Ald. Edward Burke has pleaded not guilty to charges of corruption including racketeering and bribery. The 59-page indictment accuses Burke of using his political office to steer business to his tax law firm. In addition, Burke is accused of blocking a plan to raise admission fees at a local museum because the museum had yet to deliver a chit involving an internship for a crony’s daughter.
Now, if you are a regular type of person, you are probably scratching your head. How is any of that illegal? It happens every day. Well, when you position yourself in the crosshairs of powerful people, just about everything can be made illegal. In this case, the alderman and others were the target of an ongoing federal sting that involved no small amount of intrigue.
Federal Investigation Targeted Chicago City Hall
Federal authorities appear to have over 62,000 phone call recordings of Burke and others uttering such timeless gems: “The cash register has not rung yet?” and “Did we land the tuna?” Authorities also had a former alderman wear a wire in order to catch Burke in compromising conversations. The indictment includes charges of racketeering, federal program bribery, attempted extortion, and conspiracy to commit extortion.
Quid Pro Quo Politics and the Question of Extortion
In most cases, it is very difficult for layperson juries to differentiate between quid pro quo politics and extortion. The question of extortion, however, relies on the question of blackmail. Of course, blackmail happens every day in politics. The more cynical among us might be prone to thinking that if it were not for blackmail, nothing would ever get done, and that it is the primary currency of American politics.
In this case, the question of extortion relies entirely on what the extortion was meant to accomplish. In the case of Burke, he was using the power of his government office to coerce other players to hire his tax law firm.
Bribery is another muddy issue. Bribery happens all the time. The U.S. political system runs on bribery. You have major corporations funneling large sums of money into the campaign coffers of major political players and no one bats an eyelash. In Burke’s case, he refused to help a developer until they signed on with his law firm stating that they could “go F themselves until the cash register rung.” As an alderman, Burke had authority over licenses and permits in their zones. But how is this significantly different from corporate lobbyists?
Suffice it to say, there is a right and a wrong way to bribe. Corporations make donations to campaigns, not the individuals directly. Senators generally do not hold their office over the heads of corporations in order to secure their interests. In this case, the alderman had positioned himself very directly in a place where he could use his office to benefit itself.
Now, a jury will decide if this is politics as usual or a serious crime, or, the cynical among us might say, both.
Talk to a Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney
If you have been charged with a crime in Chicago, give David Freidberg, Attorney at Law a call at (312) 560-7100 and we can discuss your options.
(image courtesy of Sawyer Bengtson)