Former Clerk for Chicago Transit Authority Retirement Plan Sentenced to a Year in Prison for Fraudulently Obtaining $356,000 in Plan Funds
CHICAGO — A federal grand jury has indicted City of Chicago Alderman WILLIE B. COCHRAN on charges he pocketed money from a charitable fund that was intended to help families and children in his South Side ward.
The 15-count indictment alleges that Cochran used money from the 20th Ward Activities Fund to pay his daughter’s college tuition and to finance his gambling expenses, as well as to purchase items for use in his home. The indictment also charges Cochran with extorting money from a lawyer and a liquor store owner in exchange for Cochran’s aldermanic support.
The indictment was returned Tuesday in federal court in Chicago. It charges Cochran, 64, of Chicago, with eleven counts of wire fraud, two counts of federal program bribery, and two counts of extortion. An arraignment date has not yet been set.
The indictment was announced by Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; and Michael J. Anderson, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI initiated the investigation after receiving information from the former City of Chicago Legislative Inspector General’s Office, which was headed at that time by Faisal Khan.
“When an elected official uses public power for personal gain, the average citizen pays and our democratic system suffers,” said U.S. Attorney Fardon. “We will continue to vigorously investigate and prosecute any elected official who attempts to use their office to enrich themselves.”
According to the indictment, Cochran corruptly solicited and demanded $1,500 from an Illinois attorney who represented real estate developers with properties in Cochran’s ward. Cochran solicited and obtained the money for his continued and future aldermanic support of the developments, which included a property developed under the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program, according to the indictment.
The indictment also charges Cochran with corruptly soliciting and demanding payment from a 20th Ward liquor store owner who sought an amendment to the Municipal Code of Chicago to allow package goods licenses on the store’s side of South Cottage Grove Avenue. Shortly after soliciting the payment, the City Council of Chicago in April 2015 passed a Cochran-sponsored amendment that allowed for issuance of the licenses on that block, according to the indictment.
The indictment alleges that Cochran was the sole signatory on a bank account for the 20th Ward Activities Fund, a charitable endeavor that purported to host ward events such as a summer back-to-school picnic, a Valentine’s Day party for senior citizens, and events during the holiday season. In reality, Cochran used a portion of the money contributed by donors for his own personal use, the indictment states. These expenses included $5,000 toward his daughter’s college tuition, and approximately $25,000 that Cochran withdrew from automated teller machines in or near casinos where he gambled, according to the indictment.
The public is reminded that an indictment is not evidence of guilt. The defendant is presumed innocent and is entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The charges in the indictment are punishable by a total maximum sentence of 280 years in prison. If convicted, the Court must impose a reasonable sentence under federal statutes and the advisory U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Heather McShain and Christopher Stetler.