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Records show feds’ investigation of Ald. Burke broader than previously known

Ald. Ed Burke (14th) attends the monthly Chicago City Council meeting on Wednesday while facing a federal charge of attempted extortion. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

When FBI agents raided the City Hall offices of Ald. Edward M. Burke on Nov. 29, they were seeking a wide range of documents that shows the scope of their investigation into Burke was broader than previously known, records indicate.

Burke faces one charge of attempted extortion for allegedly trying to shake down a Burger King franchise owner for business for his private law firm while the company needed city permits for a restaurant location in Burke’s 14th Ward.

But FBI agents were also looking for any records that would show whether Burke traded votes in the City Council to obtain business for his law firm, Klafter & Burke, which handles property tax appeals for many companies that do business with City Hall.

Agents also wanted documents showing whether Burke, Chicago’s longest-serving alderman, was trying to gain patronage jobs, or other work or benefits for his personal associates, according to a copy of the five-page attachment to the search warrant released Wednesday night by the City Council Committee on Finance.

The document indicates the feds were interested not only in what Burke did as alderman but also actions he took specifically as the powerful head of the City Council’s Finance Committee. Burke resigned from that position earlier this month.

In an unusual move, agents refer in the attachment to eight people only by letters of the alphabet, along with 14 “entities,” also identified only by letters. The federal agents searching Burke’s City Hall offices knew, of course, what entities or individuals the different letters stood for but wanted to keep them secret from Burke and his associates.

It’s unclear if the search warrant sought any documents related to the Burger King owners, whose interactions with Burke were captured by FBI agents who had a court order to eavesdrop on Burke’s cellphone for at least 18 months.

Among the items sought by the search warrant were any “documents or communications” that showed “agreements to compensate any party for business or income realized by Klafter & Burke . . . including, but not limited to, agreements concerning referral fees, fee-splitting, fee-sharing and consulting agreements.” The attachment also asked for any documents showing the “use of property and personnel of the city of Chicago to conduct or advance the business of his law firm.”

The Sun-Times has previously reported that one Finance Committee employee, Meaghan Cleary Synowiecki, a great-niece of Burke’s wife, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, was ordered by the alderman to find out the name of the law firm the Burger King owners used to appeal their property taxes, records show. Her husband, Michael Synowiecki, is a lobbyist who represents several City Hall contractors who have used Burke’s law firm to appeal their taxes.

The Finance Committee also released a handwritten inventory from the FBI showing the feds seized thumb drives, computers, documents regarding tax increment financing projects, correspondence from his law firm, a Rolodex, records on the renovation of the Old Main Post Office, a business card from trucking company owner Perry Mandera, who also owns a marijuana dispensary and recently sold his topless bar called VIP Gentlemen’s Club, and a folder involving attorney Brian Hynes. Hynes is a close associate of Ald. Daniel Solis, who secretly recorded conversations with Burke over the past two years.

The FBI returned the computers and thumb drives the day after the November raid.