Longest-serving Chicago City Council member gets 2 years in prison for corruption

Jun 24, 2024, 2:48 PM

CHICAGO (AP) — Ed Burke, the longest-serving City Council member in Chicago history, was sentenced to two years in prison Monday for squeezing developers who needed his help for permits.

It was far short of the eight-year term recommended by federal prosecutors. With credit for good behavior, Burke will likely spend less than two years in custody.

Burke, 80, was an alderman for 54 years until he left office a year ago and a giant in local Democratic politics. As the longtime chairman of the Finance Committee, he had unrivaled authority at the council over certain city affairs.

Prosecutors said he used that power illegally by strong-arming developers to use his law firm for property tax business while they sought his blessing on projects. Burke was convicted of racketeering, bribery and attempted extortion.

Burke “abused his power and exploited his office for private gain, again and again and again and again and again, over a period of years,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Streicker said in court.

When it was his time to speak, Burke expressed regret for the “pain and the sorrow that I have caused my family and my dear friends.” He had denied wrongdoing when charged in 2019.

Burke’s lawyers argued that his five decades in public life outweighed a long punishment. U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall was inundated with letters supporting him, including one from former Chicago federal prosecutor Dan Webb.

“I have never in all my career seen the letters I have received for Mr. Burke,” Kendall said.

Indeed, defense attorney Chuck Sklarsky called Burke a “priest without a collar.”

“Ed has used his political power for good, for the city and for all the people who live here,” Sklarsky said.

Besides the prison term, Burke was ordered to pay $2 million.

He was first elected to the City Council in 1969. Burke’s wife, Anne, is a former Illinois Supreme Court justice.

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