CHICAGO (CBS) — Former Ald. Willie Cochran will be sentenced Monday, three months after pleading guilty 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, admitted to withdrawing more than $14,000 from the 20th Ward Activities Fund – a charity he created to finance programs for needy children and seniors – and converting it for his personal use.
Cochran spent the money on gambling at Ameristar Casino, his daughter’s college expenses, and goods for his home.
Under state law, he officially resigned as alderman of the 20th Ward with his felony conviction.
Federal prosecutors have recommended a sentencing range of 12 to 24 months in prison, while Cochran’s attorneys have sought a sentence of only probation with six months of home confinement, arguing prison sentences for previous aldermen have not worked to deter corruption.
“Since sending the previous aldermen to jail has not done anything to curb Chicago’s tidal wave of aldermanic corruption cases, there is no reason to think that sending Mr. Cochran to jail will,” Cochran’s attorneys wrote in their sentencing memo.
Specifically, Cochran’s attorneys pointed to the corruption probe that ensnared Ald. Edward Burke (14th), who has been indicted for racketeering, extortion, and bribery; and former Ald. Danny Solis, who wore a wire to secretly record Burke and others in cooperation with the FBI probe.
“Putting people in jail, even public officials, simply has no deterrent effect,” Cochran’s attorneys have argued.
As part of Cochran’s plea agreement, federal prosecutors dropped 14 of the 15 charges against Cochran, including allegations he extorted bribes from two businessmen seeking his support for deals in the 20th 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 was the 30th Chicago alderman to be convicted of federal crimes committed in public office since 1973. He was also the third 20th Ward alderman convicted of corruption charges.
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.
Cochran’s sentencing hearing comes just days after federal agents raided the 34th Ward office of Ald. Carrie Austin. She has said she did nothing wrong. Sources said the investigation is not connected to the federal probe involving Burke and Solis.