Release of Stimulus Money Expected to Spur 'Inevitable Increase' in Public Corruption
Corrupt cops. Corrupt judges. Corrupt school superintendents. From Tennessee to suburban Washington, D.C. to Arkansas, investigators have found officials on the take. But in some cases, the FBI's caught the misdeeds on secretly recorded surveillance tapes.
In one brazen crime in Tennessee, cameras caught then-Hamilton County Sheriff William Horace "Billy" Long taking thousands in bribes and embracing corruption to the core.
Upon taking a wad of cash from an FBI informant, Long gave his blessing to the man's money-laundering operation.
"They can get all the drugs they want…. they need me to get the money out" of the country, the informant, funeral home operator Rev. Clarence Eugene Overstreet, told the sheriff.
The men also share a laugh about rolling in the cash.
"The Lord is my shepherd; he make me to lay down in green pastures," the informant says, rubbing his fingers together and emphasizing the word "green" to indicate he's talking about cash. In another video clip, Overstreet cautions Long about cash, saying, "Now, it's dope money, so you know, it might be all over the place."
And the sheriff was even willing to give a gun to a man he knew was a convicted felon, ineligible to own one.
"I got you a present, here, a Christmas present," Long said, unzipping his bag to get out the gun. "I'll put it in my Bible," Overstreet said.
"Now it's loaded, ready to go, ok?" Long said, handing over the firearm. "You didn't get that from me, Rev. I don't know nothin' about it," he added, as Overstreet admired the weapon.
Long pleaded guilty to a host of corruption charges in May 2008, and is serving out a 14-year sentence at a federal prison in Arizona. Prosecutors have not charged Overstreet, who testified against Long at trial, with any crimes related to the investigation.
But Long is far from alone. Corruption is rampant across the nation, and is rising as the economy worsens. Police, politicians, top school officials and even judges stand accused of getting illegally paid to play.
"The more resources we throw towards the problem, I think, the more corruption we're finding," said Kenneth W. Kaiser, assistant director of the criminal investigation division at the FBI.
Explosion of Public Corruption Cases
In recent years, the number of public corruption cases investigated by the FBI has exploded, with 2,430 pending probes of public officials.
That's nearly double the 1,300 cases in 2003.
And the FBI, which is already probing possible fraud at mortgage and other financial firms, believes corruption cases could rise further as billions of dollars in stimulus money is handed down from Washington to states and cities.
"While the FBI is surging to mortgage fraud investigations, our expectation is that economic crimes will continue to skyrocket," FBI Director Robert Mueller told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
"The unprecedented level of financial resources committed by the federal government to combat the economic downturn will lead to an inevitable increase in economic crime and public corruption cases," he said.
Courts have convicted more than 1,800 federal, state and local government officials on corruption charges in the last two years alone. Included in that number: 170 federal officials, 158 on the state level, 360 local officials and more than 365 police officers.
Like one police officer in Arkansas, caught on tape stealing money during a traffic stop of a suspected dealer.
Or Louisiana judge Alan Green, convicted of taking bribes. He was caught on camera in his office, accepting cash from a man saying he was "delivering on my promise" and recommending that he "put that away somewhere."
Green's response, as heard on the tape: "I appreciate it."
Government prosecutors pushed for a tough sentence for the former judge, writing in their sentencing memorandum that in exchange for the bribe money Green received, he "harmed innocent victims by releasing dangerous criminals" at the request of a corrupt bail bonds company.
A judge sentenced Green to four years and three months in prison.
School Superintendent: Bribe Cash 'Just Christmas Money'
In another shocking example, investigators caught the superintendent of the Prince George's County, Md. public school system sitting in a hotel room, relaxing with a bottle of champagne while accepting a cash bribe.
Andre Hornsby is seen enjoying the champagne and the cash from a fake company he set up to get kickbacks on county school projects he had a role in approving.
As a female informant hands over a thousand dollars, a down payment on the $100,000 anticipated, Hornsby picks it up from the table, puts it into his pocket, and says, "That's just Christmas money."
Hornsby was sentenced to six years in prison followed by three years of supervised release in November 2008.
"Greed, entitlement, a sense of power, ego -- those are things that drives the public corruption," Kaiser told ABC News. "I am always amazed at how brazen -- and the entitlement people feel."
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