Cochran pleads not guilty in federal corruption case

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Alderman Willie Cochran pleaded not guilty in a federal corruption case in court on Friday morning.

The 20th Ward alderman was indicted on wire fraud, bribery and extortion charges on December 14.

Cochran's defense attorney, Thomas Anthony Durkin, gave Cochran's side of the story at the alderman's first court appearance.

Led by his attorney and trailed by family members and news cameras, a silent Alderman Cochran walked to the Dirksen Federal Building. Durkin complained about biased media coverage.

"I'm not going to try this case in the press because he's already been tried and convicted in the press," said Durkin.

In court, Durkin did not raise any defense issues, as the 64-year-old, three-term alderman entered his not guilty plea. The 15-count indictment included charges that Cochran shook down a store manager and a real estate developer and took money from his own charity.

"Money in politics is a big issue in the law right now and this case couldn't be more poignant in that respect," said Durkin.

Durkin called his client's spending money from an unregistered 20th Ward activities fund for seniors and children "stupid," but not criminal because, contrary to the government's charges, fund donors did not receive any favors.

"The issue is will the government be able to prove a quid pro quo, and we say no," said Durkin.

The 20th Ward is centered by the Southside's low-income Woodlawn neighborhood.

Prosecutors said Cochran used the money to help pay his daughter's college tuition.

Cochran is the third of the last four 20th Ward aldermen elected to be indicted. Two others, including his immediate predecessor Arenda Troutman went to prison.
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