City Council

Chicago Ald. Ed Burke Pleads Not Guilty to All Federal Charges

A 19-count indictment alleges that Burke used his position to steer business to his private law firm

Embattled Chicago Ald. Ed Burke pleaded not guilty Tuesday to more than a dozen federal charges, including racketeering and bribery.  

Prosecutors alleged last week in a 19-count federal indictment - against Burke, a longtime aide and a Chicago real estate developer - that Burke used his office to solicit bribes and work for his private law firm from companies with business before the city of Chicago.

Authorities said Thursday 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.

The indictment of Burke on 14 counts - 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of conspiracy to commit extortion and eight counts of using interstate commerce to facilitate an unlawful activity - superseded that initial charge.

"Any suggestion that Alderman Burke abused his position as a public official for personal gain is simply not true," his attorneys said in a statement denying the allegations on Thursday.

"The charges are unfounded and not based on actual evidence. We welcome the opportunity to present the complete picture and all the facts to a jury," the statement continued, ending, "We are confident that when that happens, Ed Burke will be vindicated."

Burke's longtime aide Peter J. Andrews was also indicted on charges of racketeering, attempted extortion and lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. 

Burke was also accused of attempting to help Northwest Side real estate developer Charles Cui, also indicted on multiple charges, with permits and tax increment financing in exchange for steering business to Burke's law firm. Cui was previously indicted in April in connection with the alleged scheme. 

Both Andrews and Cui also pleaded not guilty to all charges against them on Tuesday. 

Authorities also alleged Burke threatened to oppose an admission fee increase at Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History because the museum did not respond to his inquiry about an internship for the child of a friend.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at a City Hall news conference Friday that she believed Burke should resign from his office. 

"The allegations as set forth by the U.S. attorney's office and the grand jury have allegations spanning multiple years, identify multiple schemes and suggest a standard course of dealing that is absolutely repugnant," Lightfoot, herself a former federal prosecutor, said. 

Lightfoot said she directed the city's corporation counsel to "investigate whether any current city employees or vendors were complicit in facilitating the crimes alleged," and if that were the case, she would "not hesitate to take decisive actions against anyone whose conduct violated any laws or ethical rules."

The indictment says former 25th Ward Ald. Danny Solis, who in November announced that he would not run for re-election after more than 20 years in office, was cooperating with the FBI as they investigated Burke. 

Authorities allege Burke told Solis - believed to have worn a wire for roughly two years - in January 2017 that he would not take action to assist the developers of the Old Main Post Office until they retained his firm, saying, "the cash register has not rung yet." 

Of that same project, Burke asked Solis the following May, "So, did we land the, uh, the tuna?" and said there would be a "day of accounting" for Solis if his firm was hired, according to the indictment. 

Then in October, prosecutors say Burke met with Solis and the developer at Solis' office in City Hall to discuss the project, after which Burke allegedly told Solis privately that he was not "fond of the way they've conducted themselves up until this point, and as far as I'm concerned, they can go f--- themselves."

A spokeswoman for Solis said in a statement Friday that he "proudly spent his career as a public servant" and "decided to cooperate with the federal government to continue to serve the city of Chicago’s best interests."

Burke, who first took office in 1969, has previously been subject to scrutiny over potential conflicts of interest, as well as federal investigations over allegations of ghost payrolling.

Burke's office was raided by federal agents in late 2018, and his City Hall office was searched by agents that December. Despite the January charge and increased scrutiny from federal agents, Burke won re-election to his aldermanic seat in February. 

Burke has long been arguably the most powerful alderman in the city, as chair of the Chicago City Council Committee on Finance, though he resigned from that position after he was initially charged in January.

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