City Hall went after Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. for owning a drug house in West Garfield Park

Within months after Mayor Lori Lightfoot took office, the police twice raided a two-flat owned by Burnett and his wife Darlena Williams-Burnett and accused them in a lawsuit of owning a “public nuisance” where drugs were sold.

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Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (right) with Mayor Lori Lightfoot at a news conference last September.

Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (right) with Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Soon after Lightfoot took office in 2019, the Chicago Police Department twice raided a West Garfield Park two-flat owned by Burnett and his wife and sued the couple, saying the property they owned was a “public nuisance” where drugs were sold.

Pat Nabong / Sun-Times file

On a Saturday night in July 2019, Chicago police officers raided a West Garfield Park two-flat owned by Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) and his wife Darlena Williams-Burnett, looking for drug dealers selling heroin, marijuana and other drugs.

The police arrested two men and seized 3 ounces of marijuana, 16 tablets of ecstasy and 13 bullets.

Weeks later, City Hall lawyers working for Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who’d been in office only since that May, sued the Burnetts, taking the unusual step of accusing a member of the Chicago City Council of violating the city’s Drug and Gang House Ordinance and seeking more than $40,000 in fines for maintaining what they called a “public nuisance.”

Two months later, the police again raided the two-flat. They arrested the Burnetts’ tenant — a woman who was on parole, who the police said had 2.5 grams of heroin and three handguns — and two men they said were found in possession of small amounts of crack cocaine and ecstasy.

The two police raids, the lawsuit and a court order that prevented anyone from living in the two-flat for a year came months after Burnett publicly backed Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s losing run in the 2019 mayoral election, Lightfoot’s first run for mayor.

Unlike high-profile FBI raids months before on the offices of two other City Council members — Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) and Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), who face federal charges in separate political corruption cases — the arrests and drug seizures at the Burnett-owned two-flat and the Lightfoot administration’s lawsuit against the couple didn’t make the news at the time. The Chicago Sun-Times discovered the Lightfoot administration’s lawsuit against the Burnetts while reporting on a story published in November on what Burnett did with $300,000 in campaign contributions that he previously had disclosed.

Asked about the matter, Lightfoot declined to comment. Cesar Rodriguez, Lightfoot’s press secretary, said, “This was a routine matter and would not rise to the mayor’s level.”

Burnett and his lawyer Thomas Raines didn’t respond to questions about the police raids.

Burnett is now a Lightfoot ally. On Dec. 27, he made his first campaign contribution to the mayor — $10,000.

Williams-Burnett, a real estate developer, once was Cook County’s chief deputy recorder of deeds and has run unsuccessfully for Congress. She also runs a political fund called the Chicago Intellect Political Action Committee that contributed $40,000 to Preckwinkle’s campaign about two weeks before she lost to Lightfoot.

Asked about the police raids and lawsuit, Williams-Burnett at first declined to comment.

Later, she sent a reporter a text message, saying, “My husband didn’t want to purchase the property because it was located in a drug-infested neighborhood and had I listened to his concerns, you would not be trying to associate him with drug dealers or a bad landlord.”

Running unopposed in the Feb. 28 city election, Burnett, 59, is guaranteed to win an eighth term.

That will make him the longest-serving current member of the Chicago City Council, with Burke and Austin choosing not to seek reelection as they fight the criminal charges they face.

The lawsuit over the two-flat was the fourth that City Hall has filed against Burnett since he was first elected to the City Council in 1995. In 2006, the Daley administration sued the Burnetts over building code violations on a rental property at 2900 W. Fulton St. The other two suits were filed by the Daley administration in 1995 and 1997, but Lightfoot administration officials said they were unable to find records regarding those.

A two-flat in the 4700 block of West Monroe Street that the Lightfoot administration filed suit against Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. and his wife Darlena Williams-Burnett over.

The Lightfoot administration’s 2019 lawsuit against Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. and his wife Darlena Williams-Burnett involved this brick two-flat in the 4700 block of West Monroe Street.

Pat Nabong / Sun-Times

In the summer of 2019, a Chicago police investigation found that heroin and other drugs were being sold from the first-floor apartment there, according to police reports.

On July 3, 2019 — about six weeks after Lightfoot took office and Burnett began his seventh term — a Cook County judge approved a search warrant for the police to search the building.

Around 8:30 p.m. on July 6, 2019, when the police went to execute the search warrant, a man identified as Michael Johnson jumped up from the porch, ran inside and shut the door, according to police reports, which say a man identified as Marcus Frierson Jr. ran down the gangway to the alley, where officers caught him.

The police forced their way into the first-floor apartment, where they reported finding a scale, more than 101 grams of marijuana, some of it packaged in 19 small plastic bags, and two plastic bags containing a total of 16 pills identified as ecstasy. The police said they also found a full magazine clip for a 9 mm handgun and 13 bullets for a .40-caliber handgun.

Frierson and Johnson, who both had criminal records, were arrested, records show. Police reports show Frierson lived in the Burnett apartment, and Johnson lived a block away.

Frierson, then 25, was charged with possession of marijuana and ecstasy and possession of ammunition without a firearm owner’s identification card. Johnson, then 28, was charged with possession of a small amount of a substance believed to be crack cocaine. Those charges were dismissed a few weeks later.

On Aug. 13, 2019, Burnett’s wife filed suit in Cook County to evict her first-floor tenant, Maritza Concepcion-Frierson, for failing to pay $1,900 in rent.

Two days later, Mark Flessner, who was then Lightfoot’s chief City Hall lawyer, filed suit against the Burnetts and their mortgage company, Wintrust Bank. The suit said the Burnetts “encouraged or permitted illegal activity” at the two-flat and asked for more than $40,000 in fines for violating the Drug and Gang House Ordinance, which was enacted in 1992. That was three years before Burnett was first elected despite having been convicted in an armed robbery and despite a state law banning convicted felons from holding office.

City Hall asked to evict all tenants or guests involved in illegal activity and to make the Burnetts install security cameras outside the building, hire armed security guards and make numerous repairs that ranged from resolving problems with the furnace to fixing “defective light fixtures.”

Mark Flessner, who was then City Hall’s corporation counsel, the Lightfoot administration’s chief city lawyer, with Mayor Lori Lightfoot in November 2019.

Mark Flessner, who was then City Hall’s corporation counsel, the Lightfoot administration’s chief city lawyer, with Mayor Lori Lightfoot in November 2019.

Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times file

“I vaguely remember we raided a house [Burnett] owned,’’ Flessner said in an interview. “I probably talked to the mayor about that. We probably wouldn’t conduct a search warrant on an alderman’s property” without informing the mayor’s staff.

Eddie Johnson, who was police superintendent at the time of the raids, said he doesn’t remember them: “None of that sounds familiar.”

On Sept. 17, 2019, the city served Burnett and his wife notice of the lawsuit, leaving copies with Burnett’s aide at his 27th Ward office at 4 N. Western Ave.

The police continued to keep an eye on the Burnetts’ two-flat, reporting that they saw Michael Johnson “going in and out” of the apartment for two days before they served a second search warrant on Oct. 15, 2019.

Johnson, who’d been arrested in the July raid, was arrested outside the apartment and refused to let the police inside. When no one answered the door, police reports say officers forced their way in and found seven people, including Concepcion-Frierson, Marcus Frierson Sr., Marcus Frierson Jr., Tyshun Robertson and a toddler.

They arrested Concepcion-Frierson, Johnson and Robertson.

Johnson and Robertson were each found guilty of drug possession and sent to prison for a year.

Concepcion-Frierson — who was on parole was charged with possession of 2.5 grams of heroin and possession of three handguns by a felon. The police said they also found $2,600 in cash and a credit card and driver’s license that had Concepcion-Frierson’s photo on it but someone else’s name. A Cook County judge later found Concepcion-Frierson “not guilty” of all charges.

Also as part of that raid, officers said they seized 99 Valium tablets, 77 ecstasy tablets, three grams of marijuana and a small amount of crack cocaine.

Four days after the raid, Burnett’s wife emailed an attorney for the city, asking for help evicting Concepcion-Frierson, writing:

“I am again soliciting your assistance with getting the tenants to vacate the premises. Police kicked in door again, Tuesday & this time they arrested the lease holder. So her 2 teenage st are there & other adult trespassing. They found 3 weapons & illegal drugs. The kids were bragging to me that no one can make them leave, but the Sheriff & their mom didn’t raise any dumb kids.

Darlena Williams-Burnett (left) in 2008, when she was an Illinois delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

Darlena Williams-Burnett (left) in 2008, when she was an Illinois delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

Robyn Beck / AFP via Getty Images

“We have followed the process & did everything we were told to do, in reference to the eviction process. Sheriff hasn’t come yet.

“We can’t make repairs with them in there. Building Dept has deemed the furnace violation as DANGEROUS and Hazardous violation . . . Police told me they can make them leave if you write the order.

“Also, I am concerned the tenant has turned apartment into drug/gang spot. They bring drugs & guns in & out. I think kids deliver drugs. I have notified DCFS. It’s really dangerous-someone could get hurt.

“Police want them gone! So do I !!!!”

It isn’t clear whether the city took any action in response to the email from Burnett-Williams.

On Nov. 5, 2019, Cook County sheriff’s deputies evicted four adults and four children from the apartment the Burnetts leased to Concepcion-Frierson. It was the third eviction case filed in Cook County against Concepcion-Frierson, 42.

Court records show she previously was convicted of resisting arrest and attempted counterfeiting, though Williams-Burnett said in her text message to the Sun-Times: “I rented to a single parent female that had a job, no evictions nor an arrest record. She was not a tenant for long, about six months, before police came to her door.

“But please know, I never intentionally rented to a person that sold drugs . . . There are lot of young women victims that can’t fight against wicked men that come into their lives & take over their homes-hiding drugs & weapons.

“I reiterate, the Alderman had nothing to do with the situation we found ourselves in. It’s just the reality of renting in the ‘hood.”

On Dec. 5, 2019, a Cook County judge issued a permanent injunction prohibiting anyone from occupying the Burnetts’ building. Williams-Burnett agreed to pay a $440 fine and $60 in court costs and to make all repairs by Dec. 5, 2020.

The Burnetts sold the two-flat in February 2021 for $225,000 — more than four times what they paid to buy it in 2015.

Contributing: Lauren FitzPatrick

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