Less than two weeks before the federal ComEd Four bribery conspiracy trial, prosecutors revealed in a court filing that a longtime confidant of Speaker Michael Madigan was interviewed twice by federal authorities before the probe became public about his use of code words to refer to the longtime House leader.
The first interview of Michael McClain, the speaker’s friend and longtime ComEd lobbyist, came in August 2014, the same month that Madigan was secretly recorded by an FBI informant discussing at his law firm a desire to secure property tax business with a Chinatown developer, the filing shows.
The other interview, in April 2016, occurred shortly before federal authorities secured the cooperation of then-Ald. Daniel Solis, who later recorded numerous conversations about a Chinatown land deal that was a centerpiece in the bombshell indictment separately filed against Madigan and McClain.
In both interviews, which were revealed for the first time in the filing late Tuesday, McClain was asked about his use of codes for Madigan such “our friend,” “a friend” and “friend,” a nickname the Tribune first reported in 2019 that McClain used when sending secret fund-raising requests to close allies. In those emails, McClain also referred to Madigan as “Himself” and the prospective donors as “most trusted of the trusted.”
In the 2014 interview, prosecutors wrote, McClain admitted he referred to Madigan as “our friend” because “people might be listening to or reading McClain’s conversations,” prosecutors said. In the other interview nearly two years later, McClain admitted he referred to Madigan as “our friend” in conversations and over email because he “never knows who’s listening,” the prosecution filing stated.
The revelation that McClain was twice confronted by the FBI with questions involving Madigan comes less than two weeks before McClain is set to go on trial March 6 along with three others on bribery conspiracy charges related to ComEd’s alleged attempts to illegally influence the then-powerful House speaker.
Also charged are former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, longtime top ComEd lobbyist John Hooker, and lobbyist Jay Doherty, who resigned as head of the City Club during the federal probe.
It’s not clear in the prosecution filing what else, if anything, federal investigators asked McClain in the newly disclosed interviews. But it’s the first indication that McClain — and likely Madigan — were on notice that the feds were looking into them nearly five years before the investigation went overt with a series of raids in May 2019, including on McClain’s home in downstate Quincy and at the City Club offices.
Prosecutors contend McClain’s admissions about the use of coded language “clearly show that McClain did not want any eavesdroppers to know the true subject of his communications and are therefore wholly consistent with the indictment and the government’s evidence at trial: ‘our Friends’ and ‘a friend of ours’ were terms designed to conceal Madigan’s identity.”
McClain’s attorneys have argued he couldn’t have been using the term to conceal anything because he’d already readily admitted to investigators he was talking about Madigan. The issue also could be used by the defense to push the idea that they were confident they were staying within the boundaries of legal behavior.
McClain’s attorney could not be reached for comment.
The 65-page filing by prosecutors also revealed several other new details they want to present to the jury to show the depth of the friendship between Madigan and McClain.
Among them: How McClain allegedly orchestrated a group of utility lobbyists to send payments to a longtime Madigan aide, Kevin Quinn, after the speaker ousted him in a 2018 sexual harassment scandal.
Quinn, the brother of Madigan’s handpicked 13th Ward Ald. Marty Quinn, has not been charged in the case. But the Tribune reported McClain rounded up several lobbyists to send more than $30,000 worth of contracts to Kevin Quinn after Madigan booted him from the longtime speaker’s state and political operations.
The feds also want to show jurors that they intercepted a call in which Madigan asked McClain to help secure a job for an unidentified state representative’s wife. In the July 2, 2018, phone call, Madigan allegedly said the representative “came to me and same story, he needs money, and he had the thought that maybe I could help his wife on something,” according to the filing.
Prosecutors also want to use a McClain call in which he described himself as “sort of Madigan’s agent” as he worked with a lawmaker to guide him through oversight of bills dealing with ComEd and gambling.
Madigan and McClain also face an overarching case in which both ComEd and the Illinois affiliate of AT&T have reached deferred prosecution agreements in which they have acknowledged they sought to give favors to Madigan in hopes of his help on their legislative agendas in Springfield.
The agreements included having ComEd pay a $200 million fine and AT&T pay a $23 million fine. Prosecutors have agreed to drop bribery charges against the companies if they cooperate in the investigation. Both Madigan and McClain have pleaded not guilty in the case, which is slated for trial in April 2024.
Further, the government in its filing disclosed it planned to show that Madigan arranged for two of his allies to get part-time state positions, including former Ald. Frank Olivo, who received a position with the Illinois Motor Vehicle Review Board, and received about $20,000 a year for more than two decades.
It is the latest disclosure as prosecutors fight to allow for compensation of defendants to be included in the trial, including Pramaggiore making as much as $2.8 million. The defense has maintained the various disclosures could be prejudicial and seek to keep them away from the jury.