Alderman Ed Burke investigation appears rooted in 2012 Finance Committee probe

CHICAGO (WLS) -- FBI agents on Thursday descended on the City Hall and 14th Ward offices of seemingly omnipotent, five-decade alderman Edward Burke but federal authorities declined to say why.

While their work was conducted behind an opaque sheath of beige butcher paper, quickly unfurled and placed over office windows, several sources familiar with the investigation said that agents zeroed in on records related to The City of Chicago workers compensation program.

As chairman of the City Council Finance Committee Ald. Burke oversees workers' comp via the $100 million "Duty Disability Program."

In 2012, Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson began an investigation of Burke, and the Finance Committee he has chaired for more than three decades, and their control of the city's workers' comp program "without any independent oversight."

The IG's office demanded that Ald. Burke and his committee provide "immediate, unfiltered read-only access to the database(s) maintained and operated for the management of the City's duty disability programs." There was a short-but-vigorous back and forth, with Burke refusing to comply.

"As a result, the City faces the prospect of another year where a $100 million city program will be spent without any independent oversight" said Inspector General Ferguson in July, 2012. "The IGO remains hopeful that it can be given immediate access to these records."

But that never happened, and federal investigators began to move in on the questions surrounding management of city workers' comp.

A federal grand jury, apparently investigating similar concerns, subpoenaed workers' comp records from Burke's committee.

However, no administrative or criminal action resulted from either investigation in 2012-or since. There were no arrests made or charges filed as of Thursday evening.

Thursday's federal search warrants also come a few months after a federal lawsuit was filed in Chicago challenging the legality of Burke's control of city workers' compensation and alleging that the South Side alderman commands a dozens-strong patronage army under the cover of his Finance Committee. The suit, filed by several former and injured city employees, claims that Burke falsifies his committee budget, understates his staff size and hides information from the public. According to an amended complaint filed this month, Burke allegedly hires unqualified employees who have "worked as a dog groomer, dog walker, hairstylist, waitress, and other jobs unrelated to the administration of Workers' Compensation."

Oddly, there was a scheduled status hearing on the lawsuit in federal court at the same time the raids were underway in Ald. Burke's City Hall and ward offices. Attorney Michael Greco, who represents the plaintiffs in the case, said he was "curious about the document raids" but had no information on them or comment.

Thursday afternoon Burke released a written statement downplaying the highly-publicized federal raids.

"As you are aware, there have previously been several other investigations such as this," Burke said. "In every instance we cooperated fully. And in every instance nothing has been found. So once again we will be cooperating fully and I am completely confident that at the end of the day nothing will be found amiss in this instance either."
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