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Ald. Edward Burke pleads not guilty on political corruption charges

Burke and his top political aide, Peter J. Andrews, as well as a developer, made a brief court appearance Tuesday.

Ald. Edward Burke (14th), center, walks out of the Dirksen Federal Courthouse on Tuesday, June 4, 2019.
Ald. Ed Burke (14th) walks out of the Dirksen Federal Courthouse on Tuesday.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Ald. Edward M. Burke pleaded not guilty to sweeping corruption charges in what turned out to be a short, perfunctory hearing Tuesday at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse.

Joining Burke in his not guilty plea were Peter J. Andrews — the alderman’s longtime political operative — and Charles Cui, a developer caught up in the feds’ blockbuster investigation of City Hall.

The men spent less than five minutes standing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Cole in a hearing that added little more than a public spectacle to last week’s 59-page indictment accusing Burke of racketeering and bribery.

Burke, dressed in a dark suit and a green striped tie, let his lawyers do the talking during the hearing. Earlier, as he walked into the courtroom on the 17th floor of the Loop courthouse, he appeared to smile at a row of reporters waiting to take a seat.

When it ended, the recently reelected 14th Ward alderman climbed into a waiting SUV on South Dearborn Street and left the courthouse without commenting. He previously called the charges “unfounded” and predicted a jury would vindicate him.

His lawyers are due back in court for a status hearing July 2.

Cui and Andrews also left the courthouse without speaking to reporters. Though Cui has previously pleaded not guilty to earlier charges, Tuesday’s arraignment forced Andrews out into the open for the first time. He has served Burke for decades and helped circulate petitions for the alderman’s successful reelection campaign.

He is a retired Chicago Park District plumber with an annual pension of $88,637.

Last week’s indictment accused Burke of using his powerful aldermanic seat to steer business toward his private tax law firm amid schemes that involved the Old Main Post Office, a Burger King at 41st Street and Pulaski Road, and a redevelopment project on the Northwest Side. Andrews and Cui are implicated in the Burger King and redevelopment project schemes, respectively.

With his attorney Tinos Diamantatos (right), developer Charles Cui walks out of the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, Tuesday morning, June 4, 2019.
Developer Charles Cui (left) and his lawyer leave the Dirksen Federal Courthouse on Tuesday.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
Ald. Ed Burke’s top political aide, Peter J. Andrews (left), walks with his defense attorney Patrick W. Blegen out of the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, Tuesday morning, June 4, 2019.
Peter J. Andrews (left) and his attorney leave the Dirksen Federal Courthouse on Tuesday.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Burke is also accused of trying to block an admission fee hike at the Field Museum, all because he wasn’t getting an answer about a museum internship for the daughter of former Ald. Terry Gabinski.

The indictment further lifted the curtain on the breadth of a federal investigation that has gone on for years at City Hall. It showcased the undercover work of former Ald. Danny Solis, who wore a wire as a secret federal informant. And it revealed that, by August 2018, authorities had recorded more than 62,000 of Burke’s phone calls.

Amid the Post Office scheme, the feds allegedly caught Burke uttering unforgettable lines like, “the cash register has not rung yet” and “did we land … the tuna?”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot quickly called on Burke to resign.

Burke, 75, lost control of the City Council’s Finance Committee after prosecutors charged him with attempted extortion in early January. Now he is charged with one count of racketeering, two counts of federal program bribery, two counts of attempted extortion, one count of conspiracy to commit extortion, and eight counts of using interstate commerce to facilitate unlawful activity.

Stunningly, the indictment also alleges that Burke used the city of Chicago as a criminal “enterprise” as part of the racketeering charge — a law first devised decades ago to combat mobsters and organized crime.

Andrews, 69, is charged with one count of attempted extortion, one count of conspiracy to commit extortion, two counts of using interstate commerce to facilitate unlawful activity and one count of lying to the FBI.

Cui, 48, of Lake Forest, is charged with one count of federal program bribery, three counts of using interstate commerce to facilitate unlawful activity and one count of lying to the FBI.