Chicago Alderman Burke says 'I've done nothing wrong' in response to federal attempted extortion charge
Longtime Chicago Alderman Ed Burke, who faces a single count of attempted extortion released in a federal criminal complaint unsealed Thursday, told reporters later that day that he is not guilty of the charge.
"I'm not guilty of anything, and I'm trusting that when I have my day in court, that will be clear beyond a reasonable doubt," Burke told reporters outside his home as he arrived Thursday evening following his first court appearance in the case. "I look forward to trying this case in court. I've done nothing wrong."
Burke's comments followed unsealing of a 38-page criminal complaint filed by the FBI in U.S. District Court for Illinois's Northern District. The affidavit that makes up the bulk of the complaint alleges enough probable cause to support of charge against Burke of attempting, by extortion, to obstruct and affect commerce.
Allegations against Burke include attempting in 2017 to shake down executives of a national fast-food restaurant chain who were attempting to obtain remodeling permits, according to the complaint. Burke allegedly informed the executives they could get the permits if they became clients of his private property tax law firm, Klafter & Burke.
The complaint also quotes Burke in conversations from May 2017 to January 2018 about attempts to extort two out-of-state businessmen. In recorded conversations, Burke allegedly advised staffers to play "hard ball" with the two men after he found out they intended to move ahead with their plans without hiring his law firm.
In November, Federal agents and other law enforcement officers raided Burke's office and papered over its windows.
Often referred to as the city's most powerful alderman, Burke, who turned 75 in late December, is the longest-serving alderman on the Chicago City Council, having been first elected to the seat in the southwest 14th Ward in 1969. Burke chairs the council's Finance Committee, he presides over the Cook County Democratic Party's judicial slatemaking and he is the husband of Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke.
Burke, who has been unopposed in many previous re-election bids, faces opposition in Chicago's General Election in February from candidates Tanya Patino, Jose Luis Torres, Jaime Guzman and Irene Corral.