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CIA leak prosecutor takes on Chicago machine

Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the federal prosecutor who heads Washington’s CIA leak investigation, is also taking on Chicago's City Hall.
/ Source: The Associated Press

He sent members of New York’s Gambino crime family to the federal pen and he jailed terrorists who planned to strike America with a wave of bombings.

Now Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the federal prosecutor who heads Washington’s CIA leak investigation, is also taking on City Hall.

The 45-year-old New Yorker who is chief federal prosecutor in Chicago is digging deep into Mayor Richard M. Daley’s political empire. And former Illinois Gov. George Ryan is due to go to trial on federal corruption charges Sept. 15.

“His mission is to do justice,” says Mary Jo White, the former U.S. attorney in Manhattan who made Fitzgerald the chief of her anti-terrorism unit.

As the hard-driving, Harvard-educated son of a Brooklyn doorman flies between Chicago and Washington, chasing terrorists, cracking down on corrupt pols and hunting leakers, he’s becoming one of America’s best known federal prosecutors — and some say one of the toughest.

High-profile cases
So intense has been his probe of payoffs and fraud at City Hall that rumors are flying about a possible effort by politicians to get Fitzgerald out of town. He brushes aside all such questions.

“I’m just going to do my job until the telephone rings and somebody tells me not to,” he told reporters with a poker face last week.

Fitzgerald says he grew up as part of “a typical Brooklyn, Irish-American group of guys,” but he also attended a small private Catholic high school where he studied Latin and Greek. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Amherst College and Harvard Law School and, after a three-year stint in a private law firm, joined the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan.

As a glutton for work, Fitzgerald got in on some high-profile cases and eventually headed White’s anti-terrorist unit.

In 1993, he helped jail a Gambino crime family capo and three other mobsters for murder, racketeering, narcotics trafficking and other crimes.

He helped send terrorist leader Omar Abdel Rahman, known as “the blind sheik,” to federal prison for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and conspiring to blow up bridges and buildings.

And he supervised the 1996 trial of three men who plotted to blow up 12 airliners.

Charges against bin Laden
Fitzgerald also brought charges that Osama bin Laden and 22 of his followers conspired to murder Americans and were responsible for the August 1998 bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa. Four defendants went to trial and are serving life.

Since arriving in Chicago in 2001, Fitzgerald has rooted out political corruption with the same zeal he applied to terrorism in New York.

Dozens of city workers and trucking executives have been indicted in a payoff investigation, including the former boss at the city water department, who was a political powerhouse.

Fraud charges
On April 29, agents raided City Hall and took away piles of records — resulting in fraud charges against two city officials from the mayor’s family’s home ward. They are accused of violating a long-standing court order against using politics as a basis for hiring workers.

Daley, whose father built the Chicago Machine with Election Day get-out-the-vote workers who held patronage jobs on the city payroll, says he is determined to reform the hiring process. But he made a point of telling reporters it was “important to note that for more than 30 years, through six administrations, such violations have been treated as civil matters — until now.”

Chicago officials aren’t the only ones concerned about Fitzgerald’s zeal.

New York Times reporter Judith Miller has been jailed since July 6 for refusing to testify in his investigation of who leaked the fact that Valerie Plame was an undercover CIA officer.

Miller said she was keeping her promise of confidentiality to her source. But Fitzgerald said not even the attorney general or director of central intelligence could make such a vow.

“I would love to tell someone, ’Come in, and tell me what you know. I will never betray who you are to anyone,”’ Fitzgerald said. “I would love to say that in the hunt for bin Laden.”