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‘The feds are still after me and our Friend:’ jury sees email exchanges between Madigan confidants

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Capitol News Illinois

After the FBI raided his western Illinois home in May 2019, Mike McClain – an influential lobbyist and close confidant of former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan – knew he should limit communication with many of his colleagues-turned-friends made over nearly five decades in Springfield.

But for someone who made and received thousands of phone calls per month, per FBI wiretaps of his cell phone in 2018 and 2019, going cold turkey was difficult, especially with another member of Madigan’s inner circle.

“There are about forty people that I cannot talk with right now,” McClain wrote in a July 2019 email to Tim Mapes, Madigan’s ex-chief of staff who’d been fired the previous year after a subordinate accused him of sexual harassment. “Everyone is isolated which is part of the psychological pressure being brought to bear.”

At the time, neither the public nor Mapes knew McClain’s home had been raided; the Chicago Tribune would report on it a couple days later. The email exchange shows McClain was reacting to the second media report in less than three weeks about raids on the homes of other top Madigan lieutenants.

Concerned for his friend, Mapes wrote back asking if the two could talk. But McClain declined.

“For your sake, I do not think we should talk in person or on the phone for awhile,” McClain wrote. “I cannot explain but trust me this is serious.”

‘The feds are still after me and Our friend’

That email exchange and nine others like it were shown to a federal jury on Monday as part of the feds’ perjury and obstruction of justice case against Mapes. He stands accused of lying to a grand jury that was investigating Madigan and those close to him – including McClain.

Mapes told the grand jury that he couldn’t recall or didn’t know of any “assignments” Madigan had given McClain after McClain officially retired from lobbying in late 2016. Prosecutors have spent the first three days of trial establishing the close relationship Mapes and McClain shared as two of Madigan’s most trusted deputies, making the case that it would be implausible that Mapes didn’t know about the tasks McClain carried out on the speaker’s behalf.

Despite McClain’s admission that he shouldn’t be communicating with Mapes and others, he would still forward news articles related to the probe to a bcc’d group that included Mapes, according to the emails published in court Monday.

Mapes would usually reply with well-wishes, including in early December 2019 when he complimented McClain on his holiday card, which featured him and his wife in front of a mountain range in Switzerland.

“Both of u look good,” Mapes remarked. “I would say great but this was post you finding new fed Bffs. Think u put on a good look, but the scenic view was beautiful.”

Two days later, McClain forwarded an email featuring a Chicago Tribune article in which four anonymous sources told reporters they were interviewed by the FBI about McClain’s relationship to Madigan.

“Wish I could talk with you,” Mapes wrote in reply. “Back involved in this for background.”

Mapes did not elaborate on what he meant by “back involved in this,” and Monday’s testimony didn’t shed any light on the comment either. His defense attorneys last week stressed that Madigan had cut ties with Mapes after his forced resignation and emphasized that the separation was “absolutely brutal” after 25 years as the speaker’s chief of staff.

McClain wrote back that it would not be “in your best interest for you and I to be talking or being seen together.”

Headlines continued for McClain into the next month, but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. McClain was then diagnosed with cancer.

In a May 2020 email exchange that centered around McClain’s health and pandemic-related worries, Mapes asked if McClain was “surviving the feds up north.”

“The feds are still after me and our Friend,” McClain wrote, using a euphemism he often employed when speaking about Madigan.

Less than two months later, federal prosecutors announced electric utility Commonwealth Edison – McClain’s biggest lobbying client for decades – had entered into a $200 million deferred prosecution agreement and agreed to cooperate with the feds’ investigation into an alleged bribery scheme aimed at currying favor with Madigan.

Though he was not named in the charging documents, McClain was described in the feds’ summary as a chief architect of the yearslong scheme that gave lucrative ComEd jobs and contracts to Madigan allies in exchange for legislative wins for the utility.

Despite McClain’s warning to Mapes that the two shouldn’t speak on the phone, FBI special agent Ryan McDonald on Monday testified – after looking at call records on the witness stand – that McClain called Mapes in October 2020. The call lasted a little over 14 minutes, McDonald said.

The next month, McClain himself was indicted. He, along with two other ex-lobbyists and the former CEO of ComEd, were convicted for their roles in the bribery scheme in May following an eight-week trial.

And in March 2022 – nearly a year after Mapes allegedly lied to the grand jury – Madigan was charged in a related bribery and racketeering case that alleges the former speaker ran a criminal operation that leveraged all of his positions of power – and that McClain helped. The two face an April 2024 trial on those charges.

‘Almost the head of a mafia family’

Earlier on Monday, the jury heard testimony from retired FBI special agent Brendan O’Leary, who spent the last nearly seven years of his law enforcement career overseeing the investigation into Madigan and his inner circle.

O’Leary explained that the feds had to rely on witnesses to give them insight into the former speaker’s world, since Madigan never had a cell phone of his own and didn’t use email.

“Mr. Madigan ran his organization, as close as I can compare it to, almost the head of a mafia family,” he said, reprising his testimony from last week that Madigan relied on his tight inner circle – especially McClain – to communicate. “The ability for us to hear about what happened generally came down to the people on the inside being honest.”

One of those people the feds were hoping would be honest about how Madigan operated was Mapes, according to testimony special agent McDonald.

McDonald personally served Mapes with a subpoena a week after ComEd’s deferred prosecution agreement was announced in July 2020. Mapes complied, producing some 9,000 documents, including the email exchanges with McClain.

Then in February 2021, Mapes sat for a video interview with the FBI and prosecutors.

Mapes’ attorneys on Monday aimed to contrast the questions asked during the FBI interview with those asked roughly six weeks later by the grand jury. Mapes attorney Andrew Porter suggested that, based on the relatively few questions Mapes was asked about McClain during the FBI interview, his client was surprised by the McClain-related questions during his grand jury testimony. His answers to those questions became the basis of Mapes’ perjury and obstruction of justice charges.

But after the defense’s cross-examination, Assistant U.S. Attorney Julia Schwartz sought to deflate that line of questioning.

“After the topic switched to Madigan, did the interview end?” Schwartz asked.

McDonald affirmed that it did.

“Was the government prepared to ask those additional questions?” Schwartz continued.

“We were,” McDonald said.

The next day, Mapes received a subpoena for testimony in front of the grand jury, and a week later, his attorneys informed the government that Mapes would invoke his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

Instead, prosecutors asked for and received an immunity order to compel Mapes to testify. The jury was shown the immunity order on Monday, which explicitly lays out that Mapes’ testimony couldn’t be used against him. It also warned that not being truthful would result in perjury or obstruction of justice charges.

In a victory for the defense, Judge John Kness on Monday ruled that he’d allow Mapes’ attorneys to call Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu as a witness.

“There may very well be a risk to the defendant in calling Mr. Bhachu because he’ll be subject to cross-examination,” Kness said. “But that’s the defendant’s call.”

The trial continues at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets 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 covers state government and politics for NPR Illinois and Illinois Public Radio. She previously covered the statehouse for The Daily Line and Law360, and also worked a temporary stint at the political blog Capitol Fax in 2018.