Mayor Lori Lightfoot has been busy trying to eliminate aldermanic privilege in Chicago, where aldermen have the final say on important matters in their wards, including city permits.
However, some people still think aldermen deserve special privileges.
Willie Cochran, former alderman of the 20th Ward, was sentenced to one year in prison in June after pleading guilty in March to wire fraud. He admitted he stole $14,000 from a ward charity fund intended to aid seniors and children in need; instead, he used the money for his gambling ventures, meals and his daughter’s college tuition.
Several other charges were dropped.
As United States District Judge Jorge Alonso considered sentencing, Cochran’s attorney, Christopher Grohman, requested a sentence of six months of home incarceration.
Grohman made a peculiar point in asking that Cochran not serve time in prison.
“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,” Grohman reportedly wrote in a sentencing memo.
“Putting people in jail, even public officials,” Grohman added, “simply has no deterrent effect.”
One prosecutor called those remarks “utterly irrational,” and thankfully, Alonso didn’t buy them, either.
“The message,” Alonso said, “has to be that, if they are caught, a prison sentence awaits.”
Cochran, a former Chicago police officer, was elected in 2007, and he is reportedly the 30th alderman since 1972 to be convicted of a crime related to aldermanic duties.
He reportedly had second thoughts about his plea deal and said as much after his sentencing.
“There’s no justice in this,” Cochran said. “The Justice Department is allowing their prosecutors to tell lies and hide evidence.”
Cochran is just the latest alderman in hot water, as 14th Ward Ald. Ed Burke was charged with 14 counts of corruption earlier this year, and 34th Ward Ald. Carrie Austin was the target of a raid by FBI agents at her home in June. However, she has not been charged with any crime.
Both are still members of the Chicago City Council and are innocent until proven guilty.
Lightfoot has shown in her first weeks on the job that aldermen should be held accountable. Fortunately, a judge has affirmed that they will be treated like any other citizen who is found guilty of a crime.