MARCH 07, 2006
When a flood devastated a rural coalmining town in southwest Virginia, public officials accepted bribes from the wealthy contractors that swarmed the area to secure multi-million dollar cleanup deals.
Spanning 504 miles and with a population of only 26,000, Buchanan County is not the kind of place that big time contractors normally strive to sign lucrative deals, but the ravaging 2002 flood brought them in by the dozens and officials filled their pockets with big bucks.
Two county supervisors, a former supervisor, two county officials, a federal contract worker and 10 area businessmen and contractors either were convicted or pleaded guilty for their roles in the bribery scheme known as Operation Big Coon Dog. Federal authorities created the name because many public officials accepted bribes in the form of hunting trips and a type of hunting dog called coon.
Prosecutors say that some county officials accepted up to $545,000 in cash, bribes and gifts from several of the contractors trying to secure deals to clean up the $30 million damage to the remote coal communities.
On a positive note, this week prosecutors seized about $1.3 million of the bribe money and have returned it to the county. More money may come the county’s way since some of those already convicted are forfeiting portions of their bribes.
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