‘How else can we help you?’ Jurors hear and see Madigan’s vast patronage system inside ComEd
The feds’ key witness, former ComEd Vice President Fidel Marquez, spent hours testifying Tuesday about how he and other ComEd executives fielded constant requests to find jobs for people he said were pushed for employment by Madigan, even when evaluations found their qualifications lacking.
A close confidant of Michael J. Madigan sat down with a new ComEd CEO in March 2019 and explained how the then-powerful Illinois House speaker had long viewed the massive utility as an “old-fashioned patronage system.”
When technology put an end to Madigan’s ability to put people in meter reader jobs, ComEd evolved into “how else can we help you?” Michael McClain explained to then-
Four years later, jurors in the trial of McClain and three other former political power players not only saw video of that and other conversations secretly recorded by a onetime ComEd executive — they saw evidence of that vast patronage system itself.
Former ComEd Vice President Fidel Marquez spent hours testifying Tuesday about how he and other ComEd executives fielded constant requests to find jobs for people he said were pushed for employment by Madigan, even when evaluations found their qualifications lacking.
It would have been a “HUGE stretch” to offer a job to one candidate, one ComEd exec wrote in an email. Marquez said he waived GPA requirements for internship positions at ComEd because candidates came from Madigan’s power base in Chicago’s 13th Ward.
That testimony came after jurors viewed video recordings in which Marquez discussed with McClain and others a contract that was allegedly used to funnel money from ComEd to Madigan allies Frank Olivo, Raymond Nice, Edward Moody and Michael R. Zalewski, who the feds say got more than $1 million despite doing little or no work for ComEd.
On trial in the case are McClain, former ComEd executive Anne Pramaggiore, ex-ComEd lobbyist John Hooker and onetime City Club President Jay Doherty. The four are accused of arranging for Madigan’s associates to get jobs, contracts and money in an illegal bid to sway Madigan while legislation crucial to ComEd moved through Springfield.
Prosecutors moved into the heart of their case Tuesday with the testimony from Marquez, who was approached by the FBI in January 2019 and agreed to cooperate in its intense investigation of Madigan and others. He secretly recorded his colleagues, asking them how he should go about explaining a contract with Doherty’s consulting firm to Dominguez, ComEd’s new CEO.
Madigan’s allies were being paid through that contract, which Dominguez ultimately agreed to approve. Pramaggiore, who had served as ComEd’s CEO, had recently been promoted and named CEO of Exelon Utilities.
Madigan has been charged with racketeering in a separate indictment and faces trial in April 2024.
Marquez’s marathon testimony is expected to continue Wednesday, when defense attorneys might finally have the chance to cross-examine the federal government’s star witness. Prosecutors have signaled that the intent of the four defendants “is the primary issue in dispute in this case,” and Marquez helped the feds deliver the defendants’ own words to the jury.
Many of those words have been made public before. But prosecutors publicly aired the video and audio recordings that Marquez made for the first time Tuesday.
The recordings took the jury to a dimly lit table inside Saputo’s restaurant, a garlic-infused Springfield institution and well-known haunt for lawmakers. McClain offered this warning to Marquez there on Feb. 7, 2019:
“I think all that can do is hurt ya,” McClain added later in the meeting.
Jurors watched as Doherty, about a week later, sat in a suit and blue tie and summed up the work that was being done by Madigan’s allies through his contract. Marquez asked him “do they do anything? What do they do?”
“Well, not much, to answer the question,” Doherty replied.
Later, explaining why the payments should continue, Doherty said that could “be answered in Springfield with Madigan. And to keep Madigan happy, I think it’s worth it, because you’d hear otherwise.”
Marquez spoke to Pramaggiore by phone on Feb. 18, 2019. During the call, Pramaggiore suggested that Marquez delay any change in the arrangement. She told Marquez “we do not want to get caught up in a, you know, disruptive battle where, you know, somebody gets their nose out of joint.”
Pramaggiore attorney Scott Lassar predicted during opening statements that the recording of the call would exonerate Pramaggiore, who could be heard saying “oh my God” in the background as Marquez tells her about the history of the deal.
But Marquez denied to Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu that Pramaggiore expressed shock or surprise during the call. Nor did she later call for an investigation, Marquez said. But he said he took the reference to a person who could get “their nose out of joint” to mean Madigan.
During another meeting with McClain and Hooker, Marquez asked how “our friend” — Madigan — might react to the end of the arrangement.
Hooker’s response: “You’re not gonna do it? You’re not going to do something for me, I don’t have to do anything for you.”
Marquez later joined McClain in a March 5, 2019, meeting with Dominguez.
Bhachu spent the morning walking Marquez through the recordings. Then the prosecutor spent most of the afternoon unpacking how the Madigan patronage system trickled all the way down to ComEd’s summer internship program — highlighting resumes that included “Madigan-Quinn Service Office” in employment history.
In one case, an applicant spent one month as an intern in the 13th Ward — and was being referred to ComEd as a paid intern.
There were also requests for jobs beyond the internship program, including a man whom McClain referred who made it up the corporate chain to Mark Browning, ComEd’s VP of IT. Browning wrote in an email to Marquez that the candidate “was also very weak communicating orally and didn’t have a good presence.” He wrote that “some of his comments were politically inappropriate and could use some polishing.”
“This would be a HUGE stretch to extend him a position if we had an opening,” Browning wrote.
After Marquez forwarded Browning’s email to McClain, McClain wrote, “I hate being in a position to have a string of “no’s’ to our friend ...” McClain later asked Marquez: “Is there anything this guy could start doing that is not contractual and gets him health benefits?”
“Just planning for my 5 pm, meeting,” McClain wrote of an upcoming meeting with Madigan.
In a February 2015 email, McClain wrote to Marquez in the subject line: “Our friend’s ward? Summer interns? 10 jobs or 12 or what is the ceiling. Best, Mike.”
One of the referrals in 2018 had a GPA of 1.1. — which was far below the required 2.8 grade point average for the internship program. In a forwarded email chain about the GPA issue, McClain wrote to Marquez, “Boy we are playing harder than we have in the past,” in reference to some company pushback of his referrals for the program.
When another intern was rejected for the program for a poor GPA in 2018, McClain wrote to Marquez in an email labeled “high” importance, “This is a trend I do not like. We have never had this kind of pushback before without saying, ‘do you have another name?’”
In one 2015 email, Marquez was asked by the company’s chief financial officer about one of the internship referrals: “Do you have pressure to hire or fairly consider?”
Marquez wrote back, “There is pressure to hire. Hope she interviews well.”
On the stand, Bhachu asked Marquez how many senior-level ComEd executives it took to hire the interns.
“Three,” Marquez responded.