Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Mitchell A. Mars Foundation to Honor a Mob-Busting True Public Servant

Powerful politicians often refer to themselves as "public servants," even as they warn young people against cynicism.

They stand proudly and brag loudly of their life's passion for the public good, even while filling the pockets of friends and family with public money.

A few even have a chorus of silky voices to sing their praises so we don't notice how closely they're attached to the belly of the beast. But there are true public servants, still. They don't get the benefit of the silky chorus, because silk costs money, and if public servants are doing their job properly, they're not using your government's purse to make somebody's somebody rich.

I'm thinking of a true public servant, the late Assistant U.S. Atty. Mitchell Mars. He led the prosecution of the historic Family Secrets trial last year as he was dying of cancer. Young Americans seeking a role model for public service might consider using Mars as a compass so they don't get lost.

Though ill, Mars prosecuted the bosses of Chicago's organized crime—the Chicago Outfit underworld that reaches through politics into our lives on a daily basis.

"Few people tooted their own horn less," U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald said at a memorial service for Mars in the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse last week.

The event was held in the large ceremonial courtroom on the 25th floor, the same courtroom in which Mars faced down and convicted the Outfit bosses: the brutal Frank Calabrese Sr., Joey "The Clown" Lombardo and Jimmy "Shamrock" Marcello; the quiet enforcer Paulie "the Indian" Schiro; and corrupt Chicago cop Anthony "Twan" Passafiume Doyle.

It was Doyle, the police messenger boy for the Outfit's Chinatown crew, who perhaps gave Mars his greatest praise on a government tape, a recording taken when members of the Outfit were panicking about the growing case against them. "I said, I'll bet you it's that [expletive] Mitch Mars, that's what I think," Doyle said.

It wasn't the first or the last time the Outfit used a sleeper cop—or even a chief of detectives—to carry messages. "That was the Outfit's view of Mitch Mars, and there is no finer compliment," said First Assistant U.S. Atty. Gary Shapiro.

As the muscled-up Twan—who according to testimony is the servant of reputed Outfit street boss Frank "Toots" Caruso—made that remark just a few years ago, consider what was happening.

The federal investigation had sprung an internal leak that would lead to charges against a deputy federal marshal and would almost compromise the case. Chicago machine politicians were shrieking that the FBI should spend less time on corruption and more on chasing two-bit gun cases. A few critics ridiculed the idea that there even was an Outfit. But Mitch Mars and his team didn't give in.

"He was a public servant of the highest order," said Mars' closest friend, Thomas Moriarty, a special investigator in the U.S. attorney's office. Mars and Moriarty were born on the South Side and were raised Sox fans.

When he said the phrase "public servant," Moriarty felt the need to qualify the statement, acknowledging that roiling political corruption has smeared the phrase.

"That Mitch Mars," Moriarty said. "He was a patriot's patriot. . . . Chicago, a world-class city, had a malignant tumor: organized crime. Nothing bothered Mitch Mars more. . . . It became Mitch's quest to destroy this tumor, and he did."

FBI Special Agent Mike Maseth, who worked the Family Secrets case, noted that Mars was a Chick Evans scholar at Marquette, and that his love of golf helped provide the full scholarship that shaped Mars' life.

"If you watched the U.S. Open tournament, you would have noticed that there was something not right about Tiger [Woods]. That was what Mitch did last summer in this very courtroom.

"All of us knew there was something not quite right about Mitch, but he came here every day and worked on that case. On Aug. 30, he delivered one of the best closing arguments this courtroom, this building had ever seen," Maseth said.

I was privileged to be one of the lucky few to see Mars deliver that closing in the courtroom. A quote from the closing is now on a plaque in a third-floor conference room honoring Mars.

"Criminal cases are about accountability and justice, not only for the defendants, but also justice for our system, justice for our society, and justice for the victims," Mars told the jury. "Our system works. It is the greatest system in the world. But it only works when those who should be held accountable are held accountable."

The Mitchell A. Mars Foundation—created by his law-enforcement colleagues to establish an Evans scholarship in his name—is scheduled to hold a fundraiser on Sept. 22 at Cog Hill in Lemont.

Those of us who keep saying we need good public servants—not cynical politicians—should also be held accountable.

So save the date. Sept. 22. Cog Hill.

Thanks to John Kass

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