Video: The WTTW News Spotlight Politics team breaks down the day’s biggest headlines. Joining the team is guest Justin Laurence, a politics and government reporter at Crain’s Chicago Business. (Produced by Paul Caine)
Federal prosecutors do not plan to ask disgraced former Ald. Danny Solis — who admitted to taking bribes as the powerful chair of Chicago’s Zoning Committee — to testify against former Ald. Ed Burke, who is facing a trial in two months on 14 counts of racketeering, bribery and extortion.
After Solis was confronted by federal agents probing him, he agreed to work as a government informant and recorded hundreds of hours of conversations as part of investigations against Burke and former House Speaker Michael Madigan, officials said.
Prosecutors will only call Solis if his testimony becomes necessary for admission of tapes or an entrapment defense is asserted, said attorney Charles Sklarsky, one of several high-powered defense attorneys representing Burke, once the most powerful politician in Chicago.
Burke is set to stand trial on Nov. 6.
U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall ordered representatives of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois, which is prosecuting Burke, to tell his attorneys no later than Wednesday whether they would put Solis on the stand.
Representatives of the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment when contacted by WTTW News.
Federal prosecutors will now have to convince a jury that Burke repeatedly and brazenly used his elected office to force those doing business with the city to hire his private law firm — without hearing from the man who worked as a government informant and recorded hundreds of hours of conversations with Burke.
Solis — who admitted to taking bribes as the powerful chair of Chicago’s Zoning Committee — entered into a deferred prosecution agreement accepted by a judge that will likely mean Solis will avoid prison and keep his city pension once the trials of Burke and Madigan are complete.
During an April 2022 court hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu called Solis one of the most significant government informants and witnesses of the last several decades.
Had Solis been called to testify, it would have been a blockbuster moment in Chicago’s long and sordid history of political corruption.
In addition to proving evidence against his longtime friend and colleague Burke, Solis was also recording Madigan, who served as speaker of the Illinois House for 36 years and led the Illinois Democratic Party for 20 years.
Madigan is charged with participating in bribery schemes with Commonwealth Edison and AT&T, as well as illegally steering business to his private property tax law firm amid efforts to turn a vacant piece of land in Chinatown into a commercial development.
As part of the agreement that will likely keep him out of prison, Solis admitted taking a total of $15,000 from three executives of an unidentified firm in August and September 2015, shortly before and after he supported the zoning change they requested and shepherded it through the City Council. He also demanded that the executives attend fundraisers for his campaign and solicit contributions from other people.
Solis signed the eight-page agreement on Dec. 26, 2018, exactly one month after telling WTTW News he would not run for reelection and would leave the Chicago City Council after 23 years. It would be more than three years before members of the public — and the voters who elected him to represent them for more than two decades — learned the terms of his agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which required him to end his career of public service.
However, the fact that Solis flipped and agreed to help investigators probe Burke would not be secret for long.
On Jan. 23, 2019, the Chicago Sun-Times reported Solis agreed to secretly record Burke after Solis was accused by federal agents of accepting sex acts, Viagra, free weekend use of an Indiana farm once owned by Oprah Winfrey and a steady stream of campaign contributions in return for City Council actions.
At the time federal officials allege Solis and Burke were both taking bribes, the two alderpeople were among the most powerful officials at City Hall, with Solis leading the Zoning Committee and Burke controlling the Finance Committee.