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Campaign money tied to Ald. Edward Burke’s alleged extortion scheme was intended for County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, sources say

Thursday, January 03, 2019
Chicago Tribune
by By Bill Ruthhart and Jason Meisner•

 

Burke’s alleged extortion scheme was intended for County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, sources say

The campaign contribution that federal prosecutors allege powerful Ald. Edward Burke requested as part of an extortion scheme was intended for Cook County Board President and Chicago mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle, according to two sources familiar with the investigation.

In a criminal complaint unsealed Thursday, federal authorities alleged that Burke illegally solicited a campaign donation from an executive with a restaurant company for an unnamed politician. Burke made the request around December 2017, at the same time authorities alleged he tried to extort executives with a company that owns fast food restaurants in the Chicago region and was seeking approval of permits for remodeling work at a location in Burke’s ward

The Chicago Tribune previously has reported that Burke held a Jan. 19, 2018 fundraiser for Preckwinkle at his Gage Park home, and the sources confirmed that the campaign contribution the 14th ward alderman allegedly solicited illegally was for the Cook County Board president. According to the Burke criminal complaint, however, the politician since identified as Preckwinkle did not report the contribution to state election officials. State law requires all political contributions to be reported by candidates.

Preckwinkle’s campaign did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

The revelation that Preckwinkle, who also is the chairwoman of the Cook County Democratic Party, was the intended recipient of the campaign contribution as part of Burke’s attempted extortion could prove deeply damaging to her mayoral aspirations. She is considered a front runner in a field of 16 candidates running in the Feb. 26 race to replace outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

In addition to the campaign contribution to the unnamed candidate, Burke also allegedly sought to gain tax business at his law firm Klaftner & Burke in exchange for the City Hall approvals the company needed for its restaurant project, according to the complaint.

Burke sought the political contribution during a meeting with the restaurant executives in December 2017. Burke hosted a fundraiser for Preckwinkle weeks later.

At the time, Preckwinkle faced a primary challenge against former Ald. Bob Fioretti, in her bid for a third term as the county’s chief executive. Preckwinkle would go on to defeat Fioretti in the March primary and win re-election unopposed in November.

At the December meeting, Burke asked the two restaurant executives to “attend a political fundraiser for another politician,” according to the criminal complaint. One of the executives “felt it necessary to attend, or at least give a donation, otherwise, Burke would not support (their) efforts to do business in Chicago, including at the restaurant,” the complaint reads. The restaurant executive told Burke they “were not able to attend the event due to bad weather.”

The solicitation, though, resulted in a $10,000 contribution from the executive with the restaurant company which “subsequently was reduced to within the campaign contribution limit of $5,600,” according to the complaint. In a state race where campaign contribution limits are in place, the maximum amount that can be given to a candidate by an individual is $5,600.

The criminal complaint went on to state that the unknown politician’s public information reported with the Illinois State Board of Elections did not list the $5,600 contribution. State election law requires candidates to report all political contributions.

Preckwinkle campaign spokeswoman Monica Trevino did not immediately respond to questions of whether the county board president received a $10,000 contribution from a restaurant executive. Trevino said the campaign would check its internal fundraising records.

“Chairman Edward M. Burke would like to invite you to a fundraiser in support of Hon. Toni Preckwinkle,” reads the invitation to the Jan. 19 fundraiser, which offered the status of chair for $10,000, co-chair for $5,000 and sponsor for $2,500. In the weeks that followed, Preckwinkle’s campaign reported tens of thousands of dollars in contributions, and in recent years Burke has contributed nearly $13,000 to her campaign fund, the Tribune previously reported.

In a statement last month, Trevino sought to tie Preckwinkle more closely to Burke’s wife, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, than the alderman himself.

“Although Toni has known Alderman Ed Burke from his days in the City Council, they were far from close,” Trevino said.

Preckwinkle’s ties to the controversy are likely to rock the mayoral race. Former federal prosecutor and mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot wasted no time demanding answers from Preckwinkle.

“If it is her, I think she’s got to answer to the voters what exactly is the relationship between her and Ed Burke. Ed Burke never does anything without expecting a quid pro quo. He’s a cunning and strategic person,” Lightfoot said in an interview. “The fact he decided it was going to, as alleged in the complaint, strong arm and extort a contribution for her said there’s some kind of relationship and he wanted to get something out of it. She’s got to explain what is the quid pro quo.”

The Chicago Tribune’s Todd Lighty and Gregory Pratt contributed.

bruthhart@chicagotribune.com



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