Speaker at ethics group meeting says culture is what allows corruption
By Karen Caffarini Post-Tribune correspondent March 14, 2013 2:50PM
Updated: April 16, 2013 4:11PM
HOBART — Former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald -- known for successfully prosecuting two Illinois governors, a media mogul, terrorists and others --said Thursday it will take a change in culture, not just law enforcement, to combat corruption.
“When you step back from an individual case, you see culture shapes a lot. Not all problems are solved by law enforcement,” Fitzgerald told a large group attending the 3rd Shared Ethics in Government Commission breakfast at the Avalon banquet hall.
Fitzgerald, who served as U.S. attorney for Northern Illinois for nearly 11 years, gave the example of former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, who he successfully prosecuted along with former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Ryan was found guilty of taking bribes for driver’s licenses while serving as Illinois’ secretary of state, a practice which led to the death of six children when their family van was involved in a fiery accident with a tractor-trailer. The tractor-trailer was driven by someone who obtained his license through the bribery scheme.
“People would come up to me and say, ‘Thank you. I knew he (Ryan) was corrupt. I could tell you some stories,’” Fitzgerald said.
“They should have told us those stories before. That’s the culture aspect,” he said.
“If you don’t tell someone, you’re enabling someone else to shake you down,” Fitzgerald added.
He said with terrorists, you can prosecute them after the fact, “but the problem is that people are willing to kill themselves and kill others. That’s a culture problem we need to address,” Fitzgerald said.
Answering questions, Fitzgerald said he doesn’t believe term limits are needed because having a lengthy tenure in office can have both positive and negative effects. He doesn’t believe guns should be totally outlawed, but said there needs to be a national tracking of who buys them.
“It’s very frustrating to not know much about where guns come from,” Fitzgerald said.
One woman attending the breakfast, who said she is a Gary resident, said the problem is once a corrupt local politician is prosecuted, one of their relatives is hired.
“You get rid of Jewel Harris and we hire a relative You get rid of Katie Hall and we hire a cousin,” she said.
Schererville Town Manager Robert Volkmann agreed political leaders have an image problem and people have come to expect politicians to be corrupt.
“People don’t forget easily and they’re not forgiving,” Volkmann said.
East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland said he doesn’t think anyone starts off by saying they want to be one of the corrupt politicians. He also said it is difficult for a community to get above the stigma of corruption.
“People always ask me if I’ll be like the last two mayors,” Copeland said. Both former mayors were involved in corruption scandals.
Seven of 18 local communities belong to the Shared Ethics in Government Commission, including East Chicago and Schererville.