ComEd pleads not guilty in influence-peddling case
Energy utility ComEd pleaded not guilty to bribery at an arraignment Wednesday despite previously admitting wrongdoing in an influence-peddling scheme that threatens to ensnare Illinois' most powerful Democrat, state House Speaker Michael Madigan.
The plea during a hearing held by phone was largely a formality under a deferred prosecution agreement unsealed last month and doesn't mean that ComEd is now saying it did nothing wrong. The agreement requires that ComEd admit wrongdoing, pay a $200 million fine and cooperate with investigators in return for dismissal of the charge later.
In the written agreement, ComEd admits to supplying benefits to associates of Madigan -- the nation's longest serving statehouse speaker -- from 2011 to 2019 in exchange for the speaker's help in pushing through legislation favorable to the utility.
As Wednesday's hearing began, it wasn't clear if U.S. District Judge John Kness in Chicago would require ComEd to enter a plea. Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Singh Bhachu said his office didn't believe one was necessary.
But Kness said that arraignments must include a plea.
"I don't want to make a mountain out of a molehill, but I also want to be careful to follow what the rules are," he said.
ComEd attorney Reid Schar entered the plea on the company's behalf.
Court proceedings against ComEd are now on hold until 2023, when prosecutors will assess whether it has fully complied with the terms of the deferred prosecution deal.
Madigan has not been charged and has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.