He arrived in Chicago just days before the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, a tough, uncompromising New York prosecutor already steeped in fighting the new international threat.
His outsider status and appointment to an already high-profile position in the city drew intense attention -- fascination really -- and he would go on to earn huge headlines for convicting two governors.
Ten years later, Patrick Fitzgerald, the longest serving U.S. attorney in Chicago's history, is still here fighting threats old and new.
Just weeks ago, Fitzgerald created a terrorism unit in the office, recognizing what he and other prosecutors learned in the 10 years since the Sept. 11 attacks. He has also turned his attention to what he considers a serious emerging threat to national security and private industry: cybercrimes and trade secret theft.
And while it's often rumored that Fitzgerald, 50, will be promoted to Washington, in the past decade he has started a family and now calls Illinois home. He doesn't seem to be ruling anything out, but the work here in Chicago still drives him, he said in a recent interview.
"I love my job and come to work every day and just try to do my job the best I can," Fitzgerald said in a meeting with the Tribune's editorial board. "And let other things take care of themselves."
"Am I surprised he is still here? I am grateful," said First Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Shapiro. "I haven't been surprised in the past three or four years. I think he has turned into a Chicagoan. The first five or six, I thought they would make him an offer he couldn't refuse."
Fitzgerald arrived with a reputation as one of the toughest prosecutors in the country. He remains a workhorse, putting in long hours. It is only in the past couple of years, as he got married and had two children, that he has showed any hint of slowing down.
Defense attorneys and others talk about his uncompromising view of right and wrong.
"It's my job and the job of all the other defense attorneys to make sure it's done the right way," said Patrick Cotter, a criminal defense attorney with Barnes & Thornburg. "Every once in a while minnows do get caught in the net. ... He is tough. He is honest. And he is hardworking. When you have a prosecutor who cares about getting it right, they believe. Pat's a believer. I think he believes in the law. I think he thinks the law is what holds it together and it's something worth devoting your life to."
Over the decade, Fitzgerald has found himself in the headlines for reasons as whimsical as making People magazine's 2005 sexiest men alive list (smart guy category and pre-marriage) to the much-criticized special prosecution of vice presidential aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby for obstructing justice. He guided the biggest mob prosecution in decades, the Family Secrets case. In 2008, he made unusually strong and controversial public remarks, calling former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's actions "a political corruption crime spree" while announcing the charges against him.
Fitzgerald came to Chicago upon the recommendation of then-U.S. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (no relation), who argued that Illinois needed an outsider to fight public corruption.
In fact, Patrick Fitzgerald inherited an office with a past tradition of public corruption investigations. Two other former governors had been convicted before he arrived, and Operation Greylord in the 1980s revealed a massive case-fixing scam in the court system here, taking down judges and attorneys.
But in his unusually long stretch here, Fitzgerald also has overseen the convictions of top public figures, including Blagojevich and fellow former Gov. George Ryan.
Watchdog groups credit Fitzgerald with bringing his stern attitude about lawbreaking to Illinois public corruption -- especially considering his anti-terrorism reputation in New York.
"He came in with a reputation built on terrorism, and you might have thought he will keep the focus there, especially after the Sept. 11 attacks," said David Morrison, the deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. "But no, he realizes here in the Northern District of Illinois, we have our particular problems."
Shapiro said Fitzgerald's background in terrorism and organized crime cases prepared him well for the detailed public corruption cases to come. He also relied on the wealth of knowledge inside the office about Illinois' dishonest politicians. The Ryan investigation was under way when he arrived.
Certainly, his 10 years here have given Fitzgerald a chance to form his own opinions on Illinois' corrupt culture.
"I consider Illinois home, so I am going to be careful about what I say," Fitzgerald said. "We are one of the places that I think has a serious problem and part of it is cultural. There are things that people seem to tolerate at times that wouldn't be tolerated elsewhere. ... I do think it would be healthy if elected officials reinforce the message that this is serious. ... There are times when it's been pretty quiet when corruption has been exposed."