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Chicago Ald. Ed Burke Pleads Not Guilty In Corruption Case

The 50-year veteran of the City Council is facing a long list of federal corruption charges — including racketeering and extortion.

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Ald. Edward Burke enters the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse on June 4, 2019.

Manuel Martinez

Updated at 11:01 a.m.

Veteran Chicago Ald. Ed Burke pleaded not guilty to federal corruption charges Tuesday in a court appearance that lasted less than 10 minutes.

Burke immediately walked out of the courthouse and didn’t take questions from reporters.

A federal indictment released last week alleges the Southwest Side alderman took part in a criminal conspiracy to abuse his power for personal gain. The 50-year veteran of the City Council is known for his roster of wealthy clients and influence at City Hall.

The indictment details a widespread conspiracy accusing Burke of using his authority as the Council’s Finance Committee chairman to recruit clients to his private law firm, Klafter &. Burke. The firm handles property tax appeals for large corporate clients.

Related: Chicago Ald. Burke Faces 14 New Corruption Charges In Growing Scandal

The indictment follows a federal criminal complaint filed in January that accuses Burke of attempting to shake down a fast food franchise owner who wanted a driveway permit. Burke was released on bond and told to surrender 23 firearms discovered by the FBI at his two aldermanic offices.

At City Hall, he was forced to relinquish his Finance Committee chairmanship, but still won re-election to his seat, representing the 14th Ward on the Southwest Side.

Last week, the government added 14 additional charges, including one count of racketeering, two counts of attempted extortion and two counts of bribery.

The indictment details several dealings going back to early 2016. One scheme involved the landmarked Old Post Office building over the Eisenhower Expressway. Burke allegedly held a city subsidy and application for a tax break hostage when the New York City developer did not hire his law firm.

Another incident involved the Field Museum. Burke allegedly tried to block the museum’s request for an increase in the admission fee after a museum official ignored his inquiry about an internship for a friend’s child. The complaint alleges the park district only approved the fee increase after the museum offered an opportunity for the young person to apply for a full-time job.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has called on Burke to resign his seat. The former federal prosecutor called the charges outlined in the indictment “absolutely repugnant.” Aldermen can only be forced to resign if they’re convicted of a crime.

Burke’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment. Last week, a spokesperson for his lawyer said the alderman did nothing wrong and would be “vindicated” in court.

Claudia Morell covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her @claudiamorell.

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