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CHICAGO — Ald. Edward Burke, the longest serving alderman in Chicago history, has been charged with attempted extortion for “corruptly soliciting business” for his private law firm, according to a federal complaint unsealed Thursday. Burke was charged with one count of attempted extortion for conveying to company executives at a group of Burger Kings in 2017 that they’d get the permits if they signed on as clients at Burke’s private property-tax law firm in Chicago, the 37-page complaint said. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Burke’s attorney requested a preliminary hearing for Jan. 18 at 2 p.m. Burke was released on a $10,000 bond. Under the conditions of his release, he must not violate any laws, must give a DNA sample, not change his residence or phone number. He also cannot travel outside of northern Illinois with the exception of his home in Powers Lake, Wisc. Burke must also get rid of the 23 firearms he owns. Burke returned to his home near Midway International Airport Thursday evening. “I believe that I am not guilty of anything. I’m trusting what when I have my day in court there will be beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said. Read the complaint against Burke below: [scribd id=396752939 key=key-ULfJHJElRvnRmTDcWr2T mode=scroll] The complaint, which does not identify the fast-food company or the executives allegedly squeezed, includes 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 says. Emails between the executives, who the complaint says are victims and not targets of the investigation, show how worried they were about the damage Burke could do to their enterprise. “I know these guys are very powerful and they can make life very difficult for all of our Chicago stores and I do not want to take this risk,” one email said after Burke forced them to halt the renovations.
Besides the corruption charges, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Burke also shook down the owners of the Burger King for $10,000, reportedly as a contribution to Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle’s campaign fund. The FBI raided Burke’s City Hall office twice in December. “What can I say? I’ve done nothing wrong, and I’ve always cooperated with investigations in the past, and I will continue to do so,” Burke told WGN News at the time. Burke is a Chicago institution with 50 years on the City Council. He won election as Democratic committeeman for the 14th Ward in July 1968 after his father Joseph P. Burke died of lung cancer. His wife, Anne Burke, is an Illinois Supreme Court justice who recently won retention to another term. An expert on rules, Burke is a behind-the-scenes force in shaping ordinances. As Finance Committee Chair, he wields enormous influence over the city’s purse strings. Over the decades, Burke has famously faced criticism for having a Chicago police security detail. He has also come under fire for his law firm’s relationship with companies belonging to President Donald Trump. Burke is also facing a significant challenge in the Feb. 26 aldermanic race.
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. The Democrat’s law firm, Klafter & Burke, represented the high-rise tower that bears President Donald Trump’s name. There’s no indication the case is at all tied to his firm’s work for Trump. Klafter & Burke, specializing in property-tax appeals and its former clients included Trump’s luxury tower in downtown Chicago. The Chicago-Sun Times reported in 2016 that the law firm saved building enterprise $14 million by appealing property tax bills over seven years. U.S. Rep.-elect 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.