U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon’s days are numbered as northern Illinois’ top federal prosecutor.
The Chicago-based law enforcement official is one of 46 United States attorneys whom Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked to resign. All were appointed during the prior presidential administration.
In a statement Friday, the Justice Department said the request was similar to ones made in past presidential transitions.
Fardon began his term as Chicago’s top federal prosecutor on Oct. 23, 2013, bringing a low-key approach to the office compared with his predecessor, Patrick Fitzgerald, who had the job 11 years. Still, Fardon oversaw significant cases in his much shorter tenure, including the prosecution of former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert.
The Yorkville Republican is believed to be the highest-ranking Illinois politician ever to be criminally charged.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Hastert’s stunning seven-page indictment in May 2015, accusing the former speaker of illegally structuring bank withdrawals and lying to the FBI. The indictment left out many details, and it would take Fardon’s office more than 10 months to publicly accuse the once-powerful legislator of sexually abusing five students while a wrestling coach at Yorkville High School decades ago. U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin ultimately sentenced Hastert to 15 months in prison.
With Fardon at the helm, the U.S. Attorney’s Office also continued its tradition of pursuing public corruption, securing indictments in 2016 against Ald. Willie Cochran and former Ald. Edward Vrdolyak. In October 2015, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s former hand-picked Chicago Public Schools CEO, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, also admitted her role in a brazen kickback scheme.
But Fardon took a personal hand in the prosecution of former city worker John Bills, who would be hammered with a 10-year prison sentence for rigging Chicago’s red-light camera program and taking more than $600,000 in bribes. Fardon, who grew up in Tennessee, brought his folksy southern manner into the courtroom, once referring to an argument by Bills’ defense attorney as “malarkey.”
Under Fardon’s leadership, federal prosecutors also secured a conviction in a first-of-its-kind “spoofing” trial watched closely by the financial sector.
Outside of the courtroom, Fardon often spoke publicly about his office’s role in fighting gun violence on the streets of Chicago. While a Sun-Times analysis of court records in October 2016 showed federal weapons charges in Chicago had actually fallen slightly over the previous five years, Fardon pointed to the prosecution of gangs like the Hobos, a so-called “super gang” made of members of the Gangster Disciples and Black Disciples that terrorized the south and west sides over a decade.
At a press conference Thursday – possibly his last as U.S. attorney — Fardon noted that “last year, this U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecuted more gun cases than we have in any year since 2004. That’s over a dozen years.”
“Last year, 23 percent of every indictment we issued out of this building was a federal gun case.”
A jury convicted six leaders of the Hobos gang early this year. Afterward, Fardon said the racketeering conspiracy conviction sent “a message that society cares.”
“That we will fight to bring justice and stop ruthlessness,” Fardon added. “That somebody is here to punch back.”
Tensions between the Chicago Police Department and the communities it protects boiled over late in 2015 with the public release of a video depicting Officer Jason Van Dyke fatally shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times. Cook County prosecutors charged Van Dyke with McDonald’s first-degree murder, but an investigation by Fardon’s office appears to be on hold.
However, Fardon’s office played a key role in the U.S. Department of Justice’s year-long probe into the Chicago Police Department. The feds found CPD engaged in a pattern of using excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Fardon appeared along with then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch to announce the findings in January.
“There is so much about CPD that is great and worthy of our deepest respect,” Fardon said that day. “And yet, no one is above scrutiny.”
Before he became U.S. Attorney, Fardon helped prosecute former Gov. George Ryan. Later, in private practice, he represented John Wyma, a key figure in the investigation of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Contributing: Associated Press