JOLIET – The new U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois not only is from Joliet, but he’s also in town a lot.
John R. Lausch Jr., who was sworn into office at a private ceremony Nov. 22 in Chicago, has not lost touch with his roots in Joliet, where he grew up in the Cathedral area and was a linebacker on the 1987 championship football team at what was then Joliet Catholic High School.
“I think he’s very proud to be a Hilltopper,” said Jeff Budz, principal at Joliet Catholic Academy, where Lausch regularly comes to career days to visit with students.
“There are probably seven or eight of us who have stayed friends,” said former teammate Mike Kelley of Joliet. “We get together a lot. We talk a lot. I go to his kids’ games.”
“He even said the other day,” said his mother, Barb Lausch, “On Thanksgiving, when we were sitting around talking, ‘There’s no friends like the old friends.’ ”
He’s the son of Barb, who taught at the old St. Joseph’s Catholic School, and Jack Lausch, a retired Joliet firefighter who made extra money as a repairman for Sears. They raised five children.
Lausch was not available for an interview for this story. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office said he was not giving any media interviews for a few weeks.
Barb Lausch said her son told her not to talk to any media until after he was sworn into office, despite being named weeks ago.
“He said, ‘Until my hand’s on the Bible, and I’m officially sworn in, nothing is set in stone,’ ” Barb said.
Becoming U.S. attorney is a serious matter. Some of Lausch’s longtime associates from Joliet were visited by FBI agents in the background check that preceded his taking office.
Sue Bebar, director of alumni relations for JCA, recounted an amusing moment while being interviewed by an FBI agent who asked if Lausch’s friends were people of good standing. Seeing a chance to interject some humor, Bebar said, “Well, I don’t know about that.”
The agent’s face remained expressionless.
“He said, ‘That’s not funny,’ ” Bebar said.
Bebar and others describe Lausch, who now lives in Chicago, as a regular guy, hardworking, intelligent, moral and driven.
“He’s all the things you expect for the position,” Kelley said. “For people who know John, this is really not a surprise.”
Lausch was an assistant U.S. attorney in the Chicago office from 1999 to 2010, trying more than 20 jury cases involving racketeering, fraud, narcotics, extortion and firearms offenses, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. He was deputy chief in the narcotics and gangs section from 2005 to 2010, overseeing prosecutions involving street gangs, fraud schemes and corrupt public officials.
Barb and Jack sometimes went to see their son try cases, and once a lawyer from the opposing side approached them to make a comment about John.
"He said, 'We don't like to be
in court with him because we never win,' " Barb said. "We said we're seeing a different person because he's really a soft, kind person. He was doing his job."
Lausch often was doing a job while going to high school and later at Harvard University, where he was captain of the football team. He had a janitorial job at the Cathedral of St. Raymond, where he went to grade school, and later worked at the Thomas Steel plant in Lemont during summer breaks. At Harvard, he worked for the athletic department.
One job that didn’t work out, Barb said, was a short-lived stint as a vacuum cleaner salesman.
“He came home after the second day and said, ‘I will do anything, but I won’t do this,’ ” Barb said. “It was about two days later that he got the phone call from the refinery. So it worked out.”
Kelley, who was a classmate at Joliet Catholic High School, where they both played football and baseball, said one of Lausch’s strongest characteristics is his willingness to work.
“Even in high school, he outworked everybody,” Kelley said. “That’s how he became successful.”
Lausch left the U.S. attorney’s office to go into private practice in Chicago.
Barb said he wanted to broaden his experience as a lawyer but always wanted someday to go back to the U.S. attorney’s office. He wanted to be U.S. attorney.
A public swearing-in ceremony is planned for January. The private ceremony on the day before Thanksgiving came so suddenly that his mother doesn’t know whether Lausch knew when it was coming.
“All he wanted to do was go to work,” she said. “I guess, as soon as he was sworn in, he went to work.”