Testimony begins in former Chicago Ald. Ed Burke corruption trial
After serving more than half a century as a “fixture” on the Chicago City Council, former Ald. Edward Burke now faces 14 counts of federal corruption charges for allegedly abusing his finance chair position and aldermanic powers for personal gain.
Witness testimony is underway in the corruption trial of Chicago’s longest-serving City Council member, Edward Burke, who federal prosecutors alleged lived a double life as “a bribe-taker” and “extortionist” while leading the city’s finance committee.
The first witness testimony provided by Elmhurst University political science professor Constance Mixon explained the mechanics behind Chicago city governance for the jury. She highlighted the immense power Burke wielded, even among other aldermen.
“He’s a fixture in Chicago politics for over 50 years,” Mixon said of Burke. “As mayors came and went, Ald. Burke was the one constant on the Chicago City Council.”
Once considered the most powerful aldermen in the city of Chicago, Burke now faces 14 counts of federal corruption charges including racketeering, federal program bribery, attempted extortion, conspiracy to commit extortion and using interstate commerce to facilitate an unlawful activity.
Prosecutors said Burke for over three decades controlled city spending as chairman of the finance committee, which he ran like his own personal fiefdom until his office was raided by the FBI in 2018. He served 54 years on the City Council before exiting it in May 2023.
The trial covers four incidents in which Burke allegedly used his 14th Ward aldermanic powers and committee position to shake down businessmen and other groups attempting to work with City Hall.
The cases include threatening to kill a proposed fee increase at the Field Museum after his recommended pick for an internship was denied, shaking down owners of a Burger King in his ward for not hiring his private law firm and accepting bribes in the form of employment for his law firm to get a previously denied liquor store sign through the City Council.
The longest-running alleged scheme involved convincing New York-based developers to hire his private tax law firm for the $600-million redevelopment of the Old Chicago Post Office. He used an intermediary – then-Ald. Daniel Solis.
While wearing a wire and cooperating with federal authorities through a deferred prosecution agreement, Solis said Burke promised him kickbacks for coordinating the post office redevelopment deal in his 25th Ward. Burke then withheld his help with a tax-increment financing issue until the developers hired his law firm to represent another of their buildings.
“He was a bribe-taker and he was an extortionist,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Chapman told jurors. “(His) corruption rose from the very potent intersection of opportunity and power.”
Burke has pleaded not guilty to all charges, alongside his co-defendants, Lake Forest real estate developer Charles Cui and Burke’s longtime aide in the 14th ward, Peter Andrews Jr.
Opening statements in the trial began after four days of jury selection and a weeklong COVID-related delay. Court officials predict the high-profile corruption trial could continue past Christmas.
The Chicago area led the nation with 41 corruption convictions per year, or 1,824 total, from 1976 to 2021, according to an analysis by the University of Illinois-Chicago using U.S. Justice Department data on federal public corruption convictions.
Illinois was second of the states for per-capita convictions, with 1.75 for every 10,000 residents. Louisiana was on top with 2.85 per 10,000.
Total Illinois convictions hit 2,224 from 1976 to 2021, or an average of nearly 50 per year. About 4 in 5 of those were out of the Chicago area.
Recent public corruption cases stemmed from the Burke case, former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan indictments and red-light camera bribery convictions.
From 2000 to 2018, corruption cost Illinois $550 million per year in lost economic activity and investment.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker and state lawmakers could thwart another Madigan and hinder another Burke with commonsense reforms such as barring legislative leaders from acting as party chairperson. They could also ban state and local lawmakers from participating in property tax appeals cases – a way both Burke and Madigan leveraged their influence.