They seemed to be everywhere, the men in dark suits, collecting banker's boxes of files. Everywhere Lake County politicians congregated.
FBI agents swarmed over the Lake County Government Center like ants on a sugar heap. They were in city halls in East Chicago and Gary. Town Hall in Schererville. The North Township Trustee's offices.
And then came the Friday news conferences, with U.S. Attorney Joseph Van Bokkelen smiling broadly over a podium, announcing federal charges against Gary Clerk Katie Hall. A half dozen East Chicago pols. The son of political demigod Robert A. Pastrick.
Entire constellations of political stars have dimmed, and sometimes flickered out, since Van Bokkelen was appointed in 2001.
The Operation Restore Public Integrity probe that began with the indictment of Katie Hall for extorting money from her staff in the clerk's office -- a generations-old tradition in Lake County politics, she complained then and now -- has made Van Bokkelen one of the most prominent figures in Northwest Indiana.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Attorney post here in Indianapolis has traditionally gone to someone with strong political ties who is a part of a establishment that protects both corrupt Democratic and Republican politicians from the scrutiny they warrant. The current occupant of the office regularly announces prosecutions of small-time drug dealers and dishonest business owners defrauding unsuspecting consumers, but public corruption cases never seem to catch her eye. You would think our local politicians must be clean as a whistle, but in reality, some of them are just as corrupt as the northwest Indiana pols Van Bokkelen prosecuted in recent years.
In Chicago, the public has been blessed by Patrick Fitzgerald, who successfully prosecuted Scooter Libby, only to see the man who appointed him to office commute his sentence. Fitzgerald has also prosecuted former Illinois Gov. George Ryan (R) and countless associates of Mayor Richard Daley (D), and he is currently investigating Gov. Rod Blagoyevich (D).
It is extremely frustrating to witness so many cases of public corruption among our own Indianapolis/Marion City-County government and township governments being reported in local media and area blogs and not see any of those cases followed up by our local U.S. Attorney's office.