Prosecutors ‘didn’t have the decency’ to call their key witness in Ed Burke’s corruption trial, defense says in closing arguments
“They ran an undercover investigation on Mr. Burke for 30 months — with the star witness being Danny Solis — and they didn’t have the decency to bring him to you,” said attorney Joseph Duffy.
The jury that will soon consider the historic corruption case against longtime Ald. Edward M. Burke heard from three dozen witnesses, listened to roughly 100 recordings and saw piles of documents the feds have used to try to convict him of racketeering and other crimes.
But in a loud, indignant and animated closing argument Thursday, Burke lawyer Joseph Duffy did his best to make prosecutors pay for their decision not to call one crucial player to the witness stand: Danny Solis.
“Why did we have to bring Danny Solis in here?” Duffy demanded as he addressed the jury in a courtroom full of Burke’s supporters. “That should give you pause: The fact that they ran an undercover investigation on Mr. Burke for 30 months — with the star witness being Danny Solis — and they didn’t have the decency to bring him to you.”
It’s a decision that should create a fog of reasonable doubt over every allegation involving Burke and Solis, Duffy insisted. He told jurors they need “all the evidence” for the crucial decision they are about to make — not just some of it.
“That gentleman over there, and his family, the rest of their life is going to be affected by your decision,” Duffy said, pointing across the room to Burke and others in the gallery behind him.
Duffy’s comment drew an objection from a prosecutor — who was then heckled with groans from the crowd as she asked for a sidebar with U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall. The judge had called Duffy’s remark “accurate.”
“No comments — we have work to do,” Kendall told the crowd as a court security officer admonished them.
Duffy’s argument was a clear contrast to the calm, methodical closing argument by Assistant U.S. Attorney Diane MacArthur, who spoke to the jury for roughly six hours over two days. And it comes as deliberations in Burke’s trial grow nearer.
Burke, who left office in May, is charged with racketeering, bribery and extortion for allegedly using his 14th Ward City Council seat to steer business to his private law firm, Klafter & Burke. Among those he allegedly shook down were the developers of Chicago’s massive Old Post Office in Solis’ 25th Ward.
The jury is expected to begin deliberations early next week.
During his argument Thursday, Duffy waved his hands, stabbed his finger into the air and he complained about “a lot of noise and confusion” from prosecutors.
“They’ve introduced so many recordings in this case,” Duffy said, “and we spent the last six hours on a litany of charges against Mr. Burke. The tapes — lots of noise — shoved into evidence without a witness.”
Burke seemed pleased as he watched his defense attorney make his final pitch to the jury. At times he sat back in his chair with his arms crossed. At another point, he could be seen running his finger over his bottom lip.
Burke’s attorneys began pressing in July for prosecutors to disclose whether they would call Solis as a witness. After they learned prosecutors wouldn’t call him, Burke’s team made the promise that they would. And they made good on that promise Tuesday.
Solis agreed to wear an FBI wire against Burke and other powerful politicians after agents confronted him with evidence of his own alleged wrongdoing in June 2016. He left the City Council in 2019.
A bombshell FBI affidavit first obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times alleged that Solis received Viagra, prostitution and other benefits from people for whom he had taken or offered official action.
But Burke’s attorneys were apparently not allowed to ask him Tuesday about such conduct. Instead, they asked about recordings he’d made of Burke and confirmed he cut a deal that could save him from prison.
Solis also recorded then-Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, who faces trial in April. That means the feds’ strategic decision not to call Solis in Burke’s trial could have implications in Madigan’s case — no matter how Burke’s trial turns out.
Duffy argued that Burke’s alleged shakedown victims are tied together by “one common thread” — “not one of them” went to law enforcement “to complain about Ald. Ed Burke.”
“What does that tell you about their belief that they were victims of Ed Burke’s criminality?” Duffy asked the jury. “These were not small mom and pops.”
Rather, they included the Field Museum, a New York City development firm and a Texas businessman who owned more than 100 Burger Kings around Chicago.
The FBI had to “convince them they were victims,” Duffy told the jury. He noted that four FBI agents showed up in 2018 at the home of Shoukat Dhanani, whose many Burger Kings included one in Burke’s ward.
While the presence of one FBI agent would “raise your blood pressure,” Duffy said, three means “they’ve gotta revive you” and by four, “I don’t even know what to do.”
“Aye yi yi!” Duffy exclaimed, prompting a chuckle from the audience seated behind Burke.
Duffy focused on the allegation that Burke forced the developers of the Old Post Office into hiring his law firm as they sought tax incentives slated to go through Burke’s Finance Committee. Duffy returned to a familiar argument: That it was then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel who called the shots, not Burke.
The development of the Old Post Office, which had become a dilapidated eyesore for the city after years of neglect, was a key priority for Emanuel, Duffy noted — so much so that he worked out nearly $120 million in savings for the developers through two different public incentives, including what’s known as tax increment financing.
“And the only reason the TIF got passed … is because the boss wanted it,” Duffy said. “Rahm Emanuel was so smart, and so determined for this building to succeed.”
Emanuel was so committed to the project that its developer, Harry Skydell, was convinced he didn’t need Burke at all, Duffy said, nor did he want to hire his law firm.
“Danny Solis would harass Harry Skydell for two years trying to get him to hire Ed Burke,” Duffy insisted.
“It’s a two-year odyssey — you followed it, you saw it, it’s in the tapes!”