Feds take aim at government corruption
WASHINGTON – Former Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland’s guilty plea Thursday to a felony charge makes him only the latest in what is a steadily growing number of federal corruption prosecutions focusing on government officials.
Although totals have not yet been released, the number of such cases pursued by federal authorities has grown by as much as 15 percent over the last four years, according to a Justice Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The increase, said the official, reflects the high priority placed on public corruption cases rather than a sudden spike in the number of dishonest politicians.
But the steady slide of high-profile public officials into ethical and criminal scandals risks fostering increasing distrust of government leaders.
“The government is wounded,” said Connecticut House Majority Leader James Amann. “It’s something most of us are concerned about. Most people have their hearts in the right place – to serve the public. But no matter how well you construct the laws and make the rules there will always be the ones who decide to break the law.”
In recent months, two northeast governors have resigned in disgrace and a presidential cabinet nominee withdrew his name in a swirl of controversy over a nanny-housekeeper he employed.
Ethical missteps, ranging from improper campaign contributions and gifts to racketeering and tax fraud, also led to the downfall of former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., former Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., and Rep. James Traficant, D-Ohio.
And in a case that rocked the nation, former President Bill Clinton’s dalliance with a White House intern led to his impeachment by the House. But he survived a Senate trial and finished his term in office.
In the most recent cases:
n Rowland pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to steal honest service in connection with a two-year investigation into corruption in his administration.
n New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey stepped down after acknowledging that he’d had an affair with another man.
n Former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik withdrew his name from nomination as homeland security secretary after revealing he had not paid all required taxes for a family nanny-housekeeper and that the woman may have been in the country illegally.
In 2000, federal authorities indicted 1,000 public officials, according to Justice Department statistics.
By 2002, the number had increased to 1,136, while the 2003 figure, not yet released, stayed relatively stable. The 2004 total will be up again, reflecting up to a 15 percent increase over the 2000 figure, said the Justice Department official.
However, he added, “I don’t think there is more public corruption than 10 years ago or 20 years ago. I think we’re doing a better job of finding it and prosecuting it.”