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Former City Club president in texts to Mayor Lori Lightfoot: ‘ComEd duped me’ in bribery probe tied to Madigan

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 9/30/2021 Gregory Pratt, Chicago Tribune

The now-indicted former head of the City Club of Chicago told Mayor Lori Lightfoot last year he’d been “duped” by Commonwealth Edison and knew nothing about the utility’s alleged efforts to bribe then-House Speaker Michael Madigan.

“I was an ‘innocent bystander caught in the cross-fire,’ ” Jay Doherty texted the mayor in May 2020, as the federal investigation into the alleged bribery scheme was ramping up. “I want to explain in person.”

The next month, Doherty texted the mayor a ComEd investigation “Fact Sheet” that blamed the utility for his legal problems. He said ComEd had asked him to place four subcontractors on the payroll of his consulting company, but that he had not participated directly in their hiring and knew nothing about the work they did on the utility’s behalf.

“After 34 years of faithful and honest work for ComEd, I was stunned to learn (that) ComEd duped me, ComEd lied to me and ComEd used me,” Doherty wrote.

The mayor responded curtly: “Jay, I really cannot accept these kinds of documents from you. Please stop. It is not appropriate.”

The text messages, which were obtained by the Chicago Tribune through an open records request, show that Doherty repeatedly tried to downplay his role in the ComEd probe to the mayor even after federal agents raided the City Club’s offices in the Wrigley Building in the spring of 2019.

The texts also show that Lightfoot helped Doherty with a booking even after he was first publicly connected to the FBI probe.

Doherty, a longtime ComEd lobbyist, stepped down as president of the City Club in December 2019. He was indicted along with three others in November on bribery conspiracy charges alleging a nearly decadelong scheme to funnel money and jobs to Madigan loyalists in exchange for the speaker’s help with legislation the utility needed passed in Springfield.

The alleged scheme was first laid out in detail last year when the U.S. attorney’s office announced ComEd was being charged with bribery under a deferred prosecution agreement in which the company agreed to pay a record $200 million fine.

The company admitted that top executives, including onetime CEO Anne Pramaggiore and Vice President Fidel Marquez had conspired with lobbyist John Hooker and Michael McClain, a longtime Madigan confidant, to make off-the-books payments to lobbyists and consultants who were close to Madigan’s political operation.

Doherty, Pramaggiore, McClain and Hooker have all pleaded not guilty. Marquez pleaded guilty last year and is cooperating as he awaits sentencing.

Madigan, who failed to add another term to his record run as speaker and retired from the House earlier this year, has not been charged in the case and has denied wrongdoing.

Doherty’s attorneys had no comment Thursday on his communications with the mayor.

A Lightfoot spokesman said the texts about ComEd were inappropriate and noted Lightfoot told him so. But the mayor’s office did not address why she remained in contact with him after it was publicly known that his office had been raided.

Doherty’s texted claims to Lightfoot that he didn’t know anything about the ComEd scheme, meanwhile, are clearly at odds with what he allegedly said on undercover FBI recordings to Marquez.

In February 2019, months before Doherty professed ignorance to Lightfoot, he was recorded telling Marquez that he’d hired subcontractors under specific instructions from others and that ComEd should not tamper with the arrangement because “your money comes from Springfield,” according to the utility’s deferred prosecution agreement.

Doherty also told Marquez that he knew McClain had spoken to Madigan about the hiring of the associates, who “keep their mouth shut” about the arrangement.

“But do they do anything for me on a day-to-day basis? No,” Doherty told Marquez in the recorded conversations, according to ComEd’s admissions in court.

The indictment alleged former 13th Ward Ald. Frank Olivo was paid $256,000 in consulting fees by Doherty’s company from December 2013 to April 2019. Two 13th Ward precinct captains were paid a total of $469,000 by Doherty’s firm from March 2014 to October 2016, according to the indictment.

The text messages obtained by the Tribune, meanwhile, show Doherty’s pitch to the mayor about the investigation heated up In June 2020, when he sent her a text reading: “CONFIDENTIAL(.) I am looking to meet with you in person for 10 minutes. Please know that I would not ask if I did not think this is worthy of your time. Please advise.”

Lightfoot told him she was “significantly limiting any in person meetings” but said she was “happy to talk by phone.”

Doherty then responded by sending her a couple potential items to discuss, including a potential community development project and the claim that he was “caught in the cross-fire” at ComEd.

“I never interviewed, hired or fired them,” Doherty wrote in his bullet-point rundown of the ComEd case. “I had no control or knowledge as to what, if anything, they did on behalf of ComEd.”

He said he had racked up $220,000 in legal expenses and ComEd refused to reimburse him for his legal expenses. The company also refused to pay him through the end of his contract, he said.

“The Government requested documents from me over a year ago. I have cooperated with the Government since Day One,” Doherty texted. “None of this investigation has anything to do with City of Chicago or Cook County. The investigation is focused solely on Springfield, where I have never done any business.”

He said he did not expect to hear anything from the government again.

In fact, Doherty was indicted five months later.

In addition to his desire to talk about the ComEd probe, Doherty’s messages also show he was frequently asking the mayor to help drum up speakers for the popular City Club luncheons.

For instance, Doherty texted Lightfoot in October 2019 to ask for her help preventing Chicago Transit Authority President Dorval Carter from backing out of a luncheon.

“A word from you will warm cold feet,” Doherty said.

After news broke in fall 2019 that the FBI had raided the City Club’s offices, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office announced a ban on state employees addressing the organization. Doherty repeatedly texted Lightfoot to ask for help.

“Please come speak at City Club of Chicago. It would really help me,” Doherty texted on Nov. 6, 2019. “Pritzker boycott has ‘spooked’ some municipal employees. We need your help.”

In response to a similar message two days later, Lightfoot responded, “Working on it.”

“How about you and (interim Police Superintendent) Charlie Beck at City Club of Chicago?” Doherty texted back. “We can move very quickly.”

Doherty also asked Lightfoot to “please ask Governor Pritzker to end the ‘boycott’ of City Club of Chicago” while she was on a trip to Springfield, but the mayor did not text back to that message.

In addition to City Club business, Doherty also lobbied the mayor on behalf of his clients. On March 22, 2020, Doherty texted the mayor “PERSONAL” and said his client AECOM had been doing work in New York City helping to prepare building conversions for hospitals, among other plans.

“We stand by ready to help you . Please advise. We are here for you,” Doherty wrote.

Lightfoot announced the city was adding more beds to support hospitals “that could tap out.”

We have two hotels, a closed hospital and YMCAs. I will raise your suggestion at the team call this morning,” Lightfoot texted. “I think the city has a contract with AECOM so if we needed it we could probably go fairly quickly.”

Similarly, Doherty texted the mayor in April 2020 to recommend someone for a volunteer or internship possibility. Lightfoot asked, “What is he interested in doing?”

“Government Affairs, your political team or in government,” Doherty replied. “Young, smart and ready to work.”

The mayor said “we are limited in what we can do politically but there are a lot of needs in (intergovernmental affairs). Can you have him send me his resume and then I will have someone follow up.”

He also texted Lightfoot to complain that Lake Shore Drive had turned into a “speedway” due to people staying home. He texted to tell her, “Our mutual friends Sheila and Chris Kennedy are enormously grateful to you for your help with Top Box Foods.”

And even though ComEd had dumped Doherty as a consultant amid the burgeoning probe, that didn’t stop him from suggesting to the mayor in July 2020 that the utility should pony up $100 million “to enhance law enforcement training at new Chicago Police Academy.”

“Make it a world class showcase ala Kennedy School of Government, where ‘the best and the brightest’ teach and learn law enforcement,” Doherty wrote.

Lightfoot did not text back.

gpratt@chicagotribune.com

jmeisner@chicagotribune.com

rlong@chicagotribune.com

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