Chicago Ald. Willie Cochran appeared in federal court Tuesday morning to request a trial date on allegations that he used neighborhood charity funds to gamble and pay his daughter’s college tuition.
Cochran was due in court to decide on a plea deal that included one count of fraud and no jail time, according to his attorney Christopher Grohman, of Duane Morris LLP.
But Cochran rejected the plea and requested a jury trial for this summer.
“He couldn’t stomach the idea of admitting to something he believes he did not do,” Grohman told reporters after the quick status hearing with U.S. District Court Judge Judge Jorge Alonso. “He’s at peace with his decision and, you know, he’s going to take it to a jury and accept what the jury has to say.”
Had he accepted a plea deal, the other 14 counts filed against Cochran in 2016 would have been dismissed, including a bribery charge, Grohman said.
Cochran was accused of demanding a bribe from developers in exchange for a zoning change. The indictment accuses Cochran of withdrawing $25,000 from the 20th Ward Activities Fund at ATMs in and around casinos he frequented, as well as $5,000 for his daughter’s tuition. Cochran created the fund to raise money for back-to-school supplies and a neighborhood coat drive.
A guilty verdict on all the charges carries a possible jail sentence of “above five years,” Grohman said. The sentencing guidelines in the plea are confidential, but Grohman described the probation time as “extremely low.”
Still, Grohman called the evidence of bribery “weak.” Cochran declined to comment on the record.
Grohman requested a trial date to be set for June, a month after Cochran competes his third term in office. Cochran is not running for re-election in the Feb. 26 municipal election. Fifteen candidates filed to replace him.
Grohman said the alderman admits to using “some of the money on personal expenses,” but he maintains it was the alderman’s own money that he put into the account to “cover or almost cover the personal expenses that he took out.”
Cochran was elected to the City Council in 2007, defeating Arenda Troutman. Troutman sought re-election despite having federal corruption charges of her own. She pled guilty the following year. Cochran is the third 20th Ward alderman to be indicted.