HOBART | Halting corruption in government takes much more than efforts by law enforcement. It requires changing the culture of those in government and those who are governed to expect and embrace ethical behavior.
Patrick Fitzgerald, U.S. attorney in Chicago for 10 years, drove home that point during the third annual Ethics in Government breakfast Thursday at Avalon Manor, sponsored by the Shared Ethics Advisory Commission, One Region, the Lake County Advancement Committee and the League of Women Voters.
Most noted for successfully prosecuting former Illinois governors George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich on public corruption charges, Fitzgerald was keynote speaker at the event attended by several hundred representatives of municipalities, townships and boards and residents of Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties.
“We have to train people to carry out the law,” he said about why ethics training for all levels of public service is vital now and in the future. “You can’t put people in positions with rules they don’t understand.”
When he came to Chicago as U.S. attorney in September 2001, Fitzgerald said he didn't understand how the environment that breeds corruption or violence as a way of doing business affects those who commit the crimes and those who either get caught up in it or who know but stay silent.
In the case of Ryan, who as Illinois secretary of state authorized collecting bribes to obtain commercial drivers’ licenses even if people weren't qualified, Fitzgerald said, “it took an army of people collecting the bribes, people who paid the bribes and the people who didn't but said nothing.”
That, he said, “is enabling someone else to corrupt your government. It’s why they get away with it.”
Too many officials believe they own the office and government is no longer trusted, according to Fitzgerald.
“Corruption is systemic,” Fitzgerald said.
Fear is often involved, whether the crime is public corruption or gun violence in Chicago neighborhoods, Fitzgerald said.
“People are afraid to say ‘no.’ There’s fear on the part of those being shaken down, fear of the person doing the shaking down.”
The goal of changing the culture of allowing public corruption to flourish is the acceptance of personal responsibility, he said.
“We hope that people begin to scream bloody murder (about unethical and illegal behaviors),” Fitzgerald said. “Then the fear shifts to the corrupt folks.”