City Council

‘Absolutely Repugnant': Mayor Lori Lightfoot Calls for Ald. Ed Burke's Resignation

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

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot repeated her call Friday for Ald. Ed Burke to step down after the longtime alderman was indicted on new federal charges of racketeering and bribery.

"The superseding indictment doesn't merely allege one-off criminal behavior," Lightfoot said at a City Hall news conference Friday morning. "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."

"And worse, the superseding indictment alleges that Ald. Burke used his power and influence to compel city employees and others to bend to his will all in the service, not of the people, but of his corrupt pecuniary interest," Lightfoot continued. "For these reasons, I believe that he has forfeited the moral authority and the privilege that he needs to continue as alderman of the 14th Ward and for these reasons I am calling on him to resign forthwith."

Prosecutors alleged Thursday 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 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.

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

"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."

"Obviously Ald. Ed Burke is entitled to an absolute presumption of innocence of the criminal charges. But the standard by which public servants should serve is different," Lightfoot said Friday, adding, "All public servants, particularly elected officials, are rightfully judged by a different set of standards. We all must serve with integrity and legitimacy and we have to have the moral authority to govern."

Burke was also accused of attempting to help Northwest Side real estate developer Charles Cui, also indicted on multiple charges Thursday, 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. 

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

Lightfoot, herself a former federal prosecutor, said in a Thursday statement that the allegations in the indictment were "alarming," calling on him to step down hours after the charges were first made public.

"The indictment alleges that Ald. Burke used his position and the tools of government to facilitate a criminal enterprise to enrich himself and cheat the residents of this city," Lightfoot's statement said.

"No official in this city — elected or appointed — should ever profit from his or her office. Given the serious nature of the allegations, and particularly the allegations that he abused his position as chairman of the Finance committee, Alderman Burke must resign immediately," she continued.

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."

But Lightfoot said Friday that she had a different view of Solis' role, saying she assumed a "day of reckoning would come for him" and that she felt if he were to be charged, and if either Burke or Solis were to be convicted of any crimes, they should not be able to then earn their city pensions. 

When asked if Solis was a "hero" for his role in the investigation into Burke, Lightfoot laughed before saying, "He may have that view of himself, but anybody who compromises the privilege of being a public servant by no means is a hero."

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. 

Addressing that victory and the will of the voters, Lightfoot said Thursday's indictment presented a clearer picture than January's criminal complaint, one that 14th Ward residents were not privy to when they cast their ballots. 

"What the superseding indictment alleges is multiple schemes over multiple years where he is trying to use his power and influence as the Finance Committee chair and then using city employees to bend to his will to get them to unwittingly, hopefully, participate in a criminal scheme," Lightfoot said.

"That is a far degree different - that information was absolutely not before the voters of the 14th Ward when they went to the polls and voted for him on February 26 so I think the circumstances have changed dramatically but not matter what, no one can serve with integrity and legitimacy and deliver on behalf of their constituents with this kind of allegation hanging over them," she continued. 

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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