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Alderman Burke Pleads Not Guilty Federal Corruption Charges

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Ald. Edward Burke (14th) pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a new round of federal corruption charges, as Mayor Lori Lightfoot is calling for his resignation.

Burke, 75, is accused of using his position for personal gain.

Last week, the longest-serving alderman on the City Council was hit with a federal indictment charging him with racketeering, bribery, and attempted extortion.

He pleaded not guilty at a brief arraignment hearing Tuesday morning, and did not speak to reporters at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse.

Federal prosecutors have accused Burke of trying to shake down the developers of the Old Main Post Office building and a Chinese businessman seeking a sign permit in exchange for hiring Burke's private law firm.

The indictment alleged that Burke told Ald. Danny Solis (25th) that he would not help the New York-based company redeveloping the Old Post Office unless it hired Burke's law firm to do tax work.

Burke told Solis in January of 2017: "The cash register has not rung yet."

Eventually, the post office developer hired Burke's firm at a $45,000 fee over three years. In return Burke supported a TIF subsidy for the project, without revealing his conflict of interest.

In addition, the indictment alleged that Burke used his position to squeeze tax work for his law firm out of Chinese businessman Charles Cui, in exchange for Burke's help in obtaining a sign permit for a building Cui owns near the Six Corners intersection.

Cui previously had been charged in the case in April. The new indictment charges him with one count of federal program bribery, three counts of using interstate commerce to facilitate an unlawful activity, and one count of making a false statement to the FBI. He also pleaded not guilty on Tuesday.

Cui, 48, allegedly approached Burke for help getting a sign permit for his Six Corners project, because he was relying on $2 million in tax increment financing for the site, and the sign a retailer wanted was proving to be a major sticking point.

"I need his favor for my tif money. In addition, I need his help for my zoning etc for my project. He is a powerful broker in City Hall, and I need him now," Cui allegedly wrote to the property tax attorney he normally used, according to court records.

Prosecutors said Cui signed an agreement to hire Burke's firm, but when questioned by the FBI, said he had made no offers to Burke while trying to get the sign permit.

Charged for the first time in the Burke indictment was his ward assistant, Peter Andrews, who allegedly helped the alderman in efforts to shake down the owners of a Burger King franchise seeking to renovate their restaurant in his ward.

Andrews, 69, is charged with one count of attempted extortion, one count of conspiracy to commit extortion, two counts of using interstate commerce to facilitate unlawful activity, and one count of making a false statement to the FBI. He pleaded not guilty Tuesday.

The indictment also details a rather petty form of extortion by Burke. He allegedly threatened to oppose an admission fee hike for the Field Museum, unless the museum hired the child of a personal friend for an internship. Instead the museum offered that person a full time job, but that young person declined to apply for it.

Chicago is no stranger to corruption. More than 30 Chicago City Council members have been tied to corruption cases since the 1970s.

The indictment came five months after Burke was charged with using his office and power to demand the owners of a Burger King franchise hire his private law firm for property tax work in exchange for his support for his help obtaining remodeling permits.

Despite the federal charges, Burke ran for re-election and won in February.

While aldermen are not forced to resign until they are convicted of a felony – not just charged – Lightfoot repeatedly has said Burke needs to resign in the wake of his indictment.

"I don't know how he can properly function with integrity, which he will need, and moral authority, to do the work for the residents of the 14th Ward when he's got a very serious federal indictment now hanging over his head," Lightfoot said Tuesday.

"It is corrosive; it is corrupting; and it destroys our ability to lead."

Lightfoot also has said she's ordered the city's corporation counsel to investigate whether any current city employees cooperated with Burke in the alleged schemes.

Burke's attorney has denied the allegations in the indictment.

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