DePaul alum Ed Burke pleads not guilty to federal corruption charges


Ashlee Rezin | Chicago Sun-Times via AP

Ald. Edward M. Burke entering the Dirksen federal courthouse to plead not guilty to federal corruption charges stemming from FBI recordings.

DePaul University alumnus Alderman Edward M. Burke pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to federal charges alleging he abused his longtime role as Chicago alderman to extort businesses and individuals for personal gain.

“In the lexicon of Chicago politics, it’s a momentous day,” said NBC 5 political editor Carol Marin, who also heads DePaul’s Center for Journalism Integrity and Excellence.

After an initial drive-by to scope out the Dirksen federal courthouse on Tuesday morning, Burke smiled and said, “Good morning” to Marin as he entered the courtroom for his arraignment.

“Like everyone else, I thought he was too smart,” longtime Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass told The DePaulia. “As we move in time, you’ll see. It’s just the beginning of the onion peeling. They have thousands, thousands of phone conversations.”

After having his offices raided by FBI agents in November 2018, Burke was officially indicted last week and called upon by Mayor Lori Lightfoot to step down from his position as alderman.

“The allegations as set forth by the U.S. attorney’s office and the grand jury have allegations spanning multiple years, identify multiple schemes and suggest a standard course of dealing that is absolutely repugnant,” Lightfoot said at a May 31 press conference.

The revelation that Burke was secretly recorded by Alderman Daniel Solis, Burke’s former colleague and chair of the Zoning Committee, sent shockwaves through the city.

According to the federal indictment, Burke spoke to Solis in May 2017 about developers he was allegedly trying to extort, saying, “So did we land the, uh, the tuna?”

Burke was also recorded saying that “the cash register has not yet rung” on a deal to provide legal services from his own firm to a company hoping to secure access to a building owned by Amtrak.

Burke graduated from DePaul with a bachelor’s degree in 1965 before returning to DePaul to study law, just blocks from the same courthouse he would later be escorted into by federal marshals.

As Burke waited for Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Cole to enter the courtroom on the 17th floor of the Dirksen building, he sat tapping his knee and re-reading a stapled document that appeared to be his own indictment.

When Cole entered the courtroom, Burke walked to the front of the room to join his two co-defendants, Charles Cui and political operative Peter Andrews, as well as their lawyers and two federal prosecutors.

The routine proceeding took less than five minutes, and Burke walked out as soon as it ended to get into a car waiting for him at the curb of South Dearborn Street.

When asked about the shortness of the proceeding, Kass said, “To see Ed Burke walk down a hall, resplendent in a double-breasted suit? Hair coiffed and puffy and white, in the green tie that I knew he’d wear? Yeah, it was worth it.”

In Kass’s words, he never thought he’d see the day Burke stood in front of a judge as a defendant.

“The charges are unfounded and not based on actual evidence,” Burke’s lawyers said in a May 30 email statement, according to the Chicago Tribune. “We welcome the opportunity to present the complete picture and all the facts to a jury. We are confident that when that happens, Ed Burke will be vindicated.”

The 19-count indictment brought by federal prosecutors charges Burke with one count of racketeering, two counts of bribery, two counts of attempted extortion and eight counts of using interstate commerce to conduct an unlawful activity.

Burke is scheduled for a July 2 status hearing with U.S. District Judge Robert Dow, and will soon begin receiving evidence from federal prosecutors as part of the discovery process.

“Just gotta keep reading the paper,” Kass said. “There’s many more dominoes to fall.”