Federal agents showed up unannounced at the City Hall office of Finance Committee Chairman Ed Burke, kicked everyone out and papered over the windows Thursday morning.
The exact nature of their visit was not known, but Ald. Burke (14th) has dodged dozens of federal investigations over five decades in Chicago politics.
A source told the Sun-Times the raids were in response to new allegations, and not prompted by any past controversies that have swirled around Burke. That means, for now, the investigation isn’t focused on Burke’s property-tax-appeal work for President Donald Trump, or Burke’s oversight of a city workers’ compensation fund, among other matters.
It doesn’t mean, however, that those dots won’t be connected later.
About 15 agents had arrived at City Hall about 7:30 a.m., bringing their own boxes. Some then went across the street to the underground parking garage at the Daley Center to find Burke’s car, but it wasn’t there.
Federal agents also showed up to Burke’s ward office and papered over the windows there. A group of them left about 1:10 p.m., nothing in hand, but others remained inside. By 1:30 p.m., they appeared to be wrapping up, and the brown paper had been removed.
The investigation is being handled by the public corruption squad from the local FBI office.
About 1:40 p.m., the remaining agents left out the back door, with one cardboard file box, a computer and two computer monitors. Another carried up a giant wad of the brown paper that had covered the windows.
Agents were in the City Hall office about seven hours; they left about 2:20, using a back staircase to avoid waiting reporters.
Burke issued a statement Thursday afternoon and spoke with reporters outside his home Thursday evening.
“As you are aware, there have previously been several other investigations such as this. In every instance we cooperated fully. And in every instance nothing has been found,” Burke was quoted as saying.
“So once again we will be cooperating fully and I am completely confident that at the end of the day nothing will be found amiss in this instance either.”
In Washington, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who turned 59 on Thursday, told the Sun-Times he had no advance warning about the raid of Burke’s City Hall offices and that he found out about it from news reports.
He said City Hall had not received any subpoenas in connection with the FBI raid of Burke’s finance committee and 14th Ward offices.
“I know what I read in the paper. I’m out here. That’s it,” he said. Emanuel said he was alerted to the raid, “Because news flashes were coming across my iPhone.”
Asked what this does to Burke’s leadership going forward, Emanuel said: “It would be all guesswork and I’m not going to do that. It’s too early for me to do that. I won’t even begin to do that. I don’t even know what they are doing. … You are asking hypotheticals and I am not going to do that with the FBI walking around his office.”
Emanuel was in Washington with Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson for a panel on education at a Washington Post forum. Emanuel dined with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, the Senate leader, Wednesday night.
Burke’s brother, state Rep. Dan Burke, reached in Springfield, was stunned by the news.
“It’s shocking. I don’t know what to think,” Burke said from his state capitol office.
“I don’t have a clue. Any time there is this type of thing, where they come in and paper your windows, certainly that’s a concern. But I know my brother. For his entire life and career he’s been abiding by the law.”
Ed Burke’s wife, Anne Burke, serves on the Illinois Supreme Court and earlier this month, voters endorsed her for another term on the court. Her swearing-in was Thursday in Chicago; a court spokesman said it was conducted in her chambers, and that she was joined by “family and colleagues,” though the statement did not specify if Ald. Burke was among the family members attending.
Dan Burke is leaving the Legislature after losing to a little-known candidate backed by Jesus “Chuy” Garcia; that campaign was dominated by Ed Burke’s property-tax reduction work for the tower along the Chicago River bearing the name of Donald Trump.
“This is my last day in the General Assembly. I’m sitting in my office. I can’t even go and enjoy the resolution honoring my 28 years in the General Assembly, because the reporters are down there swarming.”
Ed Burke, a Democrat, also has been targeted for defeat by Garcia because of his property-tax appeal work for Trump.
After learning of the raid, Garcia released a statement essentially dancing on Burke’s political grave.
“In the five decades that Ald. Burke has been in office, he has used his position to enrich himself and his political cronies while being an impediment to political progress and community empowerment. Make no mistake: Ald. Burke is the last bastion of Chicago machine politics,” Garcia was quoted as saying.
“Burke’s legacy over half a century will be obstructing Harold Washington, Chicago’s only reform Mayor, cutting Donald Trump’s property taxes on the backs of working families, feeding at the trough of greed and corruption, and finally being caught for his own misdeeds. All of Chicago is hoping justice finally prevails.”
Garcia, recently elected to Congress, is a former alderman and departing member of the Cook County Board of Commissioners. He has said Burke’s work for Trump was disrespectful to Burke’s Hispanic constituents, who are now a majority in his ward.
“The fact that he has been Trump’s lawyer on reducing his property taxes and has been part of the property tax system in Chicago that has affected working people more than anybody else in a regressive manner are issues that have to be taken into account,” Garcia said earlier this year.
“It was highly offensive to the community,” Garcia added at the time. “Anyone who isn’t representing the community’s interests should be worried.”
Colleagues already had been wondering aloud why Burke even is running for re-election, and the sweeping nature of Thursday’s raid had some longtime Burke allies questioning if he would stay in the race.
“It would be really tough to win with that cloud over your head,” one source said. “Look at the image this creates. It was a rough go anyway, even before this.”
Over the years, Burke also has come under fire for representing clients doing business with the city, requiring him to abstain from many votes.
He also has come under scrutiny for the $100 million city worker-compensation fund operated out of his committee. That fund also was walled off from the jurisdiction of city inspector general Joe Ferguson even as Ferguson’s office was given power to investigate aldermen.
Burke has amassed a considerable campaign war chest which could be used for legal expenses. Burke controls three campaign committees, and as of the last quarterly filing with the Illinois State Board of Elections, they held a combined balance of more than $12 million, not counting thousands of dollars raised by Burke in recent weeks.
In 50 years as ward committeeman and 49 years as alderman of the now-majority Hispanic ward once represented by his father, Burke has survived numerous threats to depose him as chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee by mayors with whom he subsequently reached political accommodation.
He has survived federal investigations that threatened to undercut his power base, once even by blaming a dead man for ghost-payrolling irregularities on his committee payroll.
He’s been in the public spotlight for having taxpayer-funded bodyguards drive him to and from City Hall — and for how quickly city snowplows clear the pavement on his Southwest Side block.
Burke’s firm, Klafter & Burke, repeatedly has sought to reduce the property taxes that Trump Tower and other commercial properties have to pay — a lucrative business that’s also enriched Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, D-Chicago.
Burke’s law office was locked this morning. A woman who identified herself as a paralegal for the firm said the staff was in a meeting, and the office would remain locked.
The feds didn’t raid the law offices, the Sun-Times has been told.
Late Thursday morning, Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) showed up at his office, which is next door to Burke’s.
Brookins was set upon by reporters.
He dealt with a similar situation in 2015, when his former chief of staff, Curtis V. Thompson Jr., was sentenced to 15 months in prison for taking a bribe. Thompson admitted helping an undercover federal informant secure letters of support from Brookins in 2013 for a 21st Ward liquor license. In exchange, the informant gave Thompson 75 $100 bills stuffed inside a Christmas card at the alderman’s holiday party.
“I thought [the feds] didn’t do anything that close to an election,” Brookins said.
“So it was shocking to me as to how something like this would happen some 90 days before an election.”
Brookins declined to speculate on what might be behind the raid.
“I wish Alderman Burke the best. He’s been a great friend and a mentor in leading me in the right direction, with respect to legislation and other things,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going on.”
Contributing: Lynn Sweet, Tim Novak