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Burger King franchisee operations manager testifies on pressure from former Ald. Ed Burke

Prosecutors address pressure on Burger King in trial of former Ald. Ed Burke
Prosecutors address pressure on Burger King in trial of former Ald. Ed Burke 02:35

CHICAGO (CBS) -- How much pressure did former Ald. Ed Burke (14th) -- and his office -- apply to a local Burger King franchisee to land their tax appeal work?

That was the focus Monday as prosecutors zeroed in on one employee who feared if they didn't do as Burke's office told them. they could send in the Chicago Department of Public Health to make their life difficult.

As CBS 2 Political Reporter Chris Tye reported, an undercover FBI photo displayed in court displays Burke in the parking lot of the Burger King on Pulaski Road at 41st Street – which looms large in the case.


To Burke's left in the photo was Pamela Smith. As operations director for the Dhinani Group – which owns more than 500 Burger King franchises, including the one on Pulaski Road in Burke's old 14th Ward – Smith wrote an email to her bosses 2017 that read in part:

"I know these guys are very powerful and they can make life very difficult for all of our Chicago stores.... hopefully they do not send the health department and start messing with us."

At issue is Burke's office holding up remodeling permits for the Pulaski Road store.

The feds say Burke only green-lit the plans when Dhanani promised Burke's law firm his tax work - work he never actually received.

Attorneys for Burke and his assistant, Pete Andrews, claimed the Dhanani Group's operations manager was confused. Andrews warned Smith of needed driveway permits, but she thought he was talking about permits for drive-thrus.

When asked by Andrews' defense attorney if she confused the two issues, Smith said yes.

As for why she feared the health department may come, defense attorneys asked: "Did you have any basis for it other than your own personal speculation?"

"No," she said.

"There was no retaliation ever?" attorneys asked.

"Correct," Smith said.

"With the driveway, there was no messing around with you, it's something you actually needed to get?" attorneys asked.

"Correct," Smith said.

Widening out the case Smith was asked by federal prosecutors, "Had you had to show the plans for a remodel to an alderman anywhere before, or go to Alderman's offices to get approval for plans?"

"No," Smith said.

Burke was seen wearing a mask in court on Monday, because another curveball was thrown into the mix. One of the attorneys for Burke co-defendant Andrews tested positive for COVID-19.

Because of the attorney's positive test, the Burger King component of the case will be paused. The prosecution will focus on another episode, likely to be focusing on the Old Post Office, starting Tuesday morning.

This is the second COVID-related disruption to the case. A prior COVID case by another of the lawyers in the case delayed jury selection by a week.

U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall is trying to keep the trial moving to have a verdict by the holidays.

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