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Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Jon Seidel

Jurors in ComEd bribery trial won’t hear Madigan’s ‘bandits’ quip, judge rules

Longtime House Speaker Michael Madigan was recorded on Aug. 4, 2018, making the “bandits” quote in a phone conversation with associate Michael McClain, whose phone was wiretapped by the FBI. (AP Photos)

Jurors listening to the trial of four former political power players accused of conspiring to bribe onetime Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan have likely become very familiar with the former speaker’s voice by now.

They’ve heard recordings of Madigan strategizing over leadership changes in the House, making dinner plans with longtime friend and confidant Michael McClain — even discussing soup with his wife. 

But they apparently will not hear a Madigan quip, which made headlines earlier this year, that Madigan allegedly uttered while discussing jobs his associates had landed at ComEd.

“Some of these guys have made out like bandits,” Madigan said.

Defense attorneys appear to have surprised the feds this week by objecting — successfully — to the use of the recording in the trial. U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber barred the recording, prompting prosecutors to follow up and ask that he reconsider his ruling. 

Leinenweber declined Wednesday.

On trial are McClain, former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, ex-ComEd lobbyist John Hooker and onetime City Club President Jay Doherty. The four are accused of arranging for jobs, contracts and money for Madigan allies in an illegal bid to sway Madigan as legislation crucial to ComEd moved through Springfield.

The ruling over the “bandits” quote appears to be a minor setback for the feds. The trial is now in its fourth week, and prosecutors told the judge they will likely finish presenting evidence Tuesday. Jurors spent their day Wednesday hearing more details about FBI raids in May 2019, the code of conduct for ComEd employees, and the utility’s contract with Doherty’s consulting firm, which allegedly helped funnel $1.3 million to certain Madigan allies.

Madigan faces a separate racketeering indictment and is set for trial in April 2024. That means prosecutors might have another opportunity to air the “bandits” recording.

Still, the back-and-forth over that tape has revealed new details about the conversation that were not available when Madigan’s comment was first made public in January

Madigan made the comment to McClain on Aug. 4, 2018 — months after the FBI began wiretapping McClain’s phone. The two were discussing a labor agreement involving ComEd, court records show.

McClain told Madigan that, after lawyers had been convinced to go ahead with the contract, former Chicago Federation of Labor President and ComEd lobbyist Dennis Gannon had been enlisted to drive it around to various people to be signed.

Gannon has not been charged with wrongdoing. 

“How did Gannon get involved?” Madigan asked during the conversation. 

McClain told him, “Dennis hasn’t done anything for a while” and “we’re just asking him to do the, uh, the traveling.”

Madigan asked, “B-but Mike, he’s involved with ComEd?”

McClain said, “Yeah, remember we got him that contract, um, maybe five years ago now, whenever it was? For a buck fifty a year.”

Prosecutors told the judge this week that McClain meant $150,000.

That’s when Madigan laughed and said, “Some of these guys have made out like bandits, Mike,” according to a transcript.

McClain said, “Oh, my God.” He coughed, and then he added, “For very little work, too.”

Prosecutors argued that the recording is “direct evidence” of the bribery conspiracy, demonstrating that McClain and Madigan “both understood that ComEd paid large sums of money to some Madigan associates for little to no work.”

But McClain’s attorneys insisted it’s not direct evidence at all. Gannon was not among the recipients of the $1.3 million who are primarily at issue in the trial. The defense attorneys also denied that Gannon was hired as a favor to Madigan. 

Rather, lawyers Patrick Cotter and David Niemeier pointed to testimony from former ComEd general counsel Thomas O’Neill, who earlier in the trial said he hired Gannon to help coordinate labor organizations.

The defense attorneys argued that prosecutors simply hoped to use the recording “for the quotes.”

Leinenweber ultimately agreed to bar it, noting that Gannon had not been hired at the request of Madigan or McClain.

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