Federal agents raided the City Council office of Chicago’s longest-serving alderman the morning of Nov. 29 and papered over the windows, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Ald. Ed Burke’s office in the 14th Ward was also searched by law enforcement and papered over.
It is not yet clear what spurred action from federal investigators, or whether any arrests were made.
Burke was first elected alderman of the 14th Ward in 1969, and has chaired the City Council’s Finance Committee for all but two years since 1983. His wife, Anne Burke, since 2006 has been a justice of the Illinois Supreme Court.
Property tax appeals business
Burke runs a lucrative side business – the law firm Klafter & Burke – which specializes in property tax appeals for valuable commercial properties in Chicago. From 2011 to 2016, only three law firms appealed more assessed value in Cook County for commercial and industrial property than Burke’s firm, according to Chicago Tribune research.
Until recently, among Burke’s most notable clients was Donald Trump. According to a Chicago Sun-Times investigation, Burke’s firm worked to cut property taxes at Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago by nearly 40 percent over seven years, saving Trump and his investors $11.7 million.
Workers’ compensation controversy
In addition to coming under fire for his law practice, Burke runs a secretive program that controls an estimated $100 million per year in workers’ compensation costs.
After Chicago City Council shuttered its own oversight office in 2015, aldermen moved to transfer that office’s watchdog powers to the Chicago Office of the Inspector General, or OIG. But before passing the new oversight ordinance, Burke reportedly “aggressively trad[ed] favors for support of a watered-down” version, which established black boxes in the City Council that the OIG was not allowed to investigate.
The weakened ordinance prohibited the OIG from auditing the city’s workers’ comp program, which Burke runs out of the Finance Committee. In 2012, Burke refused to let the OIG look into his handling of the program.
“There’s almost nobody in city government outside the [workers’ compensation] program that knows how it works,” claimed a 2016 WTTW report on the workers’ comp oversight loophole. “No aldermen we spoke to had any clue how it worked.” The same report noted Chicago was the only major city to run its workers’ compensation program out of a legislative committee.
A lawsuit filed July 30 sought to bring Burke’s control of the program to an end.
The plaintiffs alleged Burke hired “political appointees who lacked the requisite workers’ compensation education and experience … [including] a dog groomer, dog walker, hairstylist, waitress, and other jobs unrelated to the administration of Workers’ Compensation.”
Additionally, the plaintiffs claimed Burke’s chief motivation in controlling the program is the ability to dole out approximately 65 “Shakman-exempt” jobs, so-called because they are not subject to the restrictions put forth by the Shakman Decrees, which aim to prevent patronage hiring.
“Alderman Burke hires his Workers’ Compensation subordinates based on their ability to help him secure votes for himself and his favored candidates,” the lawsuit reads.