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Feds seek 10 years behind bars for disgraced Chicago city councilor

Once the city's longest-serving alderman, Ed Burke hopes to avoid jail time all together, quoting Shakespeare in a memorandum asking the court for mercy.

CHICAGO (CN) — Federal prosecutors want convicted ex-Chicago Alderman Ed Burke to serve over a decade behind bars, they said in a sentencing memorandum filed late Monday night.

The 121-month sentence they recommended for the longest-serving city councilor in Chicago history — convicted in December on 13 charges related to racketeering, bribery and extortion — is within legal guidelines for Burke's crimes, but could possibly condemn the 80-year-old to die in jail.

Prosecutors nevertheless argued the sentence is appropriate given the weight of Burke's conviction, his formerly-prominent position in local and state politics and his continued profession of innocence.

"To this day, Burke has expressed no remorse for his crimes; indeed, he continues to deny he did a single thing wrong," prosecutors wrote in the sentencing memo.

Burke's conviction stems from four separate episodes. All but one involved his efforts to coerce or convince various property and business owners to hire his law firm Klafter & Burke, now rebranded as KBC Law Group. Part of the conviction relied on recordings of Burke's conversations secretly captured by ex-city alderman-turned FBI mole Danny Solis.

Burke's sentencing hearing is set for later this month, though he hopes to avoid sentencing entirely. He has a pending motion for acquittal or new trial, based in part on the U.S. Supreme Court's reconsideration of a relevant bribery law in the case Snyder v. U.S. out of Portage, Indiana.

The case questions whether the law criminalizes gratuities — that is, payments an official may have taken in recognition of their past actions or actions they have committed to take, absent any direct quid pro quo exchange.

The government claims Burke exchanged favors for work at Klafter & Burke, but it specifically did not accuse Burke of ever taking direct quid quo pro payments. Prosecutors even told jurors in their opening statements last November that he was "too sophisticated" for that.

In January, former Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan won a six-month reprieve on his own trial for racketeering as the Supreme Court mulls the Snyder case.

Presiding U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall, a George W. Bush appointee, heard arguments on Burke's acquittal motion last week but has not yet issued a ruling.

Acquittal motion aside, Burke also filed his own sentencing memorandum after 11 p.m. Monday night. He urged Kendall to forgo jail time, instead advocating for a below-guidelines sentence including home arrest.

In the memorandum, Burke was characterized as "fundamentally decent man" with no prior criminal history who gave his life over to public service. He warned the court it would receive a "biblical flood" of stories attesting to his character.

"These testimonials are the most overwhelming in quality and sheer volume (over 200 letters) that his counsel have observed in over 100 combined years of legal practice," Burke said in the memorandum.

Having spent over 50 years as a fixture of Chicago's white Democratic machine and with his wife Anne Burke a former justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, he had no shortage of sympathetic voices in his corner. Dozens of letters and testimonials were attached to his sentencing memo.

"Ed Burke has served the city council for many years and has helped countless people and organizations along the way. I am one of them," conservative Chicago alderman Nicholas Sposato told Kendall in one letter.

"I have every confidence that Your Honor will make the correct sentencing decision based on the evidence," former Chicago Public Schools CEO and failed Chicago mayoral candidate Paul Vallas, another conservative Democrat, wrote in another. "But I will tell you without hesitation, that given my years of first hand observation of Ed’s body of civic and charitable contributions — and those of his wonderful wife who is no doubt devastated by the trial’s outcome — Ed is worthy of whatever leniency you see fit to provide."

Prosecutors, however, took a cynical view on many of Burke's support letters from political actors — proof positive that Burke still had political power outside the courtroom.

"Burke no longer holds public office. But it is apparent from the character letters received so far and the reaction to Burke’s prosecution that there are those who lurk in the bowels of City government and walk in its corridors of power who are still strong allies of Burke — despite his 13 counts of conviction," prosecutors wrote.

Anne Burke, in her own letter, made an appeal to Kendall's professed Catholic faith. She said she sought compassion for the sake of the larger Burke family.

"I pray that you call upon the Holy Spirit to give you compassion when deciding our future. Your compassion will also be needed in considering the lives of our children, their spouses, and our grandchildren," the former Illinois Supreme Court justice wrote.

Burke echoed this theme, quoting Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice while pleading Kendall to show mercy at sentencing.

"Shakespeare wrote that mercy blesses its giver and its recipient, and that mercy is 'enthroned in the hearts of kings,' and 'is an attribute to God himself,' such that 'earthly power doth then show likest God’s when mercy seasons justice,'" he wrote. "The court possess considerable earthly power and discretion to impose a just and merciful sentence."

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Categories / Courts, Criminal, Government, Regional

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