CHICAGO (CBS)— South Side Ald. Willie Cochran pleaded guilty Thursday to a felony charge of wire fraud for misusing his campaign funds for gambling and other personal expenses, including tuition for his daughter.
Cochran, 66, appeared before U.S. District Judge Jorge Alonso at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, where federal prosecutors outlined his plea agreement. Cochran pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud, which accused him of withdrawing money from the 20th Ward Activities Fund — meant to go to children and seniors — and used it for personal expenses.
According to the plea agreement, while Cochran personally donated more than $32,000 to the fund, he withdrew approximately $14,285 more than he gave, and converted it for his personal use. Cochran spent the funds on gambling at Ameristar Casino, his daughter’s college expenses, and goods for his home.
Under the plea agreement, he could face a sentence of up to 18 months in prison or as little as probation. By state law, his felony conviction serves as his official resignation as alderman.
As part of the plea agreement, prosecutors dropped other charges accusing Cochran of extorting bribes from two businessmen seeking his support for deals in his ward. According to the indictment filed in December 2016, Cochran demanded and received a check for $1,500 from an attorney, identified only as “Individual A,” in exchange for the alderman’s continued support for real estate projects in his ward. The indictment also alleged Cochran demanded a $3,000 cash bribe from a liquor store owner seeking to sell his business to a buyer who would need a city liquor license.
Cochran’s guilty plea marks another chapter in Chicago’s history book of corruption. He is the 30th Chicago alderman to be convicted of federal crimes committed in public office since 1973. Cochran also becomes the third 20th Ward alderman to be convicted of corruption charges.
By entering a guilty plea, state law mandates the three-term alderman and father of five children to resign from office.
Last year, Cochran–a former Chicago police officer for 26 years– rejected a plea deal. It took him months to finally agree to enter the guilty plea.
Cochran had been alderman since 2007, but was not running for re-election. In 2007, Cochran defeated his predecessor, Ald. Arenda Troutman, who was facing bribery charges of her own at the time. She later was convicted and sentenced to four years in prison.
Another former 20th Ward alderman, Cliff Kelley, was indicted in 1986 for bribery and income tax evasion. He was convicted a year later and served 9 1/2 months in prison.