OCTOBER 15, 2009
Public corruption is so widespread in Florida that the governor has petitioned the state’s Supreme Court to impanel a special grand jury to investigate the crisis, which includes a recently indicted Republican fundraiser with close ties to him and other prominent legislators.
Governor Charlie Crist, who will leave after one term to run for the U.S. Senate, wants the grand jury to aggressively probe criminal activity among public officials amid a multitude of scandals throughout the Sunshine State that he claims are cultivating a “culture of corruption.”
Public officials have abused their powers gained by virtue of their position, the governor says in his five-page petition for a grand jury, which points to a recent rash of crimes committed by local and state public servants while acting in their official capacity. Among the offenses are bribery, extortion, murder, prostitution, burglary, racketeering and crimes involving narcotics. There is also bid tampering, falsifying records, money laundering and an array of computer-related crimes.
Since taking office in 2007, Crist has removed 30 public officials from office for wrongdoing. Just a few weeks ago three politicians in a south Florida county were charged with corruption and money laundering in unrelated cases. A week later, a prominent south Florida Republican donor who served on Crist’s gubernatorial transition team got indicted for operating a fraudulent fundraising and lobbying scheme.
Several miles north in Palm Beach County, five lawmakers were recently prosecuted for corruption, including a powerful veteran county commissioner who admitted abusing her position to enrich herself. The epidemic led a grand jury to determine that the area is facing a crisis of trust in public governance with a reputation so deteriorated it’s derisively referred to as “Corruption County.”
The governor has also been embroiled in his share of scandals, including accepting tainted money from an indicted Jordanian businessman (Ala’a al-Ali) and a crooked defense contractor (Harry Sargeant) who violated contribution limits, billing the financially strapped state $430,000 for a first-class European tour and refusing to disclose the influential donors who pay for his many private jet rides around the country.
A few months ago, Florida’s Supreme Court ruled that Crist violated the state Constitution when he refused to fill an appeals court vacancy because all the candidates recommended by the Judicial Nominating Commission were white. Crist demanded that the commission, made up of a group of lawyers mostly appointed by him, nominate more minorities before filling the post.
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