Judge rejects motions from Burke and co-defendants, says evidence should be considered at trial

The judge’s consideration of the motions, first filed in August 2020, is in part why the three-year-old racketeering case has yet to go to trial. The COVID-19 pandemic also played a key role.

SHARE Judge rejects motions from Burke and co-defendants, says evidence should be considered at trial
Ald. Ed Burke (14th) attends a Chicago City Council meeting in March, where members used an electronic voting system for the first time.

Ald. Edward M. Burke at a City Council meeting in March.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Dealing a crucial blow to Chicago Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) and his legal team, a federal judge Monday rejected hundreds of pages of defense motions in the once-powerful politician’s criminal case, finally clearing the way for a potential trial.

U.S. District Judge Robert Dow wrote that the combined motions from Burke, political aide Peter Andrews and developer Charles Cui “would have this court dismiss almost every charge of the indictment against all defendants.”

But the judge concluded that the motions “largely go to the strength of the evidence” and should be considered by a fact-finder — like a jury.

“It is a fact-finder’s role to assess whether the government has proven the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt at trial, not this court’s at the pleadings stage,” Dow wrote.

Dow’s order also revealed some new details about the case against Burke. Among other things, it said Burke was caught on tape saying he could influence Amtrak board member Jeff Moreland because “we made his daughter a judge here, in Cook County.”

Moreland declined to comment when contacted by the Chicago Sun-Times.

The judge’s consideration of the motions, first filed in August 2020, is in part why the three-year-old racketeering case has yet to go to trial. The COVID-19 pandemic also played a key role.

Federal prosecutors pushed for a trial date at a recent hearing, telling the judge, “There is a public interest in the trial here and in getting this trial date set in short order.”

Dow declined to set a date, but that discussion could continue at another hearing July 12. Judges at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse have been working through a backlog created by the pandemic, and Dow pointed to defendants who have been sitting in jail while awaiting trial, unlike Burke.

He told attorneys that Burke’s trial is “gonna be next year, to be honest.”

That means it could coincide with — or even follow — next year’s City Council elections.

Burke was reelected in February 2019 despite an attempted extortion charge filed against him the month prior. A grand jury handed up his racketeering indictment later, in May 2019.

The charges accuse Burke of having used his seat on the City Council to steer business to his private law firm amid schemes that involved the Old Post Office, a Burger King at 41st Street and Pulaski Road and a redevelopment project on the Northwest Side.

Among other things, Burke’s lawyers said in the now-denied motions that prosecutors withheld crucial information from then-U.S. District Chief Judge Ruben Castillo as they sought to eavesdrop on City Hall phone lines, as well as Burke’s cellphone, in 2017. As Dow wrote, the lawyers said prosecutors “pulled a fast one on the Chief Judge of the Northern District of Illinois.”

“Ald. Burke would have this court believe that the government thought it could get away with pulling the wool over Chief Judge Castillo’s eyes,” the judge noted.

The investigation into Burke — which did not become public until November 2018 — involved then-Ald. Danny Solis (25th), who worked undercover to help the feds gather evidence. Meanwhile, Dow noted that Castillo had, at the time, been a district judge for 23 years and chief judge for nearly four years.

“Chief Judge Castillo surely knew that Ald. Solis was acting at the direction of the FBI, and if there was any question or doubts in his mind, he would have had every opportunity to require the government to fill in the blanks,” Dow wrote.

Solis cooperated following an investigation into his own activities. He has been charged with bribery but could ultimately see the charge against him dismissed as a result of a deal he struck with prosecutors.

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