The U.S. presidency changing hands from a Democrat to a Republican means new federal prosecutors will likely be appointed across the country, and hopefuls are already jockeying to be named U.S. attorney for Southern Illinois.
U.S. Rep. John Shimkus of Collinsville is expected to have a top role in the appointment because he’s the most senior Republican in Illinois’ congressional delegation.
Shimkus’ senior adviser, Steve Tomaszewski, said a handful of lawyers have contacted Shimkus’ office to inquire about the job.
“There are people interested, yes,” Tomaszewski said. “I would say between three and, probably, six.”
Tomaszewski declined to name names, and he added that there could be other potential applicants who haven’t contacted the congressman’s office.
But a few names have begun to circulate.
Attorneys Don Weber and Andrew Carruthers, both of Madison County, confirmed they’re interested in the position. Attorney Paul Evans of St. Clair County would not confirm that he’s interested, but he didn’t rule it out, either.
“I’m in for it. I want to be considered for U.S. attorney,” Weber said.
Weber served as Madison County state’s attorney from 1980 to 1984 and several more years as a deputy prosecutor. He has prosecuted more than 30 murder cases, most notably that of Paula Sims, who is serving a life term. She killed her infant daughters — one in 1986 and one in 1989.
Weber also served a stint as a judge in Madison County, appointed by the state Supreme Court.
“I don’t know that anyone’s got a resume like I’ve got,” he said.
Carruthers is an attorney at the HeplerBroom law firm in Edwardsville and has served as chairman of the Madison County Republican Party. Last year he was appointed to serve on the Illinois State Board of Elections by Gov. Bruce Rauner.
“Yes, I may be interested in pursuing that when the time comes,” Carruthers said. “I haven’t really inquired into it. I expect they won’t start that process until after the attorney general gets confirmed, which will be well after the president is inaugurated.”
Carruthers has represented clients in a variety of criminal cases but mostly handles civil litigation. But he noted that federal prosecutors often handle cases that have components similar to civil litigation, such as white-collar crime and fraud.
“My experience, I think, would make me a qualified candidate for the appointment,” Carruthers said.
Evans has his own law firm in O’Fallon. In 2011, he was chosen by local Republican leaders — who included a Shimkus staffer — to fill a vacancy for state representative. He served in the legislature through 2013.
“I don’t think people have really started thinking about the position all that much,” Evans said. “I’m sure names will come forward, and I’m not going to say anything further.”
Those three names have been circulating, but insiders say there are a number of other potential candidates. Any Republican lawyer, particularly ones who have experience in criminal law or serve as a county prosecutor, would have to be considered a potential applicant.
Donald S. Boyce is serving as the interim U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Illinois. He was appointed after Steve Wigginton, an appointee of President Barack Obama, stepped down last year to go into private practice.
Boyce wouldn’t say whether he’ll seek the appointment.
“I don’t know. I’ll do whatever the president asks me to do, if that comes up. I don’t know if there’s going to be an application process, or if they’ll just pick somebody or what,” Boyce said. “I’ll just have to wait and see what that looks like.”
Boyce said he’s not a registered member of either party. He said he has voted in primaries, but declined to say in which party.
Boyce was an assistant U.S. attorney before being named the interim U.S. attorney. If someone new is appointed U.S. attorney, Boyce would have the option of returning to the role of assistant prosecutor.
It’s not yet clear how President-elect Donald Trump will make appointments to U.S. attorney positions. Typically, a state’s senior member of Congress makes a recommendation to the president, who traditionally has accepted the recommendation. After confirmation by the Senate, the appointee serves a four-year term.
“How the exact process is going to work, we don’t know yet,” Tomaszewski said. “For people who are interested, the Trump administration has a transition website up called greatagain.gov. So for people who are interested in any position with the new administration, that’s the website where they’re collecting resumes and information.”
Tomaszewski said potential applicants also should contact Shimkus’ office.
“The reason is, when we know how this is going to work, we can tell them, here’s some additional paperwork, or you need to come to a meeting, or there are going to be interviews,” he said.
The U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Illinois is an important, high-profile position. The office prosecutes various federal crimes such as child pornography and armed robberies, along with cases of public corruption and fraud and complex white-collar crimes.
Defendants prosecuted in the district have included:
▪ Video-gambling kingpin and strip club owner Thomas Venezia.
▪ Attorney and Democratic power-broker Amiel Cueto, who tried to derail the investigation of Venezia and bragged that he “owned” multiple St. Clair County judges.
▪ Former Madison County Treasurer Fred Bathon, who rigged sales of tax liens to benefit his political contributors.
▪ Once-prominent attorney Tom Lakin, who was accused of holding cocaine-fueled sex parties with minors.
▪ East St. Louis Township Supervisor Oliver Hamilton, who has pleaded guilty to using a township credit card for $40,000 in personal purchases.
▪ Carlyle farmer Joseph “Joey” Diekemper, who orchestrated a bankruptcy fraud scheme to rip off creditors.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Illinois covers 38 counties, including St. Clair and Madison.