- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 16, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The bribery case against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is just the latest illustration of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s prosecutorial skills. Whether the case involves Mafia bosses, international terrorists or public corruption, Mr. Fitzgerald views bringing criminals to justice as a kind of moral imperative. We don’t always agree with Mr. Fitzgerald. There’s a case to be made that his prosecution of former vice presidential aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby was an example of prosecutorial overreach. But Mr. Fitzgerald’s successful record of public service is undeniable.

In both Illinois and New York, where Mr. Fitzgerald was assistant U.S. attorney from 1988 to 2001, he served with distinction. Mr. Fitzgerald prosecuted drug traffickers, and in 1993 was part of the prosecution team that sent John Gambino (a top heroin smuggler for the Gambino crime family) to prison for narcotics trafficking and murder. He also participated in the 1995 trial of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the so-called Blind Sheikh, and nine codefendants who participated in a conspiracy, including the Feb. 26, 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, in which six persons were killed and more than 1,000 injured, and in a conspiracy to bomb additional New York-area targets including the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels, the United Nations, and the FBI building in New York City. He won convictions of all 10 defendants.

Mr. Fitzgerald also supervised the prosecution of Ramzi Yousef, who masterminded the World Trade Center bombing, in a conspiracy based in the Philippines to blow up 12 U.S. airliners. And Mr. Fitzgerald participated in the prosecution team in United States v. bin Laden - in which al Qaeda operatives were charged with offenses that included the Aug. 7, 1998, bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in which 224 persons were killed. Four defendants were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in that case.

Illinois Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, a Republican and no relation to the prosecutor, was searching for a U.S. attorney who was willing to take on corrupt politicians. He asked FBI Director Louis Freeh, who replied that Patrick Fitzgerald was the best person for the job. So, too, did Mary Jo White, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. That summer, Mr. Fitzgerald was confirmed by the Senate as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, which includes 18 counties with 9 million people. He took office on Sept. 1, 2001, and since then has used his investigative powers to go after corrupt public officials regardless of party. One of those he put in prison is Mr. Blagojevich’s predecessor, Republican George Ryan, who is serving six years in prison for racketeering, tax fraud, mail fraud and lying to federal investigators.

Mr. Fitzgerald’s investigation of Hired Truck, a scandal-ridden Chicago program in which private trucks were hired to do work for the city, followed an expose by the Chicago Sun-Times. In January 2006, Mr. Fitzgerald indicted a top official in the administration of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley Jr. - Chicago City Clerk James Laski - on bribery charges. Two months later, Laski (who came into office touting himself as a reformer after his predecessor went to prison for hiring “ghost” employees) pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to two years in prison. Forty-two people, including Laski and Donald Tomczak (who had been the No. 2 official in the city’s Water Department) were convicted in the Hired Truck case.

Mr. Fitzgerald also served as trial counsel in United States v. Arnaout, in which the executive director of a suburban Chicago charity pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 years in prison for using charitable associations to finance Chechen radicals. One of Mr. Fitzgerald’s most difficult cases was his prosecution of Muhammad Salah and Abdelhaleem Ashqar for being terrorist leaders of Hamas. While the two were acquitted of terrorism charges, both went to prison - Salah for lying in a civil investigation and Ashqar for obstruction of justice.

Now Mr. Fitzgerald appears to have put together a very strong bribery case against Mr. Blagojevich, whom President-elect Barack Obama supported in 2002. Mr. Obama said during the presidential campaign that he would reappoint Mr. Fitzgerald as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. In March, Mr. Obama told the Chicago Tribune’s Editorial Board that Mr. Fitzgerald is doing a good job, and that he would reappoint him because “he has been aggressive in putting the city on notice and the state on notice that he takes issues of public corruption seriously.” Mr. Obama should repeat those comments publicly.

Mr. Blagojevich shares a hometown with the president-elect and holds the power to name his Senate replacement. Otherwise, we probably would not have written this editorial. Mr. Fitzgerald brings a sense of moral duty and honor to his position as a federal prosecutor - a successful federal prosecutor of high-profile cases. Mr. Fitzgerald deserves public recognition from Mr. Obama.

QUOTES

“He is probably the best prosecutor in the nation — certainly one of them.” (Former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White, quoted in The Washington Post, March 20, 2007.)

Gov. Rod Blagojevich has embarked on a “political corruption crime spree” that “has taken us to a new low.”(Patrick Fitgerald at a Dec. 9 press conference announcing the arrest of the Illinois governor on corruption charges).

“A pardon for George Ryan would be like firing Eliot Ness…It would send a chilling message to Fitzgerald: You may work hundreds of hours on the case, you may go up against the best defense that Chicago machine money can buy, but we’ll just let it all go.” (Republican Rep. Mark Kirk of Illinois, arguing against a pardon of Ryan by President Bush, National Review Online, Dec. 10, 2008.)

“He’s bagged two governors (one Republican, one Democrat) … Mayor Daley’s patronage director and many more of the biggest names in Illinois politics on corruption charges. It’s no matter many of them wish Fitzgerald would leave town.” (Tim Novak and Chris Fusco, Chicago Sun-Times, December 15, 2008.)

“I thought, he is the original ‘Untouchable’ … You could just see it in his eyes that he was a straight shooter. There were no levers that anyone had over him.” — U.S. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, Illinois Republican (no relation), explaining his decision in 2001 to recommend that President Bush nominate Patrick Fitzgerald as United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.

KEY CASES

Gov. George Ryan. In a six-month trial that took place in 2005 and 2006, the former Republican governor was convicted on 18 counts, which included steering state business to political allies for bribes and corrupting the offices of secretary of state and governor for personal and political gain. The scandal centered around Ryan’s service as Illinois secretary of state in the early 1990s, when he made it possible for hundreds of unqualified applicants to obtain Illinois truck licenses. In November 1994, a six children were killed in an accident on Interstate 94 near Milwaukee involving aan unqualified applicant who had obtained a truck license through Ryan’s office. Ryan is currently serving a six-year prison sentence.

Chicago’s Hired Truck program. At least 42 persons have been convicted in the federal investigation of Chicago’s Hired Truck program, a project of Democratic Mayor Richard Daley. Participating companies, some of whom had mob connections or financial ties with city employees, were being paid while performing little or no work. Among those convicted was City Clerk James Laski.

City Hall patronage scandal. In 2006, Fitzgerald won convictions of Daley aide Robert Sorich and several other city officials for conspiring to reward mayoral supporters with jobs and promotions.

Tony Rezko. Earlier this year, a federal jury convicted political operative Tony Rezko, who has raised money for Obama, Blagojevich, Ryan and others, on several counts of bribery and fraud.

Enaam Arnaout and Benevolence International. Fitzgerald prosecuted Arnaout for in effect defrauding contributors to his charitable organization, Benevolence International, by diverting charitable funds to support violent Islamist groups in Bosnia and Chechnya.

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