CHICAGO — Chicago lost a modern-day “untouchable” Wednesday as Patrick Fitzgerald — a feared US prosecutor who has locked up terrorists, mobsters and two governors — announced his resignation after more than 10 years.
The tough-talking Fitzgerald, 51, made a name for himself in New York where he helped prosecute two high-profile terror cases — the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
He rose to national prominence after being tapped to investigate the 2003 leak of the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame, whose husband angered the Bush administration by publicly questioning the justification for the Iraq war.
Fitzgerald indicted Lewis Scooter Libby — who was then Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff and national security advisor — and led the team which won Libby’s 2007 conviction on perjury and obstruction of justice charges.
Attorney General Eric Holder hailed Fitzgerald for serving the American people “with the utmost integrity and a steadfast commitment to the cause of justice” in his 24 years as a federal prosecutor.
Fitzgerald was appointed US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois just 10 days before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
He has cracked down — though not always successfully — on those who tried to pursue or support terrorism in his midwestern district of nine million people.
One notable failure was the case of Chicago businessman Muhammad Salah, found not guilty of terror charges after being accused of acting as a bag man for Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and is designated by the United States as a terrorist group.
Fitzgerald was able to get “actionable intelligence” from David Headley — who admitted to helping plan the 2008 Mumbai attacks in which 166 people died in exchange for avoiding a possible death penalty — and convict Headley’s childhood friend Tahawwur Hussain Rana for helping to plot an aborted attack on a Danish newspaper.
He also made international headlines for his prosecution of media baron Conrad Black on fraud and obstruction of justice charges.
Fitzgerald is best known in Chicago, however, for his relentless pursuit of corrupt public officials.
He sent FBI agents to arrest then-governor Rod Blagojevich in the midst of what Fitzgerald called a “political corruption crime spree” after wire taps caught the Democratic politician trying to auction off President Barack Obama’s vacated senate seat to the highest bidder in 2008.
He also locked up former Republican governor George Ryan — who gained international fame for his 1999 moratorium on executions — after a massive probe of the sale of government licenses, contracts and leases while Ryan was secretary of state.
“He has made Illinois a more ethical state by bringing justice to those who betrayed the public’s trust,” Chicago Governor Pat Quinn said in a statement thanking Fitzgerald for his hard work rooting out corruption.
His taking down of Chicago mafia figures saw him compared to Eliot Ness, the legendary leader of a Prohibition era team of Chicago-based law enforcement agents known as the “Untouchables.”
Fitzgerald, who is married with two small children, has no immediate plans for future employment and will officially step down on June 30, his office said. He gave no reason for his departure.
[Image via Melody Kramer, Creative Commons licensed]