‘They all need somebody that does what I do’ : Unsealed affidavit reveals new details in Ald. Edward Burke corruption probe

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·8 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Edward M. Burke
    Chicago alderman
  • Daniel Solis
    American politician

An FBI search warrant affidavit that led to the 2018 raid on Ald. Edward Burke’s City Hall offices was made public Friday, providing new detail on the hundreds of audio and video recordings made in the political corruption case that rocked Chicago politics three years ago.

The 163-page affidavit, which was partially redacted before being docketed by prosecutors, paints a picture of Burke at the height of his power as chairman of the city Finance Committee, accusing him of constantly prowling for new business for his private law firm and making repeated offers to grease the wheels at City Hall for those he favored.

The recordings allegedly caught Burke dressing down a Field Museum official over a perceived slight, cursing after developers failed to quickly respond to his request to hire his law firm, and making antisemitic remarks about Jewish lawyers.

The document also quotes Burke in lighter moments, remarking, “I might be a dinosaur” when asked why he still used AOL as his online service provider and griping about a noncommittal response from one developer with the line, “If ifs and buts were candies and nuts, every day would be Christmas.”

Many of the recordings described in the affidavit were made by then-Ald. Daniel Solis, who was secretly cooperating with federal investigators after he was allegedly caught illegally soliciting campaign donations from people seeking to do business in his ward.

One of those tapes was of a meeting in October 2016 in Solis’ City Hall office with developers renovating Chicago’s old main post office, which is at the center of the corruption charges against Burke.

After the developers left, Burke and Solis talked at about getting them and others needing City Council action to hire Burke’s law firm to do property tax reductions, according to the affidavit.

After Solis asked whether there were any “legal problems” with what they were proposing, Burke told him, “not that I know of,” according to the document.

“Hey you’re not gonna get in any trouble, and I’m certainly not gonna get in any trouble at this stage in the game,” Burke said, according to the affidavit.

Before Burke left the office, he told Solis to bring him any other developers who might be in need of his assistance. “There are a lot of developers,” Solis allegedly responded.

“They all, ah, they all need somebody that does what I do,” Burke replied, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit was filed Nov. 21, 2018, in support of search warrant for Burke’s offices at City Hall, his ward office on West 51st Street, his cellphone, as well as Burke himself. Agents asked in the document for permission to press the alderman’s fingers onto his phone to unlock it if necessary.

The raid took place eight days later, with agents posting butcher paper over the windows of Burke’s offices and later hauling out computer equipment and boxes of evidence.

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 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 businessmen 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.

Burke’s attorneys argued in a motion filed last year 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 Solis to have “scripted interactions” with Burke and lie about the post office deal to curry favor with the government. At the time, Solis himself had been recorded “committing a number of different crimes,” the motion stated.

Burke’s attorneys also revealed that Solis entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the government on Jan. 3, 2019, the same day Burke was first charged. It was soon after Solis had abruptly announced his retirement and just days before court records were erroneously unsealed showing Solis had been secretly recorded by a developer.

U.S. District Judge Robert Dow is expected to hear arguments in the coming months covering the various motions to dismiss before issuing a written ruling later this year. A trial date has not been set.

Among the new conversations documented in the affidavit was a January 2018 meeting between Burke and Solis where Burke allegedly expressed a desire to get an “assist with the reelection” of his brother, state Rep. Dan Burke, a Chicago Democrat who was being challenged in the March primary that year by Aaron Ortiz, a high school guidance counselor.

Burke complained that it could cost him $500,000 now that his brother’s opponent had the support of a major backer, according to the affidavit. The affidavit did not identify the backer, but one of Ortiz’ biggest supporters at the time was then-Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who went on to win a seat in Congress.

The FBI believed Burke was indicating to Solis he would take official action to help the post office project in return for assistance to his brother’s political campaign, which would garner “substantial economic savings” for the alderman, according to the affidavit.

“Bottom line ... I don’t care about this guys,” Burke said. “If we get business, we get business. If we don’t, I’m going to do whatever you want me to do. ... But I would appreciate it if you could talk some sense into these folks.”

Ortiz, meanwhile, won the primary against Rep. Burke, cutting short his 27-year legislative career.

The affidavit also contains new details about threats Burke allegedly made in 2017 to derail the Field Museum’s proposed increase in its admission fee after the museum had ignored his bid to obtain an internship for the daughter of a friend.

The Tribune has previously identified the friend as former Ald. Terry Gabinski — a protege of the late U.S. Rep. Dan Rostenkowski who was sworn in as alderman on the same day in 1969 as Burke.

According to the affidavit, on Sept. 8, 2017, Burke took a call from an official about the mix-up and “immediately chastised” the person for not getting back to him about the internship, saying he was disappointed and surprised.

As the caller began to speak, Burke interjected, “So now you’re going to make a request of me?”

“Well, uh, what I wanted to do was, uh,” the caller responded, only to be cut off again by Burke.

“I’m sure I know what you want to do,” Burke said, according to the affidavit. “Because if the chairman of the committee on finance calls the president of the Park Board your proposal is going to go nowhere.”

The caller said they would look into the internship and find out what went wrong. Burke said, “Well, somebody better.”

“Yep. And we will work on fixing it,” the caller responded. “We will definitely fix it.”

Afterward, Burke received an apologetic call about the internship. The caller asked if the woman still wanted the internship and Burke said, “That ship has already left the dock.”

“I’m really sorry and now that I have her name, maybe we could find in emails or something what the hell happened here, because when you call Ed, everyone knows, we jump,” the caller said.

The indictment alleged that after Burke’s dressing down of the museum official, the museum emailed Gabinski’s daughter details about the job opportunity and how to set up an informational interview for later that week.

The next day, the Park District board approved the $2-a-person hike in the entrance fee for the Field. A few days later, Gabinski’s daughter declined the interview, according to the indictment.

The affidavit also adds new comments Burke allegedly made on a wiretapped call about Jewish lawyers he believed were working for developers of the post office project.

Referring to difficulties he was having getting the developer’s support, Burke allegedly told Solis, “Yeah, but part of it could be that, that black hat. They only want to deal with Jews,” according to the affidavit.

“You really think so?” Solis asked.

“They’re orthodox Jews,” Burke allegedly responded.

Prosecutors had previously revealed in court filings another statement Burke allegedly made on the same topic.

“Well, you know as well as I do, Jews are Jews and they’ll deal with Jews to the exclusion of everybody else unless ... unless there’s a reason for them to use a Christian,” Burke allegedly said.

Burke’s lawyers have asked that the potentially inflammatory language be stricken from the case. But prosecutors have argued it was relevant to the charged scheme because Burke at the time was trying to get the company owner to hire his law firm.

Chicago Tribune’s Ray Long, Greg Pratt, and Megan Crepeau contributed.

jmeisner@chicagotribune.com

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting