Chicago Ald. Willie Cochran, , 20th Ward, has been indicted on federal grand jury charges, according to a court filing made public Wednesday morning.
Cochran was charged with 15 counts related to accepting bribes from an attorney and taking money from a charity to pay for personal expenses, according to court documents.
In a statement, U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon said FBI agents began investigating Cochran after getting information from Faisal Khan, the city’s former legislative inspector general.
“When an elected official uses public power for personal gain, the average citizen pays and our democratic system suffers,” Fardon said. “We will continue to vigorously investigate and prosecute any elected official who attempts to use their office to enrich themselves.”
Cochran, 64, was first elected to the City Council in 2007, defeating incumbent Arenda Troutman, who was herself indicted for taking cash from developers. Prior to joining the council, Cochran served as a police officer for more than 20 years.
On Wednesday, Cochran attended the last full council meeting for the year. After news of the indictment became public, Ald. Ed Burke, 14th Ward, walked up to Cochran’s desk and talked to him.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel later said he is thinking of the Cochran family. The mayor added that Cochran’s indictment should not reflect poorly on the rest of the City Council.
Thirty-two Chicago aldermen have been convicted of crimes since 1973.
“I know it’s easy to just kick the council and make everybody who ever worked in it carry a badge of dishonor. I wouldn’t do that,” Emanuel said.
Cochran later said in a text message that he will not step down.
"My attorney and I will work with the U.S. attorney to provide the clarity that is needed to get this matter resolved. I can say my colleagues and the people of the 20th Ward are strong supporters for my family, and I am confident this will be resolved. I am happy to serve the 20th Ward and will continue to do so. My service and growth of the 20th Ward is undeniable. That will continue and be even greater."
According to the indictment, Cochran illegally pocketed money from a charity, the 20th Ward Activities Fund, that was created to “help families and children” in his South Side ward.
The indictment claims Cochran used some of that money to pay for his daughter’s college tuition and buy items for his home. Cochran also withdrew about $25,000 from the charity at ATMs near casinos where he gambled, according to the indictment.
He is also accused of extorting money from the lawyer of a real estate developer and a liquor store.
"We have to look at the details," Cochran told reporters at City Hall. "I have not seen any details, so it is not possible for me to make any kind of comment."
Additional reporting by Hunter Clauss and Michael Lansu.
Lauren Chooljian covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her at @laurenchooljian.