Attorneys for indicted Chicago Ald. Ed Burke argued in a court filing on Thursday that prosecutors should not be allowed to use evidence obtained through the wiretaps of his phones because federal investigators improperly obtained court approval to record his calls and coerced a fellow alderman, who was himself the subject of a separate criminal investigation, to cooperate in setting him up.
In a motion to suppress that evidence obtained through surveillance, Burke's legal team argued that investigators “did not establish probable cause that Ald. Burke solicited legal business for his law firm in exchange for his performance of official acts” when applying for court approval to tap his phones. Burke's attorneys also filed a motion Thursday to dismiss some of the more than a dozen charges against him.
In May 2019, prosecutors handed down a 19-count federal indictment against Burke, a longtime aide and a Chicago real estate developer that alleged Burke used his office to solicit bribes and work for his private law firm from companies with business before the city of Chicago.
Authorities alleged in the superseding indictment that Burke steered work to his private law firm, specializing in property tax reductions, from companies involved in the redevelopment of the Old Main Post Office, as well as a fast food restaurant in his ward - an allegation that first came to light when he was initially charged with attempted extortion in January 2019.
Burke, 76, pleaded not guilty to all charges, which included racketeering and bribery.
The 71-page motion filed Thursday details several interactions between Burke and an alderman whose name is redacted throughout but is identified as the 25th Ward Alderman until 2019, a description that fits only then-Ald. Danny Solis. Solis has not been charged with any criminal wrongdoing.
A footnote in the filing says Solis entered his own deferred prosecution agreement “related to his illegal solicitation and receipt of campaign contributions” on January 3, 2019, which was the same day Burke was first charged. Solis “admitted that he solicited campaign contributions from a real estate developer in exchange for taking official actions as the Zoning Committee chairman," Burke's attorneys said.
Investigators began tapping Solis’ phone on Sept. 26, 2014, and confronted him in June 2016 with “evidence of his extensive criminal conduct," Burke's attorneys allege, at which point Solis “agreed to cooperate with the Government and consensually record conversations."
Burke's attorneys argue that Solis told investigators "he had no knowledge of Ald. Burke having ever been involved in any corrupt activity in the twenty-five years they served together on the City Council" and that throughout the course of their investigation, prosecutors instructed Solis to "mislead and lie to Ald. Burke," particularly surrounding the willingness of a development company to hire his firm.
Burke’s attorneys claim Solis wore a wire on Burke from August 2016 (potentially sparked by a conversation the two had at that year’s Democratic National Convention in July) through May 2017, alleging investigators “repeatedly scripted” Solis “to initiate conversations with Ald. Burke regarding the possibility of Ald. Burke’s law firm obtaining legal work from Mr. [redacted] regarding the Post Office property."
Burke’s attorneys argue “the Government had engaged Ald. Burke in carefully choreographed ruses with Ald. [Solis] designed to mislead Ald. Burke," calling Solis a “desperate" and “severely compromised cooperator."
Investigators monitored six City Hall phones throughout the month of May 2017, and Burke’s cell phone from May 15, 2017 to February 10, 2018, his lawyers say, calling it the longest wiretap in the U.S. that concluded in 2018. Between his cell phone and City Hall phones, investigators recorded 9,101 calls, the motion says - arguing that evidence collected from those calls should be ruled inadmissible in court.
First elected to City Council in 1969, Burke is the longest-serving alderman in Chicago history, representing the 14th Ward. He was reelected in 2019 but lost his bid for another term as the ward's Democratic committeeman the following year. He had long served as the powerful chair of the Finance Committee before stepping down from that position after he was first charged in January 2019.