Latest lawsuit against House Speaker Michael Madigan, ComEd, seeks $450 million in penalties over alleged bribery scheme

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan talks to the press Nov. 12, 2019, in Springfield.

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan talks to the press Nov. 12, 2019, in Springfield. (Zbigniew Bzdak / Chicago Tribune)

A proposed class-action lawsuit filed in federal court Monday alleged House Speaker Michael Madigan and ComEd engaged in a racketeering conspiracy aimed at pushing through state legislation favorable to the power company in exchange for bribes.

The suit filed in U.S. District Court on behalf of several Commonwealth Edison customers seeks up to $450 million in damages as well as “immediate injunctive relief” barring Madigan from participating in legislative activities involving ComEd and removing him as chair of the Illinois Democratic Party.

The action marked the third lawsuit to be filed since ComEd was charged last month with running an elaborate bribery scheme aimed at influencing legislation in Springfield by making payments to a cabal of Madigan associates and approved lobbyists, some of whom did little or no actual work for the company.

In a deferred prosecution agreement with prosecutors, ComEd has agreed to pay a record $200 million fine and cooperate in the ongoing investigation. If the agreement is fulfilled, the charges against the company would be dropped in 2023.

Madigan, who was identified in the charges as Public Official A, has not been charged with wrongdoing.

According to ComEd’s agreement with the government, the fine cannot be raised through rate hikes. The deal, however, does not require ComEd to reimburse customers for any additional money received because of the scheme — an omission that several civil cases brought in recent weeks aim to address.

“We filed our civil RICO case now to protect Illinois ratepayers from further damage by Michael Madigan — in both his capacity as Speaker and as Chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois — and also to get our clients back the damages they have suffered from ComEd’s and Madigan’s bribery scheme,” plaintiffs’ attorney Stuart Chanen said in a statement.

In addition to Madigan, the suit names as defendants former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, Jay Doherty, the longtime president of the City Club of Chicago who served as on of ComEd’s chief lobbyists, and former Chicago Ald. Michael Zalewski, who was allegedly given payouts by the company as part of the scheme.

The suit was filed as a class action, meaning it seeks to include a large percentage of ComEd customers during the time period established by prosecutors.

The lawsuit also lists former ComEd executives John Hooker and Fidel Marquez as defendants.

No one named in the suit other than ComEd has been criminally charged.

ComEd has publicly apologized for its actions, but the company denies the scheme meant customers were unfairly charged. To the contrary, a utility spokesman said last month, the company has increased reliability by 70% since 2012 and customers’ bills are lower now than they were nearly a decade ago because of legislation passed by the Illinois General Assembly.

“We apologize for the past conduct that did not live up to our values and have made significant improvements to our compliance practices to ensure that nothing like it ever happens again,” spokesman Paul Elsberg said in response to an earlier lawsuit filed in July. “The improper conduct described in the deferred prosecution agreement, however, does not mean that consumers were harmed by the legislation that was passed in Illinois.”

Prosecutors have said ComEd’s scheme began around 2011 — when key regulatory matters were before the Illinois House that Madigan controls — and continued through last year.

In all, prosecutors put a value of at least $150 million on the legislative benefits ComEd received. The federal court documents specifically noted the 2011 passage of the Energy Infrastructure and Modernization Act, which “helped improve ComEd’s financial stability” by establishing rate guidelines and a smart grid overhaul.

A spokeswoman for Madigan, meanwhile, has said the speaker “has never made a legislative decision with improper motives and has engaged in no wrongdoing here.”

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