Chicago developer See Y. Wong pleaded guilty Nov. 3 during a video conference hearing in federal court in Chicago to lying to banks and buyers involved with a building project he was developing in Chicago's Chinatown neighborhood. Wong was charged in a seven-page criminal information in March for crimes related to the apartment building, known as Canal Crossing.
But Wong's cooperation with federal authorities in another investigation, which involved making recordings of Chicago Aldermen Danny Solis and Edward Burke and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan [D], has led to statewide political corruption probe that's far bigger than Wong himself.
Wong is the owner of Wabash Development Group, works mainly in Chinatown and, according to documents related to the investigation, was the developer that wore a recording device during a meeting with Solis. The recording allegedly captured Solis asking for a bribe to allow work in the ward. A federal affidavit shows Wong began cooperating with the FBI in 2014.
The developer’s cooperation helped lead Solis, who also began to cooperate, to record conversations with Ald. Edward Burke, the-then chairman of the Chicago City Council's powerful finance committee. The search warrant affidavit, filed in 2016, revealed that Wong also recorded a meeting in Aug., 2014 with Solis, Speaker Madigan and representatives of a Chinatown hotel project at Madigan’s law firm, Madigan & Getzendanner, which specializes in real estate tax appeals.
Madigan has not been charged with a crime in the matter.
“Well, our interest would be that we represent buildings like that on the real estate taxes and we do quite a few hotels," the affidavit quoted Madigan as saying. "And, uh, we have a little different approach to representation on hotels than the other law firms that do the work."
Madigan said he was interested in representing the businessmen developing the hotel in other projects as well.
"We’re not interested in a quick killing here," Madigan allegedly said, according to the affidavit. "We’re interested in a long-term relationship."
Wong was charged with bank fraud to obtain funds to construct his 60-unit Canal Crossing condo building.
According to the charges, Wong promised to sell units at steep discounts if money was paid up front without waiting for the building to be completed. It was alleged that he did so without the consent of lender Cathay Bank, and used some of the buyers' money to pay personal loans and other costs instead of depositing it into an escrow account as required by law, according to the charges.
When Cathay Bank found out about the discounted sale prices, it invoked liens held on the Canal Crossing properties to force the new homeowners to pay the remainder of the purchase price before they could close on the property, according to the document. The bank estimates the scheme cost it $1.7 million lost from its deal for Canal Crossing. Wong faces up to 20 years in prison for his guilty plea but is almost certain to face only a fraction of that on account of downward departures in any potential sentence he receives due to his cooperation with the government.
The 120-page affidavit filed in the Solis investigation revealed the FBI spent more than two years secretly listening in on thousands of phone calls as then-alderman Solis allegedly solicited campaign donations and a wide variety of favors and services, some of them allegedly involving sex.
Solis retired from the City Council in January 2019 before the document became public. Attorneys for Burke revealed in a court filing that Solis had entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. attorney’s office before his retirement, meaning he may never face criminal prosecution.
Burke was charged in June 2019 on 14 counts of racketeering, attempted extortion, conspiracy and attempting to use interstate commerce to facilitate unlawful activity for various activities recorded by Solis and Wong, including asking the developer of Chicago's OId Post Office project, 601W Cos., to hire his law firm, Klafter & Burke, in order to get the project approved and that Klafter & Burke would pay a portion of its legal fee to Solis as a "marketing associate." 601W Cos. said, at the time, that it was informed by the U.S. Attorney's office that it was a victim of Burke and would cooperate in the investigation. Burke's trial has been delayed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.