Wiretapped phone calls, Burger King and the Field Museum all on display at Ed Burke’s public corruption trial

Prosecutors have used a series of witnesses and recorded phone calls in an effort to illustrate to jurors how former Alderman Ed Burke allegedly used his immense political power to get what he wants – whether it was inquiring about a potential internship for his goddaughter or attempting to steer business to his own law firm. 

Burke’s defense team has argued prosecutors have mischaracterized what occurred and that the case represents: “… a bribery case without bribes and an extortion case without extortion.” 

Burke was indicted in 2019 on 14 counts of racketeering, extortion and bribery, accused of using his official positions as longtime 14th Ward alderman and chair of City Council’s Finance Committee to steer private business to his law firm specializing in property taxes.

Also indicted alongside Burke were aide Peter Andrews and real estate developer Charles Cui.

All three men have pleaded not guilty.

During Tuesday’s testimony, jurors heard from Shoukat Dhanani, the co-CEO of the Dhanani Group, which owns roughly 150 Burger King locations in Illinois. 

The Burger King near 41st and Pulaski is one of a handful of landmarks prosecutors are using to illustrate their case — alleging that former alderman Ed Burke used his political clout to yield certain outcomes – including attempting to steer business to his own law firm.

Before a planned meeting with Dhanani, who is from Texas and wanted to meet with Burke about a remodeling permit for a Burger King in the 14th ward, Ed Burke can heard on a recorded phone call telling a mutual acquaintance “I’d also like to get some of his law business…”

During testimony Tuesday, Dhanani told jurors after the two met it was clear to him Burke’s desire to gain his business. 

When Burke’s ward office later became aware that remodeling was underway, prosecutors allege Burke’s office put a stop to it. 

Dhanani said he thought the work stoppage could be a result of him not using Burke’s law firm. He later testified he did send Burke a list of all 150 franchise locations in Illinois to see if they could get him a reduction in property taxes. 

And he later testified he felt compelled to do it because otherwise “our life would be pretty difficult” at that particular Burger King location.

A former field museum executive also testified Tuesday about Burke’s power —  saying an executive meeting was called after Burke’s goddaughter was overlooked for an internship. The HR manager said that was not standard practice.

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