Decision day looms for former Chicago alderman Ed Burke in federal corruption case

Monday is decision day for one of the most powerful politicians to ever walk the corridors of City Hall.

A federal court judge will decide the sentence of former Chicago Ald. Ed Burke following his conviction on 13 political corruption charges last December.

Even though the judge has had weeks to decide on Burke's sentence, there are still several factors at play.

First up: there are literally hundreds of letters of support that Burke's defense team gave federal judge Virginia Kendall earlier this month.

The letters were written by many high profile political and community leaders, including Paul Vallas, former Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy and former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb. 

Chicago Ald. Nicholas Sposato, of the 38th Ward, wrote that Burke has "helped countless people and organizations along the way," and that he was one of them. 

"The letters will influence the judge to grant a lesser sentence for Ald. Burke than if he granted what the prosecution is asking for," said Dick Simpson, former alderman and retired UIC political science professor.

But will those letters work? Can they erase the impact of the shocking FBI wiretaps played at the trial?

Many of those secretly recorded conversations were between Burke and another former alderman, Danny Solis.

Two hundred letters of support is impressive, but they haven't helped other convicted politicians. 

"In the past, when people like Gov. Blagojevich or other powerful figures like Dan Rostenkowski had various similar pleas for reduced sentences, those weren’t granted," said Simpson. 

Those letters aren't the only thing that could have an impact on Burke's sentencing.

"There is a Supreme Court decision that is pending which would redefine the terms of corruption. It’s a case out of indiana," said Simpson.

That upcoming decision, expected any day now, is why Burke's original sentencing date was pushed back.

"It’ll be interesting to see what's gonna happen," said Ross Rice, a retired FBI agent. "Judge Kendall is a very no-nonsense judge."

Rice has had a front row seat in many of Chicago's biggest political corruption cases. Of the 13 charges Burke was convicted on, Rice said the most serious is racketeering. 

"In theory, she could sentence him to 20 years in prison for each count and run them consecutively. Which would be a life sentence," said Rice. 'That’s not gonna happen."

Rice believes that won't happen because of Burke's age, 80, and his health. 

As for the high court's upcoming decision on the corruption statute…

"Best case scenario for the alderman: that would remove two counts from his conviction, but he still has a boatload of others, and they all carry that potential 20-year sentence," said Rice.

Simpson said Burke will likely see time behind bars because he was convicted on all but one of the federal charges filed against him. He said the judges usually send public officials convicted of corruption to prison.

"I think he will get prison time. I don’t think he’ll get the prison time, say, Gov. Blagojevich got,' said Simpson. "It was quite clear Blago had no remorse. He would not admit any crime had been committed." 

Simpson also believes Judge Kendall will sentence Burke to less than the 10 years prosecutors have asked for, and while Burke may show remorse for his crimes and have hundreds of letters of support, in the end it all comes down to this:

"The judge will certainly consider all the letters but in the end the judge will be most bound by the jury’s conviction,' said Simpson.   

Ed Burke was one the most powerful aldermen in City Council history, serving for more than 50 years, many as head of the Finance Committee, and always dressed immaculately. 

But the experts FOX 32 talked to said it's almost certain Burke will soon have to trade in his three-piece suits for prison garb.

Burke's sentencing hearing is scheduled for Monday morning at 10 a.m.