CHICAGO — A soft-spoken Southerner is the new boss of the FBI in Chicago and he seems content to let the work of his agents speak the loudest about the office’s priorities.
“I think there’s a lot of good news that’s hard to talk about and our people suffer from that,” FBI special agent-in-charge Robert “Wes” Wheeler, Jr. told WGN Investigates from his corner office on Chicago’s Near West Side. “They carry that burden of all the worries and responsibilities that are not easily shared; but is definitely there.”
Unlike some previous FBI leaders who offered quips about crime and corruption (who can forget Rob Grant announcing the arrest of Gov. Rod Blagojevich in 2018 by saying: “If [Illinois] isn’t the most corrupt state in the United States, it’s certainly one hell of a competitor.”
Wheeler is more circumspect.
“I don’t think the problem is any worse here than anywhere else, but I do think if you’re a corrupt official here – or a criminal here – you’re doing it in the worst place,” Wheeler said. “The Chicago division of the FBI is extremely capable.”
Agents assigned to the FBI field office in Chicago are working roughly 1,000 cases at any given time and 57% of them involve violent crime in some form or fashion.
“We absorb an awful lot of risk to our people on this problem,” Wheeler said, referring to partnerships with federal, state and local law enforcement.
Wheeler is from Georgia where his father also served in law enforcement. He joined the FBI in 1999 launching an eclectic career that’s included stops on a SWAT team, the protective detail of the U.S. Attorney General and several counter-terrorism task forces. He served for several months in Kabul, Afghanistan where he trained local law enforcement on techniques to investigate kidnappings.
The Chicago FBI has been on a roll in recent years dislodging the nation’s longest-serving state house speaker (Mike Madigan), indicting Chicago’s longest-serving alderman (Ed Burke) and pressuring the state’s largest utility, Com Ed, into a plea deal that admitted power company executives essentially bribed elected officials for favorable treatment.
“How do you top that?” WGN Investigates’ asked. “We’re not trying to top anything,” Wheeler responded. “We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing. That’s for sure.”