Really Going over the Bad Guys U.S. Attorney Digs Up Corruption at City Hall, in Politics and on Streets

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Digging up all kinds of dirt

James B. Burns, featured at right, has overseen investigations into corruption in Oakbrook Terrace, Elgin Township and Chicago. The Democrat - whose name has been pitched as a possible contender for governor or other statewide office - says he has no problem investigating fellow politicians or party members.

Corruption at a glance

U.S. Attorney Jim Burns has overseen many of the high-profile corruption scandals in the Chicago area since he took over the office in 1993. Among them are:

- Oakbrook Terrace scandal: An investigation into racketeering, bribery and fraud involving developer Robert Krilich and former Mayor Richard Sarallo.

- Embezzlement at Elgin Township: The downfall of former Elgin Township Supervisor David Reinert, who was sent to prison for 34 months for embezzling $557,000 in public funds.

- Operation Haunted Hall: Investigation of ghost payrolling at Chicago's city hall and Cook County government in which public money was paid to put so-called "ghosts" who didn't do any work on public payrolls. Twenty-nine people have been charged in the scam that has cost taxpayers $2.6 million.

- Operation Broken Star: Probe of corruption at Chicago's Austin police district. Eight people, including seven police officers, have been charged in a conspiracy to shake down undercover federal agents who posed as drug dealers. The ongoing investigation could involve other police districts.

- Operation Silver Shovel: Wide-ranging look into influence peddling and public corruption with tentacles reaching into Chicago City Hall, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and several suburbs. Federal informant John Christopher, a waste hauler, is central to the probe involving everything from drug dealing to organized crime to labor-union corruption. So far, three Chicago aldermen have been charged.

U.S. attorney digs up corruption at city hall, in politics and on streets

U.S. Attorney Jim Burns' office has exposed corrupt police, politicians and contractors since he took over the office in 1993.

It's much the same route that Jim Thompson traveled before he began his longtime reign as governor of Illinois.

Burns says he doesn't know what his political future may hold, but one thing is very clear.

His options have grown significantly since 1990, when it seemed like the only response to his campaign for statewide office was, "Who's that?"

Now he really can go on reputation alone: Operation Haunted Hall; Operation Silver Shovel; Operation Broken Star.

Suburbanites know his office for uncovering scandals in Oakbrook Terrace and Elgin Township.

An all-state basketball star who briefly played for the Chicago Bulls, Burns also was there to help uncover fraud in the equestrian industry and investigate other public officials.

These probes have earned him frequent spots in the morning papers and on the nightly news.

Daily Herald staff writer Laura Janota talked with Burns about these investigations, as well as his future plans.

Q: During nearly four years as U.S. Attorney, your focus has seemed to gravitate to corruption at Chicago's City Hall. Why?

A: Well certainly part of it has been on corruption in the city of Chicago, but we've also had a fair amount of success in the suburbs and the outlying areas. ... Many of the investigations that the public has heard and read about since I've been here were ... started before I ever got here.

Q: Ghost payrolling, police corruption and bribetaking in a dump scandal are among your biggest efforts. Is public corruption a way of life in Chicago or is all this graft coincidental?

A: I don't think Chicago is necessarily any worse or any better than any other major city in the country. ... We've got as many loyal, hardworking, honest, public employees as any other city. …