Because of delays caused by the pandemic as well as a massive amount of evidence to sort through, Ald. Ed Burke (14th Ward) is unlikely to stand trial on corruption charges in mid-2021, the federal judge overseeing the case told lawyers Wednesday.
U.S. District Court Judge Robert Dow said it would be premature to set a trial date for Burke and his co-defendants, longtime aide Peter Andrews and Portage Park businessman Charles Cui.
“I'd like to give you all a trial date, but I'd like to give you one we think will stick,” Dow said.
The longest serving Chicago alderman in history, Burke, 76, faces a 14-count indictment that alleges he repeatedly — and brazenly — used his powerful position at City Hall to force those doing business with the city to hire his private law firm.
Burke has pleaded not guilty to charges of racketeering, bribery and extortion. The racketeering charges — usually brought against members of the mob or street gangs — allege a pattern of corruption unknown to its victims.
Federal prosecutors said they believe the trial could take three weeks, but Burke’s attorney Charles Sklarsky said it could take much longer than that, especially since there are extensive taped conversations expected to be played for the jury.
Dow likened holding a long trial during a pandemic to a “roulette game,” saying that every day increased the likelihood that someone would test positive for the coronavirus and force everyone to quarantine for 14 days.
Dow also told Burke’s attorneys that he would allow them to submit private arguments about whether federal prosecutors had properly disclosed any deals that witnesses in the case may have entered into with the government, known as Giglio material.
Filings from Burke’s attorneys revealed for the first time that Ald. Daniel Solis (25th Ward) entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office on Jan. 3, 2019, the same day Burke was arrested. That agreement acknowledges that Solis “admitted that he solicited campaign contributions from a real estate developer in exchange for taking official actions as the Zoning Committee Chairman.”
Defendants who enter into deferred prosecution agreements typically avoid a trial and jail time if they meet its terms.
Solis, who has not been charged with a crime, agreed to help federal agents investigate Burke after Solis was secretly recorded by a developer as part of another investigation and confronted by federal officials with evidence that he traded sex acts, Viagra, free weekend use of an Indiana farm once owned by Oprah Winfrey and a steady stream of campaign contributions for City Council actions.
Burke’s attorneys told Dow that prosecutors improperly used information gathered by Solis to convince a judge to allow them to record calls on six phone lines in Burke’s office at Chicago City Hall, starting May 1, 2017 and ending May 31, 2017 after intercepting 2,185 calls. At the time, Burke was chair of the City Council’s Finance Committee.
Dow acknowledged it would take a significant amount of time to resolve the motions filed by defense attorneys.
The next hearing in the case is set for Feb. 5, 2021.