Defense finally gets crack at feds’ key witness in ComEd bribery trial
CHICAGO - Michael McClain laughed inside Saputo’s restaurant in Springfield as he shared with then-ComEd executive Fidel Marquez his story about his 2016 retirement, and how he handed his list of duties over to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Madigan and McClain were longtime friends. McClain has described himself as an "agent" of Madigan. And after McClain handed Madigan that list, Madigan purportedly handed it back and told McClain "I don’t think you’re done yet."
"Is that like tendering your resignation but it gets, uh, denied? It gets rejected?" Marquez asked over a slice of pizza on Feb. 7, 2019.
"Yeah," McClain said.
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Jurors at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse saw video of that moment Wednesday as Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu ended his 13-hour direct examination of Marquez, who weeks before munching on the Saputo’s pizza had agreed to cooperate with investigators and secretly record McClain and three others now on trial for trying to bribe Madigan to benefit ComEd.
Former U.S. Attorney Scott Lassar, now a defense attorney representing onetime ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, stepped up next to question Marquez. Lassar quickly confirmed that Marquez was "scared" when FBI agents showed up at his mother’s house around 6 a.m. on Jan. 16, 2019.
Though the agents suggested he might have committed federal crimes, Lassar said, "You told them you had done nothing illegal, and you believed that, right?"
"Yes," said Marquez, who nonetheless pleaded guilty to bribery conspiracy in September 2020.
Lassar is expected to continue his cross-examination Thursday. When he’s done, Marquez will be questioned by attorneys for McClain and two others on trial: former ComEd lobbyist John Hooker and onetime City Club President Jay Doherty.
Federal prosecutors used Marquez’s marathon testimony over three days to show how Pramaggiore made sure ComEd "did everything possible" to stay on Madigan’s good side.
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The feds played damaging recordings that allegedly revealed a scheme to funnel more than $1 million to Madigan allies with do-nothing gigs. And they detailed how top ComEd executives were pulled into controversies about low-level jobs if recommended hires came from Madigan.
In emails and in recorded conversations, Bhachu on Wednesday detailed the extent to which Madigan and McClain pressured Marquez and others at ComEd, and in some cases Exelon, to hire people — some of whom were either former legislators or relatives of Illinois politicians.
That included ensuring employment for both Toni Berrios and Vanessa Berrios, daughters of former Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios.
"My thought was that there might be a place for her at ComEd," Madigan tells McClain about Vanessa Berrios in a recorded phone call on Dec. 11, 2018.
In February 2019, McClain called Vanessa Berrios, leaving her a voicemail that said, "You don’t know me from Adam, but the speaker’s asked me to try to help circulate your petition, your resume, uh, for employment, and I thought I’d like to talk to you a little bit if you don’t mind."
MORE: 'How else can we help you?' Jurors hear and see Madigan's vast patronage system inside ComEd
Marquez testified that Vanessa Berrios ultimately decided not to pursue a job with ComEd.
In an email on Dec. 24, 2016, McClain wrote, "I did receive a call today from our Friend who asked us to please consider keeping Toni Berrios on for 2017."
Toni Berrios, a former state representative who became a contract lobbyist for Exelon, ultimately got the green light. "Please tell our Friend that Toni is good to go for 2017," David Fein, Exelon’s vice president of state government affairs wrote in an email to Joseph Dominguez, then an Exelon executive, and McClain.
In another recorded conversation on Aug. 30, 2018, Madigan asks McClain to try to help Jeffrey Rush, son of former U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, find a consulting job with ComEd, despite the fact that Jeffrey Rush in 2008 pleaded guilty to official misconduct charges after admitting to having sex with women at the Fox Valley Adult Transition Center in Aurora, where he worked as assistant supervisor of security.
"This is a guy that I’m gonna wanna help somewhere along the road. He’s got a real good background in criminal justice," Madigan said on the call, while also admitting, "He got himself jammed up."
Madigan offered up that perhaps the Illinois Department of Corrections could use some consulting contracts.
"Oh yeah," McClain said. "I would think so. A lot of them." McClain also quipped, "Now that I’m retired, I’m dedicated to Mike Madigan."
Madigan and McClain also talked about whether ComEd could employ Tim Mapes, the speaker’s former chief of staff who was ousted on June 6, 2018 over harassment allegations. He is also now under indictment for perjury after allegedly lying to a federal grand jury.
In a separate recorded conversation between Pramaggiore and Marquez 16 days later, Pramaggiore seemed to entertain the idea of hiring Mapes — but also moved to buy time.
"I would, my, just my opinion: he’s not employable right now," Marquez said. "Maybe later."
"Yeah, I think he’s got to give it some time," Pramaggiore said. "And I keep thinking how we can be helpful to him."