An admitted drug trafficker assumed the $15,000 he allegedly paid two attorneys more than a decade ago was used in part to pay bribes to Ald. Ed Burke (14th) and others to get the zoning on his Southwest Side property changed to build apartments, according to a motion by federal prosecutors.
The dealer, Saul Rodriguez, is a government witness in the trial of former Chicago Police Officer Glenn Lewellen and five other men charged with drug conspiracy.
Lewellen’s attorneys have painted Rodriguez as a liar who was trying to curry favor with the government by providing agents with information about a powerful politician like Burke — or a cop like Lewellen.
After Rodriguez was arrested in 2009, he told federal agents about his attempts to rezone his property in the 2700 block of West 37th Place.
He said he bought a house and five lots in 1999 after Lewellen told him the property was for sale. Rodriguez knew Lewellen — then a narcotics officer — because he secretly worked as a paid drug informant for him. They were also allegedly participating in crimes together.
Rodriguez got a loan to develop the lots, but needed to have the land rezoned. Rodriguez said he tried unsuccessfully for a long time to meet with Burke.
At a friend’s suggestion, Rodriguez met with two attorneys to speed things up. One lawyer suggested they get Burke on the phone and made a call, which Rodriguez assumed was to Burke. The other attorney allegedly told Rodriguez “this will be done shortly,” according to the government motion.
Rodriguez said one of the attorneys told him the rezoning would cost about $15,000, and the money had to be paid to the lawyers before he could see Burke, according to the government motion.
Rodriguez told federal agents he made the payment to the lawyers and met briefly with Burke, who said the rezoning would be no problem, according to the government’s motion. The City Council approved the rezoning in February 2000.
“Rodriguez believed that some portion of the $15,000 fee he paid to Lawyers 1 and 2 was used to pay bribes to Official A and others to secure the re-zoning approval,” prosecutors said in the motion filed Thursday.
Prosecutors didn’t identify the lawyers or “Official A” — but one of Lewellen’s attorneys, Andrea Gambino, identified “Official A” as Burke in court.
In their filing, prosecutors stressed Rodriguez didn’t claim he paid a bribe directly to Burke or anyone else — or see the attorneys pay bribes to Burke or anyone else. Rodriguez also didn’t say Burke or the lawyers ever acknowledged receiving a bribe, prosecutors said.
Rodriguez had faced a possible death sentence on murder charges but has pleaded guilty and faces a maximum of 40 years behind bars. As part of his plea deal, he agreed to testify against Lewellen.
Lewellen, who resigned from the police department in 2003, is charged with participating in robberies and kidnappings with Rodriguez and his crew.
The government’s motion asks U.S. District Judge Joan Gottschall to bar Lewellen’s defense attorneys from putting Burke on the stand as a defense witness. Prosecutors said they believe defense attorneys would try to get Burke to deny getting a bribe in order to bolster their case that Rodriguez is a liar.
Burke, the powerful head of the City Council’s Finance Committee, didn’t respond to a request for comment Friday. In May, he told the Chicago Sun-Times he had no way of knowing that Rodriguez was a drug trafficker when he approved the rezoning request in 2000.
“I saw no reason to oppose this project because similar brand-new housing had just been built across the street, which did much to beautify and upgrade the neighborhood,” Burke said in May.