Federal prosecutors say they’ve caught Chicago’s longest-serving alderman making anti-Semitic remarks on a wiretap as he allegedly tried to shake down developers of the Old Main Post Office site downtown.
In a more than 200-page court filing Wednesday, U.S Attorney John Lausch’s office defended the case it’s making against the Southwest Side alderman, who faces more than a dozen corruption-related federal charges.
In one alleged scheme dating back to 2016, Ed Burke, the 14th Ward alderman, refused to help developers renovating the post office building unless they would hire his private law firm, Klafter & Burke, for property tax work, prosecutors say. At the time, Burke was chair of the powerful City Council Finance Committee and also did property tax appeals work on the side.
Burke asked then-Ald. Danny Solis — whose 25th Ward included the post office site — to recommend to the project’s developers that they hire Burke’s firm “to do tax work,” according to prosecutors. Unbeknownst to Burke, Solis was cooperating with federal prosecutors at the time and was secretly recording their conversations.
At one point, Burke discussed why he thought the developers had not yet hired his law firm, according to the federal court filing.
“[W]ell, you know as well as I do, Jews are Jews and they’ll deal with Jews to the exclusion of everybody else unless … unless there’s a reason for them to use a Christian,” Burke allegedly said.
The feds’ filing calls the comment “distasteful” and summarizes that Burke believed he wouldn’t get the developer’s legal work unless he could use his clout to help them navigate the permitting process at City Hall.
The feds referred to Burke’s racist language on the wiretap as they defended its relevance to the case they’re building against him.
Burke did not comment on the filing to reporters as he walked out of City Hall after Wednesday’s City Council meeting. He has pleaded not guilty.
In Wednesday’s court filing, federal prosecutors defended their methods for investigating the man who had once been among the most powerful aldermen on the City Council.
“Again and again, Burke shamelessly tied official action to his law firm’s receipt of business,” prosecutors wrote in their court filing. “The government acted more than reasonably in investigating Burke’s conduct, an inquiry that … revealed Burke to be thoroughly corrupt and worthy of prosecution.”
Prosecutors had previously alluded to an anti-Semitic remark made by Burke nearly two years ago, when they charged him with 14 corruption-related counts. He had earlier been charged for allegedly shaking down the owners of a Burger King franchise in his ward.
Burke also is accused of “abusing his position as alderman” by “threatening” to take official action against an unnamed Chicago museum.
In that case, prosecutors say, Burke threatened to object to the museum’s request for approval of an admission fee increase. That was after the museum did not respond to his inquiry about an internship there for the child of a personal acquaintance.
Alex Keefe is an editor on WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team. Follow him @akeefe.