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The FBI’s new Chicago boss says he considers the job the ‘peak’ of his career

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Robert “Wes” Wheeler Jr., the new FBI director in Chicago, keeps a photo of his father in his office, along with his police ID from his hometown in central Georgia.

Wheeler is a constant reminder of one of his mentors who shaped his life and leadership style.

“Wherever I sit, he sees me,” Wheeler said of his father. He was a role model, and I aspire to be that person.”

Wheeler, 52, sat down with the Tribune on Tuesday to talk about his new job leading the Chicago FBI. The Chicago FBI is his fourth-largest field office in the department, with more than 1,000 agents, support staff, and other personnel responsible for investigating everything from domestic and international terrorism. Corruption of public officials, racketeering of gangs, bank robberies, white-collar crime.

Wheeler, a 24-year FBI veteran with a counterterrorism background, was named the special agent in charge earlier this month by FBI Director Christopher Wray, replacing Emerson Buy, who retired in August.

Unlike Bouillet, who grew up on the South Side and saw this job as something of a homecoming, Wheeler landed here and started work on January 3 after spending limited time in Chicago. .

But Wheeler said he’s already been taken to the city to stay downtown for the first few weeks to acclimate before deciding where to settle for his family. He considers his work at the “high point” of his career.

“I have lived and worked in cities, but mostly in more rural settings,” he said in an interview at the sprawling FBI headquarters at 2111 Roosevelt Road. “The last few weeks I’ve been enjoying feeling like a man in town.”

Soft-spoken and with a bit of a Georgian accent, Wheeler is a pivotal moment in the city’s history as the issue of gun violence is at the forefront and violent extremism is on the rise at home and abroad. I got a job that draws attention to. , with a major corruption trial on the horizon and a mayoral election looming in the next few weeks.

He said he had already had several phone calls with Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown in the first few weeks and looked forward to meeting in person about the agency’s efforts to combat gang and gun violence. rice field.

“Violent crime is definitely something to worry about,” Wheeler said. “This is not an easy problem to solve and we need to evolve what that threat looks like.”

Wheeler said his short time in Chicago already made him more aware of the impact of violence on the city. “I live here too and feel it,” he said. “It’s unacceptable that that’s what we’re dealing with.”

As a non-Chicago citizen, Wheeler also has a different perspective than some on the city’s issue of public corruption, which has been the focus of the Chicago field office for decades.

Wheeler believes that public corruption makes a lot of headlines in the city, but it has a lot to do with the experience of in-house agents and support staff handling those cases.

“Of course corruption is an issue, but I don’t think Chicago is very different from other big cities in the United States or the world,” he said. “I think it’s another persistent problem..”

Wheeler said, like his predecessor, counter-terrorism initiatives will continue to be a focus for the agency, saying that the rise and fall of ISIS will depend on “someone we’ve been investigating before, or someone before something bad happens.” drew the attention of

Born and raised in Newton County, Georgia, Wheeler played football in high school and majored in political science at Georgia Southern University.

After college, he joined the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.his mother told the local paper In a recent interview, she said her son was put to the test during his first week at GBI, when “he was assigned to wear fishing waders and look for body parts in a landfill.” I’m here.

Wheeler began his FBI career as a special agent in a satellite office in Dallas and was eventually assigned to counter-terrorism missions, also serving in the North Texas Joint Terrorism Task Force.

In 2006, Wheeler joined the Attorney General’s Protection Division in Washington and began teaching new agents at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. He was sent to Afghanistan for several months in late 2009 to “work on the kidnapping problem” before joining a team dedicated to countering improvised explosive devices, the FBI said.

Most recently, Wheeler led the Washington-based International Counter-Terrorism Team, which focused on the United States and the Middle East, and served as Chief of the International Operations Division, responsible for global readiness and legal operations in Europe, Eastern Europe, and Eurasia. was focused on.

Wheeler, who is married to two sons in college and a daughter in high school, said he was lucky to be based in one region for most of his FBI career rather than being transferred across the country. I’m here.

He also said that his wife, whom he met in Atlanta, grew up in Downstate, Lincoln, near Springfield, and has connections to the city, so landing in Chicago would be a Midwestern homecoming for her.

But he admits that January weather can be mentally taxing for the Georgia native.

“I’m not built for that sort of thing,” joked Wheeler. “I am preparing to suffer a little.”

jmeisner@chicagotribun.com

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Written by Natalia Chi

Chicago Popular; Chicago breaking news, weather and live video. Covering local politics, health, traffic and sports for Chicago, the suburbs and northwest Indiana.

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