The former top in-house lobbyist for Commonwealth Edison pleaded guilty Tuesday in a political bribery scheme that’s threatening the biggest player in Springfield in the past 40 years.
Fidel Marquez Jr. – ComEd’s former senior vice president for governmental and external affairs – admitted his role in the power company’s long-running, illicit effort to influence Illinois House Speaker and state Democratic Party boss Michael Madigan of Chicago.
Marquez’s plea deal in federal court makes him the first person convicted in the sweeping corruption probe led by the office of the top prosecutor in Chicago, U.S. Attorney John Lausch.
The hearing also confirmed that Marquez was cooperating in the ongoing investigation, which has roiled Springfield politics since news of the probe first became known in the summer of 2019.
In July, ComEd agreed to pay a $200 million fine and acknowledged engaging in a more than eight-year bribery scheme, hiring politically connected consultants in an effort to win Madigan’s support for lucrative state legislation.
Madigan has not been charged and has heatedly denied wrongdoing.
But Marquez admitted to conspiracy to commit bribery, funneling a payment of $37,500 to an unnamed company. That company, in turn, was expected to give “a substantial portion” of the money to associates of “Public Official A” – a clear reference to Madigan.
The plea agreement unsealed Tuesday made clear that ComEd expected something in return from Madigan: “As Marquez understood, these payments were made to influence and reward Public Official A concerning legislation affecting ComEd.”
During the timing of the bribery scheme, ComEd won Springfield approval for two bills that caused ComEd’s profits to swell – and led to a sharp increase in the electricity delivery rates paid by more than 4 million homes and businesses across northern Illinois. On Tuesday, prosecutors again noted that ComEd serves about 70% of the population of Illinois.
In charging Marquez on Sept. 4, prosecutors said he and ComEd illegally doled out jobs, contracts and cash payments to Madigan allies who “performed little or no work that they were purportedly hired to perform for ComEd.”
State records obtained by WBEZ show Madigan issued a personal invitation to Marquez to attend January 2019 House inauguration ceremonies as the speaker’s guest, underscoring the close personal relationship between the two.
Marquez could face a maximum penalty of long as five years in prison, plus a $250,000 fine. But federal prosecutors could reward his cooperation by asking the judge in his case to spare him from any time in prison and merely give him probation.
Marquez’s plea deal provides the most detail yet on the alleged role in the scheme of ComEd’s former chief executive Anne Pramaggiore. She has not been charged and has denied wrongdoing.
According to court records, Marquez admitted he also conspired in the bribery scheme with others, including former ComEd lobbyist and close Madigan confidant Michael McClain. McClain is referred to in the plea agreement as “Individual 1.”
“Based upon his discussions with Individual 1 and others, Marquez knew that Individual 1 had a close personal relationship with Public Official A and, among other things, sometimes communicated on behalf of Public Official A,” according to court records.
The feds say McClain talked to Marquez at one point about two clout hires at ComEd who had connections to Madigan. McClain “described their importance in terms of how close they were to Public Official A,” according to Marquez’s plea agreement.
McClain, who has not been charged, told WBEZ earlier this year that the feds asked him to cooperate, but he suggested he was not inclined to do so.
Marquez, 58, worked for ComEd for decades, rising from summer intern to an executive role that paid him far more than $1 million a year before he quit abruptly last year, weeks after the federal probe broke into public view.
In court Tuesday, Marquez said he had two post-graduate degrees and three adult children.
Marquez’s hearing in U.S. District Court in Chicago came just minutes before Illinois lawmakers were set to begin a hearing of their own in Springfield, into Madigan’s role in the scandal. Madigan has declined to participate in that legislative inquiry.
Illinois House Republicans prompted the creation of the special investigative committee, which could result in discipline for Madigan. But the GOP has complained that the bipartisan panel’s chairman, Democratic State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch of Hillside, was abusing his role to shield Madigan from greater scrutiny.
Madigan has been speaker of the state House for all but two years since 1983.
Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter on WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team.