The indictment of the nation’s longest-serving legislative leader

By the time feds finally caught up with Mike Madigan, the Chicago Democrat’s storied career was already over.

Federal prosecutors on Wednesday unveiled 22 corruption-related charges against Madigan, the former speaker of the Illinois House. It’s a remarkable coda for a legislator who has baffled seven governors, overwhelmed and expected political adversaries on their way to becoming the longest-serving state legislative leader in US history.

But it’s also part of a sustained effort, particularly in Chicago, by federal prosecutors to target powerful political figures who have created fiefdoms in the city using their influence in state and local governments.

  • The city’s most senior alderman, Ed Burke, faces 14 corruption-related charges.
  • Another staple of Chicago politics, Ed Vrdolyak, reported to jail last year for a second prison term related to corruption.
  • Patrick Daley Thompson, nephew and grandson of two Chicago mayors, resigned from the city council in February after being found guilty of tax charges over a cherished loan he received at a now bankrupt neighborhood bank.
  • Danny Solis, an influential former councilman who faced his own legal troubles, wore a thread for years to help build the cases against Burke and Madigan.

The list continues.

And federal prosecutors have also trained their sites on other states’ legislative leaders. Last year, Ohio House expelled former chairman Larry Householder after he was indicted for his role in a $61 million First Energy Corp bribery scheme, which secured a $1.3 billion bailout dollars under the leadership of Householder. Last month, federal prosecutors in Hawaii charged two lawmakers, including a former Senate majority leader, with bribery. Last year, the FBI raided the home of former Tennessee House president Glen Casada.

But Madigan is perhaps the biggest target of them all.

Madigan was larger than life in Springfield, as he led the charge to impeach disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich and rallied Democrats to thwart Gov. Bruce Rauner’s union-busting ambitions in a two-year budget stalemate. The speaker kept the gavel while two governors he served with went to jail, and his daughter became a popular attorney general.

In his later years, Republicans invoked his name to expose chronic problems with Illinois state government, including its dire budget situation and persistent corruption.

But the man prosecutors described in grand jury indictments released this week was preoccupied with much smaller details: how many internships the power company would set aside for people in his south-side neighborhood. west of Chicago, jobs for political allies and new clients for his influence…heavy law firm.

Madigan was able to obtain such small favors, of course, because of his political power. Not only was he the Speaker of the House, but he was also a Democratic ward leader and partner at one of the city’s largest law firms that handles property tax appeals.

Prosecutors say Madigan used all of these positions to operate a political machine, which they dubbed the Madigan Enterprise, to illegally curry favor for Madigan and his allies. The fact that federal prosecutors have characterized the activities as part of a single operation allows them to bring charges under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Federal Act, which can significantly increase penalties for these crimes. presumed. Prosecutors also asked to seize $2.8 million in illegally obtained assets from Madigan and his organization.

Prosecutors accused Madigan of conspiring with Solis, the alderman who was an FBI mole, in real estate schemes to help launch business for Madigan’s law firm. They say Madigan and his allies used their influence with Chicago-area electric utility Commonwealth Edison to secure a board seat, internships and other jobs for friends and allies. . In return, according to the indictments, the company got help to pass favorable legislation and block proposals it opposed.

The indictments gave some insight into how Madigan, a man known to be a short-talker who avoided emails and often phone calls, participated in those efforts. Madigan made phone calls and held meetings to help bring in new clients and ensure his ally got a seat on ComEd’s board.

Solis apparently sold Madigan as part of a plan to get a real estate company to help both alderman and speaker.

“I think they understand how it works, you know, quid pro quo, quid pro quo,” Solis told Madigan.

“OK,” replied the speaker. “Very well.”

However, many of the details were handled by Mike McClain, a Madigan confidant who once served with Madigan in the Illinois household. McClain, who had already been charged, was much more forthcoming in email and phone conversations than Madigan.

Anne Pramaggiore, CEO of Exelon Utilities, at one point assured McClain that she would install the Madigan ally as a board member. “You take good care of me and our friend too [Madigan] and I will do my best to take care of you,” she said, according to the indictments. Pramaggiore retired in 2019 as the federal investigation into Madigan and his allies explored their ties to public service.

Rise and fall of Madigan

Madigan rose through the ranks of Chicago politics under the late Mayor Richard J. Daley and eventually became Speaker of the Illinois House in 1983. He held the gavel until the 1994 election won the ruling Republicans nationwide (and in Illinois). ). But Madigan and Democrats retook the chamber two years later, even though Republicans had drawn legislative districts to boost their chances of winning.

Madigan remained in office until 2021, when the federal investigation into Madigan’s allies and questions about how his staff handled sexual harassment allegations weakened the president’s standing in his caucus. Ultimately, it was Democrats, not Republicans, who voted Madigan out as speaker last January.

Once Madigan lost his role as president, he resigned his seat in the Illinois House and his other political positions, including that of chairman of the state Democratic Party.

But the fact that Madigan’s retirement comes after he was forced out of public office, and as he nears his 80th birthday, could diminish his political impact.

Illinois Democrats were quick to show they had already acted to put the Madigan era behind them.

“The era of corruption and personal dealings among Illinois politicians must end,” Governor JB Pritzker said. “The conduct alleged in this indictment is deplorable and constitutes a gross breach of public trust. Michael Madigan must be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. »

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, however, said Madigan’s indictments trickle down to Democrats who still control the Illinois government.

“It’s not just an indictment of Michael Madigan,” he said, “but it’s an indictment of the Democratic Party of Illinois that he led for decades. It also starts at the top with Governor Pritzker, who was elected with the full force and support of Michael Madigan.

Loud and clear message

The Illinois indictments sent a message to members of government, as well as the general public, said Howard Master, chief executive of global investigative firm Nardello & Co. and a former prosecutor who helped lead the New York Assembly’s criminal investigation. President Sheldon Silver.

“This is significant because it represents the culmination of years of investigation into a seemingly deeply entrenched and very powerful group of state and local officials who together used their power and influence to doing good financially instead of working solely in the public interest,” he said. “The details of the indictment show how transactional this group would have been. To get some things [according to the indictment] you had to give them financial benefits.

“Part of the reason for [bringing the indictments] is not just to hold people accountable, but to deter others from thinking it was okay to do so,” added Master, who teaches courses on public corruption as an adjunct professor at the law school. from the University of Pennsylvania.

The cases against Silver and Madigan had striking similarities, he said, particularly because the two were accused of using law firms that handle property tax appeals to collect money. money as part of their illegal schemes.

Silver died in prison earlier this year while serving time for helping a cancer researcher and real estate companies that did business with Silver’s law firms.

New York state politics have changed in the years since federal prosecutors first brought corruption cases against Silver and state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos in 2015. , noted Master. The number of lawsuits against state lawmakers has declined, state ethics laws have been strengthened, and the “most egregious excesses and misconduct” have been stemmed, he said.

“As prosecutors, we felt we had to rid this state of this corrupt culture,” he said. “That doesn’t mean you’ll get better results in government, but at least you’ll get more honest results.”