The 47-year-old U.S. Attorney dropped many a memorable sound byte when he unveiled corruption charges against Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich on Tuesday, referring to the governor's actions as a "political corruption crime spree" that brought the state's notoriously crooked politics to a "truly new low" and "would make Lincoln roll over in his grave." The rhetoric, called priggish by some, is not surprising for a guy who has built his career fighting Mob bosses, terrorists, drug lords and double-dealing public servants like former Bush aide "Scooter" Libby. "It has become a cliché to compare him to Eliot Ness, the Chicago Prohibition agent whom television and movies made into a symbol of incorruptible law enforcement," the New York Times wrote Dec. 9, describing him as a "folk hero" in "prosecutorial spurs."
Born to Irish immigrants in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn. Like his father, Fitzgerald worked as a doorman, helping to pay his way through Amherst College, where he played rugby and graduated Phi Betta Kappa in 1982 before earning a law degree at Harvard.
Joined the Justice Department in 1988, helping build one of the first criminal cases against Osama bin Laden years before the 9/11 attacks.
Developed a reputation for tenacity and creativity, once using a Civil War-era sedition statute to win his case against Egyptian cleric Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman following the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. (Afterward, Abdel-Rahman and his attorney were caught on tape discussing how "evil" Fitzgerald was).
Nominated by President George W. Bush to become U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois just 10 days before the 9/11 terror attacks, a position in which he oversees more than 300 employees, including 160 assistant U.S. attorneys.
Selected in 2003 to find out who leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame to the press less than a month after indicting then-Illinois Governor George Ryan for selling illegal state licenses. Ryan is currently serving a 6-year prison term; Bush commuted I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's 30-month prison sentence.
Sent New York Times reporter Judith Miller to jail for 78 days for refusing to reveal her sources during the Plame investigation. Editors at the Chicago Tribune blasted Fitzgerald's relentless pursuit of reporters' phone records in a 2005 editorial titled, "Mr. Fitzgerald, Back Off," though the newspaper recently admitted to withholding stories about Blagojevich's case at his request.
Fond of pulling pranks, even in the courtroom. During a case against the Gambino crime family, he interrupted co-counsel with a playful note asking: "Is there beer in the fridge?" He also once faked an appellate ruling to convince a friend that the defense had won.
Known to regularly work 100 hours each week, sometimes sleeping in the office. His workaholic tendencies are well-known and, in some cases, well-documented; colleagues told Chicago magazine they once stole his oft-ignored cat to teach him a lesson about leaving it home alone.
Described as both boyish and handsome, he was named one of People magazine's "Sexiest Men of 2005." But, ladies, eat your hearts out; he married Chicago investment-banker-turned-schoolteacher Jennifer Letzkus.
What Fitzgerald Says:
"One day I read I was a Republican hack. One day I read I was a Democratic hack. The only thing I did between those two nights was sleep."
During his investigation into the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity (TIME, October 30, 2005)
"I've played a lot of practical jokes on people for a lot of years and they all got even at once. OK, new topic!"
On being named one of PEOPLE magazine's "Sexiest Men of 2005" (Chicago Tribune, November 18, 2005)
"You're reading tea leaves. Don't. I don't draw a very good tea leaf."
Dismissing reporters' questions after announcing his first indictment in the Plame scandal (San Francisco Chronicle, October 29, 2005)
"Do I have zeal? Yes. I don't pretend I don't. If you're not zealous, you shouldn't have the job. Now, sometimes zealous becomes a code word for overzealous, and I don't want to be overzealous. I hope I'm not."
On his enthusiasm for the job (Washington Post, February 2, 2005)
What Others Say:
"When I became a government witness, he interviewed me alone and knew the details of my case better than I did. He doesn't rely on a phalanx of aides, although he has them."
Former TIME journalist Matthew Cooper, on being subpoenaed during the Plame investigation (Portfolio, December 9, 2008)
"He grew up in a working-class household with a strong sense of morality. He has a sort of 'Oh, gosh' quality, an aspect that's almost corny, that sees things as black or white."
Former colleague J. Gilmore Childers, who prosecuted terrorism cases with Fitzgerald in New York (New York Times, December 9, 2008)
"I know this sounds like malarkey, but if he were not a prosecutor, he'd be a priest. He's totally and completely dedicated."
Richard Phelan, a Chicago lawyer and friend of Fitzgerald's (TIME, October 30, 2005)
"He's a bit of a moralist, an up-by-his-bootstraps Catholic boy with a strong sense of right and wrong. He's like a Bing Crosby movie. He needs to get out more."
David Baugh, a Richmond, Va., defense lawyer (TIME, October 30, 2005)