attempt to criminalize legal lobbying and politicking.
“Currying favor with government officials—even those with the capacity to influence legislation of interest to the employers—is legal,” the 75-page motion to dismiss stated. “In short, this far-flung superseding indictment impermissibly treats lawful ingratiation as illegal bribery, and stitches together unrelated allegations of purported misconduct into a single scheme. The mismatch between the conduct alleged and the statutes invoked is a fatal defect that precludes this prosecution.”
In their motion to suppress, Madigan’s attorneys, Sheldon Zenner, Daniel Collins and Gil Soffer, have asked U.S. District Judge John Robert Blakey for an evidentiary hearing to determine whether investigators made any misrepresentations in its wiretap applications.
Though rarely granted, the so-called “Franks hearing” could provide a fascinating glimpse into how the government built its investigation, first by gathering evidence on Solis’ own misdeeds, then pressuring him into cooperating against two of the state’s most powerful and longstanding politicians, Madigan and Chicago Ald. Edward Burke.
Solis himself could be required to testify should the judge order the hearing. Blakey has set a telephone status hearing for March 10 to discuss the schedule going forward.
The defense’s pretrial motions come one year nearly to the day since Madigan was hit with federal racketeering charges alleging his elected office and political operation were a criminal enterprise that provided personal financial rewards for him and his associates.
Among the allegations in the indictment was a scheme by ComEd to secretly funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments and other perks to Madigan loyalists in exchange for the speaker’s influence on legislation in Springfield. Four other charged separately in that scheme, including McClain, are set to go on trial on bribery conspiracy charges on March 14.
The Madigan indictment also accused the ex-speaker 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.
Solis, who by then 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. The deal was never consummated.
In November, prosecutors unveiled a superseding indictment adding allegations that Madigan and McClain participated in another scheme to funnel payments from AT&T to a Madigan associate in exchange for the speaker’s influence over legislation the telephone company wanted passed.
Madigan and McClain have pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The 32-page motion to suppress focuses largely on the Aug. 18, 2014, meeting at Madigan’s law office where developer See Wong, who was secretly cooperating with investigators due to his own misdeeds, met with the speaker, Solis, and a Chinese real estate magnate who wanted to build a hotel in Chinatown.
The roughly half-hour meeting formed the basis of future wiretap requests for Solis and eventually a phone belonging to McClain, which led to numerous recordings of Madigan himself.
The defense motion said prosecutors improperly “theorized” in their application that Madigan and his law partner had conspired with Solis, who at the time was the head of city’s Zoning Committee, to threaten to withhold Solis’ approval of a zoning request unless the developer hired Madigan’s law firm.
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“There were no winks. There were no nods,” the motion stated. “To the contrary, the recording demonstrates two private lawyers who were doing their best to earn the opportunity to represent a potential client based on the quality of their work and experience and by offering a fee arrangement that would be competitive and in the client’s best interest. Madigan even suggested putting a cap on the fee.”
The misrepresentations were repeated by prosecutors for years on subsequent wiretap requests, even after Solis, when confronted with a recording of the meeting, tried to explain that he would have very likely approved the zoning change regardless of whether the developer hired Madigan’s firm, according to the defense motion.
It wasn’t until 2018 that the government, in a footnote “buried” in the McClain wiretap application, acknowledged Solis’ statements denying any quid pro quo at the meeting. But the footnote also tried to “spin” Solis’ comments by adding he’d admitted “an independent observer would interpret” what was said at the meeting as illegal.
Madigan was not charged with any wrongdoing stemming from that 2014 meeting. The defense motion stated that was due to “one simple reason — Madigan had committed no crime.”
“The government’s theory that Madigan conspired to commit extortion, put forth in the September 26, 2014, affidavit as well as numerous other subsequent affidavits to support its Title III surveillance, was purposefully false,” the motion stated.