Ex-Ald. Ed Burke Found Guilty of Racketeering, Bribery, Attempted Extortion in Landmark Trial

Former Ald. Ed Burke (14th Ward) was convicted Thursday of 13 of 14 counts of racketeering, bribery and extortion, bringing his landmark corruption trial to an end with a verdict that delivered a searing indictment of Chicago’s political system, which Burke used to amass power for half a century.

Burke, 79, was found guilty of one count of racketeering, two counts of federal program bribery, two counts of attempted extortion and eight counts of using interstate commerce to facilitate an unlawful activity. The jury of nine women and three men, most hailing from the Chicago suburbs, also convicted businessman Charles Cui, one of Burke’s two codefendants, on five charges. Former Burke aide Peter Andrews was acquitted on the five counts he faced.

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Burke is now the 38th member of the Chicago City Council to be convicted of a crime since 1968.

After about 23 hours of deliberation, the jury unanimously found that Burke repeatedly — and brazenly — used his powerful position at City Hall to force those doing business with the city to hire his private law firm, formerly known as Klafter & Burke.

“This case was about bribery and extortion occurring at the highest levels of Chicago city government,” Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois Morris Pasqual said. “The people have a right to honest and open government where decisions about official actions that public officials take or do not take are based not on their own private financial interest, but on the public interest. This did not happen in this case.”

Pasqual said Burke “betrayed” the public’s trust and his staff was gratified by the verdict, saying Burke will now join a “long list of corrupt City Council aldermen.”

Judge Virginia Kendall read off the list of verdicts for each defendent, staring with Cui, then Andrews and finally Burke in her 25th-floor courtoom. 

Burke showed no emotion as he was convicted of racketeering, which comes with a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. As the jury filed out of the courtroom, his wife, Anne Burke, the former chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, hugged him.

The only emotion Burke did show in the courtroom after being convicted was to smile broadly as Andrews shook hands with his attorneys.

Burke paid for the defense that sent Andrews home to celebrate Christmas as a free man.

Between April 2021 and September 2023, Burke paid Andrews $185,000 for consulting services, according to records filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections. Since the FBI raided Burke’s office in November 2018, his campaign committees paid Andrews $220,000, records show.

Burke, flanked by his wife and defense team, left the courthouse following the verdicts without speaking to media.

Former Ald. Ed Burke shows no reaction as 13 guilty verdicts are read out in his corruption trial on Dec. 21, 2023. Former Ald. Ed Burke shows no reaction as 13 guilty verdicts are read out in his corruption trial on Dec. 21, 2023.

Once the jury was gone, Andrews quietly celebrated his acquittal by hugging his lawyers, Patrick Blegen and Todd Pugh, who convinced the jury he had nothing to do with Burke's efforts to extort the owner of a Burger King.

The jury believed their argument that Andrews — whom they referred to as “lunch pail Pete and part-time Pete” — did not help Burke shake down the owners of the eatery. The jury also found he did not lie to the FBI when he denied knowing the owners, a father and son duo from Texas.

Andrews’ attorneys said in a statement they were grateful the jury agreed with their argument that their client “did not belong in this indictment.”

“Pete served the city of Chicago for 35 years and remains devoted to the people of the 14th Ward, his childhood home,” Pugh and Blegen said.

Burke is scheduled to be sentenced June 19, two days after Cui. Andrews was released and allowed to go home following his acquittal.

Read More: With Racketeering Conviction, Ex-Ald. Ed Burke Joins Long Line of Chicago, Illinois Leaders Found Guilty of Corruption

The verdict capped a six-week trial, which included testimony from three dozen witnesses and 100 recordings made as part of a court-authorized wiretap and undercover efforts by disgraced former Ald. Danny Solis (25th Ward).

The jury apparently rejected the arguments made by Burke’s defense attorneys that Solis was a “con man” who was desperate to find something he could use to save his own skin. Federal prosecutors have called Solis the most important government informant in Illinois political history.

The verdict came more than five years after FBI agents raided Burke’s City Hall and ward offices, carting away boxes of evidence and setting off a political earthquake that led to the election of Lori Lightfoot to replace former Mayor Rahm Emanuel while derailing the political careers of Burke’s allies and friends.

The longest serving member of the Chicago City Council in history, Burke has a legacy that is now indelibly tarnished, and the city he proclaimed to love is once again tarred by corruption.

The verdict also ensures that Burke’s turns of phrase captured on the wiretaps and hidden recordings made by Solis are enshrined as part of Chicago’s long history of political corruption.

“So, did we, uh, land the tuna?” Burke asked Solis. “If we land the tuna there certainly will be a day of accounting, you can count on that.”

Burke wasn’t done.

“If we’re not signed up, we’re not going to do heavy lifting,” Burke said. “The cash register has not rung yet.”

Had he been acquitted, Burke would have been remembered for the role he played in leading a group of White City Council members who worked to stymie Chicago’s first Black chief executive, Mayor Harold Washington, touching off what came to be known as Council Wars in the 1980s.

But by convicting Burke of racketeering, a charge usually brought against members of the mob or street gangs, the jury determined that Burke operated at City Hall like a mafia don, shaking down those who needed or desired an official action from their elected leaders.

Three of the charges Burke was convicted of are each punishable by a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, one of the charges each are punishable by a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and the other eight charges each are punishable by a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

While federal sentencing guidelines will mean Burke will not face the maximum sentence of 120 years, he is likely to face a significant sentence. On Dec. 29, Burke is set to turn 80.

Peter Andrews, a former aide to Ed Burke, shakes hands with lawyer Patrick Blegen after he is acquitted on all charges against him. Peter Andrews, a former aide to Ed Burke, shakes hands with lawyer Patrick Blegen after he is acquitted on all charges against him.

Andrews, 73, of Chicago, was acquitted of one count of attempted extortion, one count of conspiracy to commit extortion, two counts of using interstate commerce to facilitate an unlawful activity and one count of making a false statement to the FBI.

Andrews worked for Burke as an aide and stood accused of helping Burke attempt to extort the owners of a Burger King in the 14th Ward on the city’s Southwest Side. Andrews had faced a maximum sentence of 50 years in prison. 

Cui, 52, of Lake Forest, was convicted of one count of federal program bribery, three counts of using interstate commerce to facilitate an unlawful activity and one count of making a false statement to the FBI. He faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

Cui was convicted of bribing Burke by hiring his law firm. Cui is a businessman who transformed a long-vacant Six Corners bank building into a Binny’s Beverage Depot, Culver’s and gym.

After city officials denied Cui’s request for a large pole sign outside the former bank, he bribed Burke to get a permit for the sign and then lied to FBI agents.

Cui was not in the courtroom when he was convicted on all counts, after five other people involved in the trial contracted COVID-19. That sickness delayed the trial by more than a week, pushing deliberations to the Christmas holiday.

‘He Grossly Overplayed His Hand’

Following the verdicts, former Mayor Lori Lightfoot — whose initial mayoral campaign was buoyed by Burke’s 2019 indictment — released a statement saying Burke “should rightfully be remembered as a man who elevated personal ambition and greed over doing the people's work.”

“But like many before who feasted on their gluttonous power, Burke was felled because this total lack of accountability made him foolishly think he was invincible,” Lightfoot said. “So he grossly overplayed his hand. He dug his own grave and jumped in.”

Current Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, who took office as Burke exited his City Council seat, also reacted to the verdict.

“Elected officials are responsible for serving with honesty and integrity, with a moral responsibility to their constituents to uphold and abide by the law,” his statement reads. “In the case that they fail to do so, it is imperative that they are held accountable. That is what the jury decided today.”

Pasqual, the acting U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, said the reason no charges were brought sooner was “a function of what evidence is available to us.” He also defended the government’s use of audio and video recordings secretly made by Solis — who will not face any prison time after facing his own bribery charge. 

“We feel like we presented the best evidence going to show Ald. Burke’s knowledge and intent: the words out of his own mouth,” Pasqual said. “And we don’t regret that trial strategy one bit.”

Asked if he believes this verdict would make any dent in the public corruption cases that continue to plague Chicago and Illinois, Pasqual responded: “That’s the $64,000 question.” 

“All I can say is what I said before: We are determined to continue to investigate these cases using any and all lawful tools at our disposal to ferret out that corruption,” Pasqual said.

U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall and members of the jury gather to announce the verdicts in the trial of former Chicago Ald. Ed Burke. U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall and members of the jury gather to announce the verdicts in the trial of former Chicago Ald. Ed Burke.

Four Schemes Detailed

During the six-week trial, prosecutors detailed Burke’s involvement in four criminal schemes, depicting the former alderperson as “thoroughly corrupt,” three involving his side hustle as a property tax attorney.

Burke was convicted of orchestrating all four schemes.

The most elaborate scheme involved the Old Post Office, the massive building that straddles the Eisenhower Expressway at the edge of the Loop. Vacant for nearly 25 years after the departure of the U.S. Postal Service, the landmark’s fortunes began to reverse when the building was purchased by New York-based 601 West Companies, which planned to spend $800 million to renovate the massive structure into offices.

But to make that financially possible, the developers needed significant help from City Hall, which meant they needed the backing of Burke, the chair of the powerful Finance Committee, and Solis, the chair of the Zoning Committee.

The jury convicted Burke, working with Solis, whose ward included the Old Post Office, of holding up that assistance in an attempt to force the Old Post Office developer to hire Burke’s private law firm, which specialized in getting companies breaks on their property taxes by appealing to county officials.

Burke pledged to kick back a portion of the spoils to Solis in return for his approval of an $18 million subsidy and a tax break worth $100 million, prosecutors alleged.

The very first charge levied against Burke in January 2019 — attempted extortion — involved a similar scheme, this one involving the owners of a Burger King in Burke’s 14th Ward.

In 2017, the owners of the fast-food joint needed city permits to renovate the eatery at 4060 S. Pulaski Road. Under the City Council’s decades-long tradition of aldermanic prerogative, they needed Burke’s sign-off — and prosecutors say Burke sought to explicitly withhold that permission until the owners hired his private law firm to appeal their property taxes.

Burke also urged the Burger King executives to donate campaign cash to Toni Preckwinkle, who was running for another term as president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners at the time. Preckwinkle’s connection to Burke was enough to torpedo her 2019 run for mayor, even as she won reelection as county board president in 2022.

A longtime aide to Burke, Andrews was acquitted of participating in the attempted extortion of the Burger King restaurant.

While Burke’s attorneys repeatedly told the jury that neither the developers of the Old Post Office nor the Burger King owners ended up hiring Burke as their property tax appeal attorney, Cui, the businessman determined to put a pole sign outside his redeveloped bank building, did as part of a bribery scheme, the jury decided.

The pole sign was never erected.

Burke was also convicted of threatening to block a fee increase at a museum in 2017 because officials didn’t agree to hire a friend’s daughter as an intern.

The jury agreed with prosecutors that Burke intervened to help the daughter of former Ald. Terry Gabinski (32nd Ward) get a job at the Field Museum. Eventually the fee hike was approved, and Gabinski’s daughter never took a job at the museum.

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