About 36 hours after being sworn in as the Region's new U.S. attorney, Thomas L. Kirsch II told a Crown Point civic group public corruption will remain a big target in his office's crosshairs.
Kirsch spoke to a lunch gathering of the Crown Point Rotary on Wednesday, talking about what his office has done in the past and will continue to do "as long as I'm U.S. attorney."
Kirsch said prosecution of public corruption has been a significant priority in the Region and "will absolutely continue to be."
Although the U.S. attorney's office is particularly suited to tackle white-collar crimes, including public corruption, Kirsch said 50 percent of the Hammond-based office's cases involve violent crime.
Kirsch said one of his priorities will be an enhanced version of a 2001 U.S. Department of Justice initiative, Project Safe Neighborhoods — a comprehensive gun and gang violence reduction program. The initiative "vigorously" prosecutes crimes in the most violent locations and targets the most violent offenders, he said.
Kirsch said his office will continue to prosecute firearms cases — mostly involving felons arrested in possession of firearms.
"Last year we prosecuted almost 150 federal firearms cases," he said. "That's a lot."
Kirsch said drug cases make up 25 percent of their workload. About 50 percent of those involve heroin, while 30 percent are methamphetamine related, he said.
Kirsch, of Schererville, grew up in Munster and attended Indiana University and, later, Harvard Law School.
Kirsch served as an assistant U.S. attorney here from 2001 to '08. He focused on white-collar investigations and prosecutions, including the prosecution of numerous elected and appointed public officials.
Kirsch said the last public corruption indictment over which he presided before leaving the office was that of Jewell Harris Sr., a politically connected Gary resident who was convicted of fraud and money laundering during a 2008 trial. Harris' charges included a double-billing scheme to overcharge the city of Gary during the 2001 construction of the U.S. Steel Yard baseball stadium.
Kirsch practiced law in Chicago until the U.S. Senate confirmed his appointment last week.
In private practice, one of Kirsch's clients was indicted Portage Mayor James Snyder, who faces trial in January on federal bribery and tax-related charges.
Following Wednesday's luncheon, Kirsch told The Times he would be completely divorced from the office's handling of Snyder's ongoing prosecution to avoid any conflicts of interest.
"I don't know how the office is handling it, and I don't want to know," he said.
President Donald Trump nominated Kirsch in July to oversee criminal prosecutions for the U.S. District offices of Hammond, South Bend, Fort Wayne and Lafayette. The U.S. District of Northern Indiana comprises 32 counties.