The Overview

Former state House speaker Michael Madigan and a longtime confidant, Michael McClain, have been charged with 22 federal counts of criminal activity, including [takes a massive, cartoonishly deep breath] bribery, racketeering, wire fraud, and extortion. Yes, another indicted Illinois politician. But this may be the most significant case in decades.

The Velvet Hammer

Like him or not, Madigan has shaped modern Illinois politics more than anyone else. He represented the 22nd District (the Southwest Side, including Midway) for 50 years and served as speaker from 1983 to 2021, save two years. He was the longest-serving legislative leader, state or federal, in U.S. history. Nicknamed the Velvet Hammer for his quiet yet unequivocal authority among Illinois Democrats, he has a reputation for being tightlipped and shrewd, knowing the line between sketchy and illegal. Looks like the government thinks it can prove he crossed it.

The Madigan Enterprise

The indictment refers to his personal and professional network as the Madigan Enterprise and likens him to an Outfit don: The feds say his alleged crimes were an organized, methodical scheme to politically and financially benefit the Mikes et al. Let that sink in: Prosecutors are arguing an actual criminal conspiracy ran Illinois politics for the past decade. Not a great look for the Land of Lincoln — but not an unfamiliar one.

The Charges

The counts brought against Madigan fall into two categories. One set of charges links to the Commonwealth Edison scandal, which broke wide open in 2020. Madigan (allegedly) advanced ComEd’s agenda in the state legislature, and ComEd (allegedly) returned the favor by giving law or consulting jobs requiring little to no actual work to friends of Madigan. (The old “ghost payroller” scam.) The second set relates to Madigan’s property tax appeals firm, Madigan & Getzendanner.  (Don’t fall asleep, this is the fun part!) The government alleges Madigan abused his position as speaker to pressure a contractor to use M&G’s services in exchange for a zoning approval. (Ah, a move more Chicago-y than leaving your hot dog ketchup-free.) Madigan allegedly asked Alderman Danny Solis to approve that rezoning. Unluckily for Madigan, Solis was wearing a wire.

What Comes Next

“I was never involved in any criminal activity,” insists Madigan, who claims the government is attempting to “criminalize” what were merely “job recommendations.” Madigan has a $10.5 million campaign war chest to cover legal fees, so it’s safe to assume he’s not going down without a fight. A conviction would stain not only his 50-year career but the Illinois Democratic establishment that enabled his so-called enterprise. Because it’s about more than one man’s misdeeds, this may be bigger than the Rod Blagojevich scandal — minus the mop hairdo and the “fucking golden.”