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CHICAGO — After years of delay, Alderman Edward Burke finally has a trial date in his blockbuster federal racketeering case. But don’t hold your breath.
During a status hearing in the case Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Robert Dow set the date for jury selection for Nov. 6, 2023, nearly five years after Burke’s City Hall offices were raided by the FBI and months after the next citywide election, where Burke could potentially be vying for a record 14th full term.
The trial is expected to last about six weeks.
Burke, 78, was originally charged in a criminal complaint in January 2019. He was indicted four months later on 14 counts including racketeering, federal program bribery, attempted extortion, conspiracy to commit extortion and using interstate commerce to facilitate an unlawful activity.
The 59-page indictment outlined a series of schemes in which Burke allegedly tried to muscle developers into hiring his law firm, Klafter & Burke, to appeal their property taxes. Among the projects Burke tried to capitalize on was the massive $800 million renovation of the Old Post Office in the West Loop, according to the charges.
Also charged was Burke’s longtime aide, Peter Andrews, who was accused of assisting the alderman in attempting to shake down two business owners seeking to renovate a Burger King restaurant in the 14th Ward.
The indictment also accused developer Charles Cui of hiring Burke’s law firm in exchange for the alderman’s help with a sign permit and financing deal for a project in the Portage Park neighborhood.
All three have pleaded not guilty.
Dow set the trial date in the first hearing since he denied a slew of pretrial motions by the defense team seeking to suppress evidence and toss certain charges the racketeering indictment.
Burke’s attorneys argued in a motion filed in August 2020 that evidence gleaned from the wiretaps on Burke’s cellphone and City Hall offices, which allowed the FBI to monitor thousands of conversations the alderman had over the course of nearly a year, should be suppressed.
They accused prosecutors of directing then-Alderman Daniel Solis, who was secretly cooperating in the investigation, to have “scripted interactions” with Burke and to lie to curry favor with the government. At the time, Solis himself had been recorded “committing a number of different crimes,” the motion stated.
But Dow said in his ruling that Burke’s arguments “largely go to the strength of the evidence, not the sufficiency of the indictment and wiretap application.” It will be up to the jury to assess whether the government has proved the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt at trial, Dow said.
Dow also said prosecutors had sufficiently charged Burke under the federal bribery statute, and that numerous statements Burke allegedly made on the recorded calls — such as threatening to withhold assistance to a developer because “the cash register has not rung yet” — could be construed as a quid pro quo.
The setting of a trial date has been delayed for years by both the ongoing pandemic and the complexity of the charges.
Meanwhile, Burke’s current term on the City Council seat ends in May. He will have to announce by later this year whether he’s seeking reelection to the 14th Ward seat he’s held since 1969.