When Steven Block left the U.S. Attorney’s office two years ago to join the incoming Kim Foxx administration, he expected his new co-workers might have some misgivings about their new boss.
A career federal prosecutor, Block was well aware his new peers in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office might question his experience inside the insular world of criminal courts.
It turned out, the longtime North Sider and die-hard Cubs fan had another strike against him.
“There are a disproportionate number of Sox fans in this office,” Block said in an interview Friday, his last day with the office before moving to a private-sector job with Thompson Hine, a Cleveland-based law firm that is launching a Chicago outpost.
Block won over his colleagues in the state’s attorney’s Special Prosecutions Division during a two-year run that coincided with a Cubs World Series victory – and some big wins in the courtroom.
Foxx lauded Block for launching a “vertical prosecution” strategy within multiple divisions of the office, and for re-orienting the office on long-term investigations that built cases targeting high-ranking gang members rather than street-level crime.
“When we were looking to staff the office, we wanted to have perspective different from those that were usually found here,” said Foxx, who has not named Block’s replacement. “The time and attention that he brought to (federal investigations), we wanted to bring that to this office.”
As head of the Special Prosecution Division, Block inherited a docket of mostly gang crimes and cold cases, but he soon broadened the division’s portfolio to include murder cases and other crimes that previously fell to other sections, said longtime Assistant State’s Attorney John Maher.
“The way he blended some of the units allowed us to do some things that we hadn’t done before,” said Maher, who was on the prosecution team for a racketeering case involving six leaders of the Black Souls street gang. Block, coming from a federal court background where racketeering cases were more common, was an asset as prosecutors closed out a case that took five years to go to trial and ended with the six remaining defendants sentenced to life in prison, Maher said.
Block counted the Black Souls’ case among one of the highlights of his tenure with the office, as well as delivering on Foxx’s mandate that the office take a harder look at police misconduct cases. Two police officers, Chicago Police Officer Lowell Houser and Amtrak Officer Laroyce Tankson, have been charged with murder for on-duty shootings.
“The success there is not that police officers were charged with murder,” Block said. “The success is that the office was able to investigate in a matter of weeks, rather than months and months, and make a decision on charges. It was not a rush to judgment. Those were the facts, and those were the charges.”
Block also touted the public corruption charges against former Ford Heights Mayor Charles Griffin for allegedly embezzling approximately $150,000 from the tiny south suburb, and the state’s attorney’s role in the investigation of the Goonie Boss gang, which led to the federal indictment of eight alleged leaders on charges related to 11 murders and multiple non-fatal shootings.