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U.S. Attorney Fitzgerald: If you don’t report corruption, you are the problem

U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald speaks City Club Chicago Monday September 12 2011 Maggiano's 111 W. Grave.  | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald speaks to the City Club of Chicago Monday, September 12, 2011 at Maggiano's, 111 W. Grand ave. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 9, 2012 9:47AM

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said he sometimes wants to smack people “upside the head” who tell him after he’s convicted someone that they knew all along the person was a crook.

“Seriously, speak up,” Fitzgerald said in a talk to the City Club of Chicago Monday.

“The one thing I find frustrating is that people view corruption as a law enforcement problem. If I had a dollar for everyone who has come up to me after we’ve convicted someone and said: ‘Yes, we knew he or she was doing that all the time but we wondered when someone was going to get around to doing something about it. And I bite my lip, but I wanted to smack them upside the head.”

The person who needs to do something about corruption, he said: “was you.”

“It is my view that sometimes we say that’s the way it is in Illinois or that’s the way it is in Chicago. If you’re finding yourself saying that, what you’re really saying is: ‘That’s the way I will allow it to be,’ ” Fitzgerald said.

“You either speak up and do something about it or you’re part of the problem. That’s the only way to look at it.”

Fitzgerald, who recently marked 10 years on the job in Chicago, talked to the club about his time in New York as a terrorism prosecutor and the changes he’s seen in information sharing among law enforcement agencies. That helped with the terrorism case involving David Headley, who has pleaded guilty to aiding a terror attack in Mumbai, India, that claimed more than 160 lives. Fitzgerald said: “Law enforcement, prosecutors and the FBI were married at the hip.” Headley gave a crucial statement that was admissible because he was read his Miranda rights, Fitzgerald said. Headley was a key witness this summer in a trial that saw the conviction of Chicago Tahawwur Rana.

Echoing a stance held by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Fitzgerald made a pitch in favor of prosecuting terrorists in civilian courts rather than military commissions. He argued that civilian courts aid in crucial intelligence gathering, since there’s an opportunity for cooperation, that there’s more options for charging terrorists in civilian courts and that some countries refuse to extradite terrorists if they know they’ll go before a military commission.

“We’d be crazy to say we’d never use Article III civilian courts to deal with people we capture alive. The question is what tool do we use in a particular case,” Fitzgerald said. “For some cases, that’s the only option.”

During his talk, Fitzgerald, a married father of two, said he considered Chicago home.

“I love my job,” he said.

The crowd laughed, as did the U.S. attorney who saw the convictions of two former governors and of a massive mob case during his tenure, when he was asked to round off to the nearest 20 the number of targets in the packed room.

Fitzgerald said he continues his role, designated by Holder, in leading a probe into whether identities of covert CIA officers were compromised at Guantánamo Bay by defense lawyers, but insisted that he makes up his time in Chicago on the weekends and at night.

Fitzgerald reiterated a plea he’s made in the past to corporations to hire ex-felons to give them an option rather than returning to drugs or gangs and to keep down recidivism.

After the event, a member of the media asked: Who should hire former Gov. George Ryan?

“I’m not gonna go there,” Fitzgerald said.

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