Ald. Willie Cochran pledged his innocence Thursday after being indicted on a series of federal charges, including allegations of bribery, wire fraud and extortion, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.
“I have never extorted money,” Cochran said in a text message to the Sun-Times. “I am a giver — not a taker.”
“My emphasis has been and will continue to be on seniors and youth,” he added.
Cochran was accused of using money from the 20th Activities Ward 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 ATMs in or near casinos where he gambled.
The alderman, a former Chicago police sergeant, allegedly misled donors, claiming contributions to the fund would be used for charitable endeavors. Cochran was also accused of soliciting bribes from local businessmen seeking favors.
After being asked why he withdrew the $25,000 from ATMs near casinos, Cochran offered a somewhat bizarre response.
“Account has been closed 3 years,” he told the Sun-Times. “Do the math: $25,000 [divided by] 5 yrs. (2009-13)=$5,000 [dvided by] 12 months+$416-a-month. Less than 9% admin fee. Is that worthy of a charge in an indictment.”
According to the Sun-Times report, Cochran also failed to respond to a handful of questions about why his charity wasn’t registered, why his aldermanic salary and police pension were not enough compensation, whether he had a gambling problem and what he would say to residents of his ward who have seen two of his predecessors go to prison.
The embattled Cochran 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. Additionally, former Ald. Cliff Kelle was indicted on charges of bribery and income tax evasion in 1986 and later convicted.
Despite the indictment, Cochran attended Wednesday’s City Council meeting, leaving the chambers following a resolution honoring the World Series champion Chicago Cubs and ducking reporters on the way out. Cochran has made it clear that he doesn’t intend to step down.