Organized crime prosecutor Mars dies

February 20, 2008 4:27:20 PM PST
The man who sent Joey "the Clown" Lombardo and other big name mobsters to prison has died. Mitchell Mars lost a battle to lung cancer at the age of 55.

This news has stunned the federal law enforcement community in Chicago and is a terrific blow to the US attorney's fight against organized crime in the area.

Mitch Mars was almost always the shortest guy in the courtroom...until he spoke. Because then, whether he was cross-examining a witness or arguing a legal point, his passion for American justice gave him stature that few prosecutors ever display.

"It does have a huge impact on the outfit symbolically. Obviously the outfit knows that we're just gonna go away, they know the FBI isn't gonna go away and the IRS isn't gonna go away," said Rick Halperin, defense attorney.

No one thought that five months after the biggest case of his career, Mitch Mars would be gone. It was his crowning achievement of an already illustrious career: when the verdict came down in last summer's landmark trial Operation Family Secrets. Mitch Mars and his team in the organized crime division, which he led since 1992, put away big name gangsters and solved 18 gangland killings.

Here is the short list of big name hoodlums Mitch Mars put behind bars:

  • mob bosses: Joey "the Clown" Lombardo, Frankie "the Breeze" Calabrese, "Little Jimmy" Marcello, Ernest "Rocky" Infelice, Albert "Ceasar" Tocco, and Salvatore "Solly" Delaurentis
  • mob hitmen: Harry Aleman and Frank "the German" Schweihs
  • outfit connected civil servants Betty Loren Maltese, the former mayor of Cicero, and her husband former Cicero assessor Frank Maltese
  • and cocaine kingpin John Cappas.

  • "I had the greatest respect for him as a man, as a prosecutor. He was the ultimate old school prosecutor, tough, fair and honest. You could take his word and put it in the bank," said Halperin. "This is a deep loss for a fine, fine man. I am glad to have said during the trial and after that this was a brilliantly put together prosecution and it was Mitch Mars who put it together."

    Mars' career with the government began in 1977 when he worked on the staff of the House of Representatives. He was later appointed to work on the House investigation in the assassinations of John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1978, Mars joined the criminal division of the Department of Justice, then moved to the organized crime strike force in Chicago in 1980.

    Wednesday morning, US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald sent out an internal memo obtained by the I-Team saying both the legal world and law enforcement lost a committed savvy investigator of organized crime who gave all the credit to agents and trial partners and none to himself.

    In a personal email to his staff, U. S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald had this to say about Assistant U.S. Attorney Mitchell Mars:

    I am very, very sad to inform you that Mitch Mars passed away late last night after a struggle with lung cancer. Mitch had been on leave for some months following the Family Secrets trial after learning that he had cancer. Mitch was determined to deal with his struggle privately and had asked the office that his privacy be respected. Mitch faced that struggle with his wife, Jennifer, and his family with his quiet resolve and strong sense of humor. As we learn what the arrangements are, we will pass that information on.

    Those of you who are either newer to the office, or who gave too much credence to Mitch's modest demeanor, will be struck by what Mitch accomplished over his career. Mitch started working for the government in 1977 when he worked on the staff of the House of Representatives. Mitch was later appointed to work on the House investigation of the John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinations. Mitch joined the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice in 1978 and then headed to the Organized Crime Strike Force in Chicago in 1980. Little could anyone have known about what an impact his arrival would make upon this city. Mitch formally joined the office in 1990 when the Strike Force merged. Mitch became the Organized Crime Supervisor in 1992 and led the Section for the next 15 years. Mitch tried some of the biggest organized crime cases in the country, including US v Tocco, US v. Sarsinelli, US v. Infelice, and more recently the Cicero case involving Betty Loren Maltese and most recently the Family Secrets case, an historic case he tried while he did not know he had cancer. One cannot overstate the impact Mitch made on organized crime in this city.

    The Chicago legal world will note that it lost a great and accomplished trial lawyer. The world of law enforcement will note that it lost a committed and savvy investigator of organized crime, who every few years accomplished time and again what others would hope to accomplish in a lifetime ? with Mitch, of course, giving 100% credit to the agents and trial partners he worked with and none to himself.

    But we would do a disservice to remember Mitch only by what he accomplished as a prosecutor in the courtroom. Mitch personified the word "public servant." He came to work every day and served the citizens. He worked extremely hard and was quite talented and sought nothing in return except the feeling that he was part of doing something good. We will best remember Mitch as the most decent of persons: honest, to a fault; committed, beyond a doubt, to his wife, his friends and his country; and a team player who assumed all responsibility but took no credit. Anyone who knew Mitch as a person knew that he was also quite funny, laughing as often about himself as about others, and all too happy to enlist others to join in as well.

    We lost a very dear friend and a treasured colleague today.