Outgoing Chicago FBI chief hints at more corruption indictments, calls for term limits

Outgoing Chicago FBI chief hints at more corruption indictments, calls for term limits

Chicago’s top FBI officer offered term limits as one solution to Chicago’s culture of corruption, suggesting more revelations are on their way, as he moves into an executive role in Washington, D.C.

Chicago’s top-ranking FBI officer accepted a position at the bureau’s Washington, D.C., headquarters after leading a string of high-profile corruption crackdowns in the city – and suggested there are more on the way.

Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey Sallet, who has led the FBI’s Chicago field office since 2017, has overseen federal investigations into some of Chicago and Illinois’ most entrenched power brokers. During Sallet’s brief tenure, the outgoing officer led a 14-count indictment against powerful Ald. Ed Burke, 14th Ward, Chicago’s longest-serving alderman; and a series of federal raids on the homes of high-ranking political insiders that appears to be circling in on Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, the nation’s longest-serving Statehouse speaker.

While Sallet’s role as Chicago’s top federal agent is ending, Chicagoans can expect federal investigations into their city leaders to continue: “Chicago should expect more to come,” Sallet told the Chicago Tribune in a Sept. 4 interview. “Our corruption program is extremely busy.”

Sallet, 48, started his 22-year career dealing with East Coast crime syndicates, WGN-TV reported. “I’ve been to some of the most ethically challenged government locations in the U.S., Chicago is an ethically and morally challenged government area.”

One solution to Chicago’s endemic corruption problem? Term limits, according to Sallet. The longer elected leaders remain in office, the longer they can accumulate – and abuse – power, Sallet said in the WGN interview.

Because only 15 states impose term limits on state lawmakers, it remains a question whether lengthy political lifespans breed corruption. But it is true that the states that suffer corruption in its most severe forms are more likely to be states without term limits.

For example, seven of the 10 most corruption-prone states, as measured by the States with Anti-Corruption Measures for Public Officials Index, have no term limits on state lawmakers. Among the 10 most corrupt states – a slightly different metric than “corruption-proneness” – seven do not impose term limits, according to a separate study by the University of Illinois, Chicago. That study also ranked Chicago the nation’s most corrupt big city.

Nine of the 10 largest cities in the nation impose some form of term limits on elected leaders. Chicago is the only outlier, according to U.S. Term Limits. At the executive level, Illinois is one of just 14 states that does not have term limits on its governors. In 2017, the Illinois Senate passed a 10-year term limit on its Senate president, the state’s only term limit on a statewide office.

Sallet’s time in office saw more elected leaders ensnared by federal agents than power brokers such as Burke and those in Madigan’s inner circle. The unfolding investigation into Burke revealed former Chicago Ald. Danny Solis had worn a wire to record Burke, in cooperation with the FBI. Weeks following the Burke indictment, FBI agents raided the ward office of Ald. Carrie Austin, 34th Ward; and a federal court sentenced former Ald. Willie Cochran to one year in prison on corruption charges.

In August, a federal indictment against state Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, on embezzlement charges became the latest political corruption bombshell to drop during Sallet’s tenure. Cullerton has pleaded not guilty to those charges.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot both campaigned on promises to fight corruption and clean up state and local government, respectively. Lightfoot has moved the city closer to those goals by empowering the city watchdog and limiting conflicts of interest, as well as introducing reforms to the city’s controversial workers’ comp program and ticketing-and-towing scheme.

Pritzker, himself the subject of an active federal investigation into property tax appeals, has been inactive at best. 

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