Trial lifts veil on ex-speaker’s political secrecy


The conviction of former Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan’s longtime chief of staff on perjury charges last week exposed more than just the extraordinary set of lies that Tim Mapes told to try to protect his boss.

The nearly three-week trial at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse also ripped a deeper tear in the veil covering the secretive Madigan political machine that prosecutors have called a criminal enterprise.

One FBI agent testified that Madigan’s style was similar to a mafia don. Wiretaps and email exposed the full extent of the panic that Madigan could have been toppled in 2018 over his allies #MeToo scandals. Evidence also captured the once-formidable speaker’s cutthroat moves to banish anyone who might hurt his struggle to hang onto power.

The Mapes trial also previewed the outlines of an ill-fated Chinatown land transfer deal that is included in the sweeping racketeering case filed against Madigan himself.

And it revealed a bizarre meeting Mapes had with the FBI in Springfield in January 2019, just days after different federal agents had knocked on the door of a top ComEd executive and pressured him into cooperating in the still-secret probe.

What’s clear from it all is that prosecutors still have not put all their cards on the table when it comes to the Madigan probe, which included more than nine months of wiretaps on the cellphone belonging to longtime Madigan confidant Michael McClain, as well as undercover video recordings of Madigan made by then-Chicago Alderman Daniel Solis.

Like the revelations in the Mapes case, a trove of additional evidence is expected to be unveiled in the months leading up to the April 1 racketeering trial of Madigan and McClain, who are accused of using Madigan’s official office to marshal power and enrich their friends.

Madigan, who lost his speakership in 2021, and McClain have denied the allegations. Their attorneys are in the middle of a protracted legal battle to get much of the evidence gleaned from the wiretaps suppressed due to alleged malfeasance by prosecutors.

Attorneys for both Madigan and McClain have argued in previous court filings that federal investigators, in their zeal to land a prized political target, cut corners in the investigation and ultimately filed charges that misuse the bribery statute and attempt to criminalize legal lobbying and politicking.

A simple case

Mapes’ case meanwhile, was decidedly more simple. Telling the truth — or rather Mapes’ seemingly allergic reaction to telling the truth to grand jurors — was at the heart of the allegations that led last week to a jury returning swift guilty verdicts against Mapes for perjury and attempted obstruction of justice.

For days, prosecutors dug into Mapes’ defense that he tried his “level best” to tell the truth to the grand jury on March 31, 2021, but that he just couldn’t remember the answers to a series of basic questions about Madigan’s relationship with McClain.

An ex-lobbyist, McClain, who served with Madigan in the state legislature decades ago, was convicted this year in the high-profile ComEd Four case, queuing him up with the company’s former CEO and two other lobbyists for potentially hefty prison sentences.

The Madigan-McClain alliance was well-known for years at the Illinois Capitol, and prosecutors brought a series of current and ex-lawmakers to attest to their close friendship.

Trial testimony highlighted how McClain — despite working as a lobbyist for ComEd and other major firms — frequently camped out in a Capitol conference room right between the offices of Madigan and Mapes. Even after his retirement in 2016, McClain was given special “assignments” by the speaker, an indicator of how much trust Madigan placed in his longtime friend, according to testimony.

Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, testified Madigan, McClain and Mapes represented a triangle of power over House Democratic legislators along with their political and legislative agendas. To help explain the power dynamic, Rita used his hands to draw a triangle for jurors to see.

Madigan sat at the apex. Mapes and McClain held down the two other corners of this organizational structure that held major sway over critical decisions in Madigan’s world of government and politics in Illinois.

Yet prosecutors described Mapes’ grand jury testimony as so evasive that he came off as the only person in Springfield who didn’t know McClain was taking assignments from Madigan or performing tasks the speaker asked him to do.

Mapes’ low-key grand jury testimony, coupled with his quiet manner at the defense table during the trial and half-hearted attempts to hide from news photographers, belied years of mean-spirited bravado during his 25-year run as Madigan’s chief of staff, a guy who flaunted, and sometimes abused, the power granted to him by the longest-serving speaker in American history.

He is also the same guy Madigan told to resign the coveted jobs of chief of staff, House clerk and executive director of the Madigan-run Democratic Party of Illinois within hours after a staffer accused Mapes of years of sexual harassment and fostering “culture of sexism, harassment and bullying that creates an extremely difficult working environment.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Diane MacArthur and Julia Schwartz maintained Mapes’ lies, despite getting immunity to testify before the grand jury providing he told the truth, demonstrated his desire to put loyalty over truth.

MacArthur told jurors Mapes responded with “‘I don’t recall, I don’t remember’ as a total dodge. His effort to hide behind ‘I don’t recall’ is ridiculous.”

Behind the curtain

While the evidence in the ComEd Four trial earlier this year was largely focused on that alleged bribery scheme, the wiretaps and emails revealed during Mapes’ trial gave the public a unique, behind-the-scenes look at how Madigan’s team handled a much more public scandal: the #MeToo sexual harassment allegations involving misbehaving allies.

Madigan’s inner circle immediately jumped into a defensive crouch, with McClain firing off a desperate-sounding email calling for taking the gloves off and quit playing “punchy bags above the belt.”

In one email to Mapes, McClain described how Madigan’s operation hired SKDK to “handle this problem” and develop a plan to be “assertive” and met with the firm’s Anita Dunn, a top player in the Obama and Biden administrations, to develop a strategy that included beginning with an op-ed.

Mapes had initiated the email exchange on Sept. 21, 2018, the day a Madigan-signed a commentary in the Chicago Tribune said he took responsibility for failing to “do enough” and promising to do more to address inappropriate behavior in Springfield.

Records showed the “Friends of Madigan” campaign fund paid more than $200,000 to SKDK over 2018 and 2019 for advice on how to address the #MeToo issues.

It came around the same time that McClain gathered a group of utility lobbyists — including political gurus Tom Cullen and Will Cousineau — to work out arrangements to send checks to help Kevin Quinn after Madigan had tossed him from the speaker’s organization due to the longtime lieutenant’s own #MeToo scandal.

Cullen and Cousineau were among a group of former Madigan allies who testified for the government in the Mapes trial after securing non-target letters that assured prosecutors didn’t have them in their sights.

Quinn, brother of 13th Ward Alderman Marty Quinn, was caught sending a stream of inappropriate texts to campaign worker Alaina Hampton, who called him out in February 2018. She later sued and settled with Madigan’s political operations in a case charging she was blackballed from his political organization once she made her allegations public.

Hampton, at the courthouse to see the Mapes verdict, expressed surprise that SKDK was working for Madigan’s political organization while she was getting help from Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, a national group that helps women confront sexual harassment allegations, while her lawsuit was pending.

Public relations specialist Joanna Klonsky, confirmed she was being paid by the Time’s Up fund to help Hampton and that SKDK worked as a liaison with her on behalf of Time’s Up. But Klonsky called it “deeply concerning” that she had contact with SKDK and Time’s Up on the Hampton matter while SKDK worked with the Madigan organization.

SKDK, a powerful Washington-based Democratic-leaning firm, has long worked on communications for Time’s Up in efforts to support women victims and provide training to prevent harassment.

A statement last week from SKDK partner Jill Zuckman said, “SKDK’s work for Times Up Legal Defense Fund involved connecting women with PR representatives around the country. That was wholly separate from any work helping Speaker Madigan address systemic cultural problems within his office.”

New testimony

Madigan’s scramble to get the #MeToo scandals behind him was only one part of the never-ending political intrigue in the Mapes trial.

For the first time, the public heard testimony involving one of the centerpieces of the Madigan racketeering case: An alleged effort to transfer a parcel of state-owned land in Chinatown to a developer who was looking to build a hotel. The indictment alleges Madigan attempted to shake down the developer for tax appeal business for his private law firm.

The trial testimony exposed the ease with which Democratic lobbyists such as McClain, a former state lawmaker, allegedly would not hesitate to reach out to people with bipartisan connections when they really want to cut a deal.

Lobbyist Nancy Kimme, formerly a top aide to GOP Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, testified that McClain first reached out to her about the Chinatown project in late 2017, and that she later met at Solis’ 25th Ward office with McClain, Solis and the developers seeking to turn a parking lot into a hotel complex. By then, Solis was wearing a wire.

Kimme testified she understood that Madigan supported the transfer, but the Illinois Department of Transportation, which owned it, was opposed. By the spring session in 2018, then-Democratic Sen. Martin Sandoval, head of the Senate Transportation Committee, apparently intended to block the deal.

Attempts to pass the legislation ultimately failed in the House. But by then, Solis had allegedly captured Madigan on tape saying he was looking for a colleague to sponsor a House bill approving the land sale.

“I have to find out about who would be the proponent in the House,” Madigan allegedly told Solis in the March 2018 conversation. “We gotta find the appropriate person for that. I have to think it through.”

The Madigan indictment accused the ex-speaker of illegally soliciting business for his private property tax law firm during discussions about the hotel project.

A random meeting

The Mapes trial also exposed what can only be characterized as an only-in-Illinois federal corruption probe coincidence.

In January 2019, Mapes agreed to meet with an FBI analyst and special agent from the agency’s Springfield bureau, who had reached out to him as part of an initiative to develop background sources in the political sphere in the Capitol and “better understand the public corruption threat,” according to court testimony.

Mapes, who knew the analyst, Kim Edge, through a mutual friend and had seen her recently at a funeral, met Edge and then-FBI Special Agent Terry Moody at Papo’s Cafe in Springfield, according to testimony.

The meeting happened to take place just eight days after FBI agents in Chicago had approached then-ComEd Vice President Fidel Marquez, who agreed to cooperate after they played him wiretapped calls involving the long running scheme to hire Madigan’s friends as do-nothing consultants for the utility.

In the ensuing weeks, Marquez made numerous recordings of phone calls and meetings with McClain and other members of the scheme that are at the heart of the ComEd bribery allegations.

But Edge testified her reach-out to Mapes had nothing to do with the investigation unfolding in Chicago. In fact, she didn’t even know it existed.

Still, Mapes found the encounter unusual enough to write up a three-page memo about it shortly after the meeting ended. He then called Sheldon Zenner, one of Madigan’s criminal defense attorneys, and told him about it, according to testimony.

Mapes also wrote that he’d brought a copy of the Chicago Tribune with him that day, and that on the front page was a story about Alderman Daniel Solis wearing a wire on then-Alderman Edward Burke.

“There was a brief discussion about the article,” Mapes wrote in his memo. But much of the rest was friendly chitchat.

When Mapes testified before the grand jury more than a year later, he brought the memo with him and gave it to prosecutors. Asked why he’d prepared it, Mapes said, “Because I thought this meeting was unusual.”

“They were reaching out to me to — to be wired up against some members of the General Assembly,” Mapes testified, even though there was nothing like that in his memo.

Mapes told the grand jury that he’d reached out to Zenner simply because he was a former federal prosecutor and wanted to get his thoughts, as well as possible advice on whether he needed his own legal representation.

“I thought (Zenner) might have perspective of why they had an interest in me after I had left the government,” Mapes testified.

Mapes said he also mentioned it to McClain for the same reasons. “I was looking for people that would have a legal perspective because this was something new to me and if they had any reflections or thoughts on … the FBI seeking my dialogue,” Mapes testified. “(McClain) just thought it was unusual. … Every lawyer I talked to thought it was an unusual approach to me.”

But prosecutors said Mapes was being evasive, and that the real reason Mapes called Zenner and McClain was to get word to the boss about the encounter.

In a wiretapped call from Feb. 15, 2019, about three weeks after his meeting at the coffee shop, Mapes told McClain he’d talked to Zenner about it, and they agreed it likely had something to do with reports that Solis had worn a wire.

“He has the same view that it’s being precipitated by what’s going on in the Northern District,” Mapes said on the call.

“Right,” McClain answered. “All good though.”

“So, I, I’m just reporting in,” Mapes said.

McClain laughed. “I heard ya, I heard ya”

In her closing argument last week, Schwartz told jurors that recording proved Mapes lied when he said his relay to McClain and Zenner about the meeting was “informational.”

“What he was doing instead was reporting in,” Schwartz said. “This is a man who is loyal, who does not give any ground, who refuses to provide any insights into Madigan and McClain.”

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