Ald. Edward Burke indicted on expanded federal racketeering, bribery charges – Chicago Tribune
Powerful Chicago Ald. Edward Burke was meeting with a fellow alderman in October 2017 when he allegedly expressed his displeasure over the way developers of the old main Chicago post office had so far failed to throw any business to Burke’s private law firm.
“As far as I’m concerned, they can go f— themselves,” Burke told Ald. Daniel Solis, who was working undercover for the FBI and secretly recording the conversation, according to a sweeping federal racketeering indictment filed Thursday against Burke.
When Solis noted the developers would soon be before Burke’s Finance Committee requesting $100 million in tax increment financing for the massive project, Burke responded, “Well, good luck getting it on the agenda,” the indictment alleges.
The conversation is at the center of the 59-page indictment outlining a series of alleged schemes in which prosecutors say Burke abused his City Hall clout to extort private legal work from companies and individuals doing business with the city.
In addition to the attempted extortion of the old post office developers, the 14-count indictment accuses Burke — the city’s longest-serving alderman and a vestige of the old Democratic machine — of trying to muscle developers of two smaller projects into hiring his law firm as well.
The charges also allege that Burke threatened to oppose an increase in the admission fee for a Chicago museum after the museum failed to respond to the alderman’s inquiry about an internship there for a child of a friend. The indictment does not name the museum, but details included in the charges make clear it was the Field Museum.
A source confirmed Thursday that the friend was former Ald. Terry Gabinski — a protege of the late U.S. Rep. Dan Rostenkowski who was sworn in as alderman on the same day in 1969 as Burke.
In an interview with the Chicago Tribune hours after the indictment was announced, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, in her second week in office, called on Burke to resign, saying that in her opinion as a former federal prosecutor, the case against him is strong.
“He used the levers of government (to enrich himself),” Lightfoot said. “As you can see in reading the indictment, he was essentially calling up and muscling commissioners, line people and everything in between to get his way in order to ingratiate himself with a potential paying client for his legal business.”
In an emailed statement, Burke’s lawyers said that “any suggestion (he) abused his position as a public official for personal gain is simply not true.”
“The charges are unfounded and not based on actual evidence,” the statement read. “We welcome the opportunity to present the complete picture and all the facts to a jury. We are confident that when that happens, Ed Burke will be vindicated.”
The indictment revealed for the first time some of the secret recordings made by Solis, a longtime Burke ally who began cooperating with federal investigators in 2016 after he was himself secretly recorded in a series of alleged shakedown schemes.
In one conversation included in the indictment, Burke allegedly told Solis he wasn’t going to help the chief developer on the post office project, New York-based Harry Skydell’s 601W Cos., until Skydell agreed to hire Burke’s firm for tax work.
“The cash register has not rung yet,” Burke allegedly told Solis in the January 2017 conversation.
Four months later, Burke was again recorded asking Solis about the developers. “So did we land the, uh, the tuna?” he said to Solis in May 2017, according to the indictment. He also lamented that the post office developers would “only work with Jewish lawyers” to appeal their property taxes unless he could offer special assistance, the indictment alleges.
The indictment charged Burke with one count of racketeering, two counts of federal program bribery, two counts of attempted extortion, one count of conspiracy to commit extortion and eight counts of using interstate commerce to facilitate an unlawful activity.
Also charged for the first time was Peter J. Andrews, a longtime political operative in Burke’s 14th Ward office who is accused of assisting the alderman in attempting to shake down two businessmen seeking to renovate a Burger King restaurant in the ward.
The indictment also names Charles Cui, who was first charged in April on allegations he hired Burke’s law firm in exchange for the alderman’s help with a sign permit and financing deal for a project in the Portage Park neighborhood.
Burke, 75, and Andrews, 69, were scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Robert Dow, records show.
Cui previously pleaded not guilty.
Burke, who for decades has had his hands on many of the city’s levers of power, had first been charged in January with one count of attempted extortion stemming from the alleged shakedown of the Burger King businessmen.
A wiretap on Burke’s cellphone allegedly captured Burke leaning on the Texas-based executives to hire his private law firm in exchange for help with permits needed to renovate the restaurant.
When the businessmen didn’t seem to be cooperating, Burke plotted with a ward staffer on how to play “hardball,” holding up permits and sending a city worker to the site to harass them with unwarranted citations, according to the criminal complaint in January.
The FBI listened in as at least 9,475 wiretapped calls were made or received on Burke’s phone over at least an eight-month period, authorities revealed at the time.
The complaint also alleged that Burke pressured one of the company’s executives in December 2017 to contribute to the campaign of an unnamed local politician. Sources identified the politician as Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who lost her bid for Chicago mayor earlier this year by a wide margin to Lightfoot, in part because of the controversy.
The indictment essentially starts the legal clock ticking toward a potential trial. In the meantime, court proceedings in Burke’s criminal case have essentially been on hold as prosecutors twice sought extensions, citing the “complex nature of this public corruption case, and the fact that the investigation is ongoing.”
Burke, who won re-election to a record 13th full term in February despite the cloud of charges hanging over his campaign, is free on a $10,000 unsecured bond while the case is pending.