Thursday, January 03, 2019

Chicago Alderman Ed Burke Charged with Extortion by Federal Prosecutors #Corruption

Federal prosecutors on Thursday filed a corruption case against Edward M. Burke, who has been Chicago’s most powerful alderman for decades, just weeks after FBI agents dramatically raided his offices at City Hall and on the city’s Southwest Side.

As the longtime chairman of the Council’s Finance Committee, Burke built far greater clout than any alderman and a long list of private law clients who do business with City Hall. But his historic tenure now comes to the same place where so many of his colleagues have found themselves: in Chicago’s federal courthouse, with authorities alleging he abused his power to enrich himself. And like so many other aldermen with far less clout, Burke apparently got caught on a wiretap saying something he would not dare utter in public.

Burke’s spokesman did not return calls seeking comment. Nor did Anton Valukas and Charles Sklarsky, the two prominent defense lawyers who have represented Burke since the initial federal raids at his offices on Nov. 29.

On that day, the windows of Burke’s offices were covered in brown butcher paper as investigators spent hours executing search warrants. And the feds raided the Finance Committee offices, on the third floor of City Hall, again on Dec. 13, indicating the urgency of the probe.

The criminal case hits as Burke is seeking to extend his record tenure in the City Council, running for another term in the February election in the 14th Ward, which he has represented for half a century.

The investigation of Burke began at the office of City’s Hall independent inspector general, Joe Ferguson. Burke and many other aldermen long had resisted allowing the I.G. to have oversight of the Council, but Ferguson finally won authority to investigate aldermen in 2016.

Burke, 75, has been an alderman since 1969, when he succeeded his father in the council during the tenure of Mayor Richard J. Daley.

In his time as alderman, Burke has watched as more than 30 fellow aldermen who served alongside him were convicted of corruption. And the charges against Burke come as yet another alderman, Willie Cochran (20th Ward), continues to fight a two-year-old federal corruption case. But Burke is clearly the most powerful alderman the feds have targeted since Thomas Keane -- another Finance Committee chairman -- was convicted in 1974.

With his finely tailored pinstripe suits and emerald-green ties, Burke long has been the personification of the South Side Irish Democratic Machine that ruled City Hall for generations.

While he presided over the Finance Committee, Burke frequently had to recuse himself from voting on hundreds of pieces of legislation that benefited the dozens of corporate clients of his law firm.

An investigation published last month by WBEZ and the Better Government Association found that Burke recused himself from voting on City Council measures 464 times in the last eight years. That’s four times as many “abstentions” for Burke as for the the rest of the aldermen combined. But even in some cases where Burke did not vote, WBEZ and the BGA found that the veteran alderman had exercised his clout to make sure his clients got what they wanted from City Hall.

At times, Burke has guided legislation through the council process, writing letters to city bureaucrats or even chairing meetings on the ordinances and motioning for his colleagues to vote them through -- only to recuse himself at the last moment due to his conflicts of interest.

In the case of a multi-billion-dollar bond deal at O’Hare Airport a year ago, no less than three banks that are Burke clients stand to benefit from the transaction.

The Burke firm’s work focused mostly on winning property tax appeals for its clients from Cook County authorities who determine the valuations of downtown high rises and other real estate.

His most prominent client in recent years was Trump Tower Chicago, for which Burke reportedly won millions of dollars in tax breaks. Earlier this year, Burke stopped representing the building amid criticism for doing the bidding of President Trump who is deeply unpopular in Chicago, especially among Latinos who are often the target of his anti-immigrant rhetoric.

With election challenges looming for the first time in many years, Burke even began criticizing Trump recently.

While his private law practice made his very wealthy, Burke is probably best known for his role in the turbulent “Council Wars” period in the 1980s, when he and fellow South Side Ald. Ed Vrdolyak spread-headed the mostly white block of aldermen that frequently thwarted Chicago’s first black mayor, Harold Washington. Due to his notoriety from that era, Chicago politicos have long believed that Burke could never get elected mayor. But Burke has enjoyed his greatest power since then as a loyal and crucial Council ally of the last two mayors, Rahm Emanuel and Richard M. Daley.

When both Emanuel and Daley took office, they had been at odds with Burke. Still, both mayors decided to make deals with Burke, rather than confront him.

Under Emanuel, Burke has maintained his chairmanship of the Council’s most powerful committee and continues to enjoy the most visible and expensive perk of his clout: a police bodyguard detail that costs taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

In return, Emanuel appears to have gotten Burke’s loyalty. The alderman voted with Emanuel’s agenda on 100 percent of divided roll-call votes at the Council, according to a recent study by political scientists at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Burke had endorsed Gery Chico, his former aide and ex-president of Chicago’s school board, to succeed the retiring Emanuel in the upcoming Feb. 26 election.

The alderman himself faces four challengers. All of them are Latinos, reflecting the changing demographics of the Southwest Side’s working-class neighborhoods.

On Wednesday, Democratic U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia threw his backing to 28-year-old Burke challenger Tanya Patino, deriding the incumbent as “a walking conflict of interest for decades.”

As Mexican immigrants and their families have become the largest ethnic group in his ward, Burke has sought to adjust for the changing times, recruiting Latino precinct captains for his powerful ward organization and even speaking a bit of heavily accented Spanish. Talking to one constituent recently, he joked in Spanish that his command of the language was not that bad for “an older gentleman.”

Yet, the alderman’s once-absolute power had weakened in recent years. In the March primary election, his brother, Dan Burke, lost his seat in the Illinois House to a young Hispanic challenger.

Burke owns a fortress-like, three-story home that looms over his constituents’ bungalows and ranches in the Gage Park neighborhood, next to the elevated tracks of the CTA’s Orange Line. The home is surrounded by wrought-iron fencing.

His influence was so great that city crews strayed far from their normal routes during blizzards to plow the side street in front of the Burke home, even before more heavily trafficked roads got cleared. And Burke’s clout extended far beyond the Southwest Side.

Burke also long has enjoyed the central role in the Democratic Party’s process for placing judges on the Cook County bench. And his wife, Anne Burke, has a spot on the Illinois Supreme Court.

He has more than $12 million in campaign accounts that he controls. That’s a sum that far exceeds the political cash of all of his 49 Council colleagues combined.

In the weeks since the initial FBI raids at Burke’s offices, it was unclear what exactly the feds suspected.

Burke said he did not know what the agents were investigating. But he said he would cooperate fully and was confident that the probe would end as so many other investigations he has faced – with no charges against him.

Thanks to Dan Mihalopoulis.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Top Ten Signs a Mafia Boss is Nuts


10. Keeps ordering hits on "that bastard Al Capone"

9. Had a guy whacked because he thought he was working for Batman

8. To look more like Brando, loads his cheeks full of styrofoam peanuts

7. He's the reputed head of the "Gabor Crime Family"

6. Instead of "The Godfather," he prefers to be called "The Fairy Godmother"

5. At McDonald's, order Big Mac, fries and drink separately instead of taking advantage of extra value meal

4. Three words: edible pinky ring

3. After you cross him, you wake up the next morning with his head in your bed

2. He's constantly whacking himself, if you know what I mean

1. His business card reads "mafia boss".

Thanks to David Letterman.

Monday, December 31, 2018

As Long as They Do It Early & Often, Why Not Let Suburbanites Vote for Chicago Mayor

Life in Chicago wasn’t so good as many baby boomers who lived in the city might recall. Aldermen didn’t need computers to figure out which voters on which blocks were not supporting them at election time. They would have their minions raid alleys and purloin garbage can lids.

The next day, the alderman would knock on the victim’s door and offer a new garbage can lid in exchange for their vote. Or, face a certain fine under the “No Garbage Can Lid” ordinance, an expensive misdemeanor.

Starting in the late 1940s and through the 1960s, Chicago residents discovered they could escape the oppression of the old Chicago Machine for brighter, freer manure-covered pastures. So began the new “Sub-Urban” life.

Many of the new suburban homes, built in part with veteran’s benefits, were located on old abandoned pig farms. The suburbanites didn’t mind trading the odor of old Machine bully to pig stench.

Of course, the word “suburban” didn’t come from he suburbanites. It came from he angry Chicago Machine. Legend has it that the origins of “Sub-Urban” began after a beer-drinking brawl in a smoke-filled room on the seventh floor of Chicago’s City Hall in the summer of 1960, when the Chicago Outfit stumped hard for JFK for president. (“Mafia” is a New York Term, Outfit is exclusive to Chicago.)

As the mob leaders departed, the aldermen discussed how to get money to pay legal fees for eight Chicago Police officers, who were also precinct workers, who were indicted in the Summerdale scandal for operating a large-scale burglary ring. They were stealing more than garbage can lids, apparently.

One of the aldermen suggested Chicago absorb the pig farms outside of the city’s confines when an another named Louie “The Lip” blurted out his disgust with the fleeing voters from his precinct.

As quoted in the Chicago Herald-American, Louie “The Lip” declared, “De, de, de, dey is movin’ to da, da, da, da ‘sub-oyeban’ pi, pi, pi, pig farms.” The ward bosses looked at him like he was Einstein, declaring, “Dat’s poyfect! Dat’s da name. We’ll call doz areas the Suburbs”cuz they is sub-par to our urban environs.”

(You need to read that paragraph a few times to understand Chicago-ese.)

Thus became the word “Sub-Urban” or “below City Life,” the “Suburbs!”

Although many aldermen were happy to see disgruntled voters flee their precinct voting obligations to the Machine, it became painfully clear most leaving the bungalow neighborhoods were people of good financial means. They had jobs, money, but the money was fleeing to the “suburbs,” which boasted innovative things like curb-less streets, garbage cans lined up in front of the house, not in the back, and stinking, egg-smelling well-water.

The loss of money hurt the Machine, and ever since, the Machine has been conspiring in ways to force those disgruntled former “Urban” dwellers to help keep their pensions afloat.

“Who gonna pay fer da pensions?” was a common refrain at Machine Precinct meetings in 1966. Machine captains couldn’t pronounce their words, but one they knew well was “pension” which rolled off their lips and out of taxpayer pockets like honey from a beehive.

Since then, of course, the city’s despots and autocrats have conspired in many ways to grab cash from the wallets of the ancestors of those early Sub-Urban Pioneers, including back in the 1980s forcing Chicago, with the help of columnist Mike Royko, when the city demanded suburban taxpayers to pay to save the CTA.

Money collected from the suburbs goes into the state pot and is divvied up in favor of Chicago’s cash-strapped schools. In fact, every time Chicago comes up cash-short, they dip into the pocketbooks of hardworking suburbanites. Chicago has been in need of money forever, and it’s mayors eyeball suburban taxpayers like the Big Bad Wolf licking his chops after Little Red Riding Hood.

The suburbs might as well give up. Turn Cook County into “Chicago County” and erase the concept of the “suburbs.” We’re paying for Chicago. We might as well be a part of Chicago, and have a voice in whomever is going to be the next mayor.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Thanks to Ray Hanania. Ray is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist. Hanania can be reached on his personal website at www.Hanania.com.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Abraham Kiswani, Owner of World Security Bureau, Indicted on Tax Evasion Charges

A federal grand jury in Chicago has indicted a businessman on tax evasion charges for allegedly scheming to evade personal income taxes for three years.

As the owner of the security firm World Security Bureau, ABRAHAM KISWANI, also known as “Ibriham Kiswani,” willfully failed to pay the full amount of taxes on his personal income for the calendar years 2010, 2012, and 2013, according to an indictment returned in U.S. District Court in Chicago. Kiswani concealed some of his income for those years by arranging for WSB to pay certain personal items, including those held or purchased in the name of family members, and disguising them as business expenses. The expenditures included mortgage payments, homeowner’s association dues, property taxes, sewer and water fees on a personal residence, slip fees and insurance for a boat, slip fees for jet skis, and gold coins, the indictment states. Kiswani covered up some of his 2013 income by arranging for WSB to pay some of his wedding expenses and then entering those payments in WSB’s records as business expenses, the indictment states.

The indictment charges Kiswani, 49, of Burbank, with three counts of tax evasion and one count of willfully filing a false corporate tax return.  Kiswani pleaded not guilty at his arraignment before U.S. District Judge Manish S. Shah in Chicago.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

How Chicago became a Key Hub in El Chapo's Massive Sinaloa Cartel U.S. Drug Operation

In untold hundreds of truck and train shipments, tons of cocaine rolled into Chicago hidden among loads of vegetables, shrimp, and even live sheep.

The city acted as the American distribution center of the vast network of the Sinaloa cartel, and was run by Chicago twin brothers who had declared allegiance to a person they referred to often simply as “The Man.” Both would eventually turn against their boss, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, and one of them, Pedro Flores, began testifying in Guzman’s historic trial in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn on Tuesday.

In harrowing detail over three hours, Flores explained his rise from dealing cocaine with family members on the Southwest Side to working as a top lieutenant for the world’s most notorious drug lord. He told an anonymous jury in New York that he has cooperated against some 50 people in the cartel network already, testifying he risked his life to help the U.S. government after considering his future and that of his pregnant wife 10 years ago. “Or that lack of a future,” Flores said. “That lack of living. I couldn’t promise my family tomorrow.”

Neither Pedro Flores nor his twin, Margarito Flores, have been seen publicly in the nearly four years since both were sentenced to 14 years in prison in Chicago. Dressed in navy blue jail garb, Pedro Flores took a seat in the courtroom Tuesday for a few moments before the jury filed in to hear his testimony.

Perhaps 30 feet away was El Chapo himself, a man to whom Flores estimated he once sent as much as $227 million a year from the cartel’s U.S. operation. Guzman has entered the courtroom with a smile and handshakes for his lawyers in recent days, but as he stared across the room toward Flores, that look had faded.

Flores was somewhat soft-spoken as he related his experiences, drawing laughs in the courtroom gallery at times with his likable demeanor. He described giving El Chapo gold-plated guns as a gift because Flores had “seen too many movies,” and recalled that the reputed kingpin laughed at him the first time he met Guzman at a secret mountain compound in Sinaloa.

Flores was wearing jean shorts. “He said with all that money, I couldn’t afford the rest of the pants?” Flores said.

Guzman has been on trial for more than a month at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, with prosecutors accusing him of drug trafficking as the head of the cartel. They have presented a series of insider witnesses, perhaps none more compelling than the 37-year-old Flores, who now ranks among the most significant criminal turncoats that Chicago has ever produced.

He told jurors his father welcomed him into the world of drug smuggling, using him as a child because his hands were small enough to reach into gas tanks of cars where drugs had been stashed. Their father was kidnapped and presumably killed when he ignored warnings and returned to Mexico in 2009 after drug rings suspected the brothers were helping authorities.

Questioned by Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Fels, Flores explained how his early drug business grew thanks to a connection from one of his father’s friends to the point where Flores was taking shipments in a “grimy van” left for him at a restaurant in the Chicago suburbs. Fels then showed jurors a photograph of a Denny’s in Bolingbrook off of I-55.

Early work to keep larger quantities of drugs in stash houses didn’t always go well, Flores said. The first time he backed the van into a garage, it hit the overhang and the drugs had to be unloaded on the driveway. The plastic bags they were in then tore, spilling kilos onto the concrete. “There’s neighbors out,” he said. “It was a pretty hectic day.”

Chicago was a natural hub for drug networking, Flores said, because of its location in the middle of the country and its infrastructure. “You’re practically halfway to everywhere,” Flores testified.

Flores was soon moving drugs to Milwaukee and other cities, where he eventually attracted the attention of federal authorities who got an indictment against him and sent the brothers fleeing to Mexico.

All of the growth sometimes meant lost shipments and drug debts, one of them leading to a dispute with a former supplier who apparently ordered his kidnapping in Mexico, Flores said. He described being handcuffed, blindfolded and stuffed in a truck for a bumpy ride to a building where he said he was held in a cell for days.

After his brother helped arrange his freedom, and with cartel leaders including Guzman and Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada taking notice of the twins’ success, Flores described an early meeting with Zambada and Guzman’s cousin.

Zambada told the Flores brothers they would be supplied by the cartel, and that their business would grow again. The drug boss said “any idiot” could sell drugs in Mexico, but through his own experiences in Chicago, Zambada was impressed with how much product the brothers had moved in the U.S. “He laughed and said, ‘imagine if you guys were triplets,’ ” Flores testified.

The Floreses would get the same price for bulk cocaine as other top lieutenants, Flores recalled Zambada saying, and they would work on their own behalf.

The business did in fact take off again, Flores said. Drugs flowed through Los Angeles and Chicago to Philadelphia, Detroit, New York and Washington. Throughout his cartel career, Flores said, he moved some 60 tons into the states.

After boosting their supply, the Flores brothers were taken to see El Chapo, Flores said, telling jurors he went first to an airstrip in a cornfield for a 40-minute flight that ended on another runway that ran up the side of an incline in the mountains.

From there they were driven in trucks into an even more remote area. Along the way were macabre signs of the cartel’s handiwork, including a naked man chained to a tree. Flores recalled he appeared to be crouching and staring down at them as they passed.

The kingpin’s compound was a concrete foundation rising from the earth, he said, with a thatched roof. “Like you’d see on vacation,” he said. El Chapo appeared wearing a hat, with a shiny handgun in his waistband. An AK-47 rifle leaned on a chair nearby.

Guzman promised to solve the dispute that had led to Flores being kidnapped, and indeed, Flores said he heard that the man, Guadalupe Ledesma, eventually had been suffocated on El Chapo’s orders. Flores said his anxiety around Guzman eventually faded in future meetings, and that he brought El Chapo the gift of the guns — which were laughed at for being too heavy — and a gag gift of a pair of jean shorts like the ones Flores had been mocked for, which he gave the kingpin in a box shaped like a Viagra pill.

Flores described how the shipments just kept coming, with the cartel even employing submarines to move drugs into the U.S. without detection. The truck shipments came too, including so many with vegetables Flores said they could affect market prices by dumping them for sale in Chicago. And there was the one with the sheep.

The brothers were unprepared. And the truck was headed for a Chicago warehouse.

“I’m looking at a bunch of live sheep,” Flores said. “What are we gonna do with them?” The answer was a friend who was paid $10,000 to take them out of the city. Still, Flores said he complained up the chain of command that “I was concerned the cover loads were getting kinda weak.”

By November 2008, Flores said he had begun to have enough of the business. His wife was newly pregnant, and the cartel had split into two warring factions. One remained headed by Guzman and Zambada, and another by Arturo Beltran Leyva. Both sides wanted to force the brothers to remain loyal and never do business with the other side.

The brothers’ “sweet spot” in the cartel that let them make money without worrying about internal — and often deadly — politics was dissolving. Fearing for his life, Flores said he reached out to the Drug Enforcement Administration through a lawyer, and began cooperating.

That included making recordings, including of El Chapo, on a digital recorder Flores said he bought at a Radio Shack in Mexico. The jury is expected to hear those recordings in the coming days, as Flores continues his testimony.

As for his more recent past, Flores testified that he hasn’t always been on the straight and narrow. He worked a scam to flood other inmates’ commissary accounts with money, he testified, and got his wife pregnant again, this time in a bathroom while in DEA custody.

Still, his cooperation could be key in the federal government’s attempt to hold El Chapo accountable for decades of allegedly providing illicit drugs to addicted Americans. Flores said he made the decision he had to, knowing he was testifying in exchange for wiping out crimes that could have meant multiple life sentences.

“I could only give them one life,” he said.

Thanks to Jeff Coen.


Crime Family Index