Former 25th Ward Ald. Danny Solis may never be convicted of a crime in the wide-ranging federal probe of Chicago City Hall corruption, even though he admitted wrongdoing when he was the powerful chairman of the Chicago City Council’s Zoning Committee.
That’s according to a court filing made Thursday by defense lawyers for 14th Ward Ald. Edward Burke, the Democratic powerhouse who has been fighting corruption charges since his arrest in January 2019.
It’s long been known that Solis secretly recorded conversations with Burke after the feds confronted Solis with evidence of his own wrongdoing.
But only Thursday did it become clear just how much leniency Solis had won for himself.
According to the new filing, Solis and the feds entered into what is known as a “deferred prosecution agreement,” or DPA, on Jan. 3, 2019. On that same day, Burke was arrested and charged.
Under a DPA, the defendant admits engaging in criminal acts but the feds agree to eventually dismiss the charges, provided the perpetrator fulfills certain conditions set forth in the agreement, which could include cooperating in cases against others.
The filing Thursday did not detail the terms of the DPA between prosecutors and Solis, and the feds have not announced any charges against the close ally of former mayors Richard M. Daley and Rahm Emanuel.
But the new filing says Solis acknowledged violating the federal statute against “illegal solicitation and receipt of campaign contributions.”
According to the court records, Solis “admitted that he solicited campaign contributions from a real estate developer in exchange for taking official actions as the Zoning Committee Chairman.”
Solis was appointed alderman in 1996 but departed the Council soon after Burke’s arrest.
Solis had begun cooperating with the federal government in 2016, when the feds confronted him “with evidence of his extensive criminal conduct,” Burke’s legal team argues in the new filing.
The mention of Solis’ case came as Burke’s lawyers argued that evidence from the wiretap recordings should not be used against him.
Solis’ lawyer, Lisa Noller of Chicago, declined to comment Thursday.
The spokesman for U.S. Attorney John Lausch, the top federal prosecutor in Chicago, also said he could not comment on the office’s deal with Solis or any of the new filings in the Burke case.
Last month, Lausch’s office announced it had entered into a DPA with Commonwealth Edison to settle an investigation into the power company’s Springfield corruption.
Under that deal, ComEd agreed to pay a $200 million fine but the prosecution of the case was essentially suspended on the condition that the utility company keeps its end of the bargain — and continues to cooperate in the ongoing probe of state government.
ComEd admitted its role in a bribery scheme designed to win influence with “Public Official A,” a clear reference to powerful Illinois House Speaker and Democratic Party of Illinois boss MIchael Madigan.
Madigan, who is from Chicago’s Southwest Side, has not been charged and denies wrongdoing.
Burke got re-elected last year in his ward on the Southwest Side, even after the case against him was announced. Burke did, however, have to give up his biggest title, as chairman of the Council’s Finance Committee.
He has tapped the huge campaign accounts he amassed during the decades when he was the city’s most powerful alderman to pay for some of Chicago’s best defense lawyers.
Thursday’s 71-page filing on Burke’s behalf was signed by no fewer than six attorneys from two firms.
They argued that Solis “told the government that he had never been involved in any criminal wrongdoing with Ald. Burke — with whom he had served in the City Council for almost 25 years — and that he neither knew nor suspected that Ald. Burke had ever been involved in any illegal conduct whatsoever.”
But the wiretap recordings in the probe would yield a raft of allegedly incriminating statements by Burke, which prosecutors cited extensively in levelling a broad range of charges against him, including bribery, extortion and racketeering.
Burke’s lawyers said investigators won permission for the secret recordings after they “deliberately or recklessly omitted facts” in their arguments to the judge who approved the surveillance.
The feds intercepted 2,185 calls on Burke’s City Hall phone and listened in on 6,726 conversations on the alderman’s cell phone, according to Burke’s lawyers.
They said the feds were privy to Burke’s cell-phone discussions from May 15, 2017 until Feb. 10, 2018, making it “the longest wiretap in the United States that concluded in 2018.”
Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter on WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team.