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updated: 1/9/2014 7:59 PM

Prosecutor says office is challenged by lack of money

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Associated Press

The new U.S. attorney for northern Illinois said Thursday that congressional budget constraints and a corresponding hiring freeze could one day force his office to choose to scale back some prosecutions.

Zachary Fardon made the comments to reporters after announcing his Chicago office had collected more than $78 million via criminal and civil prosecutions last year -- more than twice the around $34 million budget at his office's disposal in 2013.

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Fardon and U.S. attorneys nationwide on Thursday highlighted the amount of cash they generated for federal coffers last year as a way to buttress their increasingly urgent calls for lawmakers to increase prosecutors' budgets.

Fardon, sworn in at the end of last year, has come under pressure from Illinois politicians to devote more manpower to violent crime in Chicago. But he said his office is "historically challenged" by insufficient funds and an inability to hire new prosecutors.

"Of our 172 lawyer positions, we have 19 cold, empty chairs," he said, adding that the office has sought to make do with the funds they have. "But as less creeps toward too little ... we are at risk that we will no longer be able to carry on our important mission."

His office can manage to prosecute a wide range of crimes, including public corruption and gun crimes, for now, he said.

"(But) if something doesn't change in terms of the hiring freeze and (mandated budget cuts), we will reach a point ... where we are going to have to make decisions about what, programmatically, we step away from."

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