The corruption trial of longtime Chicago Alderman Ed Burke, 79, continued this week, featuring key video evidence and testimonies that implicate Burke in using his political influence for personal gain. Burke, who served as a city council member for 54 years, is facing 14 counts including racketeering and federal program bribery.
The trial, which has entered its third week, includes a 2016 video recorded by then-Alderman Daniel Solis, who wore a hidden camera during a meeting with Burke and New York developers Harry Skydell and his son. The meeting focused on Burke’s pitch for his private law firm, Klafter & Burke, to handle property tax appeals for the Old Post Office renovation project in Chicago.
In the recording, Burke is seen promoting his connections and influence in Chicago, a tactic prosecutors argue he used to pressure Skydell into hiring his law firm. He is also heard assuring Skydell about resolving issues with Amtrak, which owns tracks running under the Post Office. Burke mentioned his connection with Jeff Moreland, an Amtrak board member, and noted that he helped Moreland’s daughter become a judge in Cook County.
Prosecutors presented further evidence of Burke linking official actions to the hiring of his law firm. In one recording, Burke expressed reluctance to assist Skydell’s company, 601W, without a formal agreement with his firm. Additionally, an Amtrak executive, Ray Lang, testified that he perceived Burke’s involvement in property tax work as a symbol of corrupt practices in Chicago.
During Wednesday’s proceedings, defense attorney Chris Gair called for a mistrial following Lang’s statement that he found Burke’s actions corrupt. U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall will decide on this motion.
Burke’s trial also highlights his influence over city departments, including the Water Department, and his potential sway over city finances and budgets as the Finance Committee chairman. Witnesses testified to the pressure exerted by Burke on bureaucratic processes, particularly in relation to the Old Post Office project.
The prosecution alleges that while Skydell did not hire Burke’s firm for the Post Office project, he did give them work on other properties. The defense, however, contends that the FBI influenced Solis to manipulate the conversation and push developers towards hiring Burke’s firm.
Burke, along with his longtime ward aide Peter Andrews Jr., 73, and Lake Forest real estate developer Charles Cui, 52, faces a myriad of charges. However, Andrews and Cui are not charged as part of the Old Post Office scheme.
This high-profile case sheds light on the alleged corrupt practices within Chicago’s political landscape and the intertwining of public office and personal business interests. The outcome of the trial could have significant implications for the perception of political integrity in Chicago.