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Roland Burris Accused of Shakedown Scheme During Senate Tenure

An FBI informant alleged Burris was involved in an extortion scheme while in the Senate. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Three years after his brief stint in the Senate, a federal court case in Chicago has raised questions about Illinois Democrat Roland Burris' conduct while he was in office.  

His name came up during a pre-trial hearing on Sept. 26 in a bizarre case against a businessman accused of illegally lobbying to overturn U.S. sanctions on the regime of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. Defense attorneys questioned Burris' credibility as a witness because of allegations he was involved in a shakedown scheme during his time in the Senate.  

Then-Sen. Burris offered to promote a business to the U.S. military in exchange for a $250,000 a year job when he left office, court documents allege. An FBI informant made the claim in 2012 during grand jury testimony, according to a transcript of the sidebar conversation between the judge and attorneys that was shared by the Chicago Sun-Times . Burris, who now practices law in Chicago, was recently interviewed by federal investigators about the extortion scheme, prosecutors said. It is unclear how seriously the feds took the accusations, considering they didn't talk to him about it until two years later.  

Burris has not been charged with any wrongdoing related to the claim. He did not respond to a call from CQ Roll Call.  

The former senator's name came up Monday during a Chicago Tribune editorial board interview with Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., and his Republican challenger, Jim Oberweis. Durbin recounted how he urged Burris not to accept a Senate appointment from former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat who had just been arrested on corruption charges.  

"Don’t do that, you don’t want to be associated with [Blagojevich] at this moment in history and after your service in public office,” Durbin said he warned Burris during a 2008 phone conversation.  

Burris was later forced to defend his appointment. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Democratic leaders initially refused to seat him after he was appointed by Blagojevich. They eventually acquiesced and seated him in mid-January 2009 when he produced the appropriate paperwork. Durbin advised him to resign.  

Illinois prosecutors decided in June 2009 that Burris' conduct did not merit criminal charges. He was admonished by the Senate Ethics Committee in November. About two years later, Burris asked Reid for help settling his legal debt.  

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