Burke Indictment Shows That 'Chicago Way' Is Still Alive
Alderman Ed Burke, 75, the longtime chairman of the Chicago City Council’s powerful finance committee, was indicted June 4 on 14 counts of racketeering, attempted extortion, conspiracy and attempting to use interstate commerce to facilitate unlawful activity.
The 59-page indictment details numerous instances of Burke using his position to benefit himself, his friends or his private law firm, Klafter & Burke. An FBI informant recorded Burke telling executives from 601W Companies, the developer of the $500-million redevelopment of Chicago’s Old Main Post Office building, that they should consider hiring his private law firm to get public money and faster approval for the project.
Burke was recorded, according to the indictment, discussing with 601W officials how it could obtain city tax-increment financing funding, a Class L designation and hearings for approval of both and also discussing how 601W hiring Klafter & Burke to perform real estate work could be beneficial to the project.
Burke offered to “share the wealth” if his law firm was hired with Alderman Danny Solis, who was wearing a recording device for the FBI. The wiretap revealed Burke telling Solis, whose Chicago ward contains the Old Main Post Office site, he would be paid as a “marketing associate” by Klafter & Burke. 601W eventually retained Klafter & Burke for a $45,000 contingency fee over three years and Burke never disclosed the conflict of interest to Chicago ethics officials.
“601W Companies was the victim of a corrupt solicitation by Alderman Burke, who the indictment alleges engaged in a persistent, two-year effort to obtain private legal business from the company for his law firm,” 601W said in a statement after the indictment was made public. “The government has informed 601W and its representatives that it was victimized. 601W and its representatives have and will continue to voluntarily provide information to the government on this matter.”
Such backroom dealings are nothing new to Chicago’s political culture. The indictment detailed how developer Charles Cui, also indicted, sought out Burke and his law firm to help him expedite the process of receiving city approval to preserve an existing pole sign on a property. Cui planned to develop a commercial building on the site and sought to avoid demolition expenses.
Cui even wrote to the property-tax law firm he regularly worked with that he would need to retain Klafter & Burke for this particular project specifically because of the sign and how he needed Burke’s expertise in gaining city approval to keep it.
Burke’s interference, however, in publicly funded projects went much further than helping developers that hired his law firm or demanding that those that didn’t should reconsider, according to a former city official.
Former Chicago Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans said, in a detailed memorandum, that Burke put pressure on her staff regarding contracts and payments on a regular basis.
“For decades Ed Burke enriched himself and controlled a mighty city through power and intimidation,” she says. “His many conflicts were an open secret. Thank goodness that the FBI cannot be intimidated. Many, many council members serve honestly to help their communities. I’m glad his heel has been lifted from their proceedings and that Chicago commissioners no longer have to deal with his demands.”
When the aviation department would renew leases for hangars and aviation support facilities, Evans said, the department would often offer the same business terms as previous leases, and those deals required City Council approval. Evans said Burke, as finance chairman, insisted that each deal had to be separately submitted to the Council, which delayed and complicated the approvals. After insisting on the longer process, Burke would then often abstain from voting.
Burke, Cui and Peter Andrews, an employee of Burke’s office, have all pleaded not guilty. Solis hasn’t yet been charged with any crimes. Burke has been removed from the city council’s finance committee.