Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Chicago Crime Commission Names Top Crime-Fighting Award for Mitch Mars - #1 Enemy to the Mob

Mitchell Mars wasn't a household name, but he was public enemy No. 1 to the mob.

The typically soft-spoken and unassuming man, who as a federal prosecutor made battling Chicago's organized crime figures his life's work, transformed into a firebrand in front of a jury.

"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 said last year during the successful Family Secrets mob trial. "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 assistant U.S. attorney died of cancer just five months later. He was 55.

The Chicago Crime Commission will pay tribute to Mars tonight with its most prestigious crime-fighting award named in his honor. Michael Wolfe, the DuPage County criminal chief, will be the first recipient during a special ceremony at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago.

"I am incredibly humbled by this award," said Wolfe, 49, of Warrenville. "If I could possibly be one-tenth the lawyer and person that Mitch Mars was, I would say my life is complete."

Cook County State's Attorney Richard Devine is serving as keynote speaker. Dignitaries such as U.S. District Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan plan to attend.

Mars' wife and mother also will be in the audience.

Chicago Crime Commission Chairman J.R. Davis said Wolfe stood out among the nominees and was chosen for demonstrating professionalism, dedication and compassion in the administration of justice.

During his 24-year career, Wolfe prosecuted some of the suburbs' most heinous crimes. He worked 61 straight 12-hour days in 2006 as part of a team that put serial-sex killer Paul Runge on death row. Wolfe prosecuted three defendants serving life prison terms for the 1995 triple murder of a pregnant Addison woman, whose baby was cut from its womb, and her two other children.

One day after the last defendant's trial, he began his case against a drunken driver who killed four people, including three Naperville teens. Wolfe later co-authored legislation to toughen DUI penalties.

Most recently, Wolfe secured a death sentence against Eric Hanson of Naperville who killed his wealthy parents, sister and brother-in-law out of greed.

As criminal prosecutions chief, he juggles his own prosecutions while overseeing 65 assistant state's attorneys handling everything from traffic tickets to murder.

His boss, DuPage State's Attorney Joseph Birkett, nominated Wolfe. Birkett will attend tonight to see his criminal chief receive the award. "Mitch Mars was a straight-up guy who just wanted to make sure the job got done right," Birkett said. "And that's Mike Wolfe. Mike is a very hardworking, dedicated prosecutor who contributed greatly to our profession. He and Mitch Mars are cut from the same cloth."

Thanks to Christy Gutowski and Rob Olmstead

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