Public Corruption - Getting Close to Home?
A more detailed article compiled from staff reports appeared in the November 30, 2006, print edition of The Spokesman-Review on page B1 of the Northwest Idaho Edition. The article, which did not appear on the webpage edition, was headlined "FBI starts tip line for public corruption."
The creation of the Utah-Idaho-Montana tip line coincided with federal indictments of three Utah school employees who allegedly misappropriated several million dollars.
School employees? How can alleged corruption by county school employees be considered federal corruption? They're not elected public officials. Don't the federal public corruption laws apply only to elected officials? And why is the FBI involved in a local matter? Why make a "federal case" out of something local?
The Spokesman-Review article quoted Tim Fuhrman, the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Salt Lake City Division (the office responsible for overseeing all of Idaho's FBI special agents). Fuhrman said, "However, any individual who serves the public and abuses that trust given to them by the citizens he or she serves can be the subject of a public corruption investigation and possible prosecution."
How big is the FBI's anticorruption effort? According to the FBI's Public Corruption webpage , "Public corruption is one of the FBI’s top investigative priorities — behind only terrorism, espionage, and cyber crimes. Why? Because our democracy and national security depend on a healthy, efficient, and ethical government. Public corruption can impact everything from how well our borders are secured and our neighborhoods protected…to verdicts handed down in courts of law…to the quality of our roads and schools."
Is the FBI's anticorruption program a short-term public relations effort? Hardly. Reading the Public Corruption section of the FBI's 2004-2009 Strategic Plan should make it clear to both the most casual reader and the most corrupt public officials it is a long-term systematic nationwide commitment to protect the public.
In Idaho we have state laws prohibiting bribery and corruption. Why does the FBI make a "federal case" out of something that could be handled locally? The very simple and accurate answer is that local officials (police, sheriffs, prosecutors, judges) are unwilling or unable to properly investigate and prosecute it. They are local officials subject to local social, political, and economic pressures. If the local authorities were properly investigating local-level public corruption and successfully prosecuting it, there would be no need for federal involvement. It's when the local authorities cannot or will not perform their duties that the federal government will step in.
In my December 7, 2004, Whitecaps post Corrupted or Co-opted, I talked in more detail about subtleties of public corruption and what must be shown to prove it.
It is very simple for we, the people, to keep the feds out of local affairs. Demand that our local officials do their jobs diligently, impartially, and honestly. Demand that local officials keep the public's records and the public's meetings open to the public. Support newspapers, their publishers, reporters, and editors, that report public corruption. Then when corruption surfaces and the local judges, prosecutor, police and sheriff won't meet these demands for accountability to the public, call the FBI at 866-502-7423.