One of the most powerful Democratic City Council members in Chicago has been charged with extortion, accused of trying to shake down a fast-food restaurant seeking remodeling permits, said a federal complaint unsealed Thursday.
Alderman Ed Burke, 75, is charged with one count of attempted extortion for conveying to company executives of a Burger King in 2017 that they’d get the permits if they signed on as clients at his private property tax law firm, the 37-page complaint said.
A conviction carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence.
Burke made an initial appearance on Thursday in U.S. District Court in Chicago. A preliminary hearing is set for the afternoon of Jan 18.
The Democrat’s law firm, Klafter & Burke, represented the high-rise tower that bears President Trump’s name. There’s no indication the case is at all tied to his firm’s work for Trump.
Klafter & Burke specializes in property tax appeals, and its former clients included Trump’s luxury tower in downtown Chicago.
Newly elected Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and other Burke critics in Chicago’s Hispanic community have drawn attention to that tax work in a bid to hurt Burke politically.
Burke joins a long list of Chicago lawmakers charged criminally, including former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is serving a 14-year prison term on multiple federal corruption convictions.
Burke has been on the council in Chicago for 50 years and has chaired its finance committee for the last three decades, Fox 32 reported.
The Chicago Tribune added that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said it’s “unacceptable” for Burke to continue in his role as chairman of the finance committee; a vote to force him out may take place at the City Council’s next meeting Jan. 23.
Burke’s wife, Anne, is an Illinois Supreme Court justice. His father also was influential in Democratic circles in Chicago until his death in the 1960s. Other Burke relatives also have been involved in Illinois politics.
Since the 1970s, nearly three dozen aldermen have been convicted. A common joke in Chicago is that so many aldermen had gone to prison that when they saw each other behind bars they’d holler, “Quorum call!”
Burke is associated by Chicagoans with insider benefits long accorded alderman. A city inspectors report in 2016 found snow removal crews plowed the street where he lived far more often than other streets after a 2015 storm. They worked his street 46 times in five days, the report said.
Burke said after FBI raids on his offices at City Hall and in his Southwest Side ward in November that he was sure agents wouldn’t find anything “amiss.”
The complaint, which did not identify the fast-food company or the executives allegedly squeezed, included excerpts from wiretaps of Burke’s phone and emails seized in the raids.
When the executives didn’t give Burke’s law firm the business he wanted, Burke spoke with one of his ward employees about how they would “play hard” ball with the company, the complaint said.
Fox News’ Jim Murphy and The Associated Press contributed to this report.