By TONIA HILL
Ald. Willie Cochran (20th), whose ward includes parts of the University of Chicago campus and Washington Park, was indicted by a federal grand jury with wire fraud, bribery, and extortion. Prosecutors announced news of the indictment Wednesday, Dec. 14.
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.
U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon of the Northern District of Illinois, and Michael J. Anderson, special-agent-in-charge of the Chicago office of the FBI made the indictment announcement. The FBI initiated the investigation after receiving information from the former Inspector General’s office in Chicago.
“When an elected official uses public power for personal gain, the average citizen pays and our democratic system suffers,” U.S. Attorney Fardon said in a written statement. “We will continue to vigorously investigate and prosecute any elected official who attempts to use their office to enrich themselves.”
Cochran, a former police officer, and community organizer ran for alderman in 2007 following the arrest of his predecessor, Ald. Arenda Troutman, who was arrested by the FBI on bribery charges. Troutman allegedly solicited donations from developers that wanted to do business in her ward. Troutman pleaded guilty in 2008 and was sentenced to four years in prison.
After Troutman’s arrest in 2007, Cochran called on Troutman to resign.
According to his biography on his campaign website, Cochran is the youngest of ten children. He has a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Eastern Illinois University and a master’s degree in public administration from the Illinois Institute of Technology. He retired from the Chicago Police Department (CPD) in 2003 after serving for 26 years.
The indictment alleges that Cochran was the sole signatory on a bank account for the 20th Ward Activities Fund. Money in the fund was designated 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.
Cochran allegedly used a portion of the funds contributed by donors for his personal use, according to the indictment. The expenses included $5,000 for his daughter’s tuition and about $25,000 that he withdrew from ATMs near casinos where he gambled.
The indictment was returned on Tuesday in federal court in Chicago. Cochran was charged with eleven counts of wire fraud, two counts of federal program bribery, and two counts of extortion. An arraignment date has not been set.
Since 1972, there have been about 35 current and former City Council members that have been sent to prison.
The charges in the indictment are punishable by a total maximum sentence of 280 years in prison.