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Fardon confirmed as top Chicago federal prosecutor

U.S. Attorney Zach Fard| Sun-Times files

U.S. Attorney Zach Fardon | Sun-Times files

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Updated: November 18, 2013 7:50AM

Chicago has a new top fed.

On a unanimous vote late Wednesday, the U.S. Senate confirmed Zachary Fardon as the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) called Fardon, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago, “the right fit” to succeed corruption-buster Patrick Fitzgerald.

“His unanimous approval by the U.S. Senate today is a bipartisan testament to his integrity, experience, and reputation as a crime fighter,” Kirk said in a statement issued Wednesday with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

“I am certain that Mr. Fardon will not only continue Patrick Fitzgerald’s stellar reputation of prosecuting corrupt public officials, but will also do everything in his power to take out the dangerous drug gangs that are perpetrating violent crime on the streets of Chicago,” Kirk said.

Durbin also said he expects Fardon to “focus on the gun violence plaguing Chicago.”

Earlier Wednesday, though, two former U.S. Attorneys questioned how much more of a dent Fardon can truly make on such a longstanding problem.

Patrick Fitzgerald and Scott Lassar — who between them sent two former governors to prison — mounted an impassioned defense of the U.S. Attorney’s Chicago office Wednesday, saying it has for years quietly gone after the most violent gang leaders.

Though Fitzgerald and Lassar are now both in private practice, their arguments mirror those made privately by current federal prosecutors and could be read as an implicit criticism of Sen. Mark Kirk’s recent call for the U.S. Attorney’s office to lock up 18,000 members of the Gangster Disciples street gang, and of previous comments from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his predecessor that suggested the feds weren’t doing enough to tackle street violence.

Speaking at a Legal Aid Society event at Palmer House hosted by Fardon, Fitzgerald, Chicago’s top federal prosecutor from 2001 to 2012, said, “I think people don’t realize how many resources are spent in the federal prosecutor’s office on guns, gangs and violence compared to say, corruption . . . Ten times as many resources go to narcotics, gangs and violence.”

“The gloomy part is that I think people are focussed on the short term. . .We want an immediate fix overnight to problems caused way, way back,” he added.

Though the feds and the police were “part of the solution,” Fitzgerald said, the “fundamental solution . . . goes back to education, to opportunity, and to things in the community.

“We have 3-year-old kids going to schools from broken families with violence in the neighborhood and gang problems and lack of hope, lack of educational opportunity — that stuff manifests itself 10, 15 years later and we don’t like to talk about that, and we don’t like to step up and address it.”

“I don’t think there’s anyone in law enforcement who seriously thinks that the long-term solution is law enforcement.”

Lassar, who lead the prosecutors’ office from 1997 to 2001, also said that the feds’ best efforts are “not going to make a big impact, unfortunately.”

“The fact is that there’s a culture of violence and most of these murders that occur are over nothing,” he said.

“They’re over, ‘Somebody looked at me funny,’ or ‘Disrespected me,’ and the culture is to strike back violently.”

“Federal law enforcement I think is doing the right thing but it’s not going to solve the problem.”

Fardon is best known for his work in the investigation and trial of former Gov. George Ryan.

He is well regarded for his quick wit, quick thinking and memory. He delivered the opening remarks at Ryan’s trial, speaking for 90 minutes without referring to notes. Fardon had left the Chicago office to work in Nashville, Tenn., but was asked to fly in every week for the trial.

When Fardon was named as the likely nominee in March, Kay Hoppe, who heads a legal search and consulting firm, said Fardon “has the face of an affidavit, as they say. He looks so honest and pure. He’s got that All-American look about him.”

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