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Former ComEd CEO testifies she was unaware of Madigan allies’ monthly checks for no work

The Dirksen Courthouse is pictured in Chicago.
Hannah Meisel
Capitol News Illinois
The Dirksen Courthouse is pictured in Chicago.

Defense in ComEd bribery trial to wrap case by end of week

In May 2018, Commonwealth Edison CEO Anne Pramaggiore called the utility’s longtime top contract lobbyist, Mike McClain, with some news: she was about to be promoted to CEO of Exelon Utilities.

In that role, she would oversee ComEd and five other utilities under the parent company’s umbrella.

“Never would’ve happened without you and John and the speaker,” Pramaggiore said on the wiretapped phone call, referring to another of ComEd’s longtime lobbyists, John Hooker, and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. “I mean, really. Because the only reason that I’m in this position is because ComEd has done so well. And you guys have been my spirit guides.”

Nearly five years later, Pramaggiore would have to explain her comments to a federal jury in a Chicago courtroom.

“First of all, which ones were the spirit guides?” Pramaggiore’s attorney, Scott Lassar, asked on Monday.

Lassar’s question elicited a few laughs from the courtroom, now in its sixth week of hosting the trial where Pramaggiore and three ex-ComEd lobbyists stand accused of attempting to bribe the powerful House speaker, who’s set for trial on separate but related charges next year. The four are alleged to have given jobs and contracts to Madigan allies in exchange for an easier path for their favored legislation in Springfield.

On Monday, Pramaggiore indicated that when she said “spirit guides,” she was only referring to McClain and Hooker – two of the three defendants in the case – but not Madigan, whom she’d called first with the news of her promotion.

So why did Pramaggiore refer to Madigan in her comment to McClain, her attorney asked?

“The speaker loomed large in his life and I knew that,” Pramaggiore said of McClain, a longtime friend and close confidant of Madigan. “It’s kind of like throwing in something about a family member; ‘I enjoyed meeting your spouse, meeting your son or daughter.’ It kinda cemented that relationship, so I would kinda throw that out.”

In fact, Pramaggiore said repeatedly during her nearly seven hours of testimony on Monday and last week that Madigan was not helpful to ComEd during the entire time she worked for ComEd or Exelon.

Madigan was widely known to be skeptical of utilities, and several witnesses in the case attested that skepticism was aimed at ComEd in particular after the utility apparently broke his trust in the decadelong electric deregulation process that began in the late 1990s.

The defense has repeatedly emphasized the tough negotiation processes ComEd went through with attorneys in the speaker’s office when the utility was attempting to pass three key bills in Springfield.

Each of the staffs for the four legislative leaders – the House speaker, the Senate president and the minority leaders of both caucuses – were “very smart,” Pramaggiore said Monday. All fourwould get involved in negotiating ComEd’s bills to some extent, but the House Democratic staff was “kind of the toughest” to negotiate with, she said.

On Monday, as throughout the trial, the defense emphasized that those tough negotiations with Madigan’s staff resulted in concessions by ComEd. In the utility’s signature “Smart Grid” legislation in 2011, those concessions included high-stakes penalties for not meeting certain customer satisfaction performance goals, along with a hard cap on the utility’s profitability.

“We didn’t view him as a friend or an ally,” Pramaggiore said of Madigan’s relationship to ComEd, outlining the speaker’s “classic Democrat, very pro-consumer” stance on utilities. She also said ComEd officials were never quite sure what to make of the influencing effect of Madigan’s daughter, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who “was always in opposition to us.”

While Pramaggiore testified that part of her job as ComEd CEO was to build and maintain positive relationships between the utility and elected officials – including Madigan – she also had to walk a fine line to avoid “the appearance of impropriety.”

For example, Pramaggiore said she was uncomfortable with the prospect of getting on the same private plane as Madigan when a group of people were flying to McClain’s mother’s funeral in Quincy in the summer of 2018, even though each person would have paid for their own seat. She consulted with her boss, Exelon CEO Chris Crane, who ended up lending her the company’s jet to make the trip.

On the stand Monday, Pramaggiore denied involvement with three of the four alleged bribes in the case and contended that a board appointment cited by prosecutors wasn’t a bribe at all. She flatly denied knowing ComEd’s summer internship program gave special treatment to applicants from Madigan’s power base on the Southwest Side of Chicago, and she claimed no involvement in the retention of the Reyes Kurson law firm headed by Madigan ally and prolific fundraiser Victor Reyes.

Pramaggiore refuted evidence like emails she was sent or copied on regarding those matters, saying Monday that as a CEO, she was too busy to really read most of them. When the evidence showed she replied to an email with a missive like “on it,” Pramaggiore said she was farming them out to those responsible in the company, like ComEd’s general counsel or the utility’s top in-house lobbyist, Fidel Marquez.

Marquez became a cooperating witness for the government in the case in January 2019 and a month later had a conversation with Pramaggiore while his phone was wiretapped. In the recording, Marquez told her that he was worried about how her successor as ComEd CEO, Joe Dominguez, would react to finding out that four Madigan allies had been getting paid indirectly by the company for years while doing little to no work.

“Oh my God,” Pramaggiore said in the middle of that wiretapped call, which was played for the jury yet again on Monday.

Still, Pramaggiore insisted she did not know about the Madigan-connected subcontractors until the federal investigation into ComEd became public in the spring of that year.

“Did you know who Frank Olivo was?” Lassar asked Pramaggiore, referring to the former Chicago alderman who’d been getting paid as a lobbying subcontractor for years.

Marquez had mentioned Olivo by name in the recording.

“No,” Pramaggiore said, answering the same way to Lassar’s questions about whether she or Marquez mentioned the name Mike Madigan during the call.

Pramaggiore similarly brushed off evidence of emails from McClain that mention other subcontractors by name and their arrangement with longtime ComEd lobbyist Jay Doherty, the fourth defendant in the case. She said she signed contracts as a matter of routine, just as she would pass on lobbying-related matters to Marquez to get them off her plate.

The fact that some lobbyist subcontractors hadn’t done any work for their $4,000 to $5,000 monthly paychecks from Doherty sounded to Pramaggiore like Marquez’s problem, she testified.

“Did you think that Fidel Marquez had told you that a crime had been committed?” Lassar asked.

“There was nothing to suggest that we were in that sort of world,” Pramaggiore said. “It sounded like a management problem. I thought Fidel had been mismanaging these people.”

As for the fourth leg of the government’s bribery theory – the appointment of Juan Ochoa to a $78,000 one-year spot on ComEd’s board of directors – Pramaggiore said there was nothing improper about Ochoa being recommended by Madigan, especially because he was also recommended by then-Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

In one of the wiretapped conversations recorded during the drawn-out appointment process for Ochoa, Pramaggiore told McClain: “You take good care of me, and so does our friend, and I will do the best that I can to, to take care of you.”

Pramaggiore affirmed that she was using “our friend” to refer to Madigan, a hallmark phrase often used by McClain.

But on Monday, Pramaggiore said her comment on the recorded call didn’t indicate any quid pro quo, but rather she was again trying to flatter McClain.

“Again, I know Mike reveres the speaker so I’d often mention him in our conversations in order to enhance our relationship,” Pramaggiore said.

Asked if Madigan had “taken good care of” her, Pramaggiore said “not in the legislative sense,” but did indicate that her teen son had gotten the opportunity to volunteer with the Democratic Party of Illinois during both the 2012 and 2016 Democratic National Conventions, which she’d suspected was because of Madigan.

Pramaggiore faces cross-examination from prosecution on Tuesday, and the defense on Monday indicated it would wrap up its case by the end of the week.

Trial continues at 10 a.m. on Tuesday.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

Hannah Meisel is a reporter at Capitol News Illinois, based in Springfield. Email: hmeisel@capitolnewsillinois.com

She’s had a number of assignments covering the Statehouse and Illinois government since the 2014 legislative session, most recently serving as Statehouse editor for NPR Illinois from 2020 until after the November 2022 election. Prior to that, Meisel worked at The Daily Line, Law 360 and Illinois Public Media in addition to various assignments for other outlets.