Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (2024)

By the time former Chicago Ald. Edward Burke ambled up to the courtroom lectern at the end of a nearly six-hour sentencing hearing Monday, he looked and sounded little like the Democratic powerhouse who had sermonized in the City Council for decades and was caught on an FBI wire talking about making the cash register ring.

Instead, Burke looked every bit of his 80 years, a deposed politician with silver, thinning hair, in a dark suit and pocket square, striking a humbled tone.

In a measured voice, reading from a single sheet of paper with handwritten notes, Burke was uncharacteristically brief, saying he’d been blessed with a long career and was sorry to “see it end like this.” Then he asked the judge for mercy.

“Whatever amount of 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, my wonderful children and grandchildren,” Burke said.

As he spoke, his wife, former Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, bowed her head in the courtroom gallery and appeared to be crying.

Moments later, U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall sentenced Burke, the former chairman of the city’s Finance Committee and one of the last vestiges of the old Chicago political machine, to two years in federal prison in a corruption case that rocked city politics and ended his storied and controversial six-decade career.

In addition to the time behind bars, Kendall levied a stiff $2 million fine, saying in her estimation the financial penalties for politicians who engage in corruption should be far higher and noting the money will go to help victims of crime in which the defendants are not as wealthy as Burke.

“I think that really does send a message, if you want to commit public corruption by being greedy, then the disgorgement of your own funds will go toward the people,” Kendall said.

It was a somewhat subdued coda to a rollicking trial that featured colorful wiretapped phone calls, an alderman-turned-FBI mole, and some of the most memorable quotes — such as, “Did we land the tuna?” — to come out of federal court in years.

Many court watchers expected Burke to get more time in prison, especially in a building where judges have recently harangued against the costs of corruption.

In her view, Kendall agreed the courts have to deter other public officials from thinking of going down the same path as Burke, saying political corruption leads to “part of this erosion, part of this chipping away at our democracy, really whittling away at our rule of law.”

“When citizens lose faith (in their public officials) they begin to take the law into their own hands,” she said. “If a citizen starts thinking ‘Oh that’s just the Chicago Way,’ that’s when we’re eroding it.”

Still, the prison term she handed Burke was eight years less than the 10-year term that prosecutors originally sought.

Even the hefty fine is likely of limited consequence for Burke, whose net worth was calculated in court as somewhere near $30 million and who is eligible under a generous state law to convert to personal use about $2.45 million from the nearly $8 million still in his political fund.

Burke can transfer the money from his campaign fund to his personal account, pay taxes on the income and pay his fine with the money, Kent Redfield, a campaign finance expert who worked on the 1998 law, told the Tribune on Monday.

“He has enough in his campaign fund to cover it,” Redfield said of the fine. “Never underestimate the Illinois politicians.”

“It just becomes personal income, and he can spend that money any way he chooses,” Redfield said.

In announcing her ruling, Kendall said she had never in her career received so many letters vouching for a defendant’s good character, and seemed touched by the stories of everyday people to whom Burke reached out, unprompted, to help.

The relatively limited period of criminal conduct for which Burke was convicted at trial does not wipe away those decades of good works, Kendall said.

The judge also saved some criticism for the U.S. attorney’s office for its unprecedented deferred prosecution agreement with former Ald. Daniel Solis, who wore a wire against Burke and others and was rewarded with a deal that will keep him even having a conviction on his record — let alone serving jail time.

“It is uncomfortable for me to see that when the government steps up and says you must send a strong message” to elected officials, that Solis has been allowed to skate, she said.

Seated at the defense table with a stoic look on his face, Burke did not appear to react to the sentence when it was handed down. After the hearing ended, however, Burke appeared to be pleased with the outcome, grinning and hugging his attorneys, relatives and supporters who had packed into Kendall’s 25th floor courtroom.

Among his well-wishers was Pete Andrews, Burke’s longtime 14th Ward aide who was acquitted at trial of helping Burke put the squeeze on the wealthy owners of a Burger King franchise by shutting down their renovation project. As court let out, Andrews approached Burke and greeted him warmly, putting an arm on his shoulder.

Moments earlier, Burke had addressed the judge in a highly anticipated moment of the long-running case. Though not known for his brevity on the City Council floor, Burke kept his remarks to the judge very short, and stopped short of apologizing for any of the crimes for which he was convicted.

“The blame for this is mine and mine alone. I regret the pain and the sorrow that I have caused my family and my dear friends and I would ask your honor to have compassion and mercy,” he said.

Burke was ordered to surrender to prison by Sept. 23. His lawyers asked the judge to recommend the federal facility in Oxford, Wisconsin — a prison that has seen its fair share of convicted Illinois politicians over the years.

Burke huddled with his attorneys and supporters for nearly an hour after the hearing, then left the courthouse on South Dearborn Street without commenting and departed in a black SUV while reporters shouted questions.

Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (1)

In a statement after the sentencing, acting U.S. Attorney Morris Pasqual said that corruption in the City Council “tears at the fabric of a vital body of local government.”

“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,” Pasqual said.. Our office will continue to vigorously prosecute corruption and hold public officials accountable for violating the public trust.”

Former Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who battled Burke while she was mayor and criticized giving Solis a lenient deal, said Burke “should be grateful that his sentence wasn’t longer — it certainly could have been justifiably so.” “Over decades, Ed Burke caused real harm to people and communities, by abusing the power he’d amassed and by monetizing his public service position,” Lightfoot said.

Burke’s attorneys declined to comment.

The hearing was among the most anticipated proceedings in years in Chicago’s federal court, a building that has seen countless politicians, both Republicans and Democrats, handed prison terms, a veritable parade of aldermen, county commissioners, state representatives, senators, governors and even a former speaker of the U.S. House.

But perhaps none wielded so much power for so long as Burke, the head of the vaunted Finance Committee who not only worked the city’s purse strings but also was a shrewd ward boss, political tactician and judicial slate-maker.

Burke was convicted by a jury in December of racketeering conspiracy, bribery and attempted extortion in a series of schemes to use his considerable City Hall clout to try and win business from developers for his private property tax law firm.

Among them were efforts to woo the New York-based developers of the $600 million renovation of the Old Post Office, extorting the Texas owners of the Burger King, who were seeking to renovate a restaurant in Burke’s 14th Ward, and intervening on behalf of a developer in Portage Park who wanted help getting the pole sign approved for a new Binny’s Beverage Depot location.

Burke was also found guilty of threatening to hold up a fee increase for the Field Museum because he was angry the museum had ignored an internship application from his goddaughter, who is the daughter of former 32nd Ward Ald. Terry Gabinski, Burke’s longtime friend.

The hearing kicked off with attorneys attempting to put a price tag on Burke’s crimes: The money that was lost, or potentially lost, due to his efforts at extortion and bribery. The number that Kendall eventually settled on — about $215,000 — was far below what prosecutors had argued, which lowered Burke’s sentencing guidelines to about six to eight years behind bars.

In arguing for a sentence at the high end of that range, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Streicker said the evidence in the case, including the undercover recordings, showed Burke was a “seasoned professional” who abused his power “again and again and again and again over a period of years, working in his own best interest instead of the public’s.”

“His conduct hurt not only the specific victims in his case, but all residents of the city of Chicago who have a right to honest government,” she said. “That trust will not easily be repaired.”

Burke attorney Charles Sklarsky, meanwhile, urged the judge to consider an alternative to prison, noting the deluge of letters from people vouching for Burke’s character and good works.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (2)

    George Quinn / Chicago Tribune

    Edward Burke, second from right, on the day he was sworn in as alderman is with his mother, Mrs. Anna Burke, and Judge Joseph B. Hermes, left, and the Rev. Richard Wolfe of Visitation Parish, in City Council Chambers on March 14, 1969.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (3)

    Val Mazzenga/Chicago Tribune

    Aldermen Edward Burke, left, and Edward Vrdolyak at City Hall on May 7, 1983.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (4)

    Candidate photo

    Edward M. Burke is a candidate for alderman in the 14th Ward in 1969.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (5)

    Chicago Tribune historical photo

    Ald. Edward M. Burke, 14, at age 25, wheels a baggage cart as he performs his first official duties in the Moskala Armory at 2025 E. 71st St. on July 26, 1969, in Chicago.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (6)

    Anne Cusack / Chicago Tribune

    Fierce foes Ald. Tim Evans, left, and Ald. Edward Burke at a Finance Committee meeting Oct. 3, 1986, in Chicago. During the first three years of Harold Washington's first term as Chicago's first black mayor, much of his agenda was blocked because of the "Council Wars."

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (7)

    Carl Wagner/Chicago Tribune

    Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, is the center of a huddle during a City Council meeting on July 13, 1988.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (8)

    Frank Hanes / Chicago Tribune

    Prior to the election of Ald. Michael Bilandic, 11th, as the acting mayor of Chicago, Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, left, and Ald. Wilson Frost, 34th, hold a private discussion in a crowded City Council chambers in December 1976. Frost, president pro tem of the council, withdrew from the running for the post as acting mayor.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (9)

    Anne Cusack / Chicago Tribune

    Harold Washington, from left, Richard Daley and Jane Byrne at a mayoral debate on Jan. 31, 1983, are "at ease" for a moment after the last question was answered. It was their fourth and final debate.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (10)

    Ernie Cox Jr. / Chicago Tribune

    Aldermen Bobby Rush, from left, Timothy Evans, Edward Burke and Lawrence Bloom hold hands and pray at a City Council meeting Sept. 28, 1983. The original caption said, "They can hold hands together but they can't work together."

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (11)

    Bob Fila / Chicago Tribune

    A downcast Ald. Edward Burke stands with his wife, Anne, as he concedes defeat to state Sen. Richard M. Daley in the Democratic race for the Cook County state's attorney nomination on March 18, 1980.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (12)

    Karen Engstrom/Chicago Tribune

    Ald. Cliff Kelley, left, and Ald. Edward Burke chat during a City Council meeting on April 1, 1987.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (13)

    Chris Walker / Chicago Tribune

    Before a memorial service for Mayor Harold Washington, fellow aldermen listen to Ald. Edward Burke, center, at City Hall on Nov. 25, 1987. Those listening to Burke include Ald.Ed Smith, 28th; Ald. George Hagopian, 30th; Sergeant-at-Arms Robert Robinson; Ald. Roman Pucinski, 41st; Ald. Patrick O'Connor, 40th; and Ald. Patrick Levar, 45th.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (14)

    Karen Engstrom/Chicago Tribune

    Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, center, and Ald. Edward Vrdolyak, 10th, second from left, head for a meeting with Mayor Harold Washington on on July 2, 1985, at Chicago City Hall.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (15)

    Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune

    Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, chairman of the city council's Finance Committee, calls for quiet on March 9, 1987, during an exchange between Ald. Timothy Evans, left, and an attorney representing the developers of Park Tower, a public housing project in Evans' 4th Ward.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (16)

    Ray Gora / Chicago Tribune

    Ald. Edward Burke, center, and residents of New City tour the area around 52nd and Green streets to view the neighborhood's rundown condition in 1975.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (17)

    Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune

    Mayor Harold Washington and Ald. Edward Burke put aside their political differences as they marched together in the sixth annual 63d Street Christmas Parade on Nov. 23, 1985.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (18)

    Nancy Stone / Chicago Tribune

    Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, left, has a talk with Ald. Anthony Beale, 9th, during the City Council meeting on June 26, 2013.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (19)

    John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune

    Ald. Edward Burke ignores questions from reporters after participating in a 14th Ward aldermanic candidate forum at New Life Community Church on Jan. 23, 2019.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (20)

    Ernie Cox Jr./Chicago Tribune

    Ald. Edward Burke, left, at a City Council meeting on Sept. 28, 1983.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (21)

    Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune

    Ald. Edward Burke speaks at the City Council meeting on May 29, 2019. Shortly after, Mayor Lori Lightfoot cut him off and said, "I will call you when I'm ready to hear from you."

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (22)

    Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune

    Former Chicago Ald. Edward Burke arrives at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse with wife Anne Burke on Nov. 30, 2023.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (23)

    Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune

    Former Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, exits the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago after a guilty verdict in his corruption trial, Dec. 21, 2023.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (24)

    John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune

    Ald. Edward Burke sits in the audience section before a 14th Ward aldermanic candidate forum at New Life Community Church on Jan. 23, 2019.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (25)

    Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune

    Ald. Edward Burke talks to reporters as he leaves his office through the rear exit on election night Feb. 26, 2019.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (26)

    E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune

    Ald. Ed Burke, 14th, right, listens to City Council discussion of Mayor Lori Lightfoot's $16.4 billion 2023 budget on Nov. 7, 2022.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (27)

    John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune

    Former Ald. Ed Burke gets into an awaiting vehicle after attending his corruption trial at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, Nov. 28, 2023.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (28)

    John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune

    Former 14th Ward Ald. Ed Burke exits after attending his corruption trial at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, Nov. 28, 2023, in Chicago.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (29)

    Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune

    Former Chicago Ald. Edward Burke leaves the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse during a lunch break in his corruption trial on Nov. 17, 2023.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (30)

    Charles Osgood/Chicago Tribune

    Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, during anews conference after a City Council meeting Dec. 26, 1999.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (31)

    Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune

    Nearly five years after he was first charged, ex-Chicago Ald. Edward Burke arrives at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago to go on trial in a corruption case.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (32)

    Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune

    Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, rides an elevator down from the second floor of City Hall after attending his final City Council meeting as an alderman on April 19, 2023.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (33)

    Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune

    Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, departs Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago on June 4, 2019 after being arraigned on multiple federal corruption charges.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (34)

    Stacey Wescott / Chicago Tribune

    Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, appears at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouseon June 4, 2019. He pleaded not guilty to sweeping corruption charges alleging he abused his City Hall clout.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (35)

    Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune

    Tape covers Ald. Edward Burke's name on the Finance Committee chairman's office door at City Hall on Jan. 8, 2019. Burke took over as Finance Committee chairman in 1983.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (36)

    Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune

    Ald. Edward Burke talks with members of thenews media outside his home after turning himself in at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse on Jan. 3, 2019, in Chicago.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (37)

    Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune

    Ald. Edward Burke arrives home after turning himself in at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse on Jan. 3, 2019, in Chicago.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (38)

    Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune

    Ald. Edward Burke talks with members of the news media outside his home after turning himself in earlier at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse on Jan. 3, 2019, in Chicago.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (39)

    Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune

    Ald. Edward Burke departs after turning himself in Jan. 3, 2019, at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (40)

    Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune

    Ald. Edward Burke departs the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse Jan. 3, 2019, after turning himself in.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (41)

    Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune

    Ald. Edward Burke departs the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse on Jan. 3, 2019, after turning himself in.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (42)

    Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune

    Ald. Edward Burke turns himself in at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago on Jan. 3, 2019.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (43)

    Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune

    Ald. Edward Burke turns himself in at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago on Jan. 3, 2019.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (44)

    Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune

    Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, leaves his home in Chicago on Jan. 3, 2019.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (45)

    Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune

    Ald. Edward Burke returns to his Southwest Side home Nov. 29, 2018, after federal raids on his offices earlier in the day.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (46)

    Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune

    Ald. Edward Burke returns to his Southwest Side home Nov. 29, 2018, after federal raids on his offices earlier in the day.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (47)

    Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune

    Ald. Edward Burke returns to his Southwest Side home Nov. 29, 2018, after federal raids on his offices earlier in the day.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (48)

    Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune

    Boxes are carried away by investigators from Ald. Edward Burke's 14th Ward office in the 2600 block of West 51st Street in Chicago on Nov. 29, 2018.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (49)

    Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune

    Boxes are carried away by investigators from Ald. Edward Burke's 14th Ward office in the 2600 block of West 51st Street on Nov. 29, 2018, in Chicago.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (50)

    Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune

    Unidentified people exit Ald. Edward Burke's 14th Ward office in the 2600 block of West 51st Street on Nov. 29, 2018, in Chicago. The office was closed and the windows covered with brown paper for an FBI investigation.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (51)

    Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune

    A Chicago flag sits near a desk inside Ald. Edward Burke's office at City Hall while brown paper covers the glass doors leading inside after federal agents raided the office earlier in the day Nov. 29, 2018.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (52)

    Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune

    A reporter tries to take a photo through the brown paper lining the glass windows of Ald. Edward Burke's office in City Hall on Nov. 29, 2018. Federal agents raided the office, sources said.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (53)

    Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune

    Ald. Edward Burke's 14th Ward office in the 2600 block of West 51st Street is closed and the windows covered for an FBI investigation on Nov. 29, 2018.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (54)

    Nancy Stone / Chicago Tribune

    Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, was honored at the City Club in Chicago on March 7, 2018, for his 50 years of public service.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (55)

    E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune

    Ald. Ed Burke, 14th Ward, listens to City Council discussion of Mayor Lori Lightfoot's $16.4 billion 2023 budget on Nov. 7, 2022.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (56)

    Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune

    Ald. Edward Burke departs after turning himself in on Jan. 3, 2019, at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse.

  • Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (57)

    Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune

    Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, at City Hall in Chicago at a special meeting about Mayor Lori Lightfoot's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city workers on March 16, 2022. Lacking a quorum, the meeting was adjourned.

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“Ed Burke doesn’t deserve compassion because he’s a public official or he’s somehow above the law — but he’s not below the law either — he deserves compassion because he’s done so much good with his life, not only for well-heeled people but for strangers,” Sklarsky said. “He’s done it with no expectation of anything in return.”

Sklarsky said the Ed Burke he knew was so saintly that he could have been a man of the cloth.

“Ed is really a priest without a collar,” he said. “Because he has done so many good deeds that are priestly in nature.”

And “no disrespect to the jury,” Sklarsky said, but they hardly could have been a jury of peers: “Ed Burke doesn’t really have any peers in this city when it comes to acts of kindness and generosity and compassion.”

As a federal prosecutor decades ago, Sklarsky was one of the forces behind Operation Greylord, a sweeping investigation that exposed corruption in the state court system. He argued in at least one Greylord case involving the conviction of a Cook County judge that a severe prison term would send an important message and deter future corruption.

But on Monday, Sklarsky claimed that when he was a prosecutor, he didn’t particularly care much about the harshness of the sentence. “What I cared about was doing justice to get the facts out, and let the court decide justice,” he said.

Meanwhile, Streicker said in her argument that Burke’s lengthy career is actually an aggravating factor, because he was in the best position to know what he was doing was illegal.

“He had over $30 million, yet he was greedy,” she said. “An opportunist looking for more ways to exploit his position for his own gain.”

She also said many of the good acts described in the letters were a product of the immense power the defendant accumulated as alderman.

“He was in the business of dispensing favors,” she said.

Streicker also brought up the corruption conviction of ex-Ald. Edward Vrdolyak, one of Burke’s longtime colleagues who teamed up with Burke in the 1980s to thwart former Mayor Harold Washington, the city’s first Black mayor, at virtually every turn.

Vrdolyak was initially given probation, a decision that was later overturned by the Appellate Court which ruled then-U.S. District Judge Milton Shadur had given too much weight to the support letters from friends and family.

“Charity acts from the wealthy shouldn’t be treated as a get-out-of-jail-free card,” Streicker said, paraphrasing the 7th Circuit ruling.

Burke’s high-profile, six-week trial featured some 38 witnesses and more than 100 secretly recorded videos and wiretapped recordings, offering a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at one of Chicago’s top political power brokers at work.

At the heart of the case were dozens of wiretapped phone calls and secretly recorded meetings made by Solis, the former 25th Ward alderman who turned FBI mole after being confronted in 2016 with his own wrongdoing.

In closing arguments, prosecutors put up on large video screens a series of now-notorious statements made by Burke on the recordings. Among them: “The cash register has not rung yet,” “They can go (expletive) themselves,” and “Did we land the tuna?”

Meanwhile, Monday’s hearing marked the final chapter of the downfall of a political titan. And it ended on a quiet almost-pious note.

After hours of arguments that heavily featured Burke’s Catholic faith, Kendall, shortly before adjourning court, made a final comment to Burke that included an apparent reference to a much higher authority than the Northern District of Illinois.

“Mr. Burke, I wish you well,” said Kendall, who is herself Catholic. “This is my court and my sentence. You have other courts that are not mine, and you know that.”

Burke stood at the defense table and nodded, saying, “Thank you, your honor.”

jmeisner@chicagotribune.

rlong@chicagotribune.com

mcrepeau@chicagotribune.com

Humbled political titan Edward Burke sentenced to 2 years in prison in corruption case; judge fines ex-alderman $2 million (2024)

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