Ald. Willie Cochran Indicted, Charged with Fraud, Extortion, Bribery

Video: City Hall reacts to yet another alderman being indicted on federal corruption charges. Brandis Friedman reports.

Ald. Willie Cochran (20th Ward) was indicted Wednesday on federal charges of wire fraud, extortion and bribery.

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The 15-count indictment was announced while Cochran attended the final City Council meeting of the year. According to various news reports, Cochran abruptly left the meeting without comment on the indictment.

Document: Read the indictment.Document: Read the indictment. Cochran, a former Chicago police officer, is charged with 11 counts of wire fraud, two counts of federal program bribery and two counts of extortion. 

He is charged with defrauding donors to the 20th Ward Activities Fund, which was intended to help families and children in his ward. According to the indictment, Cochran used $5,000 from the fund to pay for his daughter’s college tuition.

Funds were also allegedly used to finance gambling expenses. The indictment states Cochran withdrew approximately $25,000 from the 20th Ward Activities Fund through ATMs in or near the vicinity of casinos where he gambled.

According to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office, the FBI began an investigation after receiving information from the former City of Chicago Legislative Inspector General’s Office, which was headed by Faisal Khan. 

“The charges against Alderman Cochran unfortunately show the blatant and systematic disregard for ethics and campaign finance law that so many elected officials have displayed,” Faisal Khan, CEO of Project Six, said in a statement.

Khan also said the charges against Cochran show how ethics oversight can be “effective.”

“When an elected official uses public power for personal gain, the average citizen pays and our democratic system suffers,” U.S. Attorney Zach Fardon said in a press release. “We will continue to vigorously investigate and prosecute any elected official who attempts to use their office to enrich themselves.”

Cochran is also charged with extorting money from a lawyer and a liquor store owner in exchange for aldermanic support.

According to the indictment, Cochran corruptly solicited and demanded $1,500 from an Illinois attorney who represented real estate developers with properties in Cochran’s ward in exchange for Cochran’s support of the developments, which included a property developed under the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program.

Cochran is also charged with soliciting and demanding payment from a ward liquor store owner who sought an amendment to the Municipal Code of Chicago to allow package goods licenses on the store’s side of South Cottage Grove Avenue. 

Shortly after soliciting the payment, the City Council passed a Cochran-sponsored amendment that allowed for issuance of the licenses on that block, according to the indictment.

The charges in the indictment are punishable by a total maximum sentence of 280 years in prison. An arraignment date has not yet been set.

Related stories:

Ed Vrdolyak, Former Alderman, Indicted on Tax Evasion, Impeding IRS

Nov. 15: The former Chicago alderman was indicted Tuesday on charges of income tax evasion and impeding the IRS. He is expected to be arraigned before Thanksgiving.

Former Congressman Aaron Schock Indicted for Fraud, Theft of Government Funds

Nov. 10: A federal grand jury issued a 24-count indictment Thursday charging former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock with several counts of wire fraud and theft of government funds, among other charges.

Former US Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert Indicted

May 28, 2015: Late Thursday afternoon, former U.S. Speaker Dennis Hastert was charged in a scheme to withdraw millions of dollars to pay off an accuser for “past misconduct.” The indictment says Hastert lied to the FBI about the purpose of the withdrawals.

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