Former state lawmaker to tell jury more about Madigan’s power as testimony in ‘ComEd Four’ trial continues – Chicago Tribune

A former Illinois state representative will return to the witness stand Wednesday in the “ComEd Four” trial, where she’s describing what was like working in the General Assembly under powerful Speaker Michael Madigan.

Former state Rep. Carol Sente, a Democrat from Vernon Hills who left the legislature in 2019, was the first witness called by prosecutors in the hot-button case alleging four Madigan associates conspired to bribe the speaker on behalf of Commonwealth Edison.

Sente testified that Madigan’s power, particularly in her own party, was almost absolute in the House, where he set the rules, decided who served on the various committees, and deployed a team of people who constantly pressured members to vote a certain way.

When asked if she found it challenging to vote in an independent way that she felt was in her district’s best interest, Sente answered, “Very much so.”

“We were told if we voted the wrong way, it could be used for campaign fodder in the next election,” she said. “… It was rather strong.”

Then-Illinois state Rep. Carol Sente, D-Vernon Hills, during a news conference on Jan. 25, 2018.

Sente is one of several witnesses prosecutors plan to call to educate the jury on the political process of politics and lobbying in Springfield, a world that Madigan lorded over for decades during his record-breaking run as speaker.

The four defendants are McClain, 75, an ex-ComEd lobbyist; former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, 64; ex-ComEd lobbyist John Hooker, 73; and Jay Doherty, 69, a lobbyist and consultant who formerly led the City Club of Chicago.

All four have pleaded not guilty to bribery conspiracy and other charges alleging they covered up illegal payments on ComEd’s books.

Madigan, meanwhile, has pleaded not guilty to a separate racketeering indictment accusing him of an array of corrupt schemes, including the ComEd bribery plot. McClain is also charged in that case, which is scheduled to go to trial in April 2024.

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Testimony began Wednesday in U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber’s courtroom after a jury of six men and six women was selected to hear the case, which is expected to last up to eight weeks.

In her opening statement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Streicker said ComEd poured $1.3 million into payments funneled to ghost “subcontractors” who were actually Madigan’s cronies, put a Madigan-backed person on the ComEd board, and gave coveted internships to families in his 13th Ward, all part of an elaborate scheme to keep the speaker happy.

And, it worked, Streicker said, because over the eight years of the scheme, Madigan helped ComEd win three lucrative pieces of legislation, including the “Smart Grid” bill in 2011 and another bill in 2016 that held a rate structure in place and extended the life of two of the company’s nuclear plants.

The defendants’ attorneys, meanwhile, all contended that the so-called scheme was nothing more than legal lobbying, part of the state’s high-stakes, often-messy politics where myriad interest groups and stakeholders compete for access to lawmakers.

“It’s not a crime, and it’s not a conspiracy,” said Patrick Cotter, who represents McClain. “And you know what? It’s not even suspicious. It’s a profession.”

Cotter also accused “overzealous” investigators of developing tunnel vision in their zeal to bring down a big political target in Madigan, which in the end led to them getting it “terribly, tragically wrong.”

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