FILE - IL Rep. Lou Lang

Illinois state Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie

(The Center Square) – Prosecutors introduced the first of what is expected to be a steady stream of secret recordings that will take center stage in the “ComED 4” bribery trial at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse.

On Day 2 of the high-stakes proceedings in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber, prosecutors ended the day by calling former state Rep. Lou Lang to the stand and playing audio from a 2018 call he had with top Madigan associate Michael McClain, where he was reminded of the speaker’s reach and propensity to do whatever he viewed to be in his best interest.

“I just think it’s in your best interest to leave while you’re strong and not face all that, if you’re still a member,” McClain told Lang in the Nov. 8, 2018 call, after Lang had become ensnared in a #MeToo era controversy. “This is no longer me talking, I’m an agent.”

The third witness in the high-profile case, Lang, who wound up resigning just days before he was slated to be sworn in for another term in 2019, told the court he had no doubt the message came from Madigan.

“It was very clear that there had been a decision made by the speaker that I was not going to move up in the ranks,” Lang, who served as House deputy majority leader for a time under Madigan, said.

McClain, a long time Madigan confidante, is now on trial along with former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, ex-ComED lobbyist John Hooker and Jay Doherty, a lobbyist and consultant who once served as chief of the City Club of Chicago, in a case accusing each of them of steering jobs, cash and other perks to Madigan on behalf of ComEd in exchange for favorable legislation.

All four of the defendants have pleaded not guilty, and Madigan is slated to go on trial in connection with the scheme in early 2024, when he will also face a separate racketeering indictment accusing him of being involved in an assortment of other corruption-related schemes. Madigan too has pleaded not guilty in the alleged scheme Assistant U.S. attorney Sarah Streicker in her opening argument told jurors spanned more than eight years and generated some $1.3 million in payouts to ghost “subcontractors” who were actually Madigan’s cronies.

While Lang on cross-examination testified that “Mike Madigan never ordered me to do anything,” prosecutors tirelessly worked to hammer home their theme, earlier in the day calling former Democratic Rep. Carol Sente to the stand where she asserted that she was stripped of her chairmanship on a powerful committee after proposing legislation that sought to enact term limits for legislative leaders. Madigan served nearly 40 years as House speaker before he stepped down in 2021.

Sente left the legislature in 2019, but not before Madigan confronted her about her term limits proposal, she told the court. Sente testified that she recalls entering his Capitol office and being shown a copy of her bill by him and being directly asked “if I could explain the bill, and why I was running it.”

Former Rep. Scott Drury also took the stand Thursday. Drury recounted that he never passed another bill in Springfield after refusing to vote for Madigan’s reinstallment as speaker at the start of a new term. Over time, Drury said that he was denied a chance to be a committee chairman once he started his own third, two-year term.

Drury said his beef with Madigan dates to 2017, when rumors began circulating that Drury planned to wage his own campaign for the speakership. Prosecutors said Drury and Sente are among the pool of witnesses they plan to call to illustrate for the jury how Madigan operated and wielded his power.

Defense attorneys maintain the scheme that "overzealous" prosecutors allege was not a conspiracy and nothing more than the defendants doing their jobs in a politically charged environment.