Former Ald. Willie Cochran sentenced to 1 year in prison

Former Ald. Willie Cochran sentenced to 1 year in prison

A federal court sentenced former Chicago Ald. Willie Cochran to one year in prison after pleading guilty to wire fraud.

U.S. District Judge Jorge Alonso on June 24 sentenced former Chicago Ald. Willie Cochran, 20th Ward, to a year plus one day in prison. Cochran pleaded guilty March 21 to one count of felony wire fraud after reaching a plea deal with federal prosecutors to drop 14 other charges against him.

Cochran, a former Chicago police officer, is the 34th Chicago alderman convicted on corruption charges since 1972, and was the third of the last four 20th Ward aldermen to be indicted while holding office.

The former councilman admitted to stealing $14,000 in charitable donations between January 2010 and April 2014 from the 20th Ward Activities Fund, a charity he created to benefit needy children and seniors in his South Side ward. U.S. Attorney Heather McShain argued the amount was closer to $65,000.

Cochran used the stolen funds to pay for fancy dinners, Mercedes-Benz accessories, his daughter’s college tuition and a gambling habit that involved frequent trips to Indiana casinos. Defense attorney Christopher T. Grohman said Cochran used the money to keep his family’s finances in balance after his wife fell ill in 2010.

According to a court filing made public June 13, Cochran in 2012 allegedly met with a church pastor on the roof of an abandoned motel in his ward to ask for a loan to pay his daughter’s tuition. By that time, Cochran had left the charity’s account with a balance of just $7.21.

Between his aldermanic salary and police pension, Cochran earned $137,000 a year after taxes, according to court filings.

Federal prosecutors had pushed for a sentence of up to one and a half years in prison, while Cochran’s attorneys sought probation with six months of home incarceration. Because Cochran’s sentence amounts to at least one day more than a full year, he will be eligible for good conduct credits, which could allow the former alderman to see an early release, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Federal authorities initially served Cochran a 15-count indictment in December 2016, which included 11 counts of wire fraud, two counts of federal program bribery and two counts of extortion. Cochran backed out of a previous plea deal in November 2018.

Cochran’s prison sentence is only the latest development in a series of ongoing criminal cases against Chicago aldermen. Powerful Ald. Ed Burke, 14th Ward, pleaded not guilty June 4 to racketeering charges in a case that also involves former Ald. Danny Solis, 25th Ward, who has faced his own allegations of corruption. Federal agents raided the office of Ald. Carrie Austin, 34th Ward, on June 19 as part of a corruption investigation.

Grohman on June 6 attempted to use the pervasiveness of corruption in Chicago to make the case for a lighter sentence, arguing that sending aldermen to jail has not stopped City Council’s cycle of corruption. According to the Chicago Tribune, authorities called the argument “irrational and worthy of derision.”

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