The immigration lawyer who’s charged with bribing Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) to get a sign permit for a Northwest Side shopping center has lost control of the building amid a foreclosure lawsuit that accuses him of failing to make mortgage payments since shortly after he was indicted.
Charles Cui’s lender sued him last August, saying the attorney owes more than $12.9 million on the mortgage for the building that houses his law firm, a health club he owns and a Binny’s Beverage Depot liquor store that leases space there.
For now, Cui and Binny’s have to make their monthly rent payments to a Michigan company appointed to oversee the property last fall until a Cook County judge decides the case.
According to the lawsuit, Cui got the mortgage in 2017 and stopped making payments in September 2019 — five months after he was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges that he bribed Burke by hiring the alderman’s law firm to appeal the building’s property taxes.
According to the indictment, Cui also was hoping Burke could get City Hall to approve a pole sign that Binny’s wanted and that city officials had rejected.
Federal prosecutors say Cui hired Burke only after City Hall said no to the sign permit for Binny’s, whose rent would drop by $750,000 if they couldn’t get approval to put their sign on the pole.
“Although Cui hired Burke’s firm to perform actual property tax work, his express purpose was to influence Burke in his official capacity, which made the arrangement unlawful,” prosecutors said in the indictment. “In other words, the retention of Klafter & Burke was the bribe.”
Cui, 50, of Lake Forest, and his lawyers have denied the charges.
A federal judge has yet to set a trial date for the racketeering case against Burke, Cui and a third man — Peter J. Andrews, who was a longtime aide to Burke.
Cui, who is also a real estate developer, didn’t respond to interview requests regarding his property at 4901 W. Irving Park Rd. in Portage Park.
His criminal defense lawyer won’t comment.
In 2016, then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Burke and the rest of the Chicago City Council agreed to give Cui as much as $2 million toward his $14 million plan to redevelop the Irving Park Road property, which formerly was home to a Bank of America branch, and another property down the street.
Cui’s development plans called for the former bank building to become home to a Binny’s store, a gym, a theater, an art center and law offices for Cui, who also would put up a new building that would house a Culver’s restaurant.
In the spring of 2017, city officials rejected Cui’s permit application seeking permissions for Binny’s to put up a sign on the pole that formerly had a sign for the bank.
In August 2017, the indictment says, Cui emailed Burke about the pole sign. The next day, Cui hired Burke’s law firm to handle property tax appeals for the building.
Burke and the rest of the city council voted to approve Binny’s request to erect two signs on the building extending over the public way.
But the pole sign never went up, and the pole has been removed.
Federal agents raided Burke’s office on Nov. 28, 2018. The following day, when investigators questioned Cui, prosecutors say he lied to them when he told them that he hired Burke’s law firm “just because he is a good tax appeal lawyer” rather than because he wanted help with getting approval for Binny’s sign.
A grand jury indicted Cui on April 11, 2019.
A month later, City Hall canceled its $2 million financing deal with him. He never got any city money for the project.
On Sept. 27, 2019, court records show, Cui stopped making payments on the $9.75 million mortgage, which he originally got from Citi Real Estate Funding, Inc.
Cui sold the Culver’s property on July 29, 2020, for $3.15 million to the restaurant’s operator.
On Aug. 14, 2020, a Delaware company called CGCMT 2017-B1 West Irving Park Road LLC sued for foreclosure on the mortgage that Citi Real Estate had given Cui, saying he owed more than $12.9 million. The Culver’s property isn’t part of the foreclosure suit.
Last October, a Cook County judge appointed a receiver to run the property, which is 78% occupied.
Binny’s pays $38,891 a month in rent. Binny’s operators think Cui overcharged the store for maintenance of the property’s common areas, according to the foreclosure suit, and are negotiating a settlement with the receiver.
Cui pays the receiver $8,278 a month in rent for his law office, according to the suit.
But Cui’s gym, Retro Fitness Center, owes $551,013 in rent, the lawsuit says, because he cut its rent during the coronavirus pandemic without getting permission from the lender or the receiver.