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New U.S. Attorney: Mayor’s criticism of gun prosecutions unfair

Zach Fardon

Zach Fardon

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Updated: December 23, 2013 2:15PM



Chicago’s new top federal prosecutor says Mayor Rahm Emanuel was unfair to criticize federal efforts to tackle gun crime and has warned, “We are not going to arrest our way out of the gang problem in Chicago.”

Giving his first interview since he was finally confirmed by the Senate last month, Zach Fardon showed a willingness to stand up to the politicians who’ve put huge public pressure on him to do more to tackle the street violence plaguing Chicago’s South and West Sides.

Though the 47-year-old new U.S. Attorney said that was a “major priority” for him and that he’d lost sleep over the deaths of innocent children caught in gang crossfire, he added “I do not believe federal law enforcement is the panacea” and called for creative solutions to the “causes of the gang problem in Chicago . . . poverty, education, lack of job opportunities and sometimes failures in parenting.”

He refused to make violent crime a higher priority than tackling political corruption, which he said had a “sad, even tragic” history in Illinois.

And he said he’d personally called out Emanuel during a “positive, cordial conversation” for recently telling the Chicago Sun-Times that the feds do a “horrible” job prosecuting gun crime.

“I do not think that’s fair and I respectfully disagree with him and I have told him as much,” he said of Rahm’s comments, adding, “I’m proud of what we’ve done.”

Federal prosecutors have long been irked by Emanuel and his predecessor Mayor Richard M. Daley’s insinuations that they haven’t pitched in against gangs.

While public corruption cases hog the headlines, four times as many federal prosecutors are assigned to gang, gun and drug cases in Chicago. That was a point Fardon made again Wednesday, even as he warned that a long-standing federal hiring freeze risks driving his understaffed office to the breaking point.

Fardon said the “federal hammer of incarceration” would continue to hit gangs but that he supported Attorney General Eric Holder’s calls for less severe sentences in non-violent drug cases.

He said he’d never met President Barack Obama, Emanuel or either of Illinois’ Senators before he applied for the U.S. Attorney’s job, describing himself as someone with “zero clout” or political ambitions, and pooh-poohing any suggestion that improper political considerations would affect his decisions who to prosecute.

Though he was careful not to directly criticize U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who was widely ridiculed when he called for mass arrests of all 18,000 alleged members of Chicago’s biggest street gang this summer, his comments clearly ruled out any such approach.

Fardon, who ran the Boston marathon earlier this year, also revealed he was “profoundly impacted” by the bombings there, which he said proved the value of the controversial prosecutions of teenage wannabe terrorists in Chicago.

And he urged the public to share allegations of public corruption, saying “we need people to come forward.”

Asked if that meant his office — which has been through a relatively quiet year since his lauded predecessor Pat Fitzgerald stood down — doesn’t have any big cases cooking, his tone became indignant for the only time in the hourlong interview.

“I did not say that at all!” he said.

Email: kjanssen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @kimjnews



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