July 28th, 2020 11:26 AM
By Bob Skolnik and Bob Uphues
Contributing Reporter and Editor
The federal investigation into a years' long bribery scheme involving Commonwealth Edison and Mike Madigan, the powerful Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives and chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party, has hit uncomfortably close to home for one Riverside couple.
As outlined in the deferred prosecution agreement between the federal government and ComEd, the father of state Rep. Mike Zalewski (D- Riverside) was hired at Madigan's request by a subcontractor of ComEd and paid $5,000 a month for little or no work.
Zalewski's father, also named Michael Zalewski, was the longtime alderman of the 23rd Ward in Chicago. The senior Zalewski had resigned as alderman in May of 2018 with less than a year remaining on his term, so Madigan loyalist Silvana Tabares could be appointed to replace him and run for a full four-year term in 2019 as an incumbent. The payments began after the senior Zalewski resigned the aldermanic post.
Without mentioning any names, it is clear that the senior Zalewski is "Associate 3" mentioned in the filing and Madigan is Public Official A. Elsewhere in the agreement's statement of facts, Public Official A is described as the Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives.
According to the statement of facts that is part of the deferred prosecution agreement, "In or around May 2018, Public Official A, through Individual A, asked CEO-1 to hire a political ally of Public Official A who was retiring from the Chicago City Council at the end of the month ("Associate 3"). CEO-1, in coordination with Senior Executive 1 and Consultant 1, agreed that ComEd would pay Associate 3 approximately $5,000 a month indirectly as a subcontractor through Company 1."
Madigan has denied any wrongdoing, and neither he nor anyone else has been charged with a crime in relation to the federal deferred prosecution agreement, which was announced by the U.S. Department of Justice on July 17.
The revelation that the senior Zalewski was being paid indirectly by ComEd for apparently doing little or no work has increased scrutiny on Carrie Zalewski, who is the chairwoman of the Illinois Commerce Commission, which regulates ComEd.
Carrie Zalewski is married to state Rep. Mike Zalewski and is the daughter-in-law of former Ald. Michael Zalewski.
Some have questioned whether Carrie Zalewski should stay in her position or at least recuse herself from an ethics hearing for ComEd which the ICC has scheduled for July 29.
David Greising, the president and chief executive officer of the Better Government Association wrote in a Chicago Tribune op-ed last week that Zalewski should recuse herself from the ComEd ethics hearing.
"There are reasonable questions about her ability to be objective about ComEd's reform efforts," Greising wrote.
An ICC spokeswoman confirmed that Zalewski will preside over that hearing.
"The chairman is not planning to recuse herself because she has no conflicts, real or perceived," said Victoria Crawford, senior public information officer for the ICC in an email. "She will participate in the open meeting on July 29."
The Zalewskis and Madigan have been allies for a long time. They come from adjacent wards on the Southwest Side of Chicago, although Mike and Carrie Zalewski moved to Riverside in 2010.
Carrie Zalewski had been a member of the state Pollution Control Board when newly elected Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker appointed her to the Illinois Commerce Commission last year and then quickly elevated her to the chairman, a position that pays her an annual salary of $136,800.
WBEZ has reported that, according to documents obtained in a public records request, Carrie Zalewski was one of 35 people named to state posts or hired by Pritzker after being recommended to him by Madigan. WBEZ also reported that Madigan took a special interest in keeping Zalewski on the Pollution Control Board when Republican Bruce Rauner was elected governor in 2014.
In published reports, Pritzker has said that Zalewski has done a good job as chairman of the ICC and that he has no plans to ask her to step aside. Carrie Zalewski is a lawyer who has an undergraduate degree in engineering.
Prior to joining the Pollution Control Board, she worked as a lawyer for the Illinois Department of Transportation.
In response to emailed questions form the Landmark about Zalewski's appointment to the ICC, the commission's spokeswoman said Zalewski's appointment to the commission was the result of her qualifications, not political clout.
"Chairman Zalewski sought the position of ICC chairman on her own after Governor Pritzker was elected," said Crawford. "She contacted his transition team seeking the position because after nine years on the Pollution Control Board, it interested her. Carrie Zalewski was appointed chairman of the Illinois Commerce Commission on her own merits, due to her outstanding qualifications and experience. Any implication to the contrary is simply not true."
Mike Zalewski said, via email, that he is proud of the job his wife has done at the Commerce Commission.
"Since Carrie became chair last year, she's done an exemplary job and I'm proud of her," Mike Zalewski wrote.
The state rep did not answer an emailed question about whether he thinks Madigan should resign as speaker or a question related to federal agents raiding his father's house as part of their ongoing and wide-ranging corruption investigation last year.
Instead he referred to a public forum he did in Brookfield last November when he talked about ethics reform in Springfield. At that forum he alluded to the raid on his father's house, saying that the issue was hitting close to home.
During that forum Zalewski also said that while Madigan has a poor public image he has strong support from House Democrats. He also discussed possible reforms, such as making state legislative posts full-time jobs and banning outside employment, stronger financial disclosure requirements, and a ban of state legislators lobbying local governments.
Head of Riverside firm also connected
The Zalewskis are not the only ones with connections to Riverside who popped up in the federal deferred prosecution agreement with ComEd.
Juan Ochoa, the CEO of Miramar International Group, a facilities management form which has its executive offices on East Burlington Street in Riverside, also makes an unnamed appearance in the case.
Both WBEZ and Crain's Chicago Business identified Ochoa as "Board Member 1" in the deferred prosecution agreement's statement of facts.
Beginning in 2017, Madigan allegedly sought Ochoa's appointment to the ComEd Board of Directors and communicated that desire through an intermediary to ComEd's CEO.
In the face of internal opposition, the CEO allegedly asked whether Madigan would be satisfied with arranging a part-time job for Ochoa that would pay him the same amount, $78,000, as being named to the board of directors.
Madigan, through his intermediary, allegedly asked the ComEd CEO to "keep pressing" for Ochoa to be appointed to the board. Ochoa was appointed to the ComEd board in 2019, which was confirmed by an SEC filing from that April.
According to the feds, "ComEd appointed Board Member 1, in part, with the intent to influence and reward [Madigan] in connection with [Madigan's] official duties."
Ochoa resigned from his position on the ComEd board earlier this year, according to Crain's. Ochoa did not respond to an email from the Landmark seeking comment.
He has deep political connections in Cook County, having served from 2007-10 as CEO of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, also known as McPier, which operates Navy Pier and the McCormick Place convention complex in Chicago.
As reported previously in the Landmark, his Miramar International Group has won lucrative federal government contracts. Last September, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that Miramar had been awarded a $25 million contract to provide "facility support and maintenance services at various reserve centers located in California, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah."
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