New U.S. attorney ready for battle against criminals, corruption
URBANA – Federal prosecutors have their marching orders, and Rodger Heaton, U.S. attorney for the Central District of Illinois, agrees with them.
He just wishes he had more soldiers to fight the battles against drugs, guns and corruption.
The six national priorities for the U.S. attorneys are terrorism, armed violence, exploitation of children, drugs, corporate fraud/public corruption and protecting civil rights, Heaton said.
"What would make the biggest difference is an increase in federal investigative and prosecutorial resources," he said. "We have to make decisions as to what cases we take. It would be nice to have the resources to do them all."
But Heaton is realistic.
"We are still fighting a war," he said. "We are still recovering from Katrina."
Heaton, 47, was born in Jacksonville, raised in Lexington and currently lives in Rochester, about 5 miles east of Springfield. He and his wife of 25 years, Jeanne, have four children. They chose to raise their kids in a small town.
Heaton was a member of the Rochester school board from 1995 to '99. He became involved after a teacher strike there because he wanted to improve relations between the school board and teachers.
"They have had a good school system, and I just cared about being part of an effort to see that they stayed strong," Heaton said.
Heaton earned a bachelor's degree in agricultural economics at the University of Illinois in 1981 and his law degree from Indiana University.
He became a federal prosecutor in 1989 in Indianapolis and transferred to the Central District of Illinois, where he served as assistant U.S. attorney from July 1990 to December 2000.
During that time, he was assigned to the Office of Independent Counsel and worked from September 1997 until July 1998 on a major tax fraud case involving former Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker and two of Tucker's business associates.
From 2001 to '03, Heaton worked in private practice in Chicago. He returned to federal prosecution in May 2003 as chief of the civil division, where he supervised prosecution of health care fraud, employment discrimination and other civil issues.
Heaton was appointed acting U.S. attorney for central Illinois in December 2005, replacing Jan Paul Miller, who left a month earlier for private practice in St. Louis. Heaton's nomination was confirmed Sept. 29, and his commission was signed by president Bush Oct. 4.
"I love this job, primarily because the people in this job are so dedicated," Heaton said. "People are constantly committing themselves to excellence."
Drugs – particularly the growing problems with meth – and gun crimes, which are "a scourge" to communities, will remain major issues, he said.
Heaton, who was involved in the investigation and prosecution of price-fixing involving Archer Daniels Midland, said corporate fraud also will continue to be high priorities.
Prosecutors will also "remain vigilant" against public corruption, he said.
"It's an ongoing effort," Heaton said. "It's important for us to be on top of it."
Among the cases where Heaton was involved as prosecutor was the Management Services Inc. scandal in 1997 involving bribery and fraud with the Illinois Department of Public Aid.
Heaton said the U.S. attorney's office and federal agencies must cooperate with and rely on local and state law enforcement in central Illinois. He said it has been "rewarding and enjoyable" to have those relationships.
He cited the recent kidnapping case involving La Bamba restaurant owner Antonio Aguas-Navarro by two men who were arrested in September in Indiana after a five-day investigation by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
"One of the things that has contributed greatly to the success of this office in the people in this area," he said. "In my opinion, if we are going to be successful, we have to develop and protect those relationships."