After a nearly three-week-long trial, former Chicago City Council member Edward Burke was found guilty on Thursday of 13 out of 14 corruption charges, including racketeering, bribery, and attempted extortion. The 79-year-old Democrat had served on the council for over 50 years and was considered one of the most powerful figures in Chicago politics.
The prosecution argued that Burke had used his position of power to pressure private developers into hiring his law firm, which he co-owns with his wife, former Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Anne Burke. According to the charges, Burke engaged in corrupt activities between 2016 and 2018, including attempting to extort a Burger King franchise owner and leveraging the approval of building permits for the renovation of the Old Post Office.
In one instance, Burke allegedly threatened to delay the opening of a Burger King restaurant in his former ward unless the owners hired his law firm for tax services. "I will play as hard ball as I can," a political aide said in a recorded call after Burke informed him that he was "playing nice" with the Burger King owners, but they had yet to respond to his demands. This episode was just one of several listed in the indictment.
Another key piece of evidence presented by the prosecution was the cooperation of former alderman Danny Solis, who wore a wire for the FBI for two years in order to avoid prosecution. In recorded calls between the two, Burke can be heard pressuring Solis to influence the approval of building permits for the Old Post Office.
Flanked by family members and attorneys, former Ald. Edward Burke (14th) walks out of the Dirksen Federal Courthouse after being found guilty of racketeering, bribery and attempted extortion.https://t.co/DCNartUFFm by @SeidelContent & @MariahWoelfel pic.twitter.com/Hb7aqIlaiX
— Ashlee Rezin (@Ashlee_Rezin) December 21, 2023
Throughout the trial, the defense argued that Burke was simply doing his job as a politician, advocating for his constituents and using his influence to bring business to the city. However, prosecutors successfully convinced the jury that Burke had crossed a line and violated the trust of the public he was meant to serve.
In a statement following the verdict, acting U.S. Attorney for Chicago Morris Pasqual said, "This case was about bribery and extortion occurring at the highest levels of Chicago city government. The public voted Mr. Burke into office, and they trusted that he would be guided by pursuing the common good. He betrayed that trust."
Burke's wife, Anne Burke, was also implicated in the corruption scheme but has not been charged. She currently serves as a member of the Illinois Supreme Court.
Burke now faces potentially decades in prison, with each of the charges carrying a sentence of up to 20 years. His sentencing is scheduled for June 19. After the verdict was announced, Burke left the courthouse with his wife without speaking to the media.
Many see Burke's conviction as a significant moment for Chicago, a city long marred by corruption and political cronyism. U.S. Attorney John Lausch, Jr. summed up the significance of the verdict, stating, "Today's conviction of Alderman Burke is a sad day, but it is also a day to recognize the jury's effort to make sure that no one is above the law."