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*** UPDATED x1 *** A look at the ComEd 4 prosecutor’s opening remarks

Thursday, Mar 16, 2023 - Posted by Rich Miller

* I wanted to highlight some excellent courtroom reporting today. Let’s start with Jon Seidel and Tina Sfondeles

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Streicker began Wednesday with commentary that lasted roughly 90 minutes. She started with McClain’s own words, caught on one of the many recordings jurors will hear: “We had to hire these guys because Mike Madigan came to us.”

“In short, Madigan wanted, the defendants gave, and the defendants got,” Streicker told the jury. “It’s that simple.” […]

She described McClain’s close relationship with Madigan to jurors. And she said job recommendations made by Madigan — typically through McClain — were treated as demands. By way of example, she described a recorded conversation McClain had with a senior ComEd employee.

“He told this employee that ComEd must immediately handle requests from Madigan, and that ComEd must understand that, when McClain sends over a resume, it’s not a request. It’s a demand to hire someone,” Streicker said.

* Jason Meisner and Ray Long

Streicker alleged ComEd poured $1.3 million into payments funneled to ghost “subcontractors” who were actually Madigan’s cronies, put a Madigan-backed person on the ComEd board, and gave coveted internships to families in his 13th Ward, all part of an elaborate scheme to keep the speaker happy.

And, it worked, Streicker said, because over the eight years of the scheme, Madigan helped ComEd win three lucrative pieces of legislation, including the “Smart Grid” bill in 2011 and another bill in 2016 that held a rate structure in place and extended the life of two of the company’s nuclear plants.

“Mike Madigan was the most powerful person in the Illinois General Assembly,” Streicker said. “He (could) wield that power to make or break a piece of legislation. The defendants bribed him, and they did so by paying Madigan’s associates through jobs and contracts at ComEd.” […]

“Madigan exercised enormous power,” she said, saying his “power and control made him critical to ComEd’s success” because he could help or hurt ComEd’s agenda in Springfield.

“This is why defendants sought to corruptly influence Madigan,” Streicker said.

* Hannah Meisel

But the government’s opening arguments – and their initial questioning of former State Rep. Carol Sente, D-Vernon Hills – sought to illustrate for the jury the amount of power Madigan wielded, not just as speaker of the Illinois House, but also as chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois and a prolific fundraiser for Democrats.

“In short, if Madigan wanted to stop a piece of legislation, he could kill it in any number of ways,” Streicker said. “At the same time…he controlled the purse strings for Democrats. They needed him to get elected and get re-elected…He held enormous power over the other legislators.”

As for McClain, Streicker called him a “double agent” on behalf of both ComEd and Madigan, who infamously did not own a cell phone or use email.

“When you heard something from McClain, you know it came from Madigan,” Streicker said.

* Matt Masterson

According to prosecutors, Madigan did not own a cellphone and didn’t use email, but instead used McClain as a mouthpiece to make his demands known. For instance, when an intern’s resume was presented to ComEd by McClain for consideration, it wasn’t a request, “it’s a demand,” Streicker said.

“These were not mere recommendations,” she said. “The evidence will prove that these were demands and the defendants acted on them.”

* Sam Charles, Erik Runge and Julian Crews

“The defendants sought to bribe Mike Madigan in order to influence his actions in the General Assembly, to ensure that he didn’t take action to hurt the company in the General Assembly and to reward past beneficial conduct to ComEd in the general assembly with legislation that was worth hundreds of millions of dollars,” Streicker told jurors. […]

The prosecution’s first witness, former north suburban State Rep. Carol Sente, was called to testify at the end of the day, and the first questions posed to her concerned the legislative process in the Illinois state capitol.

Asked to characterize Madigan’s control over the Illinois House of Representatives, Sente said it was “extremely firm.”

* Charlie Wojciechowski

Much of the evidence is expected to come from ComEd’s former vice president of external communications, Fidel Marquez. He will be testifying in an attempt to reduce his own sentence.

Marquez took over for defendant John Hooker. His phone was among those tapped by federal authorities.

The prosecution said he will deliver an “insider’s view” of the crimes. In particular, he is expected to testify about the company’s use of sub-contractors, people who did little if any work, but were paid upwards of $4,500 dollars a month allegedly at the request of Madigan intermediaries. The jobs, prosecutors say, were used as political rewards.

The money was allegedly funneled through Dougherty’s lobbying firm. At one point, the government said, payments totalled more than $37,000 dollars a month.

The trial resumes today at 10. Follow along by clicking here.

*** UPDATE *** As noted above, former Democratic Rep. Carol Sente is the federal government’s first witness. She’s supposed to give jurors a look at how the legislative process operates. The part about Madigan controlling the Rules Committee is true, but as Hannah then points out, the part about the committee meeting in private is just plain false. Not sure how the heck the feds allowed that to happen…


* Meanwhile…


       

45 Comments
  1. - Not that anyone asked…. - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 9:36 am:

    Things I liked about the defense’s opener:

    The mention of an 8 year investigation

    Cotter’s argument that the government reverse engineered acts to get a crime

    Lassar’s overall tone. He’s got the most sympathetic client and used that fact well.

    Things I disliked:

    The lobbying isn’t illegal defense. It won’t work here. The tapes are too damming to the average listener. The more subtle argument is that the Government’s case asks the jury to solve a political problem (influence peddling) with a legal, criminal solution. Madigan’s gone. His members ended it. This is just a pound of flesh.


  2. - Moe Berg - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 9:43 am:

    Former Rep. Sente…not necessarily an exemplar of great personal ethics, as a fellow former north suburban rep could confirm.

    The feds sent her a non-target letter, but yet they were still taking a look at her for some reason.

    The cross-examination could be interesting.


  3. - Torco Sign - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 9:45 am:

    “the amount of power Madigan wielded, not just as speaker of the Illinois House, but also as chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois and a prolific fundraiser for Democrats.”

    As foundation for something nefarious, this is incredibly flimsy. Someone is going to have to explain to me how a powerful leader and Democratic fundraiser (including of DSCC candidates) like JB Pritzker wanting legislation passed or not is any different.


  4. - regular democrat - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 9:48 am:

    The defendants have spared no expense when it comes to 1st rate defense lawyers that for sure. This will be fascinating to see how a jury of 12 understands a complicated case and how much these top tier lawyers can present doubt. It going to be a 15 round heavyweight battle for sure.


  5. - Watchful eye. - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 9:48 am:

    Not necessary to prove Madigan did anything. Intent is that of defendants. All will be convicted. All will go to prison unless they cooperate. And that’s not likely


  6. - Watchful eye. - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 9:50 am:

    And to previous comment. It’s not complicated at all.


  7. - Oswego Willy - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 9:55 am:

    It needs to be said, I can’t thank Isabel and Rich for giving a “one shop stop” with this trial, the blog yesterday, in its entirety to coverage, was shining brightly with so much covered so ably… with so much going on… everywhere. Thank you.

    To the post,

    These opening remarks, by the prosecution… not the defense… want a painted picture of corruption. The law seems to be an afterthought to what exactly is going on in the conspiracy.

    To the ethics, that’s a whole huge argument few can easily defend or even tout, in fact in “all that”, and even the premise, I’m never going to say “exoneration” or “legality” should be taken with my words, but it’s concerning that the premise, and it’s a premise, that the *illegality* is framed around ethics and not much to actual written laws to be pointed out.

    “We’ll see”


  8. - Oswego Willy - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 9:58 am:

    ===Intent is that of defendants.===

    Intent to what? Lassar in his remarks asked what did his client get, and with that, she was not very good at whatever intent existed to whatever law is being broken.

    ===All will be convicted. All will go to prison unless they cooperate. And that’s not likely===

    I’m filling out brackets, who will be in the Final Four.


  9. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 10:01 am:

    ===unless they cooperate. And that’s not likely===

    The government shut the door to cooperators over a year ago.


  10. - Oswego Willy - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 10:01 am:

    ===The tapes are too damming to the average listener.===

    When did you hear them?


  11. - Oswego Willy - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 10:06 am:

    To “cross pollinate”, sorry…

    ===“[Pramagiorre] never asked Madigan for help in passing any ComEd legislation,” [Former U.S. Attorney Scott Lassar said].===

    If there’s talk of intent, the prosecution needs to focus on where the what is with who and why… the culture is the framing it appears.


  12. - RNUG - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 10:10 am:

    Not all “quid pro quo”s are overt. That’s what this case will come down to … assumptions and expectations.


  13. - Back to the Future - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 10:29 am:

    First of all, I really appreciate the objective way the information on the ComEd 4 prosecution has been presented in Cap Fax. To be clear I’m not being critical of other news sources, but if someone asks where to start following the trail Cap Fax is a great place to start at.
    On the USDA’s opening remarks, I think they presented their theory on the case and the facts that will be presented in the trail to support that theory in a clear and convincing manner.


  14. - Arsenal - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 10:47 am:

    ==The lobbying isn’t illegal defense. It won’t work here. The tapes are too damming to the average listener.==

    Probably depends on what the jury instructions are, and how the judge explains them to the jury. I don’t think he GP would be very satisfied with “that’s just how things work”, but their role in the process can be very circumscribed by the time they get to deliberate.


  15. - Mary - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 11:04 am:

    The first count is 18 USC 371. “If two or more persons conspire either to … defraud the United States, … and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.”

    The conspiracy is the effort to reward/influence/curry favor with Madigan. It is irrelevant to the prosecution’s case whether Madigan was influenced or not; the defense attorney saying ComEd was hated does not in my opinion help, but hurts the defense (because it establishes intent for why they felt they needed to influence); similarly, Pramaggiore’s attorney saying he was all-powerful and needed to get anything done in Springfield is not in my opinion helpful to her for a similar reason.

    The overt acts evidencing the desire to show favor will be the internships no other legislator got, payments for the no-show jobs for political allies + Board job for Ochoa; the motivation will be they were a hated + highly regulated company that needed important legislation passed (the details of how/why/what passed is irrelevant to the motivation); and the efforts to hide from oversight will be evidence of the conspiracy and its purpose. (And also important to count 3). The answer the defense can’t give (which again prevents a defense for count 3 as well) is that IF the payments were really on the up and up for honest routine lobbying services, or to prevent someone from being snapped up by the other side, why didn’t they report through normal ComEd channels? The answer is, they didn’t because transparency would make it politically harder to get what they wanted out of Madigan, and based on their understanding of the role of McClain, Madigan wanted it that way.

    18 USC 666(a)(2) and 2 are charged to Pramaggiore and McClain. That is the Honest Services Act, which targets anyone who “corruptly gives, offers, or agrees to give anything of value to any person, with intent to influence or reward an agent of an organization or of a State… government, … in connection with any business, transaction, or series of transactions of such organization, government, or agency involving anything of value of $5,000 or more.” This is the Reyes law firm work, designed to reward a political ally of Madigan’s happy to keep Madigan happy. This is where the phone convos and emails of McClain about “our friend” and the importance of keeping the $$ flowing to Reyas (again, outside normal reporting channels when ComEd regular legal counsel wanted to stop using the firm and the $$ flowed through CEO/Marquez, also relevant to Count 3).

    The third count against all 4 is knowingly falsifying the ComEd records in violation of 15 USC 78m(b)(5) (”No person shall knowingly circumvent or knowingly fail to implement a system of internal accounting controls or knowingly falsify any book, record, or account described in paragraph (2)”); 78ff (statutory section is long; the gist will be ComEd filed SEC reports knowing of the circumvented accurate reporting); 18 USC 2 creates principal liability for the offense for each offender (so you can’t say I was just following orders).

    The ComEd DPA, while not admissible in and of itself, confirmed that there were schemes that deliberately avoided the internal controls process that would have shut these rewards down. But ComEd wouldn’t have admitted those facts unless there were records and phone calls on this.

    So this is the simple reason why everyone goes down ASSUMING that the facts in the ComEd DPA are true, and whether the payments to Doherty’s firm went to people who did work or not. The ComEd 4 knew the jobs, Board seat, law firm billings, etc. were valuable above 5k. ComEd internally (this is where Marquez will presumably provide the most valuable testimony) knew that if they put these $$ through the regular ComEd internal control channels, the value given would be shut down. Hence the falsification of records (proof on count 3). Once the records are accepted as intentionally falsified outside internal controls, which the e-mails and DPA statements made public would seem to suggest, then that further qualifies your intent to conceal/further a conspiracy vs. honest mistake. McClain was the conduit explaining Madigan didn’t want things the regular way, Pramaggiore had the knowledge of McClain’s influence and filed the SEC statements saying there was honest reporting when she knew there wasn’t, because the workarounds went through on her (and Marquez) authority.

    So it isn’t that lobbying is wrong; or that is bad to hire people with insider access; but making payments to a lobbyist in such a way as to frustrate oversight through your internal controls process so that you can curry favor with someone with power and control is illegal. Maybe the jurors will think it is too much angels dancing on the head of a pin, but it is going to be hard for the defense to overcome if the prosecution competently does their job, and the judge correctly instructs the jury.


  16. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 11:13 am:

    ===making payments to a lobbyist in such a way as to frustrate oversight through your internal controls process ===

    That’s what could very well get Pramaggiore and Hooker. But McClain wasn’t an employee, and therefore had no fiduciary responsibility. And the defense notes that the person in charge of all that was Marquez, the government’s star witness.


  17. - Mary - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 11:15 am:

    I should follow up by noting that counts 4-9 are essentially the same kind of concepts - you messed around with the books and records to conceal the value given (Count 4 for all 4 - conspiring on Doherty lobbying contract); Count 5 McClain/Prammagiore (board seat; thing of value, hope to favorably influence ComEd legislation (even if it didn’t come to fruition); Count 6 (same two, Reyes law firm); Count 7 (all 4, falsifying records on Doherty lobbying contract in 2018); Count 8 (all 4, Doherty lobbying contract to give value of eg precinct captain payments who did not work); and Count 9 (all 4, falsifying records on lobbying contract in 2019).


  18. - Mary - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 11:19 am:

    Rich - it gets McClain because he was part of the conspiracy to falsify the books and records of ComEd, hiring of Ochoa, getting the law firm payments, etc. He was getting paid by ComEd. He helped with the process, and doesn’t have to be a direct ComEd employee for liability to attach. That is also why the indictment also invokes 18 USC 2, which makes everyone a “principal” if they participate, to avoid that very “fiduciary” argument. Congress wrote these statutes that way because they wouldn’t have teeth if you could just have a 3rd party consultant to do the dirty work for you.


  19. - Oswego Willy - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 11:19 am:

    ===Maybe the jurors will think it is too much angels dancing on the head of a pin===

    Reasonable doubt versus the application to the law in a culture of gray and hiring influence to process (legally in the lobbying) is part of the job description

    I can see why the Feds wanted “Storytime with Simpson” in this.


  20. - Oswego Willy - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 11:21 am:

    ===I think it is fair to say Rules meetings are private meetings.===

    Can you or I attend and watch?


  21. - crazy gonna crazy - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 11:23 am:

    == Not all “quid pro quo”s are overt. That’s what this case will come down to … assumptions and expectations. ==

    Do you think a person should go to prison for years over assumptions and expectations?

    If yes, God help every single person in politics right now. You do something to irate the feds or push in the wrong direction and you could find yourself losing everything.


  22. - Telly - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 11:44 am:

    To the update concerning Rep Rita:

    Madigan had an on-again-off-again recusal when it came to gaming legislation. I’m wondering if the feds are going to argue that McClain sometimes acted as Madigan’s proxy when the speaker recused himself. This might be a way for the feds to counter the defense when they point out Madigan did not vote on FEJA.


  23. - Not that anyone asked…. - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 11:46 am:

    The feds leadoff hitters on how legislation passed in Springfield are Carol Sente-Scott Drury. Someone put an APB out on Jeanne Ives.


  24. - custard - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 11:52 am:

    Just Me 2- be that as it may, it escapes the definition of “private.” Words have grave meaning in a trial like this, and Sente misstated a fact.


  25. - JS Mill - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 11:52 am:

    =I think it is fair to say Rules meetings are private meetings.=

    I think it is completely erroneous to say that. All of the following may be treu: They are short, there is little notice given, much of it is a rubber stamp.

    Still meets the statutory requirements and is an open meeting. Let’s stay with the facts.


  26. - Annonin' - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 12:14 pm:

    Just to correct an error. Rules Committee meetings are not private. Sometimes quickly called. Help is a small room, but not private.


  27. - Oswego Willy - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 12:32 pm:

    ===I stand by my statement===

    Then you’re wrong and foolish to double down in a proven fallacy.

    “Is the Rules Committee held in private”

    “Well, you see”

    “It’s a yes or no”

    “No”

    “No further questions”

    Must be part of that “let’s convict them, then have a trial” thinking.

    There’s no alternative facts.


  28. - Oswego Willy - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 12:33 pm:

    ===And for those who haven’t actually worked at the Capitol===

    The Rules Committee still doesn’t meet in private.


  29. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 12:39 pm:

    ===held in a room most people doesn’t know exists===

    Wanna take a statewide poll about the existence of Stratton C-1?


  30. - SpiDem - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 12:41 pm:

    I’d really like to see a transcript of precisely what Sente said about Rules committee, because as most people in this field know, the Rules committee meetings are pro-forma. The actual decisions on what bills would move, and to what committees, we’re made in private meetings held in the Speakers office with his top staff and key members of leadership, often a day or two before the session week started.

    Everything was prepared well in advance for an immediate, non posted meeting of the Rules committee where assignments were voted on en masse in a matter of minutes.

    Hannah Meisel, who has my utmost respect, has the benefit of press access to the floor, allowing her to be steps away from the small conference room behind the chamber where Rules meet. The general public don’t even know where the room is, and unless you are hanging out behind the chamber, you could never get there in time to watch anyway. And lobbyists all know the meeting is pre scripted and fast.

    Point being - I would want to exactly what Sente said, because if she was referring to the process more broadly, then her testimony is accurate.


  31. - Oswego Willy - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 12:47 pm:

    ===has the benefit of press access to the floor, allowing her to be steps away from the small conference room behind the chamber where Rules meet.===

    Do they publicly meet?

    Here’s the thing, if y’all think it’s that critical that a flat out mistruth is twisted to be true, what exactly factually will you blindly dismiss?

    It’s telling that those, “here” that want conviction before trial are the ones seemingly most blind to at best misspoken untruth or at worst a flat out untruth…

    This ain’t a campaign, this is a trial. Truth should matter, no?


  32. - custard - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 2:32 pm:

    “Point being - I would want to exactly what Sente said, because if she was referring to the process more broadly, then her testimony is accurate.”

    The standard in a federal courtroom isn’t “You Get My Drift.”


  33. - As a former prosecutor - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 4:03 pm:

    This is the happiest day of Scott Drury’s life.


  34. - Retired Lobster - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 4:06 pm:

    Sente is correct. Anybody know anyone not a legislator who has attended or testified at a Rules Committee meeting?


  35. - Oswego Willy - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 4:08 pm:

    ===Anybody know anyone===

    Hasn’t… Hannah?


  36. - Been There - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 4:26 pm:

    ==== Sente is correct. Anybody know anyone not a legislator who has attended or testified at a Rules Committee meeting?====
    If you read the tweet by Hannah above she says she has attended. So that answer is yes.


  37. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 4:34 pm:

    ===Anybody know anyone not a legislator who has attended===

    *Raises hand*


  38. - Retired Lobster - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 4:36 pm:

    So Hannah has attended. The decision about which bills get out of Rules is made well in advance of the Rules Committee meeting


  39. - Oswego Willy - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 4:39 pm:

    ===So===

    You were wrong. So was Sente.

    ===The standard in a federal courtroom isn’t “You Get My Drift.”===

    This is a trial, not a “nuanced” campaign


  40. - Retired Lobster - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 4:42 pm:

    So Rich, did anyone testify at any of the Rules Committee meetings you attended? you know how the system works (ed).


  41. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 4:48 pm:

    ===did anyone testify===

    This has really turned into a dumb thread.

    The point is she said the committee meetings were secret.


  42. - Jibba - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 7:20 pm:

    If you think of this thread as symbolic of the trial, it hurts your brain less.


  43. - Oswego Willy - Thursday, Mar 16, 23 @ 9:09 pm:

    ===Even if you believe===

    It meets in public, it’s not an alternative fact.

    For the love of Pete…


  44. - Oswego Willy - Friday, Mar 17, 23 @ 5:48 am:

    ===tell me where===

    I dunno if it matters since you don’t believe I’m public thing and seeming wavy alternative facts for ridiculous things.

    Tell you what, let’s pull out maps of all other workplaces of industries in Illinois and you point out relative places of interests.

    Pathetic


  45. - Annonin' - Friday, Mar 17, 23 @ 9:38 am:

    OK Recap after week one. Three people with actual votes to pass bills were called. Two said they voted yes for one of those juicy ComEd bills everyone pants about and a 3rd yes vote said he did not sense special effort. Interesting


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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