The charge of attempted extortion filed against Ald. Ed Burke in a federal complaint last week has shaken City Council and sparked a flurry of reform plans, but how might the case play out in court?
Since the unexpected FBI raids on Burke’s City Council and 14th Ward offices in November, the longtime alderman’s once-formidable shadow over Chicago seems to be shrinking.
Burke is accused of using his position as alderman to pressure the owners of a Southwest Side Burger King into steering business towards his private tax law firm.
Attorney Gal Pissetzky, who’s defended public officials against federal corruption charges, said the government will have to prove Burke actually intimidated the restaurant owners, as alleged in the complaint.
“During cross-exam, if [Burke’s] lawyers do a good job, they’ll cross-examine these witnesses to determine if it was just their interpretation based on this complaint,” Pissetzky said. “There are innocent interpretations of what Burke was saying.”
Former federal prosecutor Juliet Sorensen, Northwestern University's associate dean for clinical education and the director of the Bluhm Legal Clinic, said the government may have opted for a complaint, instead of a formal indictment by a grand jury, in order to coax other alleged victims out of the woodwork.
“Now that the complaint has been filed, the investigation has gone public,” Sorensen said. “Individuals can come forward who may have been hesitant to do so before and it appears there may still be a broader investigation.”
Follow Evan Garcia on Twitter: @EvanRGarcia