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Ed Burke

Ald. Edward M. Burke, 14th Ward, speaks to the press after attending his last City Council meeting at City Hall on April 19, 2023.

Anthony Vazquez

Feds play recording of call with Gery Chico as they allege Ed Burke used threats over permits ‘to extort benefits’ from businesses

Gery Chico, a longtime player in Chicago politics, had powerful Ald. Edward M. Burke on the phone back in June 2017, hours before Chico planned to host a fundraiser for Burke at a friend’s new office.

Chico told Burke he expected “a nice turnout.” But he warned that Bulley & Andrews Construction, which had been involved in the building of Mansueto High School in Burke’s 14th Ward, was “pretty naive.”

“They’re ok, ok?” Chico said. “They’re not perfect. They’re just pretty naive on this stuff, so we’ve had to drag their asses along the way, but we’ll have a nice event.”

Burke replied, “Well, maybe if they don’t have any access to the property because the driveway isn’t legal, they might get the message.”

Jurors in Burke’s corruption trial heard that call Friday as prosecutors neared the end of their case against Chicago’s longest-serving City Council member. They’ve previously told the judge that Burke’s call with Chico demonstrates Burke’s “modus operandi” — using the pretext of challenging a business’ driveway permits “as a means to extort benefits.”

The feds say Burke did the same to the owners of a Burger King in his ward. Prosecutors allege “Burke’s explanation of this technique is powerful evidence of his intent to extract business” from the Burger King owner “by throwing up obstacles to the continued operation of its restaurant on account of a purported driveway permit issue.”

Chico ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2019, around the time Burke was first charged with the scheme. He could not immediately be reached Friday. His attorney declined to comment.

Burke, who left office in May, is charged with racketeering, bribery and extortion. On trial with him are political aide Peter Andrews and developer Charles Cui.

Earlier Friday, jurors heard from former FBI Special Agent Edward McNamara, who helped interview Andrews on Nov. 29, 2018.

Andrews is accused of lying to McNamara and then-FBI Special Agent Andrew Hickey that day about his dealings with the owner of the Burger King, Shoukat Dhanani, and Dhanani’s son, Zohaib Dhanani. Andrews met both men on June 14, 2017, the jury has heard.

McNamara testified that Andrews stuttered during his FBI interview in November 2018 and shook his head “no” when agents asked if he recognized photos of the Dhananis. Andrews asked, “How am I involved with them?” And he kept insisting, “I don’t, I don’t know.”

Hickey told him, “Take a good look, sir.”

“What you don’t want to do is, is say ‘no’ and you do actually know them,” Hickey said. The agent told Andrews they “just want you to tell the truth.”

The interview ended at Andrews’ request.

Andrews’ attorney Patrick Blegen ripped into McNamara on cross-examination. He forced McNamara to admit that he’d mispronounced the Dhananis’ last name while interviewing Andrews — though a prosecutor later pointed out that the agents also used the Dhananis’ first names.

Most significantly, though, Blegen pointed to potential confusion over which ward was at issue. Andrews lived in Chicago’s 19th Ward. And during the interview, the agents mentioned that the Dhananis had been doing business “in the ward here.”

Andrews asked, “This ward?” And McNamara, in the interview, said, “Yeah.”

“So what you’re saying is, you said something but you meant something else, right?” Blegen asked. “Right?”

McNamara initially disagreed but ultimately conceded Blegen’s point.

“You know you messed this up here, didn’t you, agent?” Blegen insisted.

McNamara denied it.

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