Jurors Hear From Ed Burke in Secret Audio, Video Recorded By Fellow Ald. Danny Solis

Former Ald. Ed Burke in federal court before U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Kendall on Nov. 16, 2023. (WTTW News)Former Ald. Ed Burke in federal court before U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Kendall on Nov. 16, 2023. (WTTW News)

When discussing redevelopment plans for the Old Post Office in August 2016, Ed Burke asked his fellow Ald. Danny Solis to “recommend the good firm of Klafter & Burke” to do tax work for the project developers.

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Evidence in Burke’s landmark corruption case moved into the third of four schemes the former 14th Ward alderman allegedly spearheaded, this one involving the massive Old Post Office building, which had been left vacant and run down for years before it was sold to 601 West Companies in 2016.

Jurors on Tuesday heard phone calls and watched videos of Burke that were secretly recorded by Solis — who agreed to cooperate with federal investigators that year after they discovered that he had used his position as chair of the city’s Zoning Committee to illegally obtain cash and trips.

The Old Post Office happens to be in the 25th Ward, which Solis represented on the City Council for 25 years. Prosecutors have alleged Burke identified the $800 million renovation of the Old Post Office, which needed an $18 million subsidy and a tax break worth $100 million from the city to move forward, as an opportunity to force the developer to hire his law firm.

Burke allegedly pledged to kick back a portion of the spoils to Soils in exchange for the Zoning Committee’s approval.

In one phone call, recorded on Aug. 26, 2016, Solis and Burke were discussing the redevelopment plans when Burke told his colleague: “While you’re at it, recommend the good firm of Klafter & Burke to do the tax work,” adding that “we can certainly talk about a marketing arraignment” for Solis as a part of that deal.

“Alright I certainly will,” Solis replied.

A month later, Solis made a video recording of a face-to-face meetup with Burke inside his office. In clips played in court Tuesday, Burke — who can be seen wearing glasses, a pinstripe suit and an American flag pin — asked for Solis to set up a meeting between Burke and the developers.

Solis then brought up the marketing arrangement Burke previously mentioned.

Burke can be heard replying: “I’m of the belief that if you get help from somebody to get some work, that they're entitled to share in it, and it’s just up to us to figure out a way that it can be done so that there’s no pitfalls, legally.

“Listen,” he added, “it wouldn’t be the first time, won’t be the last time. I’m a believer in sharing the wealth.”

A still photo from video secretly recorded by Ald. Danny Solis shows Ald. Ed Burke speaking on the phone in his office on Sept. 26, 2016. (U.S. Attorney’s Office)A still photo from video secretly recorded by Ald. Danny Solis shows Ald. Ed Burke speaking on the phone in his office on Sept. 26, 2016. (U.S. Attorney’s Office)

Burke is facing 14 charges of racketeering, bribery and extortion. He’s being tried alongside his former aide Peter Andrews and businessman Charles Cui.

All three men have pleaded not guilty, though neither Cui nor Andrews are connected to the Old Post Office allegations.

Jurors had heard evidence is recent days of a separate alleged scheme involving the remodeling of a Burger King in Burke's ward, but that testimony was put on hold Monday after one of Andrews' attorney's tested positive for COVID-19 and could not appear in court.

The role of Danny Solis

Jurors on Tuesday also heard in detail how Solis operated as a government mole, through testimony from FBI Special Agent Ryan McDonald.

When McDonald and another agent approached Solis at his  home in the morning hours of June 1, 2016, the alderperson didn’t know he’d been under investigation or that agents had intercepted some 12,000 calls on his cell phone between 2014 and 2015.

McDonald said they laid out the evidence against him — including allegations that he’d taken money, campaign contributions and trips from a developer in exchange for official action on the Zoning Committee — while speaking with Solis for 30 to 45 minutes.

Solis asked to speak with an attorney, but by the next day, he’d agreed to begin secretly recording phone calls at the FBI’s behest.

McDonald and his fellow agent had five search warrants they planned to execute that day, but ultimately opted against pursuing two of those for Solis’ City Hall and ward offices. He explained that their investigation to that point had been secret, and that by searching those locations, it would “become overt, it would be known to the public.”

According to McDonald, Solis was told to only make recordings at the FBI’s direction and he had to inform them when he made any unauthorized recordings. He was also told to inform agents if he had any substantive interactions in person that he couldn’t record.

McDonald said agents spoke with the alderperson directly or on the phone almost daily to debrief about various recordings or provide him with suggestions for future conversations.

Solis continued making recordings from 2016 into 2018, McDonald testified. He also allowed the FBI to listen in and record calls on his cell phone.

One of those suggestions involved a ruse in which Solis was told to tell Burke that 601 West would provide Klafter & Burke with property tax work if Burke agreed to assist them on the Old Post Office project. The developer had, in fact, not made any such statements to Solis, but the FBI wanted to “stimulate conversation” and identify Burke’s intentions by doing so, according to McDonald.

Burke’s attorneys have portrayed Solis as “Exhibit A” of people who are “corrupt and untruthful,” determined to save his own skin by any means necessary.

Heather Cherone contributed to this report.

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

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