Ratepayers Could See Payouts Under New Class Action Suit Against ComEd

ILLINOIS — A lawsuit filed Tuesday alleges ComEd violated state law and seeks class-action status, which means those who pay ComEd for electricity could be eligible for a settlement if it succeeds.

The suit, filed by Chicago-based law firms Romanucci and Blandin LLC and DiCello Levitt Gutzler LLC, alleges Commonwealth Edison broke the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act and “unjustly enriched itself by overcharging its 4 million customers in Illinois for years.”

They claim the criminal complaint from the U.S. Attorney’s office shows ComEd agreed to pay the federal government $200 million for corrupt practices, but fails to make whole customers who paid those higher rates for the better part of a decade.

“Through rampant and widespread corruption in the form of bribery of Illinois elected officials, ComEd and its parent company, Exelon Corporation, deprived ratepayers of vast sums of money, totaling in the hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars,” the complaint alleges.

The utility giant, in an agreement with federal prosecutors, would cooperate in any investigation into “Public Official A,” identified as House Speaker Michael Madigan. The company also agreed to pay $200 million in exchange for a deferred prosecution. If the company doesn’t comply with the terms of of the deal, prosecutors could revisit those charges.

ComEd warned its investors in a February federal filing that the investigation into the company’s lobbying practices in Springfield could subject it to criminal or civil penalties.

Attorneys heading the lawsuit said Tuesday that they could not give an estimated payout this early in the lawsuit because they have yet to discover how much ComEd profited from the patronage scandal.

“Commonwealth Edison has acknowledged that they have received over $150 million in benefits as a result of this bribery scheme,” attorney Stephan Blandin said. “This lawsuit aims to determine the full extent because we all know that Commonwealth Edison did not admit to the $150 million – that this goes much deeper than that.”

ComEd officials said Tuesday the company had admitted to wrongdoing, but said the legislation they had worked to enact benefited ratepayers.

“We apologize for the past conduct that did not live up to our values and have made significant improvements to our compliance practices to ensure that nothing like it ever happens again,” spokesman Paul Elsberg said Tuesday. “The improper conduct described in the deferred prosecution agreement, however, does not mean that consumers were harmed by the legislation that was passed in Illinois.”

Elsberg said the utility has cut rates.

“The DPA makes no such allegations, and in fact, the bipartisan legislation resulted in substantial benefits for ComEd’s customers, including 70 percent improved reliability since 2012 and billions of dollars in savings for customers, while residential customers’ bills are lower than they were nearly a decade ago and ComEd recently requested a third delivery rate decrease in a row, it’s fifth in 10 years,” he said. “In large part as a result of legislative action in Illinois, ComEd has made some of the largest improvements in service at the best value of any utility serving a U.S. major metro area. This in no way excuses the conduct described in the DPA, but that is a distinct issue from the effect of the legislation for ComEd’s customers.”

The Center Square – Cole Lauterbach

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