Is powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan the target of an FBI investigation into political corruption in Illinois?
The Feds won't say, of course, but it sure feels like he's a person of interest at the least.
A series of recent events indicate there's a heckuva lot of smoke around Madigan, if not a full-on raging fire.
Madigan's home or offices haven't been raided, but FBI agents executed search warrants at the homes of three of his closest allies in recent months.
And on Wednesday, the Chicago Tribune reported that federal agents are investigating $10,000 in checks that lobbyists with Illinois energy giant ComEd sent to one of the Madigan allies whose home was raided recently.
If nothing else, the federal government appears interested in understanding Madigan's political operation.
As you would imagine with a federal-level investigation, there are a lot of moving parts and separate pieces to this matter. Here's what we know:
Federal agents in May searched the homes of former Springfield lobbyist Mike McClain, former Madigan political operative Kevin Quinn, and former Chicago Ald. Michael Zalewski. Each man has had a close relationship with and political ties to the powerful House speaker.
McClain served with Madigan in the House in the 1970s and early 1980s before becoming a lobbyist for ComEd and others.
The Tribune's Wednesday story said the checks under investigation were sent by McClain and four other ComEd lobbyists to Quinn, who was forced to resign from Madigan's political operation in early 2018 after a campaign worker went public with sexual harassment allegations against him.
The Tribune story also quoted a law enforcement source as saying that, in the search of Zalewski's home, agents were seeking "records of communications among Madigan, McClain and Zalewski related to attempts to get ComEd lobbying work for Zalewski after he retired in 2018."
The state legislature in 2016 approved rate hikes on Illinois electricity consumers to help bail out two nuclear power plants owned by ComEd parent Exelon. McClain and Madigan helped get the Exelon bailout passed.
ComEd says it is cooperating with the federal investigation, but is not commenting further.
In another FBI investigation – or maybe it's part of the same investigation, or one led to the other, we don't yet know – longtime Alderman Ed Burke was charged with attempted extortion after he allegedly tried to shake down a restaurant owner to get businesses for his law firm, which specializes in property tax appeals.
As part of that probe, court documents revealed that Madigan was secretly recorded by the FBI pitching his services to a developer who wanted to build a hotel in Chinatown. In addition to leading the state Democratic Party and being House speaker for all but two years since 1983, Madigan also is a property tax attorney.
And the Chicago Sun-Times reported last week that Madigan has spent more than $450,000 this year on legal bills from his campaign fund. That's a lot of money on lawyers.
As his legal bills mount, Madigan also has collected more than $750,000 in campaign contributions in recent weeks from fellow Democratic lawmakers, according to the Sun-Times' report.
Is he expecting his legal bills to continue to climb?
Madigan has not been implicated in or charged with any crime. But the recent revelations indicate he might be a target in the ongoing criminal investigation.