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Feds indict Chicago Alderman on extortion and other charges

December 15, 2016  |  Posted by: JammedUp Staff
Feds indict Chicago Alderman on extortion and other charges Chicago Alderman Willie Cochran speaks to reporters at a city council meeting Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2016, in Chicago. Cochran has been indicted on charges that he extorted money from a liquor store owner and pilfered funds from a local government activities fund to pay for gambling and his daughter's college tuition. The indictment was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Chicago. (Santiago Covarrubias/Chicago Sun-Times via AP) ORG XMIT: ILCHS102

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By SOPHIA TAREEN and MICHAEL TARM
ASSOCIATED PRESS

A prominent Chicago alderman has been charged with stealing at least $30,000 from a charitable fund set up in part to help poor constituents and spending it at casinos and to pay his daughter’s college tuition.

In a grand jury indictment unsealed Wednesday, Willie B. Cochran is also accused of demanding cash from a liquor store owner and an attorney for developers in exchange for taking action in his official capacity to help their businesses.

The indictment was filed in Chicago federal court while the 64-year-old Democrat was attending a City Council meeting. He remained in his chair as fellow aldermen and city officials stopped by for hushed conversations. Cochran abruptly left the proceedings mid-morning with a pack of reporters trailing him through City Hall.

“We have to look at the details,” Cochran said. “I have not seen any details, so it’s not possible for me to make any kind of comment.”

Cochran is charged with 11 counts of wire fraud, and two counts each of federal program bribery and extortion. A conviction on just one count of wire fraud carries a maximum 20-year prison term, though guideline calculations typically lead to much lower sentences.

Cochran’s lawyer, Thomas Durkin, said by phone from New York that he hasn’t had the chance to go through all the case documents. But he added: “The alderman has an outstanding reputation. … He has been a leader in the community for years and we intend to fight these charges vigorously.”

The accusations sound familiar to locals, who have seen many of their politicians face corruption charges over the years. Since the 1970s, nearly three dozen aldermen have been convicted. So many went to prison, one joke went that when they saw each other behind bars, they’d holler “quorum call!”

Cochran, who just won a third term as Chicago alderman, was first elected to the council in 2007 to represent a ward on the city’s South Side. His predecessor, Arenda Troutman, pleaded guilty to federal charges that she solicited donations from developers who wanted to do business in the ward.

Cochran, a former Chicago police officer, was outspoken on public safety issues. He retired from law enforcement in 2003 after over 20 years.

U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon said in a statement from his Chicago office that “our democratic system suffers” when public officials use their power for personal gain. He added: “We will continue to vigorously investigate and prosecute any elected official who attempts to use their office to enrich themselves.”

According to the indictment, the Chicago alderman sought donations for the charitable fund, called the 20th Ward Activities Fund, by telling potential contributors that it would help needy families by feeding some and helping buy winter coats and school supplies. He was the sole signatory on a fund bank account.

The indictment also says Cochran demanded thousands of dollars from the liquor store owner in return for later pushing an amendment through the council in 2015 allowing the issuance of licenses for such stores. He also allegedly solicited hundreds of dollars from a lawyer for companies seeking to develop land with help from a federally funded stabilization program. Neither the store owner nor the lawyer is named in the indictment, and there was no indication that either would face charges.

Federal authorities said the investigation was sparked by information provided by former Chicago Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan, whose position was eliminated by the council last year.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel declined to comment on the case. Instead, he said public officials shouldn’t use the office for personal gain.

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