Local developer indicted on bribery charges
by BRIAN NADIG
A Six Corners retail project developer has been indicted for allegedly trying to obtain a sign permit by transferring legal business to the law firm of Alderman Ed Burke (14th).
The developer, Charles Cui, is a managing member of a limited liability company that owns the former Bank of America building at 4901 W. Irving Park Road, where a Binny’s Beverage Depot and a Retro Fitness business are located.
Vadim Glozman, Cui’s defense attorney, said that the allegations against Cui are "completely baseless" and that his client will be proven innocent.
"Mr. Cui is a successful attorney and developer who has conducted himself with the utmost professionalism," he said.
The permit request, which was denied, sought the reuse of a sign pole in front of the building, but the pole had been abandoned and no longer met current zoning regulations.
Cui’s agreement with Binny’s reportedly called for a reduction in rent if a freestanding sign was not allowed, according to court documents. A permit was later issued for a flat Binny’s sign that is currently attached to the building.
Burke, who chaired the City Council Finance Committee, is identified in the indictment as "Alderman A."
Burke has not been charged in connection to last week’s indictment. However, in a separate matter, the alderman is being investigated by the FBI in connection with the alleged shakedown of a Burger King franchise needing a construction permit.
According to the indictment, Cui sent an e-mail to an attorney who handled his property tax appeals for the building at 4901 W. Irving Park Road and told the attorney that he was going to temporarily use Burke’s firm to handle the tax appeal.
"I need his help for my zoning etc for my project. He is a powerful broker in City Hall, and I need him now. I’ll transfer the case back to you after this year," Cui wrote in an e-mail to his tax appeals attorney in August of 2017.
The indictment alleges that Cui made a false statement to investigators when he told them that he offered business to Burke’s firm "just because he is a good tax appeal lawyer."
In 2016, the City Council approved a redevelopment agreement which called for $2 million in tax increment financing subsidies for Cui’s project, but those funds were contingent on the restoration of a 300-seat theater on the second floor of the former bank. The theater has not reopened, and no TIF funds for the project have been paid.
In a statement, Alderman John Arena (45th) said that a pole sign is not allowed under the pedestrian-street zoning regulations for Six Corners.
"When Mr. Cui approached me about the rejected pole sign permit, I worked with him to find an alternative solution within what was allowed," Arena said.
Arena added that "at no point have I had any communication with Ald. Burke concerning the sign permit or legal work for his law firm" and that "this indictment is further evidence that there is more work to be done to create the ethical government our residents deserve."
Arena reportedly has received about $18,000 in campaign donations from Cui and his law practice. Aldermen in Chicago routinely accept donations from developers, and doing so is allowed under law.
Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot reportedly received a $500 campaign donation from Cui and plans to donate the money to a nonprofit organization.