Tackling bribery scandals, public corruption and Chicago crime is no easy feat.
But it’s the job of Northern Illinois’ top federal prosecutor, who recently handled a major racketeering case that took down members of a reputed Chicago gang.
“It’s a remarkable case, I mean it started, like a lot of our cases do, as kind of an investigation into a group of individuals selling drugs in a particular neighborhood in the city of Chicago … following the evidence where it led was 13 people charged, 19 murders, 19 attempted murders, armed robberies, drug traffic …,” said U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois John Lausch. “The people who are responsible for multiple shootings, multiple murders are now no longer in that community anymore to continue to wreak havoc on people. When we’re able to bring a case like this, it can provide some relief in the sense of, OK, someone is looking out for us.”
Also this year were multiple indictments of former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan on racketeering and bribery charges, involving ComEd and now AT&T.
“It lays out kind of a similar scheme that we saw in connection with the other cases involving Mike McClain and Mike Madigan,” Lausch said. “Essentially, payments to an individual who is an ally of the former speaker, and you know, that’s being done in order to influence and reward Madigan in connection with legislation.”
Without being able to disclose if he anticipates further charges, Lausch said in general that his office is “always open for business.”
Another major prosecution under Lausch’s watch is Ald. Ed Burke’s indictment of more than four years ago on corruption charges. Burke’s trial is still not set to begin until November 2023 due to a “full calendar.”
“I think we all like to see things happen swiftly, but we’re also very realistic about things,” Lausch said. “We did have the pandemic that came into play here as well, which put a lot of our trials on hold for various points of time … we need to make sure it gets done right .. It’s part of what we’ve become used to. That said, I understand where the public sometimes will say, ‘Boy like this has been a long time. When is this going to happen?’ I get that. And that’s why you will see our prosecutors regularly saying, ‘We;re ready for trial judge.’ It’ll either happen then or at some point.”
Meanwhile, the University of Chicago recently released the first national investigation of federal pretrial detentions, finding a “federal jailing crisis” particularly with federal judges routinely violating bail laws.
The report states pretrial detention rates for people charged with federal crimes have gone from 29% to 75% since 1984.
Lausch believes pretrial detentions have gone up given the severity of crimes they’re seeing, as his office takes a “thoughtful” approach.
“It's a very thoughtful process in my office in particular. You have a prosecutor, you have a defense lawyer and the judge and then a pretrial services officer who are evaluating, ‘Is this person a risk of flight or a danger to the community?’ If they are, we will seek pretrial detention,” he said. “And if we meet certain standards, we need to show by clear and convincing evidence.
Note: This article was update to correct a quote for accuracy.