Former alderman Willie Cochran sentenced to 1 year in prison in public corruption case

CHICAGO — A federal judge sentenced disgraced former Alderman Willie Cochran to one year in prison for wire fraud Monday.

In court Cochran seemed regretful, telling the judge he's "better than" the charges and he's ashamed. But as soon as the sentence came down Monday, he seemed to change his tune.

"The first mistake I made was to plead guilty,” Cochran said afterwards.

Cochran said he was unhappy with the sentence and accused prosecutors of lying and hiding evidence. He had requested probation and six months home incarceration, arguing that jail time for aldermen has not historically stemmed political corruption in city hall.

“We will come back and get everything back that that devil stole from us,” Cochran said.

In March, Cochran admitted he used his ward charity as a piggy bank to pay for a gambling habit, expensive meals, upgrades for his Mercedes, spa services for his wife and his daughter’s college tuition.

Prosecutors say Cochran shook down at least 19 people with business interests in his area for cash, promising the money would be used to help needy kids in the 20th ward, which is one of the most violent and disenfranchised in the city.

Instead, he pocketed at least $14,000 for himself, despite the fact that he was making $137,000 a year between his Chicago police pension and his aldermanic salary.

Cochran’s lawyers said Monday the alderman just made some bad decisions when he was addicted to gambling and his wife was sick, and he is deeply apologetic for violating the public’s trust. He insists the vast majority of the money was used for charity.

“I’ve been successful and hardworking all my life. And I am going to be that way. This is a bump in the road,” Cochran said.

Cochran was first elected in 2007, and was indicted on 15 counts of theft, bribery and extortion more than two years ago. He pled guilty to one count of wire fraud and resigned as alderman in March.

Cochran’s lawyers also argued that prison has done little in terms of curbing corruption in City Council, and he has no plans to run for public office again. But the judge said he wanted to set an example for other public officials.

“For those who may be tempted to go over the line a sentence of imprisonment, it does mean something,” U.S. Attorney John Lausch said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot was critical of the sentence Monday, calling it shameful and too lenient, calling it a "slap on the wrist."

“I don’t think it sends the right message," Lightfoot said.

Cochran will head to prison August 23 to serve one year and one day behind bars, followed by two years of supervised release.

The U.S. attorney refused to comment on other ongoing public corruption investigations Monday, including Alderman Ed Burke, who has been indicted for racketeering, and Ald. Carrie Austin, whose office was raided just last week the FBI.

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