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State

Former ComEd vice president pleads guilty in bribery scheme

FILE - In this May 31, 2019, file photo, House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, listens to debate on the House floor at the State Capitol, in Springfield, Ill. ComEd has agreed to pay $200 million to resolve a federal criminal investigation into a long-running bribery scheme that implicates Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, the U.S. Attorney's office announced Friday July 17, 2020. (Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP, File)
FILE - In this May 31, 2019, file photo, House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, listens to debate on the House floor at the State Capitol, in Springfield, Ill. ComEd has agreed to pay $200 million to resolve a federal criminal investigation into a long-running bribery scheme that implicates Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, the U.S. Attorney's office announced Friday July 17, 2020. (Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP, File)

CHICAGO (AP) — A former ComEd vice president pleaded guilty Tuesday to his role in what prosecutors say was a long-running bribery conspiracy in which the energy utility sought legislative support from one of Illinois’ most powerful Democrats, House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Fidel Marquez, who headed ComEd’s governmental affairs office until 2019 and is the first former executive charged in the ongoing investigation, entered the plea by video before Chicago-based U.S. District Judge Mary Rowland.

Marquez faces a maximum five-year prison term and a theoretical penalty of up to $300 million, which is twice the estimated value of the benefits in the ComEd scheme to provide jobs and vendor subcontracts for Madigan associates.

But under a 24-page plea deal, prosecutors would recommend probation and no prison time if Marquez cooperates fully with investigators who are almost certainly considering charges against others in the weeks and months to come.

The willingness to spare Marquez prison time for his cooperation suggests the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago has other, potentially more important targets in its sights.

Madigan hasn’t been charged and denies any wrongdoing. But prosecutors singled him out in July when they announced ComEd would pay $200 million under a deferred prosecution deal. The utility won’t be prosecuted if it cooperates, but nothing precludes prosecutors from charging individual current or former staffers.

When Judge Rowland asked Marquez Tuesday how he wanted to plead, he answered calmly, “I plead guilty, your honor."

A sentencing date would be set only after the investigation runs its course, which could be months or even years. Before the hearing ended, Rowland told Marquez, who is out on bond and currently lives in Arizona: “I wish you luck. You have a challenging road ahead.”

A status hearing was set for Jan. 7.

The hearing took place on the same day a legislative committee in Springfield began hearing testimony about a current ComEd executive regarding the bid to influence Madigan, the nation’s longest-serving state speaker.

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Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mtarm

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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