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Former Ald. Willie Cochran should serve at least 18 months in prison, prosecutors say

Saying “he targeted citizens and those with business in his ward for money for his own personal use,” prosecutors’ 25-page sentencing memo said Cochran should be sentenced to the “high end of the applicable guidelines range.”

Ald. Willie Cochran faces sentencing Monday for wire fraud.
Former Ald. Willie Cochran
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Before federal prosecutors gave their first word on how long they believe former Ald. Willie Cochran should serve in prison, they noted Cochran’s own words:

“I, Willie B. Cochran, do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Illinois, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of alderman of the twentieth ward of the City of Chicago according to the best of my ability.”

That oath, prosecutors said in a sentencing memo filed Thursday evening, was taken all three times Cochran was sworn in as alderman. And each time, Cochran “did not honor that oath,” they said.

“Rather, defendant used his aldermanic position to serve himself — he targeted citizens and those with business in his ward for money for his own personal use,” the 25-page sentencing memo read.

That’s why Cochran should be sentenced to 18 months in prison, the “high end of the applicable guidelines range,” prosecutors said.

That recommendation, however, is dependent on whether the 67-year-old former 20th Ward alderman remains consistent in admitting he committed the crime alleged by the government, the memo said.

That’s in doubt after Cochran accidentally copied the U.S. Probation Office on an April 20 email to his attorney, according to prosecutors.

In that email, Cochran — who pleaded guilty in March to wire fraud and admitted that he took $14,000 from a 20th Ward charity fund and used the money for personal expenses — “disavowed” the amount of money he stole and “the factual basis for Count Eleven of the Indictment — the very count to which he pled guilty,” prosecutors wrote.

But because Cochran’s own sentencing memo last week said the email was inadvertently sent to the probation office, prosecutors said they didn’t consider it in their sentencing guidelines. However, if Cochran takes the same position at his sentencing hearing that he didn’t commit the crimes, prosecutors said they reserve the right to ask for a higher sentence — likely 24 months.

Cochran’s sentencing hearing is set for June 24.

In Cochran’s memo a week ago, his attorney, Christopher T. Grohman, asked the judge to spare his client from prison, arguing that prison sentences historically have “not done anything to curb Chicago’s tidal wave of aldermanic corruption cases.

Instead, Grohman asked for probation with six months of home confinement for Cochran, insisting that the former alderman’s crime did not count as a typical public corruption case.

Cochran’s 17-page plea agreement said he solicited donations for a 20th Ward Activities Fund he controlled, promising that all funds would be used for events such as a summer back-to-school picnic, a Valentine’s Day event for senior citizens and other holiday get-togethers. It acknowledged the events were held and paid for with money from the fund. Grohman also argued that Cochran kicked $37,500 of his own money into the fund and hosted “dozens of events.”

Contributing: Jon Seidel