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U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald Talks Illinois Corruption, Hiring Felons

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PATRICK FITZGERALD
AP

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald sounded off on a variety of topics at the City Club of Chicago Monday -- and reminded the crowd that everyone needs speak up when they suspect illegal activity.

Fitzgerald has worked in Chicago for 10 years, but also spent time as a terrorism prosecutor in New York City. He spoke about how the Patriot Act improved communication between intelligence and law-enforcement communities, and discussed several high-profile terrorism cases he has handled locally. (Watch the speech in its entirety below.)

The improved communication helped Fitzgerald and law enforcement agencies build a case against David Headley, who admitted to aiding the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai that killed more than 160 people, he said Monday.

“Law enforcement, prosecutors and the FBI were married at the hip (in that case),” Fitzgerald said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Aside from discussing terror issues, Fitzgerald also tackled corruption in Illinois. When former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested in 2008, Fitzgerald famously accused the then-governor of a "political corruption crime spree" that would make "Lincoln roll over in his grave." Blagojevich was not the only corrupt Illinois politician to be brought down by Fitzgerald. The Peoria Journal-Star editorialized about his success as U.S. Attorney in 2008:

Since his arrival in Chicago in 2001, Fitzgerald has done impressive work going after Illinois' criminals, especially those of the powerful, politically entrenched variety. He brought more than 60 indictments against former Gov. George Ryan, gubernatorial pal Larry Warner and a host of other cronies in the wide-ranging licenses-for-bribes investigation. He cracked down on Chicago City Hall bribery and hiring corruption, prosecuting and securing convictions of some top aides to Mayor Richard Daley. He later scored guilty verdicts against Tony Rezko, Ali Ata and other close and corrupt friends of Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Despite his success in combating political corruption, Fitzgerald told the City Club crowd that he wants to smack people "upside the head" when they tell him they knew someone was corrupt--after that person has already been convicted.

“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," he told the crowd, according to the Sun-Times. "And I bite my lip, but I wanted to smack them upside the head.”

“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 also discussed the need for businesses to consider hiring felons who leave prison wanting to turn their lives around.

“One of the dirty little secrets - which isn’t so dirty - is that I think a lot of businesses have been hiring felons and found out that they have a better track record than other employees,” Fitzgerald said, according to WLS. “There are organizations out there who will organize them and supervise them. And the employers who are hiring felons are not doing it as a do-good thing. They’re doing it as a good business proposition, but they don’t like to advertise that because of the stigma associated with it.”

When asked whether someone should hire former Gov. George Ryan when he gets out of jail, Fitzgerald said he wasn't going to "go there."

WATCH the City Club speech in its entirety here: