Longtime Chicago Alderman Ed Burke sentenced to prison, fined $2M for corruption convictions

Former Chicago Alderman Ed Burke was sentenced Monday to two years in prison and fined $2 million following his conviction on 13 political corruption charges last December.

A federal jury convicted Burke on 13 corruption counts after hearing allegations that the longest-serving City Council member in Chicago history with a 54-year tenure had used his power to win private law business from developers. The corruption schemes occurred in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

The jury of nine women and three men deliberated for 23 hours over four days before returning its verdict after weighing the testimony of 38 witnesses and hearing more than 100 recordings. Burke was found guilty of racketeering; corruptly soliciting, demanding, accepting, or agreeing to accept things of value; using an interstate facility to promote unlawful activity; and attempted extortion. He was acquitted on one count of conspiracy.

Prosecutors said Burke, who left office in May 2023, used his political clout to pressure people into hiring his private property tax law firm.

Burke "had his hand out time and again demanding money and benefits from the very people he was supposed to be working on behalf of," Assistant U.S. Attorney Diane MacArthur said during the trial's closing arguments.

Defense attorney Joe Duffy said, however, that prosecutors presented a "murky" case.

"Fifty years on the job, (Burke) knows how to cut through red tape. That’s why people come to him. He can get it done," Duffy said.

Under the law, the racketeering and extortion counts were punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison. The counts for corruptly soliciting and accepting things of value were punishable by up to 10 years, while the maximum for both using an interstate facility to promote unlawful activity and making a false statement to the FBI is five years.

Burke's background

Former Chicago alderman and retired UIC political scientist Dick Simpson said Burke got his start as a Chicago police officer, taking over for his father as 14th ward alderman when he died in 1969.

Burke quickly amassed power and became one of the so-called "Young Turks" who would occasionally challenge legendary Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley in the 70s.

However, it was as leader of the "Council Wars" in the 80s, a faction of white aldermen who battled Black Mayor Harold Washington, that brought Burke political fame.

"They were so large that they could block most of the legislation proposed by Harold Washington. For instance, a number of his appointments, a number of his budget decisions," said Simpson.

During Burke's long tenure in the City Council, he also had another job as a property tax lawyer and allegedly used his political clout to generate business for his law firm.

"So Burke from the very beginning used his power, particularly as head of the finance committee, to get businesses to hire him for property tax reductions," said Simpson.

Burke's corruption case

The feds had been investigating Burke for years but couldn't crack the code. Then, there was a breakthrough.

"The problem here was that he was caught on tape trying to get clients by using his clout in the City Council. So there was a quid pro quo," said Simpson.

FBI agents built a corruption case against former Chicago Alderman Danny Solis, who then agreed to cooperate with the feds and wear a wire.

"He wore a concealed recording device. He recorded in-person meetings he had with Ed Burke. He recorded telephone conversations he had with Ed Burke," said Rice.

Later, investigators were able to obtain a warrant to tap Burke's phone.

"According to court documents, they intercepted over 9,000 conversations during an eight to ten-month period," said Rice.

Among those conversations was Burke shaking down the owners of a Burger King in his ward, holding up building and driveway permits until they agreed to hire his tax firm for an appeal.

"When you have the defendant's own words in their own voice and can present that to the jury, there's no better evidence," said Rice.

On a recorded call, Burke is heard saying that he took the owners to lunch at the Beverly Country Club and was "playing nice with them," but they never got back to him.

Political aide, Peter J. Andrews, then replied: "I will play as hard ball as I can."

Federal prosecutors say the Burger King eventually obtained a building permit from the city and began their remodeling work – but Burke soon shut the construction down.

During an in-person meeting that Solis recorded, Burke was seen on the phone, then said, "Give Danny a call because I think he is going to be a main player in this whole process."

Jurors also listened to a phone conversation secretly recorded in 2017, where the Burger King allegations were discussed.

"And, we were going to talk about the real estate tax representation, and you were going to have somebody get in touch with me so we could expedite your permits," Burke is heard on recorded phone call audio saying.

Someone then says, "I'm sorry Mr. Burke, was what that last part?" – to which Burke responds, "You were going to have somebody call me so we can help you make sure you get your permits, for the remodeling."

In an unusual twist, Solis testified but not for the feds. He was called as a defense witness by Burke's attorneys.

The judge also ruled that prosecutors could not talk about Burke's work in lowering the tax bill for former president Donald Trump, saving him millions of dollars on his namesake building along the Chicago River.

Additionally, evidence presented during the trial revealed Burke's role in other schemes, such as trying to muscle developers – like the Old Post Office development in the West Loop and a retail development on the Northwest Side – to hire his law firm.

Burke also threatened to oppose an admission fee increase at the Field Museum because the museum never responded to Burke regarding a request for an internship at the museum for a child of one of his friends.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.