Ed Burke deserves 10 years in prison for corruption, federal prosecutors say

Federal prosecutors say ex-Ald. Edward M. Burke should be sentenced this month to 10 years in prison for illegally wielding his considerable clout to strong-arm developers and threaten one of Chicago’s cultural icons for his own benefit.

That would amount to one of the harshest public corruption sentences handed down in the city’s federal court in the last decade. Burke turned 80 a week after his conviction last December.

“He abused and exploited his office by pursuing his own personal and financial interests over a course of years,” prosecutors wrote in a 51-page court memo Monday. “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.”

Meanwhile, Burke’s lawyers are asking a judge to give him no prison time, which they say would “be a powerful and just expression of mercy for an 80-year old man in the twilight of his life who has given so much of himself to so many and for so many years.”

Among those who wrote letters supporting Burke are 38th Ward Ald. Nicholas Sposato, former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb, the Rev. Michael Pfleger, former Illinois first lady Jayne Carr Thompson and former Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy.

It’s been more than five years since the feds raided Burke’s offices before eventually charging him with racketeering. Now, Chicago’s longest-serving City Council member is two weeks away from his sentencing hearing June 24.

It could be one of the most closely watched sentencing hearings at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in years.

If U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall were to grant the feds’ request, it wouldn’t be the first 10-year sentence she handed down for corruption. She gave a decade to former City Hall staffer John Bills after a corruption trial in 2016.

Prosecutors noted that Burke no longer holds public office, but that it was “apparent from the character letters received so far” that strong allies of Burke still “lurk in the bowels of City government and walk in its corridors of power.

“It would be naïve to think that there is anything stopping Burke, the consummate political insider with his coterie of misguided friends and well-wishers, from engaging in the same type of conduct in conjunction with public officials in the future,” the prosecution’s memo reads. “For this reason, a sentence that specifically deters Burke is necessary to protect the public from his future criminal acts.”

Prosecutors said they considered Burke’s age when recommending the “low end” of federal sentencing guidelines, but that ultimately “Burke used his age to his advantage to help him carry out his crimes” when he was in his 70s.

“Burke projected power, confidence, and ease in his daily public life. Burke certainly did not appear to be an elderly man in bad health,” prosecutors wrote. “To the contrary, Burke knew what he was doing, aggressively pursued what he wanted, and juggled a busy schedule while carrying out multiple, simultaneous criminal acts.”

A federal jury found Burke guilty in December of 13 counts that included racketeering, bribery and attempted extortion. The case against him involved schemes centering on the Field Museum, the Old Post Office straddling the Eisenhower Expressway, a Burger King in Burke’s 14th Ward and a Binny’s Beverage Depot on the Northwest Side.

“As Edward Burke would have it, a senior public official at the pinnacle of his power in the City of Chicago can solicit bribes, extort the lesser privileged, and shake down local businesses for years on end, deny his guilt and express no remorse” and then “happily retire to the comfort of his own home” after a conviction, the prosecutors wrote Monday.

But they added, “Burke is dead wrong.”

More Coverage
Prosecutors are expected to reveal on Monday how much time they think Burke should serve. His defense attorneys are also expected to make public the ‘large volume of letters’ they say they’ve received on his behalf.
Four letters written by Vallas and others in Burke’s case became public Tuesday at the urging of the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Public Media. Burke is set to be sentenced June 24 following his conviction for racketeering, bribery and attempted extortion.
Burke’s legal retirement marks a shift from earlier this month, when the state listed him as eligible to practice law despite his federal conviction.
Appeals Justice Jesse Reyes called on his Democratic primary opponent to say if she recused herself when the court failed to suspend Burke’s law license.
The former alderman’s wife, Anne Burke, served as chief justice of the state’s highest court for three years before her tenure ended in 2022.
A federal jury found former Chicago Ald. Burke guilty in December of racketeering, bribery and attempted extortion.
The Chicago City Council icon turned felon is entitled to more than $540,000 he paid into a city pension fund — and a nearly $2.5 million payout from his campaign fund.
There’s affection and respect for the man who mentored far more colleagues than he bullied during his record 54-year reign. Ald. Ray Lopez said Burke’s ‘fingerprints are on so much of what is Chicago. To have this as the final act of a remarkable career is a tragedy.’
A jury of nine women and three men heard from 38 witnesses over 16 days of testimony as prosecutors made their case that Burke was “a bribe taker” and “an extortionist.”
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