Feds accuse three Wyoming restaurants of involvement in drug money laundering scheme

By Shane Sanderson

Three Wyoming restaurants participated in a multistate drug money laundering scheme, authorities allege in a 50-page civil complaint filed Friday in federal court.

The filings state that Mexican fast food restaurants in Colorado and Wyoming — including Rodolfo’s Mexican Grill in Cheyenne, Rolando’s Mexican Grill in Cheyenne and Almanza’s Mexican Food in Laramie — were involved in a scheme to use falsified invoices to transfer hundreds of thousands of dollars in concert with a Colorado Springs food distributor. When law enforcement raided the Colorado Springs facility, they found more than $35,000 cash. No cash registers or prices for food items were found in the facility, according to the filings.

The bank accounts associated with Almanza’s Mexican Food and Rolando’s Mexican Grill were closed before law enforcement began investigating the case, the documents state.

By Monday evening, defense attorneys had not responded to the prosecution’s latest filing, but in earlier filings they largely denied the allegations.

The man who ran the distribution business, which is known as El Potosino Foods, has connections with a Mexican drug cartel, the documents state. The phone number for Jose Aguilar-Martinez, who owns El Potosino, turned up in previous investigations of Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada and Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, although the documents do not specify the investigations or the phone number’s connection to them.

Authorities have said Zambada is a leader of the Sinaloa cartel, which has smuggled billions of dollars worth of cocaine, heroin, meth and marijuana into the United States.

Earlier this month, a jury convicted Guzmán, another Sinaloa cartel leader, of various federal crimes, including engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to launder drug proceeds and international drug distribution. His lawyers have said he will seek a new trial following a Vice News report alleging juror misconduct during the case.

The allegations implicating one of the Wyoming restaurants were reported by the Star-Tribune in January. The report drew from responses to a sealed civil complaint filed in November.

In their responses, defendants laid out some of the government’s allegations, including that bank accounts belonging to Hilario Montejano-Aleman, the owner of Rodolfo’s Mexican Grill in Cheyenne, were used in drug money laundering.

Rather than filing documents under seal, prosecutors partially redacted, and on Friday filed publicly, their amended complaint. It revealed more details of the case, which does not bring any criminal action against the alleged money launderers. Instead, the filings seek to require the forfeiture of $1.5 million spread across 15 bank accounts and two safe deposit boxes alleged to be used in the scheme.

The bank safe deposit boxes alone contained more than $800,000 linked to drug trafficking, according to the documents. One of those boxes was filled to capacity with hundreds of thousands of dollar bills that investigators say are tied to drug trafficking. A woman accessed the box at a Colorado Springs bank 16 times over the course of nine years. Every time she appeared pregnant. “Or, in retrospect, carrying the cash inside of a false belly,” prosecutors wrote.

Although the allegations span multiple states and businesses, the investigation began in Wyoming.

Law enforcement began investigating the case in Cheyenne in July 2016 after receiving a report of a suspicious vehicle purchase. That purchase was among multiple turned up by investigators in which purchasers put down $10,000 or more in cash, the documents state. Among those vehicles were a 2007 Cadillac Escalade for which a cook at the Laramie restaurant put down $14,000 cash.

The case also has a Casper connection, although the extent of that connection is not clear. According to prosecutors, a phone number associated with Rodolfo’s called a Casper number that the DEA is investigating in a different case.

Swiss pond fishers give new meaning to concept of ‘money laundering’

In a bid to earn a little extra pocket money, three young women in Lucerne decided to fish out coins left in the pond by the city’s famous Lion Monument.

The monument – a tribute to the Swiss Guards killed in 1792 during the French revolution – is a popular tourist sight with many visitors throwing small change into the surrounding pond.

The women expected to come away with just a few coins. Instead, they found around 400 francs the first time they collected the money. This amount then rose to 600 francs on another occasion when they used snorkel masks and plastic bags to collect their spoils, according to regional daily Luzerner Zeitung.

The women separated the money they collected into two boxes – one for foreign currency and one for Swiss francs, which they went on to spend.

But as the coins they retrieved were covered in algae, the fishers were forced to mix them up with other change to make them less conspicuous.

Then the group came up with the novel idea of using vending machines to “wash the money”. They would use as many coins as possible to buy the cheapest possible products and would obtain “laundered” coins as change.

The three women have since given up their fishing trips and have gone on to become teachers, according to Luzerner Zeitung.

Meanwhile, police told the newspaper the practice was not illegal. A spokesperson for the force said anyone who threw money into a pond gave up ownership rights.

The city of Lucerne clears out the Lion Monument twice a year at which point city gardeners collect any coins they find. These are then donated to charity.

 

San Antonio man due in court Tuesday in money laundering case involving luxury cars

By Guillermo Contreras

One of two defendants charged in a money laundering case involving more than 100 exotic and luxury cars that were seized is scheduled for hearings Tuesday to determine whether law officers had enough probable cause to arrest him, and whether he qualifies for bail.

Jose Luis Magallon Jr., 28, is accused of laundering more than $200,000 in a series of undercover law enforcement sting operations.

Magallon is the owner of Magallon Enterprises LLC, an exotic and luxury used auto dealership in San Antonio, but court records accuse him of being a launderer for a drug trafficking organization from Michoacán, Mexico.

Magallon allegedly dealt with an undercover agent who posed as a transporter of large amounts of drug cash, and flashed several high-end cars that were part of Magallon’s money laundering operation, a criminal complaint affidavit said. The affidavit also alleges that other people helped Magallon disguise his money laundering under layers of fronts.

Agents did not raid Magallon’s business, but used him to get to a co-defendant, Karen Mgerian, who was willing to launder larger amounts, according to court records. Mgerian, 40, allegedly laundered $575,000 for undercover agents acting as drug cartel operatives, and was in negotiations to launder another $4.7 million, according to court records.

Agents last Thursday raided Mgerian’s car lot, MGM Auto, near Rittiman and Interstate 35, and an auto body location he allegedly controlled called Odadi Auto near Stahl Road. They also raided his home in Stone Oak and a home Magallon rented near Perrin-Beitel and Loop 410.

Mgerian initially had been scheduled to have his bail hearing Tuesday but it has been rescheduled to Feb. 13, records show.

This is the world’s “money-laundering paradise”

By Kevin Sun

Everything’s bigger in Dubai. Home to the world’s tallest building since 2010, the emirate’s real estate industry could also be one of the world’s largest money laundromats.

Transparency International, the anti-corruption group behind the annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), has now joined the chorus of voices decrying the city-state’s weak regulations and lax enforcement, according to Forbes.

With the release of its latest CPI results, Transparency International singled out Dubai for special attention in its summary for the Middle East region, citing investigations from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and the Washington-based Center for Advanced Defense Studies.

“Dubai has become a money laundering paradise, where the corrupt and other criminals can go to buy luxurious property with no restrictions,” said the report.

The United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is the largest city and second-largest state, was ranked as the “least corrupt” country in the Middle East and Northern Africa, mainly because of efficient public administration and a high level of human development. Other countries in the region, like war-torn Syria, Yemen and Libya, were at the bottom of the worldwide CPI rankings.

Of course, Dubai is far from the only global city where real estate has become a conduit for dirty money. Malaysia’s infamous 1MDB scandalinvolved a number of NYC properties, and efforts to improve transparency in the U.S. have been stymied by political infighting.

Transparency International also notes that the CPI does not really measure money laundering. Denmark, the “least corrupt” country in this year’s rankings, has been rocked by a scandal involving its largest lender, Danske Bank, which is accused of knowingly allowed the laundering of hundreds of billions of dollars through a branch in Estonia.

Cryptocurrency Money Laundering: Alarming New Trends

By Nick Holland

Despite the value of cryptocurrency plummeting since 2017, cybercriminals and rogue nations are still using it to launder funds. One new scheme is “crypto dusting,” according to CipherTrace founder and CEO, Dave Jevans, who discusses the results of the company’s latest Cryptocurrency Anti-Money Laundering Report.

“This is when the bad guys, who typically operate money laundering operations and crypto, want to disable the ability of anti-money laundering and investigation tools,” Jevans explains in an interview with Information Security Media Group. “So what they’re doing is sending tens of thousands of people a week very small amounts of cryptocurrency that has obviously gone through money laundering services … so that everyone active in crypto is getting a negative reputation. Therefore tools that use reputation scoring don’t work anymore.”

In this interview (see audio link below photo), Jevans also discusses:

  • Cryptocurrency money laundering by nation-states, including Iran and Venezuela, to avoid economic sanctions;
  • The rise of cryptocurrency heists in 2018 despite a significant decrease in the value of many currencies;
  • The potential impact regulations could have on cracking down on cryptocurrency money laundering schemes.

Jevans is the founder and CEO of CipherTrace, which specializes in blockchain security and anti-money laundering compliance. He has 20 years of experience in the security and payments markets. He holds 17 U.S. patents in cybersecurity and has founded and sold three cybersecurity startups. He also serves as the chairman of the Anti-Phishing Working Group, a consortium of more than 1,500 government agencies, financial services companies, ISPs, law enforcement agencies and technology vendors.

Dubai Has Become A “Money Laundering Paradise” Says Anti-Corruption Group

The Gulf city of Dubai has been slammed as a “money laundering paradise” by leading anti-corruption group Transparency International.

Dubai – one of the seven emirates that make up the UAE – has built a reputation as the pre-eminent business hub in the Middle East, with an open economy that welcomes companies and individuals from around the world. It is a city that has gained fame for giving supercars to its police and building palm-shaped islands in the sea. However, it has also garnered notoriety as a place where normal rules can at times be ignored or easily sidestepped.

In its latest Corruption Perceptions Index, anti-graft campaigning group Transparency International says that “Dubai has become an active global hub for money laundering … where the corrupt and other criminals can go to buy luxurious property with no restrictions.”

Citing investigations last year by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS), Transparency International said that real estate worth millions of pounds can be bought in Dubai in exchange for cash with few questions ever asked.

In a report issued in June last year, C4ADS said it had identified 44 properties worth some $28.2m that were held directly by sanctioned individuals, and a further 37 properties worth almost $80m that were owned by members of these individuals’ wider networks. The data was based on a leaked database of property and residency data compiled by real estate professionals.

Clearly these issues are not new and indeed Transparency International has itself previously raised concerns about the dubious practices that go on in Dubai’s real estate market. Despite the negative publicity, however, the authorities appear reluctant to take decisive action.

Regional leader

Despite Dubai’s shortcomings, the UAE as a whole is actually the best rated country in the Middle East and North Africa region when it comes to corruption. In the 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index it is ranked 23 out of 180 countries, with a score of 70 points, closely followed by its near neighbor – and regional rival – Qatar, which is ranked 33 overall, with 62 points.

The index scores countries on a scale from  zero to 100, where zero is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean. The best rated country overall is Denmark with a score of 88 points.

While the UAE and Qatar score higher on the index than other countries in the region, this is largely due to their levels of economic and social development, says Transparency International. Both countries have relatively efficient public bureaucracies, high GDP levels and good health and education systems.

However, both countries also lack democratic institutions and a respect for political rights – something that is common throughout the Gulf and the wider MENA region – making them highly susceptible to corruption. “This leaves control of corruption up to the political will of the incumbent ruling class, which can change suddenly and leave any improvements in anti-corruption efforts behind,” says the Transparency International report.

There is also no freedom of the press in these countries and academics such as British research Matt Hedges have been actively targeted by the UAE authorities.

The opaque nature of the political and legal systems in the UAE can often prove frustrating for businesses. One prominent recent example is the battle over $496m in funds owned by a Kuwaiti investment firm – the money was frozen in a Dubai bank account in November 2017, but despite sustained lobbying of officials in Kuwait and the UAE it remains frozen at the time of writing.

U.S. charges top Chinese cellphone maker Huawei with money laundering, fraud

By Pete Williams and Ken Dilanian

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration announced criminal charges against one of China’s largest telecommunications companies Monday, a dramatic move that promises to ratchet up tensions on the eve of trade talks this week between the two countries.

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker told reporters in Washington a pair of indictments had been unsealed in two separate cases. A Brooklyn grand jury charged Huawei as a company, and its chief financial officer, Wanzhou Meng, with money laundering, bank fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy. Huawei also was charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice.

A separate indictment accuses Huawei of stealing trade secrets from U.S. telecom firm T-Mobile. Those charges stem from a civil lawsuit filed by T-Mobile in 2014 over a robot called “Tappy,” which was used in testing smartphones.

“Huawei intentionally conspired to steal intellectual property from an American company in an attempt to undermine the free and fair marketplace,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

Meng, who was arrested in Canada in December, is accused of orchestrating a scheme to violate U.S. sanctions on Iran.

The Brooklyn indictment says Huawei used a Hong Kong shell company to sell equipment in Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. Meng misled U.S. banks into believing that Hawei had no interest in the Hong Kong company, called Skycom, according to the Justice Department.

The indictment also charges Huawei with conspiracy to obstruct justice by destroying evidence and moving employees out of the U.S. so they could not be called as witnesses.

Meng is a daughter of Huawei’s founder, Ren Zhengfei, who served as an engineer in the People’s Liberation Army from 1974 to 1983. The U.S. is seeking her extradition.

“For over a decade, Huawei employed a strategy of lies and deceit to conduct and grow its business,” said Richard Donoghue, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said the charges “lay bare Huawei’s alleged blatant disregard for the laws of our country and standard global business practices.”

Huawei (pronounced “Wah-way”) is second only to Samsung as the world’s largest supplier of smartphones and has been heavily involved around the world in building the next generation of cellphone networks, known as 5G. The Trump administration has been pushing other countries to exclude the firm from that work, citing security risks.

Last year, six different U.S. intelligence agencies urged Americans not to buy Huawei phones — which are virtually unavailable in the U.S. And President Donald Trump signed a law blocking federal government agencies from using most of the company’s products.

The indictment against a leading Chinese company — and the harsh language senior Trump administration officials used to characterize its conduct — mark a sea change from the Obama administration, which was careful in how it characterized Chinese behavior, even as it secretly saw Chinese hackers siphoning U.S. intellectual property.

Separately, The Wall Street Journal reported on Jan. 16 that federal prosecutors are pursuing a criminal investigation of Huawei for allegedly stealing trade secrets from U.S. business partners, including technology used by T-Mobile to test smartphones.

The investigation grew in part out of civil lawsuits against Huawei, the Journal reported, including one in which a Seattle jury found Huawei liable for misappropriating robotic technology from T-Mobile’s lab in Bellevue, Washington.

In 2012, the House intelligence committee published an investigation concluding that Huawei and another Chinese telecom giant, ZTE, posed a threat to U.S. national security. The firms are essentially arms of the Chinese government, the House concluded, which aid and abet Chinese espionage and could implant spyware that could allow the Chinese government to easily intercept communications or mount cyberattacks on critical infrastructure, such as nuclear plants and power grids.

The companies deny spying for China.

American intelligence officials have long been concerned that Chinese firms insert “back doors” in telecommunications equipment that facilitates eavesdropping. If Chinese companies dominate the construction of 5G networks worldwide, officials fear Chinese spies won’t need back doors — they will have direct access to global telecommunications.

Still, U.S. officials have not put forward hard evidence linking Huawei to spying, and critics have pointed out that American spy agencies vacuum large swaths of private information — with court orders — from U.S. technology companies.

Talks aimed at resolving disputes over Chinese technology and trade policies are due to resume in Washington on Wednesday, led by the U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He.

https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/national-security/u-s-charges-top-chinese-cellphone-maker-huawei-money-laundering-n963646

4 South Korean Crypto Exchanges Team Up to Tackle Money Laundering

By Yogita Khatri

Four major cryptocurrency exchanges in South Korea have partnered on an initiative to combat potential money laundering, as well as schemes that might harm users.

Bithumb, Coinone, Korbit, and Upbit jointly announced Friday that they will create a hotline to share real-time wallet information on suspicious crypto trades. They aim to identify trades with suspected links to phishing, predatory lending, pyramid schemes and other illegal activities and share related information via the hotline, the exchanges said.

The exchanges will also operate a shared database of suspicious wallet addresses that would, for example, be able to help them identify and halt scammers looking to use different exchanges to move a large quantity of cryptocurrency to the same wallet.

The four firms are planning to encourage other crypto exchanges to join the initiative.

The news comes a month after CoinDesk Korea organized a forum with the country’s lawmakers on know-your-customer (KYC) and anti-money laundering (AML) initiatives. Seven crypto exchanges at the time signed an agreement to ensure user protection.

Back in November, the Korean Bar Association, the body governing South Korean lawyers, called on the government to hasten the introduction of blockchain regulations and “prevent side effects involving cryptocurrencies.”

And last June, South Korea’s financial regulator amended the anti-money laundering rules that apply to cryptocurrency exchanges in the country, requiring domestic banks to tighten up monitoring of related bank accounts.

Deutsche Bank Faces Growing U.S Scrutiny Over Money Laundering

By Bloomberg

Deutsche Bank AG is facing broadening U.S. scrutiny as a leading Republican lawmaker joined Democratic colleagues in questioning the company’s steps to combat money-laundering amid reports that its U.S. unit may have been a key conduit for dirty cash.

Representative Patrick McHenry, the top Republican on the House Financial Services Committee, sent a letter Thursday to CEO Christian Sewing, seeking documents that outline what internal and independent reviews have turned up about how the bank shields against illicit transactions.

The North Carolina lawmaker’s move comes as the bank acknowledged that it has received an inquiry from House Democrats who are coordinating efforts to probe the Frankfurt-based lender and as the Federal Reserve looks into the company’s involvement with a scandal-plagued Danish bank.

“It is critically important for the American public to have confidence Deutsche Bank is adequately addressing the vulnerabilities that allowed billions of dollars tied to criminal activities to move through the international banking system,” McHenry said in his letter, which set a Feb. 7 deadline for a response from the bank.

McHenry highlighted Deutsche Bank’s involvement in scandals ranging from “mirror trading” to how its U.S. unit handled billions of dollars in tainted transactions from Danske Bank A/S. Bloomberg reported Wednesday that the Fed is looking into the Danske transactions, adding to the international authorities, including the U.S. Department of Justice, pursuing investigations on those interactions.

In response to the probes, the bank has launched internal reviews and been required to bring in outside firms to investigate its conduct and controls. McHenry requested that findings from those reviews be provided to the committee, even though the reports haven’t been made public.

“We remain committed to providing appropriate information to all authorized investigations,” the bank said Thursday in a statement responding to a request for comment. Deutsche Bank acknowledged earlier Thursday that it is engaged in “productive dialogue” with the House Financial Services and Intelligence Committees, whose leaders have said they will work together on oversight of the company.

Representatives Maxine Waters of California, who leads the financial services panel, and Adam Schiff of California, who leads the intelligence group, have said they’d jointly pursue information on the bank’s dealings with the real estate business of President Donald Trump.

The Democrats, who ascended to chairmanships when their party took control of the House this year, have long been interested in the bank’s ties to the Trump Organization, but previously lacked authority to call witnesses or issue subpoenas for other material.

“The House Financial Services and Intelligence Committees are engaged in productive discussions with Deutsche Bank, and look forward to continued cooperation,” Waters and Schiff said in a statement.

Senate Democrats Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland last month urged Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo to probe the company’s correspondent banking business for vulnerabilities to money laundering.

The German lender has been sanctioned before by the Fed, its primary U.S. regulator. In 2017, the company agreed to pay $41 million to settle allegations its U.S. business failed to keep up sufficient money-laundering protections.

The bank’s faulty monitoring involved billions of dollars in “potentially suspicious transactions” processed from 2011 through 2015, the Fed said, adding that the transactions involved affiliates in Europe that failed to provide “accurate and complete information.”

In corruption-plagued Chicago, high-level shakedown charges loom over mayoral race, candidates

By Aamer Madhani

CHICAGO – Over the last four decades, federal prosecutors have racked up more than 1,700 corruption convictions of elected officials, government employees and contractors, a whopping toll of graft and malfeasance that’s left longtime Chicagoans accustomed to the sight of public servants taking perp walks on the evening news.

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevichex-Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and disgraced public schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett are among the many who in recent years have done or are still doing time in the federal penitentiary for using their office to enrich themselves.

More than 30 Chicago aldermen – members of the City Council – have been convicted of political corruption since 1973. Another, Willie Cochran, heads to trial in June to answer charges of wire fraud, bribery, and extortion. Federal authorities say the retired police officer solicited a bribe from a local business owner and made off with $30,000 he collected to help people in his ward.

But the latest political scandal unveiled by federal prosecutors this month has shocked even hardened veterans of Chicago’s political scene – and cast a shadow over next month’s mayoral election.

Authorities say Democratic Alderman Ed Burke, a 50-year veteran of the City Council and chairman of its powerful finance committee, tried to shake down officials of a company that operates dozens of Burger King franchises in Illinois.

The 14-candidate mayoral race already was shaping up to the city’s most competitive in decades. In the weeks since charges of attempted extortion against Burke were unsealed Jan. 3, political corruption has become the dominant topic in the campaign.

“Chicago is still America’s most corrupt city,” said former Alderman Dick Simpson, a political scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Simpson co-authored a study last year that showed Chicago had tallied more convictions for political corruption than any other U.S. city between 1976 and 2016.

“There is still a patronage problem left over,” Simpson told USA TODAY. “The bold corruption isn’t as rampant as it once was. But as we saw in Alderman Burke’s criminal charge, the old-style politics of shaking down businessmen for illegal bribes or campaign contributions still continues.”

Burke, who is running for re-election to the City Council next month, said he’s “not guilty of anything.”

“I have not done anything wrong,” Burke said. “And I’m sure that once it gets to court it will be clear.”

The nation’s third-largest city abounds with thorny challengesPersistent gun violence terrorizes pockets of the city, taxpayers face $27 billion in unfunded pension obligationsfor city workers, and an ongoing exodus of residents from Chicago complicates nearly all facets of governing.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has served as Chicago’s mayor for nearly eight years, announced in September that he would not seek a third term.

Now, the city’s long-simmering problem with corruption has moved to the forefront.

The four top-funded candidates to succeed him – Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza, former Chicago Board of Education President Gery Chico and former U.S. Commerce Secretary Bill Daley – have all found themselves under scrutiny for longstanding ties to Burke.

Preckwinkle, who was endorsed by the powerful Chicago Teachers Union, says she has returned $116,000 in political donations she collected at a fundraiser at Burke’s home last year.

She’s also faced questions about why her administration hired Burke’s son, Edward Burke Jr., in 2014 to serve as the training and exercise manager for the Cook County Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department. The younger Burke left the job last year.

Mendoza was married at Burke’s home in a ceremony officiated by the alderman’s wife, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke.

When Mendoza announced she was running for city clerk in 2010, she called Ed Burke her “true champion,” and told supporters the alderman was “primarily the reason why I stand before you today.”

Burke endorsed Chico, who worked as an aide to the alderman 30 years ago and in recent years partnered in a law firm that has earned millions lobbying at City Hall on behalf of Cisco Systems, Exelon Generation and Clear Channel and other companies.

Burke said “there’s probably nobody more qualified” in the mayoral race than Chico.

Daley, commerce secretary under Bill Clinton and chief of staff to Barack Obama, is the son and brother of Chicago’s two most famous mayors – Richard J. and Richard M. Daley.

Burke has given the Daley family at least $30,000 in political contributions over the years, according to the Chicago Tribune. But the Daleys and Burke have also been rivals: Richard M. Daley beat Burke in the 1980 race for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office.

Former Obama strategist David Axelrod, director of the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago, said the Burke case “already has had an impact in that there is more focus on ethics than there has been in previous elections.”

“Elections are often turned by things you never anticipate,” he told USA TODAY. “This certainly fits that.”

The four candidates with ties to Burke are working mightily now to distance themselves. Some are trying to use the moment to tout ethics reform plans they say will purge city from the pay-to-play and kickback schemes that have bedeviled the political scene.

Preckwinkle has called on Burke to resign from City Council. She has proposed prohibiting council members from holding outside employment.

Bill Daley has also called for banning outside employment, shrinking the size of the council from 50 to 15 and imposing term limits.

Chico has also backed term limits and called for a ban on most outside income for aldermen.

He also wants to do away with aldermanic prerogative – the Chicago practice, dating back to the 1930s, that gives council members wide latitude over permits, zoning changes and parking and liquor licenses within their wards.

“The time has come to end this old-school practice,” Chico said. “No one deserves this much power.”

Daley says any politician who has been active in Chicago over the last half-century has inevitably had contact with Burke. Still, he said, his three rivals’ ties to Burke should be more concerning to voters than his own.

He said he’s had an “arms-length political relationship with Burke.

“You have to get along for political reasons,” Daley told USA TODAY. “The others have business, and really strong personal or political (ties) with Burke.

I have yet to have someone do a fundraiser of $110,000. … That is a big fundraiser. Getting married in someone’s home is more than just showing up at a political event. Having your law business be very focused on City Hall – where Ed Burke is a force – is a different thing than engaging him around politics every four years when there is a campaign.”

Preckwinkle has also tried to play down her connections to Burke while spotlighting her rival’s connection to the powerful alderman.

“I won’t have my name dragged through the mud over the alleged criminal conduct of Susana Mendoza’s mentor, Gery Chico’s best friend and Bill Daley’s long-time political ally,” she said in a statement.

Mendoza has attempted to turn the spotlight on her rivals without addressing her own connections to Burke.

In a statement to USA TODAY, she said there is a “stark contrast to Bill Daley, who won’t release his tax returns and has chosen instead to hide his conflicts of interest, Toni Preckwinkle, who has a history of lying until she gets caught, and Gery Chico, who spent years lobbying Ed Burke at City Hall and is Ed Burke’s endorsed candidate in this race.”

Some candidates untouched by the Burke scandal question whether any candidate who has long been part of Chicago’s political establishment has the will or ability to bring meaningful change.

Former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot, ex-chairwoman of a city police accountability task force, began pushing ethics reform as key to solving other issues soon after she announced her candidacy last year.

She says voters should question the credibility of candidates who waited until the Burke charges landed to talk about corruption.

“If we’re going to truly have a new day in city government where we put people first, then we have to start attacking the elephant in the room,” Lightfoot said. “In some ways, we’re rotting from the inside out. We’re losing population, we’re losing our tax base, and the gap between the haves and have-nots continues to grow. I think there is a moral imperative to do something about it.”

Amara Enyia, a community organizer and municipal consultant running for mayor, said the Burke scandal seems to be spurring voters to consider how corruption connects to the other ails of a cash-strapped city that has seen the closure of dozens of schools in African-American neighborhoods, the shuttering of mental health clinics and disproportionate levels of poverty in black and Latino neighborhoods.

“Voters don’t want business as usual,” Enyia said. “They want someone who does not carry the baggage of corruption.

Burke, who was forced to give up his role as chairman of the finance committee after he was charged, has faced a federal investigation before.

In February 2012, a federal grand jury subpoenaed finance committee records related to the city’s workers compensation program.

Burke denied wrongdoing and vowed to cooperate with authorities. No charges were brought.

In the alleged Burger King shakedown, Burke first applied a light touch on operators of Tri City Foods Inc., the second-largest franchisee of Burger King restaurants with stores in six Midwest states.

Federal prosecutors say in court papers that Burke told the company’s owner that he had been holding up permits to renovate one of its Burger King restaurants in his wardbecause constituents expressed concerns about trucks parking there overnight.

Prosecutors say the company promised to address the matter.

Prosecutors say Burke told owner Shoukat Dhanani and another Tri City official that he was a partner in a law firm that works with clients on property tax appeals.

Dhanani told the FBI that he “read between the lines” that Burke was suggesting he’d smooth the permits in exchange for their business, prosecutors say. Dhanani said he told Burke that his company already had legal representation.

Less than two weeks later, prosecutors say, another official with the restaurant group called to give Burke an update on steps they had taken to address concerns about the trucks parking at the restaurant.

This time, prosecutors say, Burke was more direct.

“Good,” Burke said, in a conversation the FBI says was wiretapped. “And, um, we were going to talk about the real estate tax representation and you were going to have somebody get in touch with me so we can expedite your permits.”

Dhanani and others working for the restaurant group said Burke pressed them to give his law firm their business, prosecutors say. The FBI surveillance also picked up talk from the alderman that suggested he wanted the company as a client, they say.

Burke slow-walked the permitting process for months, prosecutors say, causing the Burger King franchise to lose 40 to 50 percent in sales because it couldn’t open an unfinished dining room to customers.

Dhanani told the FBI he eventually relented and informed Burke his company would hire his law firm, prosecutors say, but he never followed through.

Dhanani also told the FBI that he made a $10,000 political donation to Preckwinkle at the urging of Burke, prosecutors say.

Preckwinkle said her campaign returned the contribution to the donor because it exceeded the $5,600 contribution limit for individual contributions.

Former federal prosecutor Patrick Cotter, a white-collar defense attorney in Chicago, said an alarming number of city politicians have been caught committing graft and stealing taxpayer money.

Still, he said, it’s important to keep in perspective that Chicago is hardly alone in having to deal with political corruption.

Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles tallied more than 1,500 convictions for public corruption between 1976 and 2016, according to Simpson’s study. Federal prosecutors in New York counted more than 1,300 convictions during those years.

“The problems here are not because every once in a while an alderman gets caught doing something crooked,” Cotter said. “It is a bad thing, and it’s important to prosecute. But it’s not why the schools are not good. It’s not why we have a homeless issue in this city that’s insane. It’s not why we have the pension problem that is going to make life hard for every Chicagoan’s kids and their grandkids.

“There are basic structural problems in this city, and solving corruption alone is not going to bring an end to these big issues.”

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2019/01/23/chicago-federal-political-corruption-scandal-mayor-election-alderman-ed-burke/2581411002/