'Pinnacle of a career': New chief of Chicago FBI office says there's a lot to be done

The new person in charge of the FBI's Chicago field office seems to be a modest man.

"I don't suffer from overconfidence," Robert "Wes" Wheeler Jr. said during an introductory interview last week.

But that doesn't mean he doesn't have what it takes to run the FBI's fourth-largest office. In his new role, Wheeler oversees about 1,000 agents, analysts and support workers in Chicago and four satellite offices. In all, his territory covers 18 counties stretching from here to the Mississippi River.

"I think any good agent would consider this job running the FBI Chicago as a pinnacle of a career," said Wheeler, 52, who has been with the FBI since 1999. "There's a capacity for high impact."

"A lot of bureau history" and "seminal casework" have taken place in Chicago, Wheeler notes.

That would include hunting gangsters such as John Dillinger, "Pretty Boy" Floyd and "Baby Face" Nelson; uncovering eight Nazi saboteurs during World War II; and the case of the Unabomber, onetime Lombard resident Ted Kaczynski.

And then there's our reputation for corruption: the famous "Operation Greylord" in the 1980s, when the FBI investigated bribery in the Cook County court system, and several other investigations that helped put notable public officials behind bars, including former governors George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich.

Wheeler said the Chicago division has developed "tremendous capability and expertise" on those types of cases - but "I don't think it (Chicago) is substantially different from other big cities," he said.

We asked Wheeler where he believes his office should focus its crime-fighting efforts.

"There are a wide variety of issues and threats. There is a lot to do. There's a lot to worry about. It's never 'instead of,'" Wheeler said.

"The capacity for impactfulness is what appeals to me."

Wheeler's career

Wheeler started his career as a narcotics agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in 1999. He then joined the FBI and was assigned to a Dallas satellite office in Plano, Texas.

  Robert W. "Wes" Wheeler Jr. discusses his new role as special agent in charge of the FBI's Chicago field office. "The capacity for impactfulness is what appeals to me," he said about the posting. Brian Hill/

He smiled recalling that time. "I had a steady diet of cases that would never have made national headlines," but he learned a lot, he said.

In 2002, he was assigned to counterterrorism duties in Texas. Then it was on to protective detail for the U.S. Attorney General; teaching at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia; and working in Afghanistan for a few months on kidnapping cases.

He went on to become chief of the Counter-IED Readiness Unit in the Critical Incident Response Group, chief of the National Explosives Task Force and, most recently, chief of staff in the Cyber, Criminal, Response and Services Branch.

By any other name

Legislation that would end the state's long-standing ban on some criminals' legally changing their name has made its way to the desk of Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

Under current law, those convicted of crimes including sex offenses, violent offenses against young people and identity theft cannot lawfully change their names in Illinois. Others face a 10-year wait to change their name.

The bill passed by the General Assembly on Jan. 10 would allow those people to ask a judge to approve a name change. A prosecutor would give input on the request as part of the process.

The person seeking the change must have first completed any sentence handed down as a result of their crime, and if they're required to be on a state registry - such as a sex offender list - they must re-register under both their new and old names.

Supporters say the proposed change would especially help people who are transgender or have been victims of abuse or human trafficking.

Finding the fakes

Some luxury good shoppers down South can thank federal customs officers for looking out for them this week.

Officers at the International Mail Facility near O'Hare International Airport intercepted two shipments from Thailand to Alabama on Sunday containing 451 pieces of counterfeit jewelry and apparel. Had the items been legit, they'd have been worth more than $686,000, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

These wallets were among the haul of counterfeit goods federal customs officers found Sunday at International Mail Facility near O'Hare International Airport. All told, officers seized 451 pieces of counterfeit jewelry and apparel that would have been worth more than $686,000, if genuine. Courtesy of U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Officers inspected the parcels due to X-ray irregularities. In the first - headed for Mobile, Alabama - they found counterfeit Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci and Rolex watches; counterfeit Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Gucci headbands; counterfeit Chanel, Balenciaga and Burberry hats; counterfeit Chanel jewelry boxes; and counterfeit Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton and Hermes wallets.

The second shipment - sent to a residence in Pelham, Alabama - held counterfeit Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Christian Dior, Tory Burch and Yves Saint Laurent earrings; counterfeit Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Chanel, Gucci, Tiffany, Cartier and Prada necklaces; and counterfeit Louis Vuitton and Chanel hairbands.

These bogus Gucci watches were among the haul of counterfeit goods federal customs officers found Sunday at International Mail Facility near O'Hare International Airport. All told, officers seized 451 pieces of counterfeit jewelry and apparel that would have been worth more than $686,000, if genuine. Courtesy of U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Sold in underground outlets and on third-party e-commerce websites, counterfeit commodities fund illegal activities such as smuggling and organized crime, according to CBP.

"Consumers should be aware that if a known high-value brand is being offered for an unusually low price, it could very well be fake," said LaFonda D. Sutton-Burke, director of field operations for CBP's Chicago Field Office.

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