Alderman Willie Cochran talks about corruption case, his rejected plea deal

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Embattled Chicago Ald. Willie Cochran (20th Ward), who backed out of a plea deal last week with a federal prosecutors in his corruption case, talked about that decision Wednesday for the first time.

In an exclusive interview with ABC7, Cochran offered new insight into the plea deal and offered an explanation about the charity fund he's accused of stealing from.

"We did not get to the point that I was comfortable with, there was some things in the plea that I did not agree with," said Cochran, who returned to City Hall on Wednesday for the first time since rejecting the deal.

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Federal prosecutors alleged Cochran, who represents neighborhoods on the South Side, stole tens of thousands of dollars from his 20th Ward Activities fund, a charity set up to help needy residents.

Cochran says the he put $32,000 of his own money into the account and while he did borrow from it for personal expenses, including for his daughters college tuition and gambling at a casino, he said he paid all of the money back and more.

Cochran said the feds allege there's $14,000 unaccounted for. But Cochran says that money went to pay ward residents who worked various events for him, and they are willing to testify to that.

"I just have to say that I apologize to the citizens of this city and my coworkers and others for finding myself in this pickle. It's nothing that I ever wanted to be with and I'm not someone who extorts, takes bribes," Cochran said.

Cochran said the plea deal he rejected called for him to admit to setting up the charity account as a scheme to deceive donors. He said that is not true, and he could not admit to that.

"There's no intent to do anything to harm anybody. Maybe human error, but no intent," Cochran said.

The problem for Cochran is that intent may not matter. One former federal prosecutor likened it to a bank robber paying back the money and hoping not to face charges.

Cochran said he is still hoping to work out a plea deal for no jail time before his June 3rd trial.

"I would love to get to a place where we can put this thing behind us," Cochran said.
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