Chicago’s longest-serving and arguably most powerful City Council member was charged on Wednesday with extortion after prosecutors say he attempted to shake down a major fast-food chain trying to obtain city permits for remodeling, according to Bloomberg News.
Alderman Ed Burke, 75, is charged with one count of attempted extortion for conveying to company executives in 2017 that they'd get the permits only if they signed on as clients at Burke's private property-tax law firm in Chicago, a 37-page complaint unsealed on Thursday says.
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.
One intermediary told Burke he would tell one of the executives "how important you are" when he met the person for dinner.
"You are good to do that," Burke responded. "But I'd also like to get some of his law business. ... I hear he has 300 (restaurants out here)."
After the alderman failed to get what he wanted, Burke told one of his ward employees they would "play hard" ball with the company, according to the complaint.
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," one email said after Burke forced them to halt the renovations.
Burke’s law firm, Klafter & Burke — which specialized in property tax appeals, according to Bloomberg — counted President Donald Trump’s tower in downtown Chicago as a client, though that relationship appears to be unrelated to Burke’s current legal troubles.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported in 2016 that the law firm saved the Trump building enterprise $14 million by appealing property tax bills over seven years.