It’s been three years since federal prosecutors returned a sweeping indictment against 14th Ward Alderman Ed Burke, alleging he wielded his political powers to enrich himself and win business for his private property tax appeal law firm.
But since the charges dropped, not much has happened.
Burke remains in office, still collecting a taxpayer-funded salary, as his case winds through the courts.
The sluggish pace is not unique to Burke, the city’s longest serving alderman.
According to data, reviewed by WGN Investigates, Chicago’s federal criminal court system is one of the slowest in the nation, ranking 89th out of 94 districts for the time cases take from filing to disposition.
“Delay is the best friend of the defense attorney,” says Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice.
A Burke attorney didn’t return messages seeking comment. But it’s been reported his case’s slow pace is due, in part, to the volume of evidence that includes 9,475 recorded phone calls.
In all, Burke is charged with 14 counts of racketeering, attempted extortion, conspiracy to commit extortion, and using interstate commerce to facilitate an unlawful activity.
The charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. He has denied any wrongdoing.
WGN Investigates asked U.S. District Chief Rebecca Pallmeyer about the backlog of cases.
In a statement, she says, “The median length of time from filing to trial in our felony cases is a matter of concern to us” but “statistics do not fully take account of the complexity of criminal cases typically brought in a district of our size”
She notes the metrics had been improving but took a hit during the pandemic.
“As we address the backlog, the Court will continue to prioritize criminal cases that involve defendants who are in custody,” she adds.