Ex-Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan indicted on federal racketeering charges
Longtime Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan was indicted Wednesday by a federal grand jury on 22 counts for allegedly using his position as the top House Democrat to solicit “personal financial rewards” for himself and his associates, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Illinois.
The former leader of the Democratic Party served as Illinois House speaker for all but two years from 1983 until his unseating in January 2021. Throughout that time he was widely viewed as a more powerful political force than anyone in the state, including its governors.
Now, Madigan, 79, is accused of “nearly a decade” of running “a criminal enterprise whose purpose was to enhance Madigan’s political power and financial well-being while also generating income for his political allies and associates,” according to a news release from the Chicago-area U.S. attorney’s office.
“The indictment alleges a long-term, multifaceted scheme to use public positions for unlawful gain, including no-show or low-show jobs for Madigan's political workers and private gain for Madigan himself,” U.S. Attorney John Lausch, whose office led the investigation, said at a news conference. “The schemes describe involvement of a leader of state government, one of his close confidantes, top management of a large public utility, consultants and others.”
Madigan’s longtime confidante, Michael McClain, whose home was raided by the FBI in May 2019 in what was one of the first public acts of a long-running federal investigation, was also named in the indictment.
McClain, who was at one time a lobbyist for utility giant Commonwealth Edison, “carried out illegal activities at Madigan’s behest,” according to Lausch’s office.
Madigan, widely known as the state’s most careful politician, famously avoided use of electronic communications such as email and cellphones.
Laush did not directly answer a question as to whether wiretaps were used in investigating the ex-speaker.
“We use all the investigative tools that we can…Those aren't spelled out specifically in the indictment,” he said. “But what you do have are words that are used in conversations. You do have words that are used in documents or on emails that are spelled out throughout the indictment. And that's the core of our evidence in this case. It's the words that are spoken by people. It is the things that show up on documents, and those are the things that actually formed the basis for the charges that we brought.”
It was July 2020 when Lausch’s office first made clear that Madigan was the subject of investigative activity without mentioning the former speaker by name.
At that time, the “the Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives and the longest serving member of the House of Representatives” was named as “Public Official A” in a deferred prosecution agreement in which utility giant Commonwealth Edison admitted to a yearslong bribery scheme.
While the name “Michael Madigan” didn’t appear in the 38-page DPA, the court document made clear that ComEd’s bribery scheme involved hiring close associates of the former speaker to win his support for legislation that was favorable to the company.
In May 2021, Madigan’s former chief of staff, Tim Mapes, was indicted on obstruction of justice and lying under oath charges.
Now, Madigan’s name appears atop a 106-page indictment, along with McClain’s, charging the ex-speaker with 22 counts that include racketeering and wire fraud charges, counts which by themselves could lead to up to 20 years in prison, Lausch said.
According to the indictment, Madigan also used his position as committeeman for Chicago’s 13th Ward, chairman of both the Illinois Democratic Party and the 13th Ward Democratic Organization, and position at the Chicago law firm of Madigan & Getzendanner to “further the goals of the criminal enterprise.”
The U.S. attorney’s announcement that public corruption charges would be forthcoming hit inboxes just before 2:30 p.m. Wednesday. While a news conference was scheduled for 4:30 p.m. to announce the charges, Chicago media began reporting Madigan would be the subject of the indictments just before 3 p.m.
News quickly circulated throughout the Illinois State Capitol, where the House was in session but the Senate was not. House business adjourned at about 4 p.m.
Republicans were all smiles as they left the floor knowing their longtime antagonist was the subject of the latest investigative bombshell.
While some Democrats avoided the news media, new House Speaker, Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, held an impromptu news conference outside his offices, and a group of 19 House Democrats who refused to support Madigan’s reelection as speaker in January 2021 met with members of the news media as well.
House Republicans held their own news conference in the Capitol’s media room, calling it a dark day in the history of Illinois politics.
“This indictment is the most sweeping public corruption charge and case to hit Illinois in decades,” said House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, of Western Springs. “The depth of this corruption that's alleged in the indictment is truly breathtaking. But this is not just an indictment against Michael Madigan. It's an indictment against the Democrat Party of Illinois that he ran for decades.”
Madigan first arrived in Springfield in 1970 as a delegate to the constitutional convention that drafted the state’s current constitution. That same year, he was elected to the Illinois House from what is now the 22nd District on Chicago’s Southwest side.
He was first elected speaker in 1983 and served in that post for all but two years in the 1990s until January 2021, the longest tenure of any legislative leader in U.S. history. He resigned his House seat in February 2021 and later stepped down as Democratic Party leader.
Throughout the recent controversy and investigative activity that led to his indictment, Madigan has fiercely denied wrongdoing.
In July 2020, after being named in the ComEd court documents, Madigan said in a statement he “accepted subpoenas” to his office but denied wrongdoing.
“He will cooperate and respond to those requests for documents, which he believes will clearly demonstrate that he has done nothing criminal or improper,” according to the statement distributed by Maura Possley of the BoycePossley firm at the time.
“The speaker has never helped someone find a job with the expectation that the person would not be asked to perform work by their employer, nor did he ever expect to provide anything to a prospective employer if it should choose to hire a person he recommended. He has never made a legislative decision with improper motives and has engaged in no wrongdoing here. Any claim to the contrary is unfounded,” Possley said in the emailed statement.
Republicans in the General Assembly tried unsuccessfully to use evidence outlined in the ComEd documents to begin proceedings to oust him in 2020. The investigative committee in charge of deciding whether to bring a formal complaint, led by Welch, a Madigan loyalist who is now House speaker, deadlocked on the question.
While he wasn’t ousted by the committee, when the House met to choose its new speaker for the General Assembly beginning in 2021, Madigan failed to gain the requisite support in his caucus for another term.
Democrats ultimately decided on Welch as his replacement from a handful of challengers.
On Wednesday after the indictment, Welch began his public remarks by addressing his role as the chair of that committee.
“Let me begin by first saying that, as the former chair of the Special Investigating Committee, I said all along, during the course of that process, that I thought that there was a more appropriate forum to deal with the things that we had been hearing in the public domain,” he said in a news conference outside his Capitol office. “And I thought that forum was the United States Attorney's Office. The United States Attorney's Office has all the resources that it needs to properly and thoroughly investigate allegations of corruption. I knew that all along.”
Welch said the House has passed ethics reforms since he became speaker and hired a new legislative inspector general. He said he believed he led the investigating committee “openly, honestly and fairly.”
“And we're going to continue to do that,” he said. “And I think here in the last 13 months, you can speak to our colleagues on both sides of the aisle. I've done it my way. The Chris Welch way. The only way I know how. And it's a new day in Springfield.”
Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego, one of the first Democratic challengers to announce her bid to unseat Madigan as speaker toward the end of 2020, held her own news conference on the Capitol rotunda.
She said she made up her mind to challenge Madigan when he was named Public Official A in the ComEd document. She said the justice system “will do what it has to do” when Madigan has his day in court.
“I was honored to build and to be a part of a coalition of 19 individuals that did not support him,” Kifowit said. “The Democratic Party put Illinois first when we voted in a new speaker, when we voted in Emanuel “Chris” Welch as our speaker of this General Assembly.”
The other 18 House Democrats who stood against Madigan joined Kifowit for a Capitol news conference late Wednesday as well.
“The possibility that this day was coming and would distract us from our work on behalf of the people we serve was top of mind for many of us as we took this position, even as we faced intense pressure to maintain the status quo,” Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, said at the news conference.
Gov. JB Pritzker called the indictment “a condemnation of a system infected with promises of pay-to-play.”
“The era of corruption and self-dealing among Illinois politicians must end,” he said in the statement. “The conduct alleged in this indictment is deplorable and a stark violation of the public’s trust. Michael Madigan must be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”
The governor called the indictment an “important step to cleaning up Illinois” and said he has faith in the justice system.
“When I ran for office, I made clear that I would be beholden to no one, and that I would serve the best interests of the people of Illinois,” he said. “I have upheld that vow. For the past three years, my administration has made clear that such abuses will not be tolerated, and we’ve tightened our ethics laws. I will continue to work with the General Assembly to restore the public’s trust.”
U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, who was chosen as Madigan’s successor as the state’s Democratic Party of Illinois chair, urged Madigan to step down as a state central committeeman from the 3rd Congressional District.
“The DPI is committed to building a party that is more transparent, more diverse, and more inclusive in everything we do,” she said in a statement. “Today’s announcement is a stark reminder that elected leaders must hold themselves to the highest ethical standards. We will observe the legal process as it unfolds, but there can be no tolerance of anyone guilty of violating the public trust.”
Senate President Don Harmon issued a short statement calling the allegations “disturbing.”
“I have confidence in our system of justice. Like everyone else, I will be watching to see how this unfolds,” he said.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.