MAY 28, 2009
A grand jury investigation in a south Florida county where five lawmakers have been recently prosecuted for corruption has concluded that the area is facing a crisis of trust in public governance.
In a 57-page report made public this week, a Palm Beach County Grand Jury points out that the area’s reputation has deteriorated to the point that it is derisively referred to as “Corruption County.” In the last few years three county and two West Palm Beach city commissioners have plead guilty to federal corruption charges.
The latest was veteran county Commissioner Mary McCarty, one of the area’s most prominent Republican lawmakers, who in March admitted abusing her position to enrich herself by advocating and voting for numerous matters before the commission that financially benefitted her husband’s firms. It marked the third Palm Beach County commissioner in only a few months to plead guilty to federal corruption charges.
The other two are in prison for separate crimes. Former Commission Chairman Tony Masilotti is serving a five-year sentence for taking millions of dollars in kickbacks from land deals and Warren Newell is serving time for collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and kickbacks on various county deals.
To adequately crack down on corruption the grand jury makes a series of recommendations, including creating laws to address conflict of interest and theft of honest services by public servants, increasing transparency, accountability and oversight and creating an independent watchdog.
The report is also critical of state laws governing ethics and misconduct, calling them inadequate to effectively deter the broad based misconduct that has become all too common, not only in Palm Beach County, but throughout Florida.
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