Chicago Ald. Willie Cochran has been indicted on federal criminal charges, including allegations of bribery, wire fraud and extortion.
Cochran, 64, faces a total of 15 counts, including 11 counts of wire fraud, two counts of federal program bribery and two counts of extortion, according to the indictment.
Cochran is accused of using money from the 20th Ward Activities Fund to pay $5,000 towards his daughter’s college tuition and finance gambling expenses. According to the indictment, Cochran withdrew roughly $25,000 from an ATM in or near casinos where he gambled. In addition, he used money from the fund to purchase items for his home.
According to the indictment, Cochran misled donors, claiming contributions to the fund would be used for charitable endeavors to help families and children living in his ward.
Cochran was also charged with soliciting and demanding $1,500 from an attorney who represented real estate developers in Cochran’s ward. The embattled alderman allegedly solicited and obtained the money for his aldermanic support of future developments, including property developed under the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program, according to the indictment.
Additionally, Cochran was charged with soliciting and demanding payment from a liquor store owner in his ward who sought an amendment to the city’s municipal code to allow package goods licenses on the store’s side of South Cottage Grove Avenue. After soliciting the payment, Cochran sponsored an amendment in 2015 that allowed for the issuance of the licenses on the block, the indictment claims.
Cochran told the Chicago Tribune in a statement he will work with the U.S. Attorney to "provide the clearity [sic] that is needed to get this matter resolved." He said he is "confident this will be resolved" and he will continue serving the 20th Ward.
Cochran, a former Chicago police sergeant, was first elected alderman in 2007, defeating Arenda Troutman, who ultimately pleaded guilty to two federal charges in 2008 after admitting to taking bribes as the 20th Ward alderman. She was sentenced to four years in prison.
The Chicago Sun-Times reports Cochran reportedly paid himself over $115,000 from his campaign over a three-year period, disclosing some of the payments more than two years after he should have. The alderman has submitted amended campaign disclosure reports over the past year to correct omissions. The report states Cochran has denied any wrongdoing.
It's unclear whether Cochran will have to appear in court. An arraignment date has not yet been set, according to the U.S. Attorneys office.
“When an elected official uses public power for personal gain, the average citizen pays and our democratic system suffers,” U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon, who announced the indictment Wednesday, said in a statement. “We will continue to vigorously investigate and prosecute any elected official who attempts to use their office to enrich themselves."
Despite the indictment, Cochran was seen at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, the final of the year.
When asked Wednesday why he amended his campaign finance reports numerous times, Cochran replied "because the law allows it."
Following Wednesday's City Council meeting, Mayor Rahm Emanuel briefly commented on Cochran's indictment.
"I believe in public service," Emanuel told reporters. "You have to uphold the public trust. It is important for all of us to uphold that public trust and execute it."