A powerful Chicago City Council member was charged Thursday with trying to shake down a fast-food restaurant seeking city remodeling permits.
Alderman Ed Burke, 75, is charged with one count of attempted extortion. In 2017 he told company executives that they'd get the permits if they signed on as clients at Burke's private property-tax law firm in Chicago, the 37-page complaint says. A conviction carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence.
Burke has been on the council for 50 years and chaired its finance committee for the last three decades.
Burke was scheduled to make an initial appearance later Thursday in U.S. District Court in Chicago. A message seeking comment left at his law office was not returned.
Burke said he was sure agents wouldn't find anything "amiss" when the FBI raided on his offices at City Hall and in his Southwest Side ward in November.
The complaint, which does not identify the fast-food company or the executives allegedly squeezed, includes excerpts from wiretaps of Burke's phone and emails seized in the raids.
When the executives didn't give Burke's law firm the business he wanted, Burke spoke with one of his ward employees about how they would "play hard" ball with the company, the complaint says.
Emails between the executives, who the complaint says are victims and not targets of the investigation, show how worried they were about the damage Burke could do to their enterprise.
"I know these guys are very powerful and they can make life very difficult for all of our Chicago stores and I do not want to take this risk," said one email, sent after Burke forced them to halt the renovations.
Burke also solicited a campaign donation for a different politician from one of the executives, which the executive later told investigators he had no choice to give, the complaint says.
Burke joins a long list of Chicago lawmakers charged criminally, including former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is serving a 14-year prison term on multiple federal corruption convictions.
The Democrat's law firm, Klafter & Burke, represented the high-rise tower that bears President Donald Trump's name. There's no indication the case is at all tied to his firm's work for Trump.
The Chicago-Sun Times reported in 2016 that the law firm saved building enterprise $14 million by appealing property tax bills over seven years.
U.S. Rep.-elect Jesus "Chuy" Garcia and other Burke critics in Chicago's Hispanic community have drawn attention to that tax work in a bid to hurt Burke politically.
Burke's wife, Anne Burke, is an Illinois Supreme Court justice. Ed Burke's father was also influential in Democratic circles in Chicago until his death in the 1960s. Other Burke relatives also have been involved in Illinois politics.
A city inspector's report in 2016 found snow removal crews plowed the street where he lived far more often than other streets after a 2015 snow storm. They worked his street 46 times in five days, the report said.