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Former Chicago alderman Ed Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison for corruption

Former Chicago Ald. Ed Burke expected to appeal after sentence
Former Chicago Ald. Ed Burke expected to appeal after sentence 02:44

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Former Chicago alderman Ed Burke was sentenced to two years in prison on Monday after being convicted of racketeering and bribery.

U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall announced the sentence Monday afternoon. She also imposed a $2 million fine, and one year of supervised release after Burke serves his sentence. Burke is due to report to prison on Sept. 23.

"Corruption in the Chicago City Council tears at the fabric of a vital body of local government," Morris Pasqual, acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, said in a statement. "When an alderman fails to discharge his duties with honesty and integrity, he betrays not only the citizens of Chicago, but his fellow public officials who do their jobs the right way. Our office will continue to vigorously prosecute corruption and hold public officials accountable for violating the public trust."

Before announcing the sentence, Burke looked up very intently as Judge Kendall spoke about her reasoning for the sentence.

The judge said there was "no mitigation" for the seriousness of Burke's crimes, and his actions were "unfortunately an erosion of faith in public officials.

"Citizens lose faith… a sad progression for an elected official—that you felt you were due something for a public official," the judge said. "You attempted to make money for your firm and family."

But Judge Kendall said she had never seen so many letters written on a defendant's behalf as she did for Burke.

"I have never seen someone go to as many funerals as I've seen in this book. That is such an important moment in someone's life," Kendall said. "He goes to all of them. Not only goes to them, but these handwritten notes to give people hope when they're down."

Kendall said she does not believe Burke's criminal conduct wipes out all his good acts.

"The judge didn't give him home confinement, sent him home, give him a slap on the wrist," Miller said, "but she didn't send him away for a long time either. She split the difference."

After the sentence was handed down, Burke turned and hugged his wife, former Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, very tightly for about 30 seconds.

Three members of the clergy were present in the courtroom for the sentencing Monday. Also present was Pete Andrews, Burke's former assistant, who was acquitted in the case.

In December, a federal jury convicted Burke on 13 of 14 counts against him, including racketeering conspiracy, federal program bribery, attempted extortion, conspiracy to commit extortion, and using an interstate facility to promote unlawful activity. 

During a six-week trial, prosecutors accused him of scheming to use his political clout at City Hall to pressure people into hiring his private property tax law firm.

He was convicted of schemes to shake down the developers of the Old Post Office in downtown Chicago in exchange for help with tax incentives, the owners of a Burger King franchise restaurant in his ward in exchange for help with permits, and a developer who wanted help getting a pole sign approved for a new Binny's Beverage Depot store. He was also accused of threatening to hold up a fee increase for the Field Museum after learning the museum had not considered his goddaughter for an internship.

These acts occurred late in Burke's career, between 2016 and 2018.

Burke did not address reporters as he left the Dirksen Federal Courthouse Monday afternoon. CBS 2's cameras were rolling as Burke walked out of the courthouse, and slid into a sport-utility vehicle alongside his wife. 

CBS 2 Legal Analyst Miller said Burke might have been silent for a reason.

"That's the reason he didn't say anything in front of the judge, like, 'I'm sorry,'" Miller said. "He wants to maintain his right to have an appeal."

It was not yet clear Monday afternoon where Burke would serve his sentence. The defense wants him to be sent to the minimum-security Federal Correction Institution Oxford Camp in Oxford, Wisconsin. 

"It's a place where they put people they know will not escape—they're not going to run out—so they don't have to worry about guard towers and things like that," Mille said, "but he's locked up 24/7, which is not an easy thing for most people—particularly one that has lived the life like Alderman Burke has."

Burke is expected to file an appeal in the coming weeks. While Burke's appeal may start immediately, the process could take months or even years.

Former Chicago Ald. Ed Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison 08:32

Defense reads letters of support

The sentencing hearing Monday went on for about six hours.

During the hearing, the defense read letters in support of Burke, focusing on his generosity over the years. Prosecutors took issue with the use of letters of support—noting that an appeals court ruled that a judge had given too much weight to letters on behalf of former Ald. Ed Vrdolyak when Vrdolyak was initially sentenced only to probation for a real estate kickback scheme in 2008.

The letters documented Burke helping people in need of financial or emotional support, or words of encouragement. The defense said Burke made tuition payments, paid for funeral expenses, and in one case a mortgage payment—without the recipients asking, and sometimes for total strangers.

One letter from a former wrestling coach at Brother Rice High School, who noted that in 2008, a student faced a family tragedy, and Burke paid tuition and offered other acts of charity for the student and his family.

Another letter came from Jim Mullen, a former Chicago Police officer who was became a paraplegic on a ventilator after being shot in the line of duty in 1996. Mullen, who also later worked as a disabilities reporter for CBS 2, said Burke was a constant support who offered resources—helping Mullen create a new life and find a suitable living space.

"If it wasn't for Ald. Burke, I truly doubt I would be alive today to even write this letter," Mullen wrote.

The defense added that former Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said he could never imagine writing a letter for any person convicted of a crime—but he did so for Burke.

Burke also addressed the court himself, saying he was blessed to have a large family and wonderful friends, and he regrets the pain and sorrow he has caused. He asked the judge for mercy and compassion.

"I have been blessed to have a wonderful family and friends… a great career, and I'm sorry to see it end like this. The blame for this is mine and mine alone. I regret the pain and sorrow I've caused family and friends. I ask for compassion and mercy," Burke said. "Whatever time God has decided to leave me on this earth, I'd like to spend as much of it as possible with my devoted wife, wonderful children and grandchildren."

Former Ald. Ed Burke has no comment after being sentenced to 2 years in prison 03:54

Federal prosecutors argued Burke, who is 80 years old, deserved a sentence of more than 10 years in prison, arguing the lengthy prison term is necessary to "protect the public from his future criminal acts."

"Burke so far has failed to accept any responsibility in this case and maintains to this day he has done nothing wrong," prosecutors said. "It would be naïve to think that there is anything stopping Burke, the consummate political insider with his coterie of misguided friends and well-wishers, from engaging in the same type of conduct in conjunction with public officials in the future."

Burke's defense team argued for a sentence of fewer than five years in prison, and even possibly alternatives to incarceration.

"Such a sentence would be a powerful and just expression of mercy for an 80-year-old man in the twilight of his life who has given much of himself to so many and for so many years," Burke's lawyers said in a filing before the sentencing hearing.

At the hearing Monday, the defense also noted that Burke is no longer a lawyer, and will never again hold elected office. They said Burke is no threat to society.

The defense called Burke "a priest without a collar" for his acts of generosity and charity.

Former Ald. Ed Burke must report to prison in September 03:00

The judge also lowered the sentencing guidelines Monday before imposing the sentence, following a lengthy debate in court about how much money was really involved in Burke's bribery schemes, down from 10 years to a maximum of six to eight years.

But prosecutors noted again on Monday, "Burke has yet to express a single ounce of remorse—and not taken a single ounce of responsibility for what he did."

Judge Kendall had also been looking for Burke to accept responsibility for the conduct of which he was convicted, but Burke chose not to do so.

CBS 2 Legal Analyst Irv Miller said his own position on what kind of sentence Burke should receive were influenced by the letters on his behalf—and there was no way the judge could not likewise be influenced.

"As a former prosecutor, I thought he should pay the price for the crimes he was convicted of," Miller said. "Then I read these letters and said, 'You know what? There's got to be a little mercy for this guy."

Burke was the longest-serving alderman in Chicago history—taking office in 1969 when he was 25 years old to replace his late father, Joseph Burke, and leaving in 2023 after not running for another term while under indictment. The elder Burke's time in the City Council dated back to 1953—for a total of 70 years of Burke rule of the 14th Ward on the city's Southwest Side.

For much of his time in office, Burke was chairman of the powerful City Council Finance Committee.

After his conviction, Burke – who was the longest-serving alderman in Chicago City Council history – retired as an Illinois attorney, weeks after the Illinois Supreme Court was left unable to act on a bid to disbar him due to a lack of a quorum.

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