CHICAGOLAND: Top official finally charged with Extortion

Longtime Ald. Edward Burke, one of Chicago’s most powerful figures and a vestige of the city’s old Democratic machine, has often been considered too clever and sophisticated to be caught blatantly using his public office to enrich himself.

But after years of dodging investigations while watching dozens of his colleagues hauled off to prison, Burke has been accused of crossing the line himself — and doing so in a quintessential Chicago way.

A federal criminal complaint unsealed Thursday charged Burke with attempted extortion for allegedly using his position as alderman to try to steer business to his private law firm from a company seeking to renovate a fast-food restaurant in his ward. The charge carries a maximum of 20 years in prison on conviction.

The complaint also alleged Burke asked one of the company’s executives in December 2017 to attend an upcoming political fundraiser for "another politician." Sources identified the politician as Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who is running for Chicago mayor.

The case filed in U.S. District Court comes five weeks after the FBI carried out a stunning raid on Burke’s City Hall office, working for hours behind windows covered with brown butcher paper before leaving down a back staircase with computers and files.

The unveiling of the highly anticipated charges touched off a wild sceneThursday at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, where Burke turned himself in to federal prosecutors before appearing before a magistrate judge in a packed courtroom on the building’s 17th floor.

Dressed in a charcoal pinstriped suit, pink tie and his trademark pocket square, the silver-haired Burke, who turned 75 last week, sat with his attorneys before the hearing began, reviewing the charges with a deep frown on his face.

When the case was called, Burke walked to the lectern, buttoning his suit coat and standing with his hands at his sides while clasping and unclasping his fingers.

After Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu detailed the charges, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheila Finnegan asked Burke if he understood them.

“Yes, your honor,” Burke answered firmly.

Prosecutors revealed during the 10-minute hearing that the FBI found 23 guns in the raids on Burke’s City Hall and ward offices in November. As a condition of his bond, Burke, a former Chicago police officer, was ordered to surrender the firearms and any others he may own within 48 hours of his release.

Full Chicago Tribune Story....