Ed Burke’s lawyers say feds spent four years investigating him before tapping phones

They also told a judge that comments Burke allegedly made about Jewish people are too prejudicial, and any relevance is outweighed by “the risk that the jury will infer from the statement that Ald. Burke is anti-Semitic.”

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Alderman Ed Burke walks into the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019, in Chicago.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia

Lawyers for Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) claimed Friday the feds spent more than four years “fruitlessly” investigating the longtime Chicago politician before finally seeking permission from Chicago’s chief federal judge to record Burke’s calls in 2017.

They made the comment while arguing again in a new court filing that the origin of the Burke probe was among the crucial pieces of information withheld at the time from then-U.S. District Chief Judge Ruben Castillo. The lack of disclosure undermines the racketeering indictment that has now been hanging over Burke’s head for more than two years, they say.

“Such a disclosure may have prompted the chief judge to inquire as to what occurred earlier in the investigation, including whether the government failed to discover any evidence of wrongdoing,” they wrote in a court filing Friday.

They wrote that prosecutors also withheld certain conversations involving then-Ald. Danny Solis (25th) — who turned out to be a government cooperator —as well as Solis’ purported claim to the feds that he “never engaged in corrupt conduct with Ald. Burke in their twenty-five years on [the] City Council.”

Additionally, Burke’s lawyers responded to a revelation by the feds last spring that Burke allegedly made a “distasteful” comment about Jewish people. His attorneys insisted Friday the comment is too prejudicial, and any relevance to the racketeering case is outweighed by “the risk that the jury will infer from the statement that Ald. Burke is anti-Semitic.”

“That risk is real and substantial, as demonstrated by the onslaught of negative media coverage that occurred when the statement was disclosed in court filings,” they wrote.

The Anti-Defamation League Midwest and others called for Burke to apologize after federal prosecutors revealed Burke allegedly made the comment.

Explaining why he needed to leverage his position on the Chicago City Council to get tax work for his private law firm as part of the renovation of the Old Main Post Office, Burke allegedly said, “Well, you know as well as I do, Jews are Jews, and they’ll deal with Jews to the exclusion of everybody else unless …unless there’s a reason for them to use a Christian.”

The feds insisted last April that his comment showed he solicited legal fees with “an understanding that he would improperly influence or attempt to influence” an official act or function.

There is still no trial date on the books for Burke more than two years after the feds leveled the blockbuster racketeering indictment against the once powerful alderman, political aide Peter Andrews and developer Charles Cui.

U.S. District Judge Robert Dow has been given hundreds of pages of court filings to dig through, and he has said he will likely hold a hearing to address multiple pretrial motions from Burke and his co-defendants.

The next status hearing in the case is set for Sept. 29.

The charges allege Burke used his seat on the city council to steer business toward his private tax law firm amid schemes that involved the Old Post Office, a Burger King at 41st and Pulaski Road, and a redevelopment project on the Northwest Side.

Burke’s lawyers first alleged in a flurry of legal challenges exactly one year ago that federal prosecutors withheld crucial information from the chief judge as they sought to eavesdrop on City Hall phone lines, as well as on Burke’s cellphone. They also said the feds didn’t square their work with the 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision involving former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell.

The feds rejected Burke’s claims in their lengthy response filed last April, writing at one point that the alleged schemes by Burke, Andrews and Cui “were unlawful before and after McDonnell.”

In response to claims that Burke was unfairly targeted, prosecutors wrote, “again and again, Burke shamelessly tied official action to his law firm’s receipt of business.” They said their investigation “revealed Burke to be thoroughly corrupt and worthy of prosecution.”

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