HOW IS EX-ALD. SO­LIS STILL A FREE MAN?

BURKE’S LAWYERS MAY HAVE THE AN­SWER

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY JON SEI­DEL, FED­ERAL COURTS RE­PORTER jsei­del@sun­times.com | @Sei­delCon­tent Con­tribut­ing: Mark Brown

The mys­tery of cor­rupt ex-Ald. Danny So­lis’ fate may have fi­nally been an­swered by the man he tried to help the feds put be­hind bars: in­dicted Ald. Edward M. Burke.

In a court fil­ing Thurs­day, Burke’s lawyers wrote that So­lis struck what’s known as a de­ferred-pros­e­cu­tion agree­ment with fed­eral prose­cu­tors on Jan. 3, 2019.

Un­til now, it hadn’t been pub­licly known whether So­lis would face crim­i­nal charges af­ter years of co­op­er­at­ing with in­ves­ti­ga­tors, who had en­snared So­lis in cor­rup­tion schemes in­volv­ing So­lis’ role as chair of the City Coun­cil’s zon­ing committee. But Burke’s lawyers say So­lis cut his deal with the feds on the same ex­act day Chicagoans first learned that Burke had been crim­i­nally charged in an at­tempted ex­tor­tion scheme.

A de­ferred-pros­e­cu­tion agree­ment would al­low So­lis to avoid a crim­i­nal con­vic­tion that might lead to prison time, pro­vid­ing he com­plies with the terms of the agree­ment, which re­main un­known. Un­der such agree­ments, crim­i­nal charges against a de­fen­dant are typ­i­cally dis­missed af­ter a pe­riod of time.

And that an­swers a key ques­tion po­lit­i­cal ob­servers have been ask­ing: How has So­lis been able to walk free af­ter ad­mit­ting to cor­rup­tion while a litany of other Illi­nois politi­cians have been charged or are un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion?

A spokesman for the U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice de­clined to com­ment Thurs­day, as did So­lis’ at­tor­ney. Though So­lis’ name is redacted through­out the court fil­ings, he is known to be the al­der­man who co­op­er­ated against Burke (14th). The Chicago Sun-Times first re­vealed So­lis’ co­op­er­a­tion in Jan­uary 2019. Later that month, it also de­tailed the ev­i­dence that had been gath­ered against So­lis, the 25th Ward’s for­mer al­der­man.

In a flurry of court fil­ings Thurs­day, Burke’s lawyers also al­leged that fed­eral prose­cu­tors with­held cru­cial in­for­ma­tion from Chicago’s chief fed­eral judge as they sought to eaves­drop on City Hall phone lines, as well as Burke’s cell­phone. Burke’s lawyers asked U.S. District Judge Robert Dow for a hear­ing over whether the record­ings should be sup­pressed.

It has been more than a year since a block­buster rack­e­teer­ing in­dict­ment ac­cused Burke of us­ing his seat on the Chicago City Coun­cil to steer busi­ness to­ward his pri­vate tax law firm amid schemes that in­volved the Old Post Of­fice, a Burger King at 41st and Pu­laski Road, and a re­de­vel­op­ment pro­ject on the North­west Side.

Also charged in the in­dict­ment were Burke po­lit­i­cal aide Peter An­drews and de­vel­oper Charles Cui.

Dow re­served time in the mid­dle of 2021 for a trial in Burke’s case, though it is un­clear whether that schedule is real­is­tic amid the coro­n­avirus pan­demic. A judge pre­sid­ing over an un­re­lated case this week said the Dirk­sen Fed­eral Court­house is un­able to ac­com­mo­date three-de­fen­dant tri­als un­der cur­rent COVID-19 safety pro­to­cols.

Though the fil­ings from Burke’s lawyers shed some new light on the quiet work done by the feds in the ear­lier days of their pub­lic cor­rup­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tions, his lawyers also com­plained that fed­eral prose­cu­tors have re­fused to say ex­actly how the Burke in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­gan.

“The gov­ern­ment’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion seems to spring out of thin air,” they wrote in one fil­ing.

Burke’s lawyers say the feds sought to tap So­lis’ cell­phone on Sept. 26, 2014, more than a month af­ter So­lis had been se­cretly recorded in a meet­ing with House Speaker Michael Madi­gan. The feds lis­tened to So­lis’ calls un­til Aug. 21, 2015, ac­cord­ing to the Burke court fil­ings.

Burke’s lawyers said So­lis agreed to co­op­er­ate with the feds af­ter they con­fronted him in June 2016. Though Burke’s lawyers re­peat­edly de­scribed So­lis as “des­per­ate,” Burke’s team in­sisted that So­lis told prose­cu­tors “he had never been in­volved in any crim­i­nal wrong­do­ing with Ald. Burke — with whom he had served in the City Coun­cil for al­most twenty-five years.”

Burke’s lawyers say the in­ves­ti­ga­tions of So­lis and Burke “ap­par­ently in­ter­sected” in July 2016, when So­lis and Burke at­tended the Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion in Philadel­phia. It was there that Burke’s lawyers say he — along with other politi­cians — ap­proached So­lis about con­trac­tors for the Old Post Of­fice ren­o­va­tion. Burke rec­om­mended a wreck­ing com­pany. That, Burke’s lawyers say, ap­peared to prompt prose­cu­tors to de­ploy So­lis against Burke.

They also say that, on May 1, 2017, the feds sought per­mis­sion to wire­tap six phone lines at the of­fice of the Chicago City Coun­cil fi­nance committee, which Burke led. That wire­tap was soon ex­panded, and the feds wound up in­ter­cept­ing 2,185 calls from City Hall phones be­fore aban­don­ing the wire­tap on May 31, 2017.

The feds also mon­i­tored Burke’s cell­phone from May 15, 2017, un­til Feb. 10, 2018, Burke’s lawyers say. They de­scribed it as “the long­est wire­tap in the United States that con­cluded in 2018,” and they said the feds wound up record­ing 9,101 calls be­tween the City Hall and cell­phone wire­taps.

Burke’s lawyers say he was tar­geted by the feds, and that So­lis wasn’t the first gov­ern­ment co­op­er­a­tor to work against him. They said that, from Feb. 2, 2015, un­til Aug. 13, 2015, an un­named co­op­er­a­tor from an­other fed­eral case in Chicago was “con­tact­ing Ald. Burke reg­u­larly in an at­tempt to de­velop ev­i­dence against him.”

“Here, again, the gov­ern­ment came up empty-handed, and yet it zeal­ously pressed on,” Burke’s lawyers wrote.

SUN-TIMES FILES

For­mer Ald. Danny So­lis smiles dur­ing a Chicago City Coun­cil meet­ing in 2016.

SUN-TIMES FILES

In a flurry of court fil­ings Thurs­day, lawyers for Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) al­leged that fed­eral prose­cu­tors with­held cru­cial in­for­ma­tion from Chicago’s chief fed­eral judge as they sought to eaves­drop on City Hall phone lines, as well as Burke’s cell­phone.

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