Via Jack Townsend Obituary for An Exceptional CI Special Agent
Political corruption will never be eliminated in Chicago, but some people will tell you nobody ever did more to slow it down than William Witkowski.
Those who are old enough should recognize the names of Witkowski’s investigative targets: Illinois Gov. Otto Kerner, powerhouse Ald. Thomas Keane, Attorney General William Scott, Judge Reginald Holzer and John Cardinal Cody.
Others will recognize the lawyers who gained prominence prosecuting them: Jim Thompson, Sam Skinner, Tyrone Fahner, Jeremy Margolis and Scott Turow.
But very few are familiar with the former IRS agent whose extraordinary investigative skills made those cases — and in the process made him a legend in certain circles.
Witkowski died Nov. 13 from complications of multiple sclerosis. He was 74.
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“Bill Witkowski was the single best investigator I have ever known,” said veteran investigative reporter Edward Pound, formerly of the Chicago Sun-Times.
I’m quoting Pound here because many people regard him as the single best investigator ever to work in my business, and it takes one to know one.
But everyone who spoke to me about Witkowski offered the same sort of superlative assessment without reservation.
“We wouldn’t have been able to do the prosecutions we did without him,” said Fahner, the prosecutor who convicted Keane and went on to become Illinois Attorney General and later a successful lawyer with Mayer Brown.
In the 1970s and 1980s, it was the IRS that did most of the heavy lifting on political corruption in Illinois. And in that circle, Witkowski gained a reputation as the alpha dog.
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Turow, who convicted Holzer on Witkowski’s evidence before becoming a famous author, recalls this line from former U.S. Attorney Tom Sullivan:
“Every night when I go to bed, I say my prayers and ask, ‘Dear God, please don’t let Bill Witkowski investigate me, because he’d probably find something.'”
Witkowski wanted to tackle only the most difficult and important investigations, which he would doggedly pursue for years as necessary.
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Many spoke to me of Witkowski’s integrity. He rejected more lucrative job offers to take his talents to the defense side.Here is another article from his retirement back in 1994: Irs' Public-figure Pursuer Is Hot On Trail Of Retirement (Chicago Tribune 12/6/94), here.
I did not know Witkowski, but I know some of the prosecutors cited in the article. I am impressed by what they have to say about him. Taking nothing away from Witkowski, I have known some very impressive CI agents who, I am sure, do not get the thanks they deserve for service to our country.