Updated: November 26, 2013 6:27AM
Zachary Fardon, who was sworn in Wednesday as the new U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, has a big job ahead. Here’s what we’d like to see at the top of his to-do list:
† Financial crimes. The near-meltdown of the U.S. economy in 2008 starkly showed how financial crimes can hurt everyone. Chicago is a global financial center, and federal prosecutors here must be more aggressive in pursuing securities fraud, business crimes involving corporations and banks, insider trading and similar misdeeds.
Case in point: A federal judge in Chicago on Thursday ordered convicted credit card fraudster Kevin Trudeau kept behind bars until he comes clean about his hidden millions. Trudeau had been living a lavish lifestyle with personal chefs, a Bentley, expensive clothing and jewelry while claiming to have no money.
That sort of prosecution, taking down white-collar financial scammers, should be a top priority of the new U.S. attorney.
Other U.S. attorneys around the country have won cases against such big-money hucksters as Bernie Madoff, Kenneth Lay, Richard Scrushy, Bernie Ebbers, Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky. Compared with many smaller districts, the office in Chicago has a big enough staff to follow the money, look at a lot of records and come up with many more prosecutions that are meaningful.
† Guns. The federal government has a small role in fighting gun crime compared with local law enforcement, but the carnage on Chicago’s streets is so horrific that every government agency should be doing all it can. On Wednesday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel complained the U.S. attorney’s office prosecutes far too few of the gun crime cases in which the feds work with local law enforcement. Earlier this year, Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, which tracks federal prosecution data, found Chicago ranked 90th out of 90 districts in federal gun law enforcement in 2012. The office here needs to do much better.
† Gangs and drugs. Bloomberg Markets Magazine reported last month that the Sinaloa cartel floods Chicago with $3 billion worth of heroin, cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine each year, leading to deadly turf wars among gangs vying for profits. Such a cartel — an operation that stretches from Mexico through much of the Midwest — is beyond the reach of local law enforcement, making taking on the illegal drug trade one of Fardon’s priorities. Illinois senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk are among those who have been urging the U.S. attorney to do more to reduce gang crime.
At the same time, though, Fardon should heed U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s recent call for diverting low-level drug criminals away from penitentiaries. That would free up resources for going after the big fish.
† Police corruption. When police officers beat people, give false testimony at trial, create bogus documents or plant drugs on suspects, it’s almost always up to federal prosecutors to step in. Most cops do a hard job well, but those who cross the line destroy the trust of a community and are rarely prosecuted. It took decades for the law to catch up with the most egregious practitioner, former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge. Police crime cannot be tolerated.
† Political corruption. Since the days of former Gov. Otto Kerner, the U.S. attorney’s office here has been known for busting crooked pols. In the years following Kerner’s conviction, three more governors have been dispatched to prison, as well as dozens of lower-level officials who abused the public trust.
Chicago and Illinois still have far to go in that way.
Let’s keep the heat on.