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Jury Hears Testimony in Chicago Corruption Case

News Analysis


December 1, 2023


Ainsley King


 


Jury hears Testmony in Chicago Corruption Trial


In May 2017, after nearly a year of intricate renovation work on Chicago's mammoth Old Post Office, the developer had grown extremely frustrated with Amtrak, the company that owns the railroad tracks beneath the structure.


 


Alderman Danny Solis told the developer his colleague, Ald. Edward M. Burke, could “help us in terms of his connection with the Amtrak board.” However, Solis recommended that the developer work with Burke's legal practice. Harry Skydell, the developer, agreed to give Burke a call. Subsequently, Solis gave Burke a call to share the good news.


 


“So, did we land … the tuna?” Burke quipped.


 


This comment, the most well-known passage from Burke's extensive racketeering indictment, was read to the jury during the resumption of testimony on Thursday in Burke's corruption trial. Furthermore, Burke mentioned "the tuna" twice, according to the tape that was played for the jury.


 


“If we land the tuna, there certainly will be a day of accounting, you can count on that,” Burke told Solis. 


As it happened, Solis had been assisting the FBI in recording those talks. The Chicago Sun-Times later disclosed his collaboration with the federal authorities in January 2019. After that, he disappeared and left the government later that year. Despite being indicted in 2019, Burke held his position until May of last year. 


 


Earlier on Thursday, U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall rejected a motion for a mistrial in the case, stating that the jury she had selected is "very good" and that the prosecution's unsatisfactory testimony on Wednesday "contains little evidence of an intentional act."


 


Jurors "wrote down," according to Kendall, an order to strike a witness's statement that the "Chicago way of doing business" is "very corrupt." The official from Amtrak made the remark. Burke's attorneys then requested a mistrial as a result.


 


The veteran federal prosecutor Diane MacArthur, the assistant US attorney who had been grilling the Amtrak official, was commended by the judge on Thursday for her professionalism. Kendall pointed out that the COVID-19 problems from earlier this week also harm prosecutors. This meant that they had to call the witness sooner than they had anticipated.


 


Wednesday marked the end of Burke's trial for the day, with Kendall directing all parties to submit briefs regarding the request for a mistrial.


 


Ray Lang, an official at Amtrak, testified that on December 14, 2016, he had emailed a colleague to let them know that "the owners of the Old Post Office hired Ed Burke today." He commented that hiring Burke was "a very old-school Chicago move," pointing out that Burke was friends with Jeff Moreland, an Amtrak board member.


 


On Wednesday, MacArthur questioned Lang about his meaning while he was testifying. 


“A developer hiring an alderman to do property tax work … I thought was symbolic of the Chicago way of doing business,” Lang replied. 


And then, MacArthur asked him what he meant by that. 


I mean it’s very corrupt,” Lang said. 


In a succinct Thursday morning argument, Burke's attorneys stated that Lang's remark addressed "the critical, ultimate issue in the case before the jury." 


They wrote, "Lang has irreversibly prejudiced the jury by expressing his belief that all such relationships are corrupt."


"A single sentence uttered by a lay witness during a lengthy trial is no grounds for a mistrial," the prosecution argued, however.


They said, "This is a multiweek trial with hundreds of documentary exhibits, scores of recordings, and dozens of witnesses."


Kendall turned down the defense's request, so the prosecution went back to detailing one of the plots they believe Burke was behind.


 


Because it owns the railroad tracks that run beneath Chicago's enormous Old Post Office, which also crosses the Eisenhower Expressway, Amtrak is included in the Burke case's narrative. Burke is charged with attempting to coerce the New York-based developers who decided to refurbish the building in 2016 into giving his private property tax appeals law firm business.


However, the developers became extremely irritated with Amtrak and complained before the jury on Wednesday about how it took too long and demanded excessive prices.


Burke was caught on tape telling others that he assisted in getting the daughter of an Amtrak board member appointed as a judge, suggesting that he attempted to take advantage of the situation.


According to Lang's testimony, they had a meeting on December 21, 2016. The 14th Ward alderperson had remarked, according to Lang at the time, "that he was considering representing the Old Post Office with his law firm." Then, on December 22, 2016, during a separate discussion with Solis, Burke described the problems the Old Post Office developers were experiencing with Amtrak.


Burke was unaware that Solis had consented to wear a wire for the FBI when the agency presented him with proof of his own purported misconduct.


In that meeting with Solis on December 22, 2016, Burke stated, “Jews are Jews and they’ll deal with Jews to the exclusion of everybody else … unless there’s a reason for them to use a Christian.”


The key Old Post Office developer, Skydell, is Jewish. Burke is Roman Catholic. Burke told Solis later on in the discussion that "we made" Moreland's daughter a judge.


Burke said to Solis the following month that he would not "do any lifting" if "we're not signed up." No one had yet been employed by his law practice.


Burke informed Solis, "The cash register has not rung yet."


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