With two head-turning complaints filed in federal court Monday, U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald has moved the issue of patronage hiring into the criminal realm, a bold step that has raised the stakes in City Hall–and, if Fitzgerald is successful, possibly around the country, reports the Chicago Tribune. The criminal complaints against city officials Robert Sorich and Patrick Slattery allege that they participated in a scheme to defraud the city of money, property and “the intangible right to the honest services” of the defendants as public employees.
That “honest services” approach to fraud has been used to prosecute other high-profile corruption cases, from the conviction of former Cicero Mayor Betty Loren-Maltese to the Cook County judges caught up in the Greylord scandal of the 1980s. Though those cases involve bribery and other clearly criminal activities, patronage hiring has been more of a gray area, and some legal experts feel Fitzgerald is taking a highly aggressive approach. For decades, the battle against patronage political hiring has taken place in civil courtrooms, resulting in consent orders, not criminal convictions.