CITY HALL — Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) Thursday called federal charges that he he extorted a local business owner a "lie."
A federal grand jury indicted the South Side alderman Wednesday on 15 counts of wire fraud, bribery and extortion.
Prosecutors said Cochran took $25,000 to support a gambling habit and $5,000 to pay his daughter's college tuition from a 20th Ward fund he set up to help kids and other local residents.
Another charge alleges that Cochran took $3,000 from a local liquor store owner in exchange for pushing through a measure to allow the sale of liquor on the west side of Cottage Grove Avenue between Marquette Road and 68th Street.
"I have never extorted money from anyone," Cochran said via text in response to questions from DNAinfo. "He is telling a lie. There is so much more to be revealed."
The indictment also alleges Cochran took a check for $1,500 — with the payee left blank — from an attorney pushing the redevelopment of vacant and foreclosed homes using federal funds.
Cochran said he has no plans to resign.
Cochran did not respond to questions about how the money from the 20th Ward Fund was used.
"I want to talk, but I have been advised otherwise," Cochran said, referring questions to his attorney.
Thomas Durkin, the alderman's attorney, said Wednesday Cochran plans "to fight these charges vigorously."
Cochran, 64, is the third alderman of the 20th Ward — which includes Woodlawn, Back of the Yards, New City, Englewood, Greater Grand Crossing and Washington Park — to be accused of criminal wrongdoing.
Cochran's arraignment has not been set, federal officials said.
If convicted, Cochran faces a maximum sentence of 280 years in prison, federal officials said.
A police officer and marshal for 26 years, Cochran worked as a community organizer and ran a business before being elected in 2008 to replace Ald. Arenda Troutman, who pleaded guilty to charges that she demanded political contributions from developers looking to do business in her ward. Those charges were highlighted by Troutman's now infamous quote caught on tape: "Most aldermen, most politicians are hos."
Troutman was sentenced to four years in prison.
Former 20th Ward Ald. Cliff Kelley was indicted in 1986 on charges bribery and income tax evasion. Before he was convicted, Kelley lost the 1987 election to Ernest Jones, who died in office in 1990. Troutman was appointed to Jones’ seat after he died.
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