CHICAGO — A former ComEd vice president pleaded guilty Tuesday to his role in what prosecutors say was a long-running bribery conspiracy in which the energy utility sought legislative support from one of Illinois' most powerful Democrats, House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Fidel Marquez, who headed ComEd's governmental affairs office until 2019 and is the first former executive charged in the ongoing investigation, entered the plea by video before Chicago-based U.S. District Judge Mary Rowland.
The action took place just before a special investigating committee of the Illinois House opened testimony on possible discipline for Madigan, the longest-serving leader of a legislative body in U.S. history.
At the Springfield hearing, the House Republican leader decried ComEd's "breathtaking admission" even in scandal-weary Illinois. And a ComEd representative confirmed the utility hired or gave contracts to Madigan allies, despite doing no work because "Speaker Madigan is an influential public official."
Madigan hasn't been charged and denies any wrongdoing. But prosecutors singled him out in July when they announced ComEd would pay $200 million under a deferred prosecution deal that requires the utility to fully cooperate with the ongoing investigation. The utility acknowledged bribing Madigan with jobs for political allies and more valued at $1.3 million in exchange for favorable legislation.
Marquez faces a maximum five-year prison term and a possible penalty of up to $300 million, which is twice the estimated value of the benefits to ComEd in the scheme to provide jobs and vendor subcontracts for Madigan associates.
When Judge Rowland asked Marquez Tuesday how he wanted to plead, he answered calmly, "I plead guilty, your honor."
But a plea deal indicates prosecutors would recommend probation if Marquez cooperates fully. The willingness to spare Marquez prison time for his cooperation suggests the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago has other, potentially more important targets in its sights. Sentencing for Marquez was delayed until the probe is over, which could be years.
In Springfield, testimony got underway in a disciplinary hearing used just twice in the past 115 years. Although Republican action created the committee, its six members are evenly divided politically. Durkin said that makes a 3-3 tie on his charge against Madigan of "conduct unbecoming to a legislator" inevitable. But he said the facts lead to "one conclusion."
"One of the largest utilities in the nation paid over $1.3 million in bribes to influence or reward the speaker of the House of Representatives ... in a state that has long witnessed and suffered from scandal and corruption," Durkin said. "That admission in itself is breathtaking."
David Glockner, who signed the deferred prosecution agreement as Exelon's new vice president of compliance and audit, testified under GOP questioning to the accuracy of the statements in the so-called DPA and confirmed its admissions.
Elmhurst Republican Rep. Deanne Mazzochi went over ComEd's admissions, including that Madigan allies were hired despite Glockner's acknowledging ComEd had no record of the doing any work. Why, Mazzochi asked, would ComEd pay, for eight years, two lobbyists with close political ties to Madigan despite having no evidence they did any work?
"The DPA indicates that ComEd believed that it would be helpful for the company with the speaker ...," Glockner replied. "As the DPA noted, Speaker Madigan is an influential public official."