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Feds want 10 years in prison for ex-Ald. Edward Burke, saying he was 'no novice' when it came to corruption

Jason Meisner and Ray Long, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

CHICAGO — Federal prosecutors are asking for 10 years in prison for former Chicago Ald. Edward Burke, arguing in a lengthy filing late Monday that the 80-year-old Democratic machine stalwart was “steeped in corruption” and highly adept at abusing his office for personal gain.

“Again and again, Burke used his significant political power to solicit and receive bribes from entities with business before the city of Chicago—all so he could obtain legal business for his private law firm and financially benefit his close personal associates,” prosecutors wrote in their 51-page filing. “To this day, Burke has expressed no remorse for his crimes; indeed, he continues to deny he did a single thing wrong.”

The sentence requested by the U.S. attorney’s office would mean that Burke could very well die in prison. But a lengthy term behind bars is warranted, prosecutors say, given the “mountain” of evidence in the case — including hundreds of undercover recordings — that captured Burke in his own words and make it “obvious that Burke was no novice when it came to corruption.”

“Burke operated as a seasoned professional when it came to identifying new potential clients for his law firm and exploiting his power and position in order to secure their business,” prosecutors wrote.

To bolster their argument about the cost of Burke’s crimes, prosecutors estimated the overall financial loss he caused amounted to nearly $830,000.

Shortly before the midnight deadline, lawyers for Burke asked in a filing of their own for an “alternative to incarceration” such as a period of home confinement, writing Burke is a “fundamentally decent man” who did a lot of good for his city.

 

They also argued it was clear from the trial evidence that Burke “did not receive a single penny” from his offenses, “nor did he cause any serious financial harm to any party.” Even the witnesses who were allegedly being shaken down testified Burke’s demeanor was “respectful, professional, and friendly—never aggressive, threatening, nor intimidating,” Burke’s filing stated.

Burke’s sentencing before U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall on June 24 will be closely watched in Illinois political circles. He’s the most powerful politician to face jail time here since former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert was given 15 months in 2016 for paying hush money payments to cover up decades old sexual abuse of minors.

A jury in December found Burke, the longtime leader of the powerful City Council Finance Committee guilty of a series of schemes to use his considerable City Hall clout to try and win business from developers for his private property tax law firm.

Among them were efforts to woo the New York-based developers of the massive, $600 million renovation of the Old Post Office, extorting the Texas owners of a Burger King who were seeking to renovate a restaurant in Burke’s 14th Ward, and intervening on behalf of Charles Cui, a developer in Portage Park who wanted help getting a pole sign approved for a new Binny’s Beverage Depot location.

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