COVID-19 Slows Former Ald. Ed Burke’s Corruption Trial For Second Time as Testimony Around Burger King Allegations Continues

Former Ald. Ed Burke observes testimony about Chicago’s 14th Ward, which he represented for 54 years, during a federal trial on Nov. 17, 2023. (WTTW News)Former Ald. Ed Burke observes testimony about Chicago’s 14th Ward, which he represented for 54 years, during a federal trial on Nov. 17, 2023. (WTTW News)

The trial of former Chicago Ald. Ed Burke has run into COVID-19 issues for the second time this month.

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But unlike last time when the landmark corruption case was put on hold for a week, proceedings continued briefly Monday before the parties broke until Tuesday.

“We’ve had a bit of a change of plans today,” Judge Virginia Kendall told jurors Monday. “Once again some things have happened to give us a little bit of a glitch in our proceedings.”

Federal prosecutors, who have called Burke “a bribe-taker and ... an extortionist,” plan to detail his involvement in four criminal schemes as part of their bid to depict the former alderperson as “thoroughly corrupt,” three involving his side hustle as a property tax attorney.

He is charged alongside his former aide Peter Andrews and businessman Charles Cui.

The case concluded last week ahead of Thanksgiving with jurors hearing evidence relating to remodeling work at a Burger King restaurant located in Burke’s ward in 2017.

Andrews is also charged in connection with this alleged scheme, but it was one of his defense attorneys who tested positive Monday morning.

Rather than sending jurors home for the day, Kendall allowed one witness — Pam Smith, an official with Tri-City Foods, which owned the Burger King — to finish her testimony Monday. The sick attorney was able to participate in Monday’s testimony through a remote video link.

Last week, Shoukat Dhanani — the head of the company that owns the Burger King around 150 fast food restaurants across Illinois — testified that he believed Burke intentionally held up the remodeling project because he hadn’t hired Burke’s property tax law firm.

Jurors also heard Burke ask Andrews in a recorded phone conversation from Oct. 24, 2017: “What was the issue? Why was I able to hold that up? What did they need from me?”

That same day, Smith wrote in an email to her colleagues in reference to Burke’s office: “I know these guys are very powerful and they can make life very difficult for all of our Chicago stores and I do not want to take this risk at this time until we meet and discuss everything.”

She also expressed concern they could “send the Health Department and start messing around with us,” though under cross examination she stated this concern was based on her own speculation, rather than any specific threat made. 

The project, which was scheduled to last about six weeks between October and November, was halted through the end of 2017 and wasn’t concluded until the following year, Smith testified.

Prosecutors are expected to begin presenting evidence relating to a different alleged scheme when the case resumes Tuesday.

Contact Matt Masterson: @ByMattMasterson[email protected] | (773) 509-5431

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