Judge in Ed Burke’s criminal case tells lawyers ‘stay tuned’ after crucial hearing on evidence

The hearing was a year-and-a-half in the making, dealing with pretrial motions first filed in August 2020. Burke’s lawyers alleged then that prosecutors withheld crucial information from Chicago’s chief federal judge as they sought to eavesdrop on City Hall phone lines, as well as Burke’s cellphone.

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Ald. Ed Burke speaks at a City Council meeting in October. He faced a critical court hearing in his corruption case on Tuesday as his attorneys tried to get a federal judge to toss key evidence against him.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

The federal judge presiding over Ald. Edward M. Burke’s racketeering case told lawyers he would deliver a “really long opinion . . . as soon as we can” on hundreds of pages of motions following oral arguments in the case Tuesday.

It’s unclear how soon that crucial opinion might arrive, though, as U.S. District Judge Robert Dow also told them, “don’t be shocked if you get another request to come back.”

“Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay tuned,” Dow said when the roughly two-hour long hearing ended.

Still, Tuesday’s long-awaited hearing was a key moment in the case that has hung over the head of Chicago’s longest-serving alderman for about three years. Burke was first criminally charged in January 2019, but a grand jury did not hand up an indictment until May 2019.

There is still no trial date on the books.

The hearing was a year-and-a-half in the making, dealing with pretrial motions first filed in August 2020. Among other things, Burke’s lawyers alleged then that prosecutors withheld crucial information from Chicago’s chief federal judge as they sought to eavesdrop on City Hall phone lines, as well as Burke’s cellphone.

The lawyers have argued the recordings should be suppressed.

On Tuesday, defense attorneys for Burke and his co-defendants — political aide Peter Andrews and developer Charles Cui —continued to insist that prosecutors stretched the boundaries of the law while building their case. Much of the argument revolved around technical legal points.

Burke attorney Andrew DeVooght discussed ex-Ald. Danny Solis (25th), who recorded Burke and cooperated with the feds after a lengthy investigation revealed his own corrupt activities. Burke’s attorneys have said Solis landed a deferred-prosecution agreement with prosecutors in January 2019, avoiding criminal charges.

DeVooght called Solis the “most motivated guy in Chicago” to try to earn such a deal. Starting in 2014, DeVooght said, prosecutors fed then-U.S. District Chief Judge Ruben Castillo a “steady diet of literally hundreds of pages” cataloging Solis’ crimes.

That might have improperly affected the judge when prosecutors came to him about Burke, DeVooght said, because the feds created a notion of, “Ald. Solis, here he goes again, this time with Ald. Burke.”

DeVooght urged Dow to consider the evidence described in federal affidavits without the included interpretations by federal agents conducting the investigation. He again stressed that Solis told prosecutors that, despite 25 years on the City Council with Burke, he had no prior knowledge of criminal activity by Burke —a point apparently not made to Castillo.

“How is that not incredibly important context?” DeVooght said.

Assistant U.S Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu pushed back and told the judge that Burke sought work for his private tax law firm not only by leveraging his seat on the City Council, but also by leveraging the power of Solis, the city’s former zoning chair.

Bhachu noted that Solis had considerable sway over the Old Main Post Office project, and one of Burke’s pitches to get private work from the developers involved with it took place in Solis’ office.

“Mr. Burke’s no dummy,” Bhachu said.

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