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Spritzler to take helm as interim Com-Ed CEO for $1/year.

Said a jubilant Spritzler, "I'm doing this as a public service to the citizens of Chicago and for the substantial fringe benefits that go with the job-which include free lodging at the Big House".

BTW-After this afternoon, she might want to consider updating her Linkedin Profile (include her new address, once she knows where she'll be doing her "time").

By the way, I had no idea she had a BA in Communications and Theater! Plus she's the Chairman of the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank. I'm honestly impressed. Those are going to be some big shoes to fill.

How about that? Chairman of the Board, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, on Board of Directors Motorola & National Safety Council!

Defendants found guilty on all counts in ‘ComEd Four’ trial; juror says panel wanted ‘politics to run in a correct manner’

By Jason Meisner, Ray Long and Megan Crepeau, Chicago Tribune

May 02, 2023 at 6:10 pm

Defendant Michael McClain, left, exits the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse on May 2, 2023, in Chicago. A guilty verdict on all counts is announced against all four defendants charged in the “ComEd Four” bribery trial. (Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune)

In a sweeping verdict, a federal jury on Tuesday convicted the “ComEd Four” defendants on all charges related to a conspiracy to bribe ex-Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan to win his support for the utility’s legislative agenda in Springfield.

Found guilty of bribery conspiracy and falsification of business records were: Former ComEd contract lobbyist Michael McClain, 75, a longtime Madigan confidant; former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, 64; ex-ComEd executive John Hooker, 74; and Jay Doherty, 69, who worked as a lobbyist for ComEd for 30 years and served as president of the City Club of Chicago civic forum.

The jury’s highly anticipated decision, which came after some 27 hours of deliberations beginning last Tuesday, spells bad news for Madigan, since he and McClain face a separate racketeering indictment brought in March 2022 that’s made up in large part of the same ComEd bribery allegations.

Both have pleaded not guilty and are scheduled for trial in April 2024.

Madigan’s defense team faces particularly hard sledding due to his name recognition and a public weary of the state’s notoriously sleazy politics.

After the verdict, Juror Amanda Schnitker Sayers, a veterinarian who lives in Chicago, told reporters the panel was well aware of Madigan’s stature in the case.

“I don’t want to speak for the whole jury about Madigan — we tried not to discuss him as far as outside of this case,” Schnitker Sayers said in the lobby of the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse. “But his involvement with this case of course was key, and our perception was that he really did cause this all to happen. If it wouldn’t have been for him then these people would not be in the position ... to commit the crimes in the first place.”

Schnitker Sayers said the scenario laid out by prosecutors was a disappointing reflection on state politics.

“I would say I would speak for the jury when I would say we want politics to run in a correct manner,” she said. “And we would really like the government to know that we as citizens all want to see that done in a correct manner, without any shady business behind the scenes that either skirts the rules or blatantly disregards them.”

Asked about the defense claims that the conduct alleged in the case was simply politics as usual, Acting U.S. Attorney Morris Pasqual told reporters that those involved in business and politics should seek advice on where the legal lines are, because anyone who crosses into bribery “will be on our radar.”

“This was not the $10,000 in a grocery bag in a back room, it was much more complex and the dollar amounts involved and the gain involved was much more significant as well,” he said. “We’re just gratified that the jury saw it for what it was.”

The jury of seven women and five men announced it had reached a decision shortly after 4:15 p.m. Tuesday, following more than 27 hours of deliberations that began last week.

Dressed in a dark suit, green tie and dark glasses, McClain chatted nervously with his attorney as U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber’s 17th floor courtroom swelled to capacity before the jury entered.

McClain briefly looked at the ceiling as the verdicts were read but showed no outward reaction.

Pramaggiore, dressed in a blue skirt and black top and glasses, lowered her head and grimaced slightly as the verdicts were read against her. Doherty, who was wearing a blue face covering and black jacket, showed no outward reaction, nor did Hooker.

After court, McClain’s wife and sons hugged in the hallway and sobbed. About a half hour later, McClain left without comment, wearing a blue baseball cap reading, “World’s Greatest Grandpa.”

None of the defendants offered any comment when leaving court. The only attorney to say anything to the horde of media in the lobby was Scott Lassar, the lead attorney for Pramaggiore, who said simply, “We are disappointed with the verdict and we will appeal.”

The bribery conspiracy count carries up to five years in prison for each defendant, while the falsification of business records carries a 20-year maximum sentence.

The jury also found McClain and Pramaggiore guilty on three additional counts of bribery, which each carry up to 10 years behind bars.

Sentencing dates were not immediately set.

The trial became the most watched political case in years at Chicago’s federal courthouse at 219. S. Dearborn St., where the ever-growing list of corruption cases includes both Democratic and Republican governors, George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich, as well as a string of aldermen, state legislators, and political powerbrokers going back decades.

But the ComEd Four case has been singular because of the focus of the bribery probe: Michael J. Madigan, the longtime leader of the state Democratic Party whose 36 years at the top of the Illinois House is the longest reign of any legislative leader in American history.

It also will undoubtedly induce some stomach-churning in Springfield, where legislators and lobbyists have watched closely to see if the trial would require a new set of standards in the mosh pit of politics at the Illinois Capitol.

In his post-verdict remarks, Pasqual said the case was “broad in scope” and involved not only one of the state’s top political leaders, but also the head of one of its biggest publicly regulated utilities.

“The state of Illinois unfortunately has a deep-seated public corruption problem, corruption that erodes and eats away at the people’s confidence in their government and in their elected officials,” Pasqual said.

Political reaction came swiftly Tuesday.

“The behavior brought to light and put on display at this trial was shockingly gluttonous and unhealthy to democracy,” Illinois Senate President Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat, said in a statement. “We’ve taken concrete steps to discourage bad behavior. But most importantly, I believe we have people committed to behaving better.”

Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, a Hillside Democrat who the party’s House members elected to replace Madigan in January 2021 amid the corruption scandal that led to Tuesday’s verdicts, said in a statement that “this jury has sent a clear message that the behavior of the defendants was criminal.”

”Since my election as Speaker, I’ve been clear that restoring trust in government was paramount. I’m proud to stand with a new generation of leadership in Illinois who share these values,” Welch said.

The juror who spoke, meanwhile, said she and her colleagues did not dislike the defendants, but chalked up their conduct to poor decision-making.

“The jury actually really likes these people. We think all in all they’re good people that made bad decisions and they’re not alone in that,” she said. “All of us have something like this happen in our own lives from time to time and we saw that because at the core these are good people.”

She did call out Pramaggiore, who took the risky step to testify in her own defense, saying the former CEO was not credible when she said he didn’t remember several key moments in the investigation.

“She would have been better to admit what she knew and not avoid the questions,” Schnitker Sayers said. “She’s a smart woman and you know she remembered some of this stuff.”

The indictment alleged the four conspired to funnel $1.3 million in payments to ghost “subcontractors,” largely through Doherty’s company, who were actually Madigan’s cronies.

The utility also hired a clouted law firm run by political operative Victor Reyes, distributed numerous college internships within Madigan’s 13th Ward fiefdom, and blatantly backed former McPier chief Juan Ochoa, the friend of a Madigan ally, for an $80,000-a-year seat on the utility’s board of directors, the indictment alleged.

In return, prosecutors say, Madigan used his influence over the General Assembly to help ComEd score a series of huge legislative victories that not only rescued the company from financial instability but led to record-breaking, billion-dollar profits.

Among them was the 2011 smart grid bill that set a built-in formula for the rates ComEd could charge customers, avoiding battles with the Illinois Commerce Commission, according to the charges. ComEd also leaned on Madigan’s office to help pass the Future Energy Jobs Act in 2016, which kept the formula rate in place and also rescued two nuclear plants run by an affiliated company, Exelon Generation.

The indictment charged a total of nine counts, including a main bribery conspiracy count lodged against each of the four defendants. Other charges include circumventing internal business controls and the falsification of business records to allegedly hide the payments ComEd was making.

Defense attorneys argued over and over that the government is seeking to criminalize legal lobbying and job recommendations that are at the center of the state’s legitimate political system.

They ripped the government’s star witness, former ComEd executive Fidel Marquez, as a liar and opportunist who was so terrified when FBI agents confronted him in January 2019 that he flipped without even consulting a lawyer and agreed to secretly record his friends.

“We are here because the government scared Fidel Marquez to death,” attorney Jacqueline Jacobson, who represents Hooker, said in her closing argument.

Marquez eventually pleaded guilty to bribery conspiracy and is awaiting sentencing.

Patrick Cotter, who represents McClain, told the jury that the entire case was “a conclusion in search of evidence” and suggested the four people on trial were “collateral damage” in the government’s yearslong quest to bring down a political untouchable like Madigan.

“They already had their target. They already knew who was guilty — it was Mike Madigan,” Cotter said, adding that once prosecutors assumed the speaker was guilty, “then everyone near him begins to look guilty.”

In rebuttal, the lead prosecutor on the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu, told the jury that the efforts to woo Madigan were like a “corruption toll” similar to something motorists must pay to continue on their trip on the state tollway.

And Madigan was the gatekeeper, Bhachu said.

“It was a corruption toll to make sure that Mr. Madigan was not an obstacle to their legislative agenda,” Bhachu said. “And they paid that toll every month, from 2011 to 2019 when they were caught.”

Prosecutors powered the case with a compelling set of wiretaps and secret video recordings that provided an insider’s view of how Madigan’s behind-the-scenes operations worked, including with snippets of calls pushing for what he wanted ComEd to do for him.

One call caught Madigan telling McClain to keep pushing for the appointment of Ochoa to ComEd’s board of directors despite internal company resistance, and a second call captured McClain relaying the message to Pramaggiore, who quickly responded, “OK, got it. I will keep pressing.”

There’s a recording of Doherty justifying why ComEd should keep funneling money through him to pay a series of Madigan-backed “subcontractors,” explaining the company’s “money comes from Springfield” and the subcontractors, including Madigan precinct captains and former aldermen, “keep their mouth shut.” “But do they do anything for me on a day-to-day basis?” Doherty also said. “No.”

One particular comment McClain was recorded saying about subcontractors went to the heart of the prosecution’s case: “We had to hire these guys because Mike Madigan came to us. That’s how simple it is.”

Hooker was recorded agreeing with McClain, talking about how they devised the subcontractor plan years ago and reminding McClain that Madigan “thought it was great.”

The ComEd Four case was viewed as a curtain raiser for the April 2024 trial in which Madigan and McClain are charged with racketeering. Part of their upcoming trial is an outgrowth of the far-reaching ComEd Four case and part involves a similar-but-smaller alleged scheme of jobs and influence involving the Illinois affiliate of AT&T.

ComEd entered a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. attorney’s office in 2020 in which the company agreed to a $200 million fine and acknowledged it had showered Madigan friends and allies with jobs, contracts and college scholarships as a way to woo him into looking favorably at ComEd’s legislative agenda.

AT&T entered a similar agreement in 2022 over a smaller-scaled scheme and agreed to a $23 million fine. The government agreed to drop pending charges of bribery against both companies in exchange for cooperation.

The ComEd trial brought a cast of characters to the witness stand that included current and former legislators, including sitting Democratic Rep. Bob Rita of Blue Island, who testified that Madigan ruled through “fear and intimidation.”

Jurors were put in the unenviable position of determining where the line is drawn between legal lobbying and illegal bribery.

They had to sift through bedrock questions of whether Madigan could be bought — an idea that is heavily disputed by longtime allies in Springfield — and whether he created an atmosphere in which ComEd officials believed they needed to send favors his way in order to get what the company wanted.

In her remarks to reporters, Schnitker Sayers said it was high time for the state to clean up its act.

“I want things to change. There are big reasons why this state and this city are particularly in debt,” she said. ”And this should be a landmark where we start to do better for ourselves, for our children, and have pride in our city and our state and not make any shady dealings to get stuff done. Because we don’t need to, we’re all amazing people who can do amazing things.”

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