Flanked by family members and attorneys, former Ald. Edward Burke (14th) walks out of the Dirksen Federal Courthouse after being found guilty of racketeering, bribery and attempted extortion.

Flanked by family members and attorneys, former Ald. Edward Burke (14th) walks out of the Dirksen Federal Courthouse Thursday after being found guilty of racketeering, bribery and attempted extortion.

Ashlee Rezin | Chicago Sun-Times

Ed Burke ‘had his hand out for money.’ Powerful politician convicted of extortion, bribery in historic verdict

A jury of nine women and three men heard from 38 witnesses over 16 days of testimony as prosecutors made their case that Burke was “a bribe taker” and “an extortionist.”

Chicago history books will remember Edward M. Burke as the dean of the City Council, Harold Washington’s foe, a storyteller armed with tales of yore, a judge maker and a political giant who learned how to wield his clout at the height of the Machine’s power.

And now, Chicago’s longest-serving council member will also be remembered as a brazen extortionist who used the trappings of his office to squeeze developers big and small, complaining with impunity that “they can go f--- themselves” when they didn’t play ball.

That’s the image a federal jury embraced Thursday when it found Burke guilty of racketeering, bribery and attempted extortion after nearly 23 hours of deliberations at the end of a historic corruption trial for which Chicago has waited five years.

“This case was about bribery and extortion occurring at the highest levels of Chicago city government,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Morris Pasqual. “In this case, defendant Burke had his hand out for money. He tied the giving of official action by him to the giving of money to him.”

A panel of nine women and three men found that Burke committed racketeering acts in all four schemes outlined in his sweeping May 2019 indictment. They involved two Chicago landmarks — the massive Old Post Office straddling the Eisenhower Expressway and the Field Museum — as well as a Burger King in Burke’s 14th Ward and a Binny’s Beverage Depot on the Northwest Side.

They did so after prosecutors chose not to call infamous FBI mole Danny Solis to the witness stand. Given that their strategy paid off — Solis was instead called to testify by Burke’s defense attorneys — it raises questions about whether Solis will take the stand in the upcoming trial of former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Jurors still saw the secret recordings Solis made for the feds, though. Burke could be seen and heard discussing his efforts to strong-arm the developers of Chicago’s Old Post Office. Some video recordings were made within Burke’s City Hall office, decorated by the well-known history buff with images that appeared to be of the Great Chicago Fire and the Haymarket Riot.

Burke squeezed the developers for business for his private tax appeals law firm, Klafter & Burke. He also threatened the Field Museum because it failed to respond when he recommended the daughter of former Ald. Terry Gabinski for an internship.

The jury in Burke’s trial also convicted one of Burke’s co-defendants, Charles Cui, of bribery and lying to the FBI. However, they acquitted a second co-defendant, longtime Burke aide Peter Andrews.

In a statement from the lawyers who represented him signed “Team Pete,” attorneys called Andrews’ indictment an overreach and the verdict a “well-deserved Christmas blessing.”

“On behalf of our client, we are grateful to the twelve jurors who understood what we have known for over four years: Pete Andrews did not belong in this indictment,” the statement read.

Andrews was seen leaving the courthouse wearing a Santa hat.

Thursday’s verdict still brings to a dramatic end a year full of corruption trials in Chicago. Nine people, including Burke, were found guilty amid five trials in 2023 that resulted from federal public corruption investigations.

But Burke’s conviction is a landmark of its own, and he now joins a long line of Chicago officials convicted of a crime. He is the 38th alderperson to be convicted since 1973, and the fourth in five years.

Burke rested his chin on his hands as he listened to U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall read the verdict Thursday, a process that took about six minutes just for the 14 counts against Burke. Jurors found him guilty on 13 of them.

Burke looked directly toward each juror as Kendall’s deputy polled the panel, confirming their verdict.

As the jury then filed out of Kendall’s 25th-floor courtroom, Burke was approached by his wife, retired Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Anne Burke. They exchanged a kiss and a hug.

Burke later walked expressionless through the revolving doors out of the Dirksen Federal Courthouse. A slight smile appeared briefly on his face, though, as he was greeted by reporters before stepping into a black SUV with his wife.

Kendall set Burke’s sentencing hearing for June 19. That will likely change, though, because the day is a federal holiday. Burke, a week from turning 80, faces significant prison time.

The jury that convicted Burke included two people who said they live in Chicago. One said she lives in Ravenswood. The other said he lives around Fulton Market. The panel also included a graphic designer, a DCFS child welfare specialist and a restaurant host.

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson issued a short statement after the verdict was announced. He said elected officials who don’t abide by the law should be held accountable and “that is what the jury decided today.”

A powerful and seemingly untouchable old-school politician, Burke took office in 1969 when City Hall was controlled by Mayor Richard J. Daley. Burke then spent 54 years representing Chicago’s 14th Ward, leaving office only last May. Meanwhile, he amassed nearly unrivaled power through his decades-long chairmanship of the Finance Committee.

He famously clashed with the late Mayor Harold Washington, Chicago’s first Black mayor. Burke and then-Ald. Edward Vrdolyak led a group of mostly white alderpersons in opposing Washington during what came to be known as Council Wars.

Later, he came to be known as the “dean” or “parliamentarian” of the City Council — a charismatic storyteller who would begin or end floor speeches with obscure historical anecdotes.

And outside city government, Burke propelled judges to the bench in his role as judicial slatemaker for the Cook County Democratic Party.

That all changed when the FBI famously raided Burke’s City Hall and ward offices on Nov. 29, 2018, covering windows with butcher paper and signaling the existence of what turned out to be a sprawling public corruption investigation now nearing its 10-year anniversary.

The FBI knocked on the backdoor entrance of Burke’s 14th Ward office around 8:30 a.m., jurors heard during Burke’s trial. A cooperative ward worker gave agents the “lay of the land” before they began meticulously photographing and logging the contents of Burke’s office space over five hours.

The evidence gathered that day included a massive folder Burke kept with records on executives of the Burger King that Burke was convicted of trying to extort.

Federal prosecutors initially charged Burke with attempted extortion in January 2019, and a grand jury handed up its broader indictment of Burke in May 2019. Crucial to that indictment was the work of Solis, who represented Chicago’s 25th Ward on the City Council for 23 years.

The FBI confronted Solis with evidence of his own alleged wrongdoing on June 1, 2016. He soon agreed to wear a wire against powerful Chicago politicians, including Burke and Madigan.

It wasn’t until January 2019 that the Chicago Sun-Times revealed that Solis had been secretly recording Burke. Solis then went underground, leaving the City Council in 2019. He only surfaced last week, when Burke’s attorneys called him to the witness stand.

Solis admitted during his testimony that he’d been scared when the FBI confronted him in 2016. He agreed he wanted to “save” himself. And at one point he conceded, “I was trying to help myself by recording Ed Burke.”

The news about the feds’ pursuit of Burke — and the cooperation of Solis — all broke in the midst of the 2019 race for Chicago mayor. Lori Lightfoot, who won that election and served one term in office, acknowledged this fall that the Burke prosecution helped propel her to victory that year.

In a statement after the verdict Thursday, Lightfoot said “the tyranny of Ed Burke is over.” She also tried to highlight the various “enablers” that helped Burke amass his power, including the practice of aldermanic prerogative. Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor, tried to end that tradition of deference to City Council members on matters in their wards.

“But like many before who feasted on their gluttonous power, Burke was felled because this total lack of accountability made him foolishly think he was invincible,” Lightfoot said. “So he grossly overplayed his hand. He dug his own grave and jumped in. Only time will tell if the lessons of Ed Burke’s ascent and spectacular fall will lead to desperately needed reforms begun, but not nearly finished, around transparency and accountability.”

She also said, “I like to think somewhere, Harold [Washington] is smiling.”

Jurors in Burke’s trial heard from 38 witnesses over 16 days of testimony, including from people who said they were threatened or extorted by Burke.

Prosecutors began presenting their evidence by launching first into the Field Museum scheme. They called former museum employee Deborah Bekken, who served as a government liaison at the museum, to the witness stand.

Bekken explained how she reached out to Burke in September 2017. The museum planned to soon seek a fee increase from the Chicago Park Board, and it wanted to get ahead of any opposition from Burke, the City Council’s longtime finance chair.

Burke quickly explained to Bekken how he’d never heard back about the internship for Gabinski’s daughter.

“So now, you’re going to make a request of me?” Burke asked on Sept. 8, 2017.

“I’m sure I know what you want to do,” Burke continued. “Because if the chairman of the Committee on Finance calls the president of the park board, your proposal is going to go nowhere.”

From the witness stand last month, Bekken said, “I perceived it as a threat.”

Prosecutors also told the jury that Burke shook down the owners of a Burger King near 41st and Pulaski. Jurors heard from its owner, Shoukat Dhanani of Texas, and his son, Zohaib Dhanani.

Shoukat Dhanani visited Chicago in 2017. He and his son met with Burke in June 2017 at the Burger King to discuss a planned remodel. They also had a follow-up lunch with Burke at the Beverly Country Club. That’s where Burke told them all about his law firm.

Zohaib Dhanani testified about a call he had with Burke two weeks later in which Burke said, “We were going to talk about the real estate tax representation, and you were going to have somebody get in touch with me so we can expedite your permits.”

Zohaib Dhanani told jurors “it seems like the two were being linked together … the property taxes and the permits.”

Prosecutors said the remodeling work at the Dhananis’ Burger King was then shut down by Andrews, on behalf of Burke’s office, in October 2017. Shoukat Dhanani testified that he had a “gut feeling” why Burke intervened.

“Maybe since I had not responded about the property tax business, maybe that’s why it would have been shut down,” Shoukat Dhanani testified. “I didn’t see any other reason why it would be shut down.”

That work was allowed to resume on Dec. 13, 2017. That was one day after the Dhananis again met with Burke and said they would have someone look into sending business to Burke’s firm.

Meanwhile in 2017, City Hall refused to allow Binny’s to use a pole sign at a property in the 4900 block of West Irving Park Road. Cui thought he stood to lose as much as $750,000 on his development there as a result. Prosecutors say he stood to lose millions. Jurors heard that Cui reached out to Burke for help — but also hired Burke’s law firm.

Explaining his decision to hire Burke’s firm, Cui allegedly told an attorney in an email that Burke “is a powerful broker in City Hall, and I need him now.”

Burke also heard from a friend of Cui’s, developer Ray Chin, who told him, “I guess [Cui] has some need for you now.”

Burke had his assistant reach out to then-Buildings Commissioner Judy Frydland to ask her to look into Cui’s pole-sign issue the same day Burke’s firm began signing Cui up as a client.

But the heart of the feds’ case against Burke was really the alleged scheme involving the Old Post Office. Solis, who represented the area where the building stands, made crucial recordings heard by the jury documenting that scheme.

The development firm that agreed to take on the complicated renovation of the Depression-era building, 601W Companies LLC of New York, quickly became frustrated with Amtrak as it embarked on its work. Amtrak owned the railroad tracks that run underneath the building, but jurors heard that it dragged its feet and charged the Post Office developers exorbitant fees.

Burke took advantage of their troubles. He was repeatedly recorded telling people he helped make an Amtrak board member’s daughter a judge.

He mentioned that bit of leverage in one key meeting that Solis secretly recorded. During that meeting, Burke explained 601W’s troubles with Amtrak and told his colleague, “Jews are Jews, and they’ll deal with Jews to the exclusion of everybody else … unless there’s a reason for them to use a Christian.”

The lead developer of the Old Post Office was Jewish. Burke is Roman Catholic.

Later, the developers discovered that City Hall planned to tear down the building’s broken-down western plaza, leaving a gaping hole in its place. So 601W sought to tap into $20 million in tax increment financing in 2017. However, the developers had not yet hired Burke’s law firm.

In a private meeting with Solis, Burke told his colleague the Post Office developers could “go f--- themselves.”

However, nearly a year later, 601W hired Burke’s firm to perform property tax appeals work at the Sullivan Center Offices at State and Madison. The deal was dated Aug. 24, 2018.

On Sept. 20, 2018, Burke moved for the City Council to pass the developers’ TIF proposal. And then he voted in favor of it.

Contributing: Emmanuel Camarillo, Pat Nabong, David Struett, Sophie Sherry, Kade Heather

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