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Chicago Alderman Ed Burke Pleads Not Guilty To Federal Corruption Charges

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Chicago's most veteran Alderman pleaded not guilty to more than a dozen federal corruption charges this morning. Ed Burke, one of the last remaining vestiges of the city's old school Democratic machine, is being accused of bribery, attempted extortion and racketeering. From member station WBEZ in Chicago, Claudia Morell reports.

CLAUDIA MORELL, BYLINE: Alderman Ed Burke has been on the city council for 50 years. Federal agents had been watching him for some time, but he's never been indicted until now. He faces a 14-count federal indictment alleging that he took part in a sweeping criminal conspiracy, using his clout at city hall to steer wealthy clients to his private law practice.

When a New York City developer sought a subsidy to redevelop a landmark building in Chicago, the indictment alleges Burke held the request hostage until the developer hired his firm. It also cites another incident where a Chicago area developer allegedly emailed his existing lawyer, saying he had to switch over to Burke's firm in order to get his permits through city hall. The U.S. attorney also tapped Burke's phone, recording close to 10,000 phone conversations, including ones Ed Burke had with another Alderman who was secretly wearing a wire. In January, a criminal complaint alleged Burke attempted to extort a local Burger King owner. He denied any wrongdoing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ED BURKE: I've done nothing wrong. And anything that Alderman Solis recorded, if he did, isn't going to make any difference.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Are you going to stay in the race?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Why not?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Are you going to stay in the race?

BURKE: I'm not only going to stay in the race. I'm going to win.

MORELL: And win he did. On election night, a couple of reporters asked him why voters supported him despite the attempted extortion charge.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: What do you say about the voters?

BURKE: Why don't you ask them? They voted for me. Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #4: What have you learned from this?

BURKE: I'm out of here.

MORELL: Chicago is known for its rough-and-tumble politicians and their significant clout. No one at city hall embodies that more than Alderman Ed Burke. Known for his pinstriped suits, his roster of wealthy legal clients, Burke is city hall's ultimate power broker. But the new mayor, Lori Lightfoot, is a former federal prosecutor who campaigned on ending Chicago's culture of corruption. Last week, she called the latest charges troubling.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LORI LIGHTFOOT: And suggests standard course of dealing that is absolutely repugnant.

MORELL: Today she repeated calls for him to step down though Burke's lawyers say he's done nothing wrong. For NPR News, I'm Claudia Morell in Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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