Six Corners developer found guilty as part of Burke corruption trial
by BRIAN NADIG
A Six Corners developer has been found guilty of bribery and other federal charges as part of a political corruption trial that also resulted in former longtime alderman Ed Burke being convicted.
Lawyer and real estate developer Charles Cui was indicted in 2019, accused of wanting to bring his tax business to Burke’s law firm in an effort to get Burke’s help in obtaining a sign permit for one of Cui’s tenants, Binny’s Beverage Depot at 4901 W. Irving Park Road. The redevelopment project on Irving Park included offices for Cui’s Immigration Lawyers P.C. practice and a fitness club that he owned.
The freestanding sign reportedly was part of Cui’s lease agreement with Binny’s, and it called for a reduction in rent if the sign were not allowed.
The permit for the sign was never issued. A freestanding sign, with a pole and pedestal, had belonged to the former bank on the site, but reuse of the pole reportedly was not granted because it did not meet newer codes and its use was not grandfathered in because the pole had been considered abandoned for too long.
A permit was later issued for a sign that is attached to the building.
At the time of Cui’s indictment in 2019, then-alderman John Arena 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 in a 2019 statement. Arena added that he never communicated about the sign with Burke.
Cui was convicted on five charges, including making a false statement to the FBI, and could face up to 30 years in prison, according to WTTW news.
According to the indictment, Cui sent an e-mail to an attorney who handled his property tax appeals for the building on Irving Park and told the attorney that he was going to temporarily use Burke’s firm to handle the 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.
City Council members are allowed to own and operate businesses while they serve in the council, and they can accept campaign contributions, subject to certain limits, from those who have pending permit, license or zoning applications with the city. Immigration Lawyers donated to Burke’s campaign and several others, including former mayor Lori Lightfoot, former mayoral candidate Gery Chico, Arena and former alderman Danny Solis, whose secret recordings of Burke played a key role in his conviction.
Burke served as alderman of the 14th Ward from 1969 to 2023, and his wife Anne Burke was once the chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court.
Burke was convicted of racketeering, bribery and attempted extortion. His former aide Peter Andrews was acquitted on the five counts he faced.
Burke said on a recording presented at the trial, “If we’re not signed up, we’re not going to do heavy lifting. … The cash register has not rung yet.”
Over the years some Chicago business owners have privately complained to Nadig Newspapers about elected officials who ask, “What’s in it for me?” or “What have you done for my campaign lately”when approached about a permit or other need.
Whether the Burke conviction will change any of that is to be determined.
Several dozen aldermen have pleaded guilty or been convicted of charges related to their aldermanic job since 1970.