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Prosecutors detail plan for former Ald. Burke to be paid by developer, even though payment never happened

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CHICAGO (CBS) -- In the trial of former Ald. Ed Burke (14th), we have heard tapes in which he says he wants to get "the tuna," and wants the register to ring.

Federal prosecutors said these were references to efforts to get paid for political favors.

As CBS 2 Political Reporter Chris Tye reported, we learned in court Friday how Burke was preparing to get paid – and why in the case of the developer behind the renovation of the Old Post Office, that payment never happened.

In the case against Ed Burke, there are several charges of "attempted extortion." The word "attempted" is critical – because as the jury learned Friday, payment never came in the case of the Old Post Office, despite Burke spending hour after hour structuring how he should be paid for his political help.

"You know, if we're not signed up, I'm not going to do any heavy lifting for this guy," Burke is heard saying on a wiretap.

With thousands of undercover recordings at their disposal, federal prosecutors spent the week laying out how Burke wanted to be paid for helping the developers of the Old Post Office. They also laid out Burke's frustration when things didn't go the way he wanted.

"So far, we have no -- the cash register has not rung yet," Burke is heard saying on a wiretap.

New York developer 601W – so named for their office at 601 W. 26th St. in Manhattan – had already promised another firm its tax work for the $800 million Post Office project. So they planned to deliver the Klafter & Burke firm tax work at two of their other downtown buildings to get Burke paid.

One of them, the Sullivan Center here at Madison and State streets, came with a $15,000-a-year payment. Burke's firm would also get paid 20 percent of all tax reductions they saved 601W.

Contracts were only half signed at the other building where Burke was promised work, at 1 S. Wacker Dr.

But on Dec. 17, 2018, 601W withdrew from the arrangement - as news of Burke's offices being raided by the feds made news from Chicago to New York.

In short order, Klafter & Burke terminated the already-signed-off-on contract at the Sullivan Center, as Burke's troubles mounted. So, in the end, the register never rang.

This was despite contracts being hammered out, drafted, and signed — and meeting after meeting being held with a focus on Burke getting paid.

"So, I don't know why he doesn't give us more work," Burke was heard saying on a wiretap.

As Burke's attorneys argued at the outset, this was an extortion case without extortion.

As CBS 2 Legal Analyst Irv Miller puts it, the charge of attempted extortion does not necessitate that Burke completed the act, but only that he tried to do it.

Before the trial wraps, prosecutors will assuredly remind jurors that payment need not be successful to prove attempted extortion. The challenge for Burke's defense team will be to mute that argument.

Meantime, the focus shifted off the Post Office and onto a Binny's store on Irving Park Road Thursday. The story surrounding the Binny's was the fourth episode in the trail against Burke.

Prosecutors are set to wrap their part of this case one week from Monday.

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