Federal agents raided the City Hall office of powerful Chicago Ald. Edward Burke on Thursday morning, the FBI confirmed.
Agents arrived at the office early Thursday morning, told employees to leave and papered over the glass windows at the office’s entrance to conceal the investigation going on inside. A woman who left the office and did not identify herself said FBI agents were inside.
The agency’s Chicago office later confirmed the searches. In response to questions about the raid at Burke’s City Hall office, FBI Special Agent Jeanine Wheeler issued a one-sentence statement: “Agents from the FBI are executing search warrants at multiple locations today.”
For his part, Burke issued a statement Thursday afternoon predicting he would not be ensnared by the federal investigation, noting he has dodged several other probes during his five decades in Chicago politics.
“As you are aware, there have previously been several other investigations such as this. In every instance we cooperated fully. And in every instance nothing has been found,” Burke said. “So once again we will be cooperating fully and I am completely confident that at the end of the day nothing will be found amiss in this instance either.”
A swarm of reporters waited outside Burke’s City Hall office for hours Thursday, as federal agents did their work inside. By 2 p.m., the investigators had walked boxes and computers down a back staircase and out of City Hall, out of the view of the assembled media contingent, according to city sources.
Burke’s ward office on the Southwest Side also had the same brown paper taped over its front door with three signs that read, “Office closed.” An officer sitting in a squad car parked behind Burke’s ward office said a search warrant was being executed inside but offered no further details.
By 1:30 p.m., federal agents had left Burke’s ward office with boxes, at least three monitors and what appeared to be a computer.
A law enforcement source told the Chicago Tribune that no arrests were made or are imminent. Authorities did not search Burke’s law office, according to the source, who had no details on the nature of the investigation.
Burke is the longtime chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee, where he controls much of the legislative purse strings at City Hall. He has held office since 1969 and is running for re-election to a record 14th term.
Ald. Howard Brookins, who has offices next to Burke’s at City Hall, said he didn’t know what was going on behind the brown paper covering Burke’s office doors. But he questioned whether federal agents would conduct raids of an official set to stand for re-election in February.
“I listen to the news and read the papers, and I thought they didn’t do anything that close to an election, so it’s shocking to me as to how you, or why something like this would happen some 90 days before an election,” Brookins told a scrum of reporters.
Burke’s wife, Anne Burke, just won retention to another term on the Illinois Supreme Court. She was sworn-in during a private ceremony Thursday morning in Chicago.
Burke, who is celebrating his 50th year on the council, holds the record for Chicago’s longest-serving alderman.
Burke won election as Democratic committeeman for the 14th Ward in July 1968 after his father, Ald. Joseph P. Burke, died of lung cancer while in office. The younger Burke has held that post ever since, rising from a young ward heeler to long-serving chairman of the powerful City Council Finance Committee.
That includes running the workers’ compensation program for the city’s workforce, excluding sworn police and fire personnel injured in the line of duty.
In 2012, a federal grand jury demanded that Burke’s Finance Committee turn over records related to a “duty disability” program that in 2011 alone paid out $115 million to disabled city workers, according to documents the Chicago Tribune obtained at the time.
The 2012 subpoenas were issued about one week after city Inspector General Joseph Ferguson, a former federal prosecutor, announced that Burke’s committee had rebuffed his attempts to obtain many of the same records.
Burke has come under increased political pressure in recent years as he represents a majority Hispanic ward.
U.S. Rep.-Elect Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and his allies successfully defeated Burke’s brother, Dan Burke, in a state legislative primary earlier this year. Dan Burke was defeated by high school counselor Aaron Ortiz.
On Thursday, Garcia issued a statement slamming Burke for representing an “impediment to political progress and community empowerment.”
“Make no mistake,” Garcia said. “Ald. Burke is the last bastion of Chicago machine politics.”
Garcia and his Southwest Side allies have vowed to take aim at Ald. Burke next, and four opponents have filed to run against the alderman in the Feb. 26 election. Two of them held news conferences outside of his ward office Thursday afternoon to decry Burke’s style of machine politics.
“Reform is in the air. It’s time for a change. 50 years is enough,” said Jose Luis Torrez, one of the candidates challenging Burke. “The FBI doesn’t show up just to say, ‘Hi.’”
In addition to his aldermanic duties, Burke’s law firm is among the most prominent property tax appeals firms in the city. Burke’s work has included conducted property tax appeals for President Donald Trump’s Chicago tower.
That has drawn the ire of Latino and progressive activists who have used Burke’s work to tie the alderman to the Trump’s anti-immigration policies.
Earlier this year, Burke was asked if he was worried about winning re-election given his brother’s defeat and Garcia and his progressive allies taking aim at him next.
The powerful alderman offered a one-word answer: “No.”
Chicago Tribune’s Gregory Pratt contributed.
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