Longtime Chicago Ald. Ed Burke charged with extortion
Federal prosecutors claim Burke used his position as alderman to solicit business for his law firm, which specializes in Cook County property tax appeals. Felony attempted extortion could come with up to 20 years in prison.
Chicago Ald. Ed Burke appeared in federal court Jan. 3 to face a charge of attempted extortion.
The charge states Burke tried to use his elected position to get property tax legal work out of the Burger King fast food chain after its owners sought Burke’s help for a restaurant remodeling project in 2017. Burke, 75, appeared in federal court Jan. 3 and was released on an unsecured bond of $10,000, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Attempted extortion could carry a maximum of 20 years in prison.
He declined comment when a Sun-Times reporter tried to question him outside his lawyer’s office.
Burke’s support was sought for the remodeling of a Burger King location that became infamous in 2014 after Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times and killed by a Chicago police officer nearby. Burke tried to get Burger King to let his law firm, Klafter and Burke, handle the corporation’s property tax cases in exchange for his support of the restaurant building permit.
Court records also state Burke solicited campaign contributions from Burger King executives for an unnamed politician. The Chicago Tribune reports that the unnamed politician is Chicago mayoral candidate and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Preckwinkle is also the chairwoman of the Cook County Democratic Party.
FBI agents listened in on Burke’s cellphone calls as part of the investigation, according to an affidavit included in the charge.
When Burger King was slow to respond to his bid for their business, Burke and one of his ward employees discussed increasing the pressure by withholding the permits needed for the remodel.
“All right, I’ll play as hard ball as I can,” the complaint quotes the ward employee.
“OK,” Burke replies.
The complaint also details how Burger King leaders said Burke was the only alderman to get involved in a remodeling project out of 12 to 18 similar projects in Chicago. After Burke shut down part of the project involving the restaurant drive-through, the company architect e-mailed city departments seeking help.
“See below as my client just informed me that Alderman Burke has shut this job down…. This does not seem right that Burke can shut this project down considering we have our permit,” according to the e-mail text included in the charge.
FBI agents on Nov. 29 raided Burke’s City Hall office, and federal agents also were at his 14th Ward district office. Burke is by far the biggest fundraiser among Chicago’s 50 aldermen, known during his 50 years for his penchant for pinstriped suits.
For decades he’s chaired Chicago’s City Council Finance Committee, which controls city spending, as well as the city’s $100 million a year workers’ compensation system. His influence extends to judicial appointments and whether legislation moves forward.
His law firm handles property tax appeals, counting some of Chicago’s biggest businesses among its clients. Before Donald Trump became president, Burke’s firm handled the property tax appeal on Trump Tower in downtown Chicago.
Burke’s wife, Anne, is a justice on the Illinois Supreme Court.