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The ComEd jury foreman says Madigan is a dangerous force in Illinois politics

Sarah Goldenberg, a 34-year-old data analyst from Arlington Heights, served as the jury foreman that convicted four former Commonwealth Edison executives and lobbyists for their role in a bribery scheme.
Marc Monaghan
Sarah Goldenberg, a 34-year-old data analyst from Arlington Heights, served as the jury foreman that convicted four former Commonwealth Edison executives and lobbyists for their role in a bribery scheme.

Sarah Goldenberg didn’t know much about former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan when she answered a federal jury summons this spring that later became a front-row seat to Illinois’ biggest political corruption case in a decade.

The 34-year-old data analyst from Arlington Heights was the jury foreman in the now-concluded federal bribery trial that resulted in guilty verdicts for four former Commonwealth Edison executives and lobbyists charged with bribing Madigan.

Through seven weeks on the jury, Goldenberg grew to understand Madigan’s “manipulative” way of wielding power and wringing bribes from one of the state’s biggest employers in exchange for favorable treatment of company legislation.

She said Madigan, who was first elected speaker in 1983 and in power until the federal probe involving ComEd led to his ouster in 2021, was “crafty” and embodied a “dangerous force … that we don’t want to have repeated, in my opinion, within the government.”

She didn’t know that Madigan, too, has been charged in the scheme and is awaiting his own trial, but she believes his conduct was possibly just as illegal as that of former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore and her co-defendants in this case.

“It feels like a crime based on what I’ve heard,” she said.

“Who else has he done this to with the manipulation with the incentive of getting bills passed?” Goldenberg continued. “If you are powerful enough to get a major conglomerate to do this, you’d also do this to other, smaller fish in the pond because bad behavior like this doesn’t strike once.”

In her first broadcast interview since the jury returned its verdicts Tuesday, Goldenberg gave WBEZ an inside-the-jury-room look at a trial that altered her perception of Springfield and made her believe more ethics reforms are necessary.

She noted how the legal gambits Pramaggiore and co-defendant John Hooker took when they testified in their own defenses did not pay off and how what they and fellow co-defendants Michael McClain and Jay Doherty were doing to curry favor with Madigan was not legal lobbying.

Goldenberg also talked about how the whole case federal prosecutors laid out had a movie-like feel to it, built upon a motley group of ghost subcontractors for ComEd she characterized as Madigan “stooges.”

These were ex-aldermen, a former legislator and precinct captains whom the ex-speaker pressed ComEd to hire. Once in place, they drew off-the-books monthly paychecks of up to $5,000 from ComEd for little to no work while appearing to live comfortable, middle-class lives.

“This sounds like the perfect job,” she said. “I would love to get a job where I get paid to do nothing, and I could live the good life because who wouldn’t want that? But I would want that without strings attached. And there were strings attached for these roles. And that is where the corruption and bribery is.

“This was just such clear conspiracy and corruption and bribery that I have never seen before except for TV shows and movies,” she said.

Secret wiretaps proved effective for jurors

The government’s case hinged on a mountain of evidence that included more than 140 audio and video recordings from wiretaps of McClain’s phones and secret recordings that a government mole, former ComEd executive Fidel Marquez, orchestrated on the feds’ behalf.

In one of his more memorable contributions to the prosecution, Marquez videotaped McClain inside a Springfield restaurant, where the two talked about how to divulge the existence of the ghost subcontractors to a new, incoming ComEd CEO.

McClain’s advice in that recording, as he and Marquez ate pizza at a side table and a server asked about refilling their drinks, was not to write anything down about any of Madigan’s people drawing secret paychecks.

“(Marquez) just kind of laid out traps for people to say stuff,” Goldenberg said, “and they did so willingly.”

However, Marquez, who oversaw ComEd’s stable of in-house and external lobbyists, didn’t begin cooperating with the government until 2019, deep into the conspiracy to bribe Madigan.

“I do hope he gets some form of punishment and doesn’t just get to walk,” she said. “He only started working with the government in 2019 so he was part of this. And then this was his way out.”

In September 2020, Marquez pleaded guilty to one count of bribery conspiracy for his role in the scheme, marking the first conviction in the feds’ ComEd investigation. Marquez agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department, and federal prosecutors indicated they intend to seek probation against him once the sprawling probe into Madigan ends, meaning Marquez could avoid prison entirely.

Jurors weren’t convinced by defendants who took the stand themselves

Goldenberg also had thoughts about two pivotal moments in the defense’s case — the decisions by Pramaggiore and Hooker to take the witness stand. It was a high-risk, high-reward maneuver for the pair. But in the end, their testimony drew no sympathy from the jury, Goldenberg said.

In Pramaggiore’s case, prosecutors repeatedly made note of how she studied acting in college, making the strong implication that her time answering questions on the stand leaned heavily into her background in the performing arts.

Asked if Pramaggiore was performing on the stand, Goldenberg said, “I believe so.”

Pramaggiore’s downfall was her seemingly selective memory — claiming not to know about the existence of the ghost subcontractors when repeated recordings and emails presented by prosecutors proved otherwise, Goldenberg said.

“There was just overwhelming evidence that she had conversations about them, knew they were getting paid, and it was just so present. And it just felt misleading to … the jury,” she said.

Likewise, Hooker withered under cross-examination from prosecutors, who hammered him on a wiretapped conversation he had with McClain where the two seem to regale in creating the infrastructure to move the Madigan-connected subcontractors under Doherty and outside of public scrutiny.

Hooker claimed he was being misinterpreted on that recording. But Goldenberg said jurors didn’t believe him because it was evident what Hooker said when he was speaking candidly with McClain didn’t match with the denials of wrongdoing Hooker made on the stand.

“It kind of made myself and some of the other jury members just frustrated,” she said.

Juror wants to see more ethics reforms in Illinois

Goldenberg said her experience on the jury has left her believing state lawmakers should scrutinize this case and tighten state ethics laws. One place to start, she said, would be finding a way to better regulate and expose when politicians make job requests of public utilities.

She said a reform that requires state lawmakers and officials to disclose if any immediate family members work for a utility should be expanded to include “family or friends.”

Goldenberg said retired lawmakers, who after leaving office engage in public corruption as lobbyists, also should face the prospect of losing their legislative pensions. After the verdicts, the state moved to suspend the legislative pension of McClain, who served in the Illinois House between 1973 and 1983, pending an opinion from Attorney General Kwame Raoul.

“There should be risks to losing your state pension as a former state official [if] you commit a crime within your state. Absolutely. Now, any crime? No. But one of this type of nature? Yes. There needs to be a consequence. I think that would be a major deterrent [to corruption],” she said.

Goldenberg said she is happy to migrate back into her regular life after doing her civic duty and serving on a jury that among its 12 participants had no doubt in the decision it made.

“It was nice to be able to know that my voice did help make a difference,” she said.

Dave McKinney covers Illinois government and politics for WBEZ and was the longtime Springfield bureau chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.