Inside Burke co-defendant Charles Cui’s other real estate lawsuit trouble

Lake Forest developer and attorney faces upcoming hearings on lender disputes next

Charles Cui Real Estate Foreclosures Update
Developer Charles Cui with 4901 West Irving Park Road (Immigration Lawyers P.C., Google Maps, Getty)

Regardless of the jury verdict delivered to former Chicago alderman Ed Burke’s co-defendant Charles Cui in a corruption trial that has captured the city’s attention, the developer isn’t in the clear on other legal issues he’s facing tied to local real estate.

Cui, a Lake Forest-based developer and attorney, will likely have two related Cook County lawsuits stretch into the new year over a property that has featured heavily in the federal corruption trial. Cui has been delinquent since 2020 on a nearly $10 million loan against the 63,000-square-foot retail building he developed at 4901 West Irving Park Road, according to public loan data.

Plus, Chicago-based Byline Bank is suing for repayment of more than $400,000 from Cui and the various businesses he operated at the property in the Portage Park neighborhood.

In closing arguments for the separate criminal trial on Thursday, Cui’s relationship with Burke — a former alderman who long chaired the city’s powerful finance committee — was mentioned by prosecutor Diane MacArthur. Cui is accused of hiring Burke to use his sway in City Hall to gain permits to install a sign for his real estate development.

“Mr. Cui wanted Mr. Burke involved for the power and clout that Mr. Burke could bring to try and resolve this pole sign issue,” MacArthur said.

Burke has also been charged with several other crimes related to alleged attempts to use his official influence to steer big real estate players to hire his own property tax law firm.

The ties between Cui and Burke came to light in 2019, when federal prosecutors alleged that Cui gave Burke a bribe after Cui had renovated a vacant Six Corners bank building into a Binny’s Beverage Depot, Culvers restaurant, and a gym and immigration attorney’s office  — the last two being businesses Cui operated.

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Cui hired Burke after his local alderman denied a request for a large pole sign for Binny’s. Cui never got the sign, which cost him $750,000 in his lease with Binny’s, according to Chicago Block Club.

Byline Bank is suing for the money it says it is owed by Cui’s two businesses nearby the Binny’s, Retro Fitness and Immigration Lawyers. The gym allegedly owes the bank $139,000 and the law office owes $318,000, court documents said. Attorneys for Byline Bank and Cui did not respond to requests for comment.

Both cases were filed in May, and a special service processor was appointed to serve Cui at the bank’s request a month later. In August, the bank filed a motion to dismiss both of the cases and enter a default judgment because as of then, Cui had failed to appear in court.

In both suits, the judge granted additional time for Cui and the businesses to file responses. In the case regarding the immigration attorneys lease, Cui and his lawyers had until Thursday to submit filings, and the case has been continued until Tuesday next week. The case against the gym will be taken up again in early January.

Meanwhile, bondholders in a $9.8 million loan secured by the Portage Park property have been working to take title to the asset since 2020, when Cui fell behind on mortgage payments, according to loan servicer notes compiled by credit ratings agency DBRS Morningstar. The loan was originated by the lender Citi Real Estate Finance in 2017 and then the debt was packaged with other commercial real estate loans and sold off to investors in mortgage-backed securities, making details of the Cui property’s performance public.

The loan wasn’t scheduled to mature until 2027, and for the last two years, its net cash flow has fluctuated between $300,000 and $400,000, around half of what it would have cost to pay the debt service each year, Morningstar loan data shows. Its cash flow is down from $1.2 million in 2018, when it had a comfortable margin over its debt service. The property was valued at nearly $14 million when Cui took out the loan six years ago, but its valuation has slid down $7 million, less than the loan’s balance of nearly $9 million, according to loan data.

The loan’s special servicer, LNR Partners, said in August that a foreclosure sale was held in April and the lender was the successful bidder, though it was still working to get a judge’s clearance to take title to the property this fall.

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Jury in Ed Burke trial hears from 601W's Harry Skydell on secret recordings
Alderman Ed Burke (Credit: Wikipedia)
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