Influential Chicago Alderman Willie Cochran, who serves the Windy City’s Woodlawn neighborhood, was indicted by a federal grand jury Wednesday on 15 counts of wire fraud, bribery and extortion.
Prosecutors allege Mr. Cochran stole roughly $30,000 in funds from the 20th Ward Activities Fund designated for inner-city children to pay his daughter’s college tuition and to feed a gambling habit.
A similar charge alleges Cochran accepted $3,000 from the owner of a Woodlawn liquor store owner to expand the boundary for the sale of alcohol in the 20th Ward.
Describing the contents of the indictment, U.S. Attorney for Chicago, Zachary Fardon, released a statement Wednesday.
“Our democratic system suffers” from public corruption, it read. “We will continue to vigorously investigate and prosecute any elected official who attempts to use their office to enrich themselves.”
A 26-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department and former narcotics officer, Cochran retired from the force in 2003 and began working with the Woodlawn New Communities Program, a group devoted to rejuvenating the citizens and community on Chicago’s south side.
Cochran operated his own business until he won election to represent the 20th Ward in the City Council in 2007. Reelected in 2011 and 2015, Cochran also serves as a Ward committeeman.
Cochran is the third 20th ward alderman to be indicted for criminal wrongdoing in the last 30 years. Since 1972, 29 such city officials have been convicted of work-related federal crimes.
Former Alderman Arenda Troutman pleaded guilty to extortion in 2007 after demanding building contractors contribute to her political campaign. She was sentenced to four years behind bars.
Earlier, in 1986, former Alderman Cliff Kelley was indicted on charges of bribery and income tax evasion. He served one year in prison after accepting over $35,000 in bribes from Waste Management in exchange for his influence in seeking city contracts.
Cochran had no comment after the indictment was handed down. If convicted, Cochran faces 20 years in jail.
[AP] [Chicago Tribune] [Photo courtesy John H. White/Chicago Sun-Times]