The Longest Serving Political Leader in the US Awaits His Criminal Trial

Chuck Siefke, Staff Writer

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Nicknamed the “Velvet Hammer,” former Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan awaits a federal criminal trial in April of 2024.[1] His tenure of almost forty years as speaker stands as the longest of any federal or state legislative body in United States History.[2] He served as speaker between 1983 – 1995, and 1997 – 2021.[3] He was viewed by many as the “Real Governor of Illinois” and was viewed as the state’s political boss.[4]

In January of 2021, under the pressure of many Illinois Democrats, Michael Madigan stepped down as Speaker.[5] In February of the same year, he resigned from his position as Representative in the Illinois House.[6] Due to his allegations of unethical behavior and corruption, he left behind a conflicting legacy.[7]

On March 2, 2022, Madigan was indicted on 22 counts of wire fraud, racketeering, bribery, and extortion.[8]The indictment alleges that Madigan, as well as close friend and lobbyist Michael McClain, used utility company Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) to make payments to Madigan’s political allies as a reward for their loyalty to Madigan.[9] ComEd is the largest electric utility company in Illinois and is the primary electric provider in Chicago and most of Northern Illinois.[10] The payment recipients allegedly performed little to no work for ComEd.[11] This indictment was followed up with a superseding indictment, which further alleges that Madigan arranged payments to be made to a political ally as part of a conspiracy with the Illinois Bell Telephone Company (AT&T Illinois).[12]

Madigan’s indictment and upcoming trial is the capstone of a widespread investigation by federal prosecutors into corruption involving Madigan, his political allies and associates, and ComEd. Prior to his indictment McClain, his close friend, and three other members of his inner circle were indicted for an alleged bribery scheme designed to corruptly influence Madigan.[13] Colloquially nicknamed the “ComEd Four,” all four individuals were convicted of bribery conspiracy, bribery, and willfully falsifying ComEd’s books.[14] The scheme was designed to “corruptly influence and reward Madigan” in order to get Illinois to pass favorable legislation for the utility company.[15] All four defendants were convicted on all counts that they faced in the trial.[16] According to one juror, although Madigan was not a defendant in the case, it was clear to all twelve jurors that Madigan “really did cause this all to happen.”[17] The four individuals await sentencing in January.[18]

Michael Madigan now faces a very difficult task of compiling a defense against a team of prosecutors with a perfect record of convictions in two trials.[19] Although specifics remain unclear, Madigan’s team has been working to bar evidence from wiretaps and recorded conversations, which his team claims were illegally obtained.[20] If Madigan cannot get the evidence tossed out, Madigan’s defense will likely present the argument that his actions were merely innocent lobbying and politics and not the full-bodied political corruption that the prosecution claims.[21] This style of defense already failed in the ComEd Four trial, which does not bode well for Madigan.[22]

         Overall, regardless of the outcome of the trial next April, it appears as though the sun is setting on Madigan’s political machine in the state of Illinois. Whether this means a new “Velvet Hammer” will take charge is yet to be determined. Still, one thing is clear: the federal prosecutors are not afraid to go after even the most powerful of politicians in the State of Illinois. 



[3] Id. 

[4] Id. 


[6] Id. 

[7] Id. 





[12] Id. 



[15] Id. 

[16] Id. 

[17] Id.

[18] Id. 


[20] Id. 

[21] Id. 

[22] Id. 

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