State

Mayor orders audit of fund controlled by embattled Chicago alderman

Chicago Alderman Ed Burke, 75, walks into the Dirksen Federal Courthouse on Thursday in Chicago.
Chicago Alderman Ed Burke, 75, walks into the Dirksen Federal Courthouse on Thursday in Chicago.

CHICAGO – Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has ordered an outside audit of a $100 million-a-year workers’ compensation fund that was controlled by a longtime City County member accused of trying to shake down the owners of a major chain of fast-food franchises.

The move marked the latest fallout from the case against Alderman Ed Burke, who was charged last week with attempted extortion.

Burke has served on the City Council for 50 years, including more than three decades as chairman of the powerful finance committee – a post he resigned from Friday. He said he’s done nothing wrong and that he looks forward to his day in court.

Burke controlled the workers’ compensation fund as finance committee chairman. He kept information about it largely secret, and blocked previous efforts by the city’s inspector general to audit the program.

Emanuel also removed the program from the committee’s control after the charges against Burke were announced, handing it instead to the city’s finance department.

“We have a unique opportunity to hit the reset button on workers’ compensation,” he said in a statement Sunday about the audit.

Federal prosecutors said the 75-year-old Democrat told restaurant executives who were seeking remodeling permits that they’d get them only if they signed on as clients of his law firm. The complaint unsealed Thursday also alleges that Burke solicited a $10,000 campaign contribution for another politician as part of the alleged scheme, roiling the race for Chicago mayor.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, one of the front runners among more than dozen candidates vying to replace Emanuel in next month’s mayoral election, also worked over the weekend to curb any political damage from her associations with Burke.

Preckwinkle confirmed that she received the campaign donation mentioned in the federal complaint, but she said she was returning the money from Tri City Foods CEO Shoukat Dhanani, a Texas businessman who owns a Burger King in Burke’s ward.

She said Sunday that she is returning all $116,000 in campaign donations she received from a fundraiser at Burke’s home.

Preckwinkle, who chairs the Cook County Democratic Party, also removed Burke as chairman of a party committee that slates judicial candidates, a process that essentially gives certain candidates the party’s endorsement. The position gave Burke huge influence over who was elected to judgeships.

She demanded he resign a party position representing his ward on Chicago’s southwest side and called on him to resign from the City Council.

“I won’t have my name dragged through the mud,” Preckwinkle said in a statement, while also taking a jab at some of her rivals in the mayoral race for their own links to Burke.

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