CHICAGO – Michael Madigan, the former speaker of the Illinois House and for decades one of the nation’s most powerful legislators, was charged with a nearly $3 million racketeering and bribery scheme Wednesday, becoming the most prominent politician swept up in a federal investigation of entrenched government corruption in the state.
Madigan, 79, is charged in the 22-count indictment with racketeering conspiracy, using interstate facilities in aid of bribery, wire fraud and attempted extortion.
Madigan, who resigned from the Legislature a year ago, was the longest-serving state House speaker in modern U.S. history and was nicknamed the “Velvet Hammer” for his insistence on strict party discipline. A procession of senior Illinois politicians, including three governors, was charged during his tenure, but politicians long believed the savvy Madigan would never be among them.
The 106-page indictment alleges Madigan used not just his role as speaker, but various positions of power to further his alleged criminal enterprise, including his chairmanship of the Illinois Democratic Party. It also accuses Madigan of reaping the benefits of private legal work illegally steered to his law firm, including from firms with matters before the state or the city of Chicago.
It refers to the alleged, decade-long conspiracy as “The Madigan Enterprise," saying its purpose was “to preserve and to enhance Madigan’s political power and financial well-being” and to “reward Madigan’s political allies,” including by using his stranglehold over the legislative process.
Madigan, in a written statement, “adamantly" denied the accusations.
“I was never involved in any criminal activity,“ he said.
A statement from his lawyers added: “Neither the law nor the facts support these baseless charges, and the evidence will prove it.”
The value of the alleged schemes, in bribes and illegal transactions, was at least $2.8 million, according to the indictment.
The filing includes alleged communications in which Madigan appeared to agree to pay-to-play proposals.
In one instance in 2018, Madigan met with an unnamed Chicago alderman who asked Madigan for help in landing a state board appointment that paid $100,000 a year in exchange for sending legal work in the alderman's ward to Madigan's law firm.
“Just leave it in my hands,” Madigan told him, according to the indictment.
In 2020, the Chicago Democrat was implicated in a long-running bribery scheme involving the state's largest electric utility, ComEd, a key focus of Wednesday's filing. Court filings at the time didn't name Madigan directly but made it clear he was the person in documents referred to as “Public Official A."
The indictment names Michael F. McClain, Madigan's close friend, as a co-defendant. It alleges they arranged for businesses including ComEd to make payments to Madigan’s associates for their loyalty to Madigan.
McClain served with Madigan in the House in the 1970s and early 1980s before becoming a lobbyist. One of his clients was ComEd.
According to the new indictment, McClain in 2016 sent an email pressuring two associates to resolve a dispute over a legal bill Madigan would want paid.
“I just do not understand why we have to spend valuable minutes on items like this when we know it will provoke a reaction from our Friend,” McClain wrote, referring to Madigan, the indictment alleges.
ComEd admitted in earlier court filings that it secured jobs and contracts for associates of Public Official A from 2011 to 2019 for favorable treatment in regulatory rules impacting the utility. ComEd agreed in August 2020 to pay $200 million in a settlement to defer prosecution, though that agreement did not preclude criminal charges against any individual.
McClain, 74, of Quincy, is charged with racketeering conspiracy and using interstate facilities for bribery and wire fraud.
Arraignment dates for Madigan and McClain have not been set.
The federal complaint came after more than half a dozen Democrats — including Madigan's longtime chief of staff — were charged with crimes or had their offices and homes raided by federal agents.
As speaker, the ever-confident Madigan tended to shrug off the political scandal of the day. A spokeswoman for Madigan in 2020 denied the ComEd-related allegations and said Madigan would cooperate with the investigation that will "clearly demonstrate that he has done nothing criminal or improper.”
That wasn't good enough for his House Democratic caucus, many of whom weren't born when Madigan was first inaugurated in 1971. Despite his determination to win a 19th term as speaker in January last year, support peeled away and he was unable to garner the 60 votes needed to retain the gavel. Relegated to the rank and file of the 118-member House, he resigned his seat in the Legislature and as chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois in February 2021.
Madigan, the son of a Chicago precinct captain, became House speaker in 1983. He was a throwback to the style of machine politics for which Illinois was once famous, especially during the 22-year mayoral reign of Chicago’s Richard Daley, when patronage and party connections controlled who was hired and which projects were built.
Madigan wielded power through stern control of his caucus and meticulous knowledge of legislation, determining which bills received hearings and which quietly died. His loyalists received choice legislative assignments and campaign cash. He controlled the drawing of district boundaries after a census.
Madigan’s former chief of staff, Timothy Mapes, was indicted in May for lying under oath to a federal grand jury investigating ComEd. The indictment said Mapes was granted immunity to testify and that his words or evidence couldn't be used against him in a criminal case unless he committed perjury.
Four others were indicted in November on charges accusing them of orchestrating a bribery scheme with ComEd.
Former ComEd executive Fidel Marquez pleaded guilty to bribery in September and agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors.
Madigan held the gavel in the House for all but two years from 1983 to 2021, driving the political agenda regardless of which party controlled the governor’s office or the other legislative body. He served through the terms of seven governors. One, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, complained that Madigan, not he, was in charge of the state.
His power base was a middle-class district near Midway International Airport on Chicago's Southwest Side, where his loyalists, many on government payrolls, reliably turned out to canvass neighborhoods and register voters. With an eight-figure campaign fund, he could pick and choose Democratic candidates across Illinois to run for office and finance their races. The Chicago Tribune in 2014 found more than 400 current and retired state and local government workers with campaign ties to Madigan. Madigan’s daughter, Lisa, served as Illinois attorney general from 2003 to 2019.
Pay-to-play allegations were raised against Madigan, but he denied them and none resulted in criminal charges. In 2013, the head of Chicago's Metra Rail transit system claimed after being forced out that Madigan pressured him to give jobs and raises to political favorites.
Madigan has a reputation for spurning the media and rarely speaking in public. But when reporters asked in 2019 if he was an investigative target, Madigan said, “I’m not a target of anything."
As scrutiny of Madigan intensified, he also wrote a letter to House colleagues, denying wrongdoing or personal knowledge of any bribery scheme. He has said he never expected someone to be hired for a job in exchange for an action he took. “Helping people find jobs," he said, "is not a crime.”
O’Connor reported from Springfield, Illinois.