By Lynn Sweet and Frank Main
WASHINGTON -- Illinois Senators Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin are meeting with U.S. Attorney nominee Zachary Fardon on Wednesday to discuss stepping up gun and gang prosecutions in Chicago -- as Kirk is calling for mass arrests of 18,000 Gangster Disciples.
President Barack Obama tapped Fardon last week, picking from four names jointly forwarded to the White House by Durbin, a Democrat and Kirk, a Republican. The Senate Judiciary Committee -- of which Durbin is a member -- is expected to approve Fardon in one or two months and send his nomination to the full Senate for a confirmation vote.
In the meantime, the Fardon meeting in Chicago comes as one of Kirk's top priorities since he has returned to the Senate from his stroke is targeting gangs.
"My big project is to take out the Gangster Disciple gang, which would involve about 18,000 arrests," Kirk said on May 20, speaking before the "Illinois Group" in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. The group represents Illinois corporations, law firms and trade associations in Washington.
"I sort of scared the federal judges involved and said I might be needing to process about 18,000 defendants to your courtrooms, could you do this, [because] this would really help our state. And they were very agreeable," Kirk said.
Kirk's team describes his Gangster Disciples proposal as a major thrust against all gangs and very much a work in progress, with costs, logistics and other details to be worked out.
Kirk discussed his idea with Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy before approaching Jack Riley, head of the Chicago office of the DEA. Riley oversees a multi-agency strike force that could target members of the Gangster Disciples.
DEA is "definitely interested in doing this," but the strike force would need additional staff members, said one federal official on background, adding, "It comes down to money."
The police issued a statement saying: "CPD supports Sen. Kirk's efforts to crack down on gang crime and will continue to work with our federal law enforcement partners."
Kirk's interest in stomping out gang activity is not new; it started when he was a House member and Waukegan and North Chicago, in his north suburban congressional district, suffered from gang activity.
Kirk's team says he understood that the killers of Hadiya Pendleton -- the 15-year-old whose funeral was attended by first lady Michelle Obama -- were tied to the Gangster Disciples. That's why he's targeting them.
The reality is that the GDs have splintered into dozens of factions in recent years. A war on the GDs would mean targeting those factions -- and not a monolithic gang. Hadiya's killers were allegedly members of one such faction, called SUWU.
Kirk's Gangster Disciples plan is his most ambitious anti-gang initiative to date.
Kirk and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) last January introduced a bill aimed at reducing gun straw purchasers -- a proposal that could impact gang violence in Chicago, Kirk said at the time. (The measure failed in the Senate last April.)
In 2008, Kirk joined with federal and local law enforcement officials to spotlight the "10 most wanted" gang members in Lake County -- targeting more than 2,000 gang members.
In 2009, Kirk sponsored a measure, the "Alien Gang Removal Act," to deport illegal immigrants if convicted of a gang crime and called for the creation of a "National Gang Task Force."
Frank Main reported from Chicago.