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Developer charged in bribery case tied to Ed Burke pleads not guilty

Real estate developer Charles Cui at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, on Thursday. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

The developer accused of seeking favors from 14th Ward Ald. Edward M. Burke pleaded not guilty Thursday during a brief court appearance at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse.

Federal prosecutors announced last week a four-count indictment against Charles Cui, 48, of Lake Forest that tied Burke to yet another allegedly corrupt City Hall deal. For now, Burke is only charged with attempted extortion in a separate case involving the remodeling of a Southwest Side Burger King, and he has denied any wrongdoing.

The feds face a May 3 deadline to indict the recently re-elected veteran alderman.

Cui’s attorneys declined to speak to reporters after the hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Cole. Cui is due back in court May 14.

Cui’s indictment alleges Burke had early involvement in a project that revolved around the 4900 block of West Irving Park Road in the Portage Park neighborhood. Cui was the managing member of a company that owned property there, and it stood to lose as much as $750,000 in reduced rent if Binny’s Beverage Depot couldn’t get a permit to reuse an old bank sign there.

The city had rejected that request, saying the pole sign hadn’t been used for several years and was “illegal.”

Cui allegedly emailed Burke in August 2017, asking him to “look into the matter.”

His email explained the retailer “really needs it, otherwise they will either cancel the lease, or ask for significant rent reduction,” according to the indictment.

Then, Cui decided to shift his property tax appeals work to Burke’s firm, dumping attorney George Reveliotis, who got an email from Cui the next day explaining his decision to switch lawyers.

The email is quoted in the indictment, which referred to Burke only as “Alderman A.”

“Can I ask you for a favor? Can I have [Alderman A] handle 4901 W. Irving Park property tax appeal for me, at least for this year?” Cui wrote in the email to Reveliotis, according to the indictment.

Cui is now charged with one count of federal program bribery, one count of making a false statement to the FBI, and two counts of using interstate commerce to facilitate bribery and official misconduct.

He allegedly lied to the FBI when agents talked to him on Nov. 29, 2018. That’s when he told them he offered business to Burke’s firm “just because he is a good tax appeal lawyer,” according to the indictment.

That very morning, FBI agents had papered over the windows and raided Burke’s City Hall and ward offices.