Alderman Burke indicted on charges he extorted developers

The 19-count federal indictment says Burke coerced 601W to hire his law firm for help with the Old Post Office project

Alderman Ed Burke (14th) (Credit: iStock)
Alderman Ed Burke (14th) (Credit: iStock)

Embattled Alderman Ed Burke (14th) was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges that he coerced 601W Companies and other developers to hire his private law firm in exchange for supporting their projects.

The embattled 50-year alderman has been under a cloud of controversy since first being charged in January with extorting a South Side property owner to hire his law firm in order to secure a city permit.

The indictment, announced Thursday night by the U.S. Attorney’s office, includes those charges, as well as new allegations that Burke pressured 601W to hire his firm, Klafter & Burke, in order to help getting necessary approvals for its redevelopment of the massive Old Post Office in the West Loop.

The indictment also alleges Burke tried to help developer Charles Cui with a Northwest Side development after Cui agreed to hire Klafter & Burke, and that Burke threatened to oppose a museum’s bid to raise its admission fee after officials failed to respond to his request to give an internship to a child of one of his friends.

The indictment against Burke includes one count of racketeering, two counts of bribery, two counts of attempted extortion, one count of conspiracy to commit extortion and eight counts of using interstate commerce to facilitate illegal activity.

In response to the indictment, new Mayor Lori Lightfoot called on Burke to resign.

“The allegations in this… indictment are alarming,” Lightfoot said in a statement. “No official in this city — elected or appointed — should ever profit from his or her office.”

Lightfoot said she’s also directing city lawyers to look into whether any city employees or vendors were involved in the alleged crimes.

In a statement, Burke’s lawyers denied the charges.

“For over 50 years, Ed Burke has served the citizens of the 14th Ward and the city of Chicago honorably and tirelessly. His accomplishments on behalf of the community and his constituents are notable and many,” the statement said. “Any suggestion that Alderman Burke abused his position as a public official for personal gain is simply not true.”

Burke, 75, won re-election in February despite the scandal hanging over his head.

Burke is scheduled to be arraigned on the charges in federal court on Tuesday. Charged along with him in the indictment are Peter Andrews, 69, an employee in his 14th Ward office, and Cui, 48, of Lake Forest.

Cui has pleaded not guilty. Andrews was not immediately reachable for comment.

The indictment says Andrews worked with Burke to extort legal work for Klafter & Burke from the owner of a South Side Burger King who needed a driveway permit from the city.

It also claims Cui tried to bribe Burke to support his project by hiring Klafter & Burke to handle his property tax appeals.

The indictment says Burke asked former Alderman Danny Solis in August 2016 to suggest to 601W that it hire Klafter & Burke in exchange for his help with various city approvals.

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At the time, Solis, whose 25th Ward included the Old Post Office complex, was secretly working as a mole for the feds and recording conversations with Burke and others.

Burke allegedly told Solis he was a “believer in sharing the wealth” when it came to legal fees he’d get from 601W.

In a statement to the Chicago Tribune, 601W said it was a “victim of a corrupt solicitation” by Burke and has cooperated in the investigation.

“601W had no desire to retain Mr. Burke’s firm voluntarily, and at no time throughout this matter did 601W ever pay any money or legal fees to Alderman Burke or his law firm for anything,” the statement read.

In the ensuing months, Burke and Solis met several times with 601W officials — who aren’t identified in the indictment — offering to help with various issues including problems with Amtrak, which had control of property affecting the Old Post Office redevelopment.

Burke is said to have told the 601W officials there aren’t “too many people around town that we don’t know.”

In January 2017, Burke told Solis he wouldn’t do anything more to help 601W because it hadn’t hired Klafter & Burke, the indictment said.

“The cash register has not rung yet,” he said, according to the indictment.

Two months later, though, Burke worked to get city water service for the long vacant building, leading unnamed top Water Department officials to personally get involved in the matter.

When Solis came to Burke in May 2017 asking for more help for 601W with the project, Burke allegedly said he wasn’t inclined to help because he still hadn’t heard anything about getting hired to do the firm’s tax work.

Working with Solis, who assured Burke he’d get the legal work if he helped out the company, Burke spoke to a 601W official and asked for a list of issues it was having with the project and “names of people that seem to be problems,” the indictment said.

Burke is said to have continued taking steps to help the company, reminding Solis that he still wanted the legal work, but grew frustrated by October 2017 when 601W officials met with him and Solis regarding help getting tax increment funding for the project.

After the meeting he angrily told Solis he wasn’t “fond of the way they’ve conducted themselves up until this point, and as far as I’m concerned they can go fuck themselves,” according to the indictment.

The TIF funding request would have to go through the City Council’s Finance Committee, which Burke chaired at the time.

“Well, good luck getting it on the agenda,” he told Solis, according to the indictment.

By August 2018, though, 601W’s real estate management company had agreed to hire Klafter & Burke, according to the indictment, and one month later Burke led the City Council in approving TIF funding for the Old Post Office.