Alderman Cochran Pleads Not Guilty, Case Goes To Trial

CHICAGO (CBS) – A Chicago Alderman was in court Friday morning answering charges of extortion and theft.

CBS 2’s Susanna Song is at the Dirksen Federal Building with the latest happening in court.

20th Ward Alderman, Willie Cochran plead not guilty Friday morning to 15 counts of wire fraud, extortion and bribery.

He walked into the Dirksen Federal Building this morning with his wife, family and high-powered lawyer Thomas Durkin.

The South Side Alderman is accused of stealing tens-of-thousands of dollars meant for his charity. The money was supposed to pay for back-to-school picnics and supplies, and various holiday parties for his poor and elderly constituents.

The indictment said, instead, he used the donations to pay for his home, gambling at casinos and his daughter’s college tuition. The charges also allege Cochran shook down a liquor store manager in exchange for an ordinance change. He extorted bribes from two businessmen seeking his support for deals in his ward.

Cochran’s attorney said the issues of money and politics are blurred making it hard to differentiate between what is crime versus a political contribution.

“It’s my understanding everything got reported on his income tax for one,” Durkin said. “If he was a thief he wouldn’t have reported it on income tax. No bones about it, he made withdrawals, but to me it’s an intent issue. The government has to prove intent and I don’t know how they are going to do that. He thought it was okay, whether it was the right choice at the time. I am sure some fancy lawyers would have told him to do different.”

Cochran said he will not take a plea deal, but take this to trial and will continue to serve the 20th Ward.

His next court appearance in Jan. 11, but the Alderman is scheduled to have knee surgery a few days before, so the judge waived his attendance.

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