More details are surfacing in the federal case against a Chicago alderman accused of extortion, racketeering and conspiracy in connection with the makeover of a landmark city building.
Alderman Ed Burke, former chairman of the Chicago City Council’s finance committee, allegedly sought favors in return for helping to move the $800-million Old Main Post Office rehabilitation project forward, according to an April 21 federal court filing.
The 210-page filing came in response to a pre-trial motion from attorneys representing Burke to exclude evidence the government has gathered against him. Burke was indicted in 2019, and the case has been paused because much of Chicago's federal court system was shut down due to the pandemic.
Burke allegedly insisted that the developer, 601W Cos., hire his law firm and threatened to withhold support for the project if the company failed to do so.
The developer was seeking Burke’s assistance in connecting the building—which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and had stood vacant for two decades—to the city water system. 601W Cos. also sought access to Amtrak-controlled space beneath the building and help in securing city tax-increment financing (TIF) for the project.
Burke’s demands emerged in recordings made by former Alderman Danny Solis, referred to as Alderman A by federal prosecutors, in whose ward the Old Post Office project was located. The government’s filing revealed 23 instances in which Burke talked with Solis about an allegedly illegal scheme to solicit business for his firm, Klafter & Burke, in connection with the former post office building project.
In one section of the 210-page pre-trial filing, Burke says, in reference to the project, “If we’re [Klafter & Burke] not signed up, I’m not gonna do any lifting for this guy.”
Burke also allegedly said, “The cash register has not rung yet,” referring to the landmark property, which two previous firms had not been able to redevelop. After 601W Cos. hired Klafter & Burke, however, things changed. Burke, working through an intermediary, contacted Chicago’s Water Commissioner about water service for the project. The federal filing said that the water department understood there was pressure from city hall to establish water service, and that Burke was involved.
After a meeting in October 2017 about 601W’s request to receive TIF funds for the project, the government alleges that Burke told Solis: “Well, good luck getting it on the agenda,” referring to the city’s finance committee. But in August 2018, after a property manager, believed to be Jones Lang LaSalle, for the rehab had hired Burke’s law firm, Burke told Solis that he “absolutely” would support the company’s proposal for TIF funding.
After Burke’s 2019 indictment, 601W Cos. released a statement saying, “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.”
The company declined further comment, but the highly redacted pre-trial filing reveals that both the developer and Solis had been cooperating and assisting with the government’s investigation since at least 2017.
Burke was also recorded allegedly telling Solis that the owners of 601W Cos. were Jewish, indicating that as the reason they were initially hesitant to hire his law firm, and saying he would give them a reason to do so.
When confronted by a reporter at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in Chicago about the anti-Semitic statement, Burke said he would respond in court.
“Antisemitism has no place in Chicago, and we expect better of our elected officials. At a time when anti-Semitic incidents are up more than 135% in the Midwest since 2016, we are deeply concerned by the reported comments of Ald. Burke and call for an immediate apology,” the Midwest chapter of the Anti-Defamation League said in a statement.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot initially called for Burke’s resignation in 2019 and renewed that request on April 21.