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Unsealed affidavit reveals new details in Chicago alderman corruption probe

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An FBI search warrant affidavit that led to the 2018 raid on Ald. Edward Burke’s City Hall offices was made public Friday by prosecutors, providing new detail on audio and video recordings made in the political corruption case that rocked Chicago politics three years ago.

The 163-page affidavit, which was partially redacted, revealed detailed recordings made by then-Ald. Daniel Solis as he was secretly cooperating with investigators.

One of those recordings was of a meeting in October 2016 in Solis’ City Hall office with developers renovating Chicago’s Old Main Post Office, which is at the center of the corruption charges against Burke.

After the developers left, Burke and Solis talked at about getting them and others needing City Council action to hire Burke’s law firm to do property tax reductions, according to the affidavit.

After Solis asks whether there were any “legal problems” with what they were proposing, Burke told him, “not that I know of,” according to the document.

“Hey you’re not gonna get in any trouble, and I’m certainly not gonna get in any trouble at this stage in the game,” Burke said, according to the affidavit.

Before Burke left the office, he told Solis to bring him any other developers who might be in need of his assistance. “There are a lot of developers,” Solis allegedly responded.

“They all, ah, they all need somebody that does what I do,” Burke replied, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit was filed in support of search warrant for Burke’s offices at City Hall, his ward office on West 51st Street, his cell phone, as well as Burke himself. Agents asked in the document for permission to press the alderman’s fingers onto his phone to unlock it if necessary.

Burke, 78, was originally charged in a criminal complaint in January 2019. He was indicted four months later on 14 counts including racketeering, federal program bribery, attempted extortion, conspiracy to commit extortion and using interstate commerce to facilitate an unlawful activity.

The 59-page indictment outlined a series of schemes in which Burke allegedly tried to muscle developers into hiring his law firm, Klafter & Burke, to appeal their property taxes. Among the projects Burke tried to capitalize on was the massive $800 million renovation of the post office in the West Loop, according to the charges.

Also charged was Burke’s longtime aide, Peter Andrews, who was accused of assisting the alderman in attempting to shake down two businessmen seeking to renovate a Burger King restaurant in the 14th Ward.

The indictment also accused developer Charles Cui of hiring Burke’s law firm in exchange for the alderman’s help with a sign permit and financing deal for a project in the Portage Park neighborhood.

All three have pleaded not guilty.

Burke’s attorneys argued in a motion filed last year that evidence gleaned from the wiretaps on Burke’s cellphone and City Hall offices, which allowed the FBI to monitor thousands of conversations the alderman had over the course of nearly a year, should be suppressed.

They accused prosecutors of directing Solis to have “scripted interactions” with Burke and lie about the post office deal to curry favor with the government. At the time, Solis himself had been recorded “committing a number of different crimes,” the motion stated.

Burke’s attorneys also revealed that Solis entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the government on Jan. 3, 2019, the same day Burke was first charged. It was soon after Solis had abruptly announced his retirement and just days before court records were erroneously unsealed showing Solis had been secretly recorded by a developer.

According to the filing, Solis admitted in the agreement to taking campaign cash from a real estate developer in exchange for official action at the Zoning Committee that Solis chaired.

The Tribune has previously reported that Solis made audio and video recordings as part of the probe, including of Burke and then-Speaker Michael Madigan.

Madigan has not been charged with any wrongdoing, but he’s been identified as Public Official A in a separate probe alleging a bribery scheme by Commonwealth Edison.

Meanwhile, much of what is contained in the search warrant affidavit has already been made public in various court filings, and other sections that likely contain new information were blacked out by prosecutors.

The document does, however, provide new details on Burke’s wiretapped conversations that could eventually be played to a jury.

Among the conversations documented in the affidavit was a September 2016 meeting in Burke’s Finance Committee office, where he and Solis allegedly discussed the solicitation of business for Burke’s firm as well as a potential “marketing arrangement” for Solis, which Burke referred to as “sharing the wealth.”

“I’m of the belief that if you get help from somebody to get some work, that they’re entitled to share it, and it’s just up to us to figure out a way that it can be done so that there’s no pitfalls, legally,” Burke was quoted as saying in the affidavit.

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