Federal Agents Search Ald. Ed Burke's Offices, Paper Over Doors

Burke is the longest-serving alderman in Chicago history, elected in 1969, and chairs the powerful Finance Committee

Federal agents were seen at Chicago Ald. Ed Burke's offices at both City Hall and in the 14th Ward Thursday morning. The glass doors to Burke's City Hall office were papered over, while the purpose of the visits was unclear.

"Our agents are executing search warrants at multiple locations today," Special Agent Janine Wheeler with the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Chicago office said in a statement, declining to comment further.

Burke said in a statement "there have previously been several other instances such as this."

"In every instance we cooperated fully. And in every instance nothing has been found. So once again we will be cooperating fully and I am completely confident that at the end of the day nothing will be found amiss in this instance either," he said Thursday afternoon.

Burke also spoke briefly in an interview aired on WTTW Thursday night.

“How can I be of help,” Burke asked a gaggle of reporters waiting outside his home.

He repeated a statement several times throughout the interview and gave sparse answers to a few other questions.

“I’ve been on the City Council for almost 50 years and as you know I’ve been involved in previous investigations, I’ve always cooperated, nothing has ever come of any of those investigations," he said. "I’ll fully cooperate in this one. I’m confident that again there’ll be nothing found to be amiss.”

He would not answer whether or not he had been questioned by the Chicago police, FBI or U.S. Attorney's office.

Asked what he thought of speculation that the investigation had anything to do with his previous work for President Donald Trump, Burke laughed and repeated his statement about how nothing will be found "amiss."

Asked if he thought the investigation could hurt his chances for re-election, Burke said “that’s up to the voters.”

“I’ve had the trust of the voters of this community for 50 years, and I am certain that they know that I am a person of integrity and honesty and we’ll see what happens,” he said.

A witness reported seeing at least a dozen, possibly as many as two dozen, federal agents dressed in dark suits taking the elevator to Burke's office on the third floor of City Hall.

Francisco Ortega, who owns a bakery next door to Burke's ward office in the 2600 block of West 51st Street, said he saw federal agents at around midnight Thursday attempting to enter Burke's office through the back door. 

Representatives for the U.S. attorney's office did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Phone messages seeking a response from Burke's law office were not returned.

Burke is both the alderman and the Democratic committeeman for the 14th Ward on the Southwest Side, as well as the longest-serving City Council member in Chicago history, first elected in 1969.

Widely considered to be one of the most powerful politicians in Chicago, Burke chairs the council's Finance Committee.

He is far and away the most prolific fundraiser on City Council, with more than $12 million in three campaign committees as of the most recent filing deadline on Sept. 30.

Burke runs a law firm specializing in property tax appeals, and had previously worked for President Donald Trump on lowering taxes for his namesake Chicago tower. His firm, Klafter & Burke, stopped representing Trump earlier this year. 

Burke has previously been subject to scrutiny over potential conflicts of interest, as well as federal investigations over allegations of ghost payrolling.

In 2012, a federal grand jury subpoenaed six years worth of records from Burke's Finance Committee amid an investigation into Chicago's employee disability program.

He has never faced charges in any of the investigations. 

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he was not given any advance warning about the agents' presence at Burke's office and was "following along with press reports... just like everyone else."

Ald. Howard Brookins, whose City Hall office is next to Burke's, said he too was stunned by the federal investigation but wished Burke "all the best." 

Gov. Bruce Rauner said the search was "long overdue."

"There are elected officials in our general assembly and in the city council of Chicago who are part of a very broken, very self-dealing system," he told reporters. 

Burke is married to Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, who was sworn in to another term on the bench Thursday. She had previously been scheduled to take part in a public swearing-in, but instead opted for a private ceremony Thursday morning. 

Ald. Burke, 74, is up for re-election in February, an election in which four other candidates have filed petitions to challenge him.

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