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PUBLIC CORRUPTION

by Lee Hoffman

On January 16, 2004, a report entitled "PUBLIC CORRUPTION IN THE UNITED STATES" released by the Corporate Crime Reporter at the National Press Club in Washington D.C., listed Delaware as the 13th most corrupt state in the U.S. ahead of New Jersey and Pennsylvania (http://www.corporatecrimereporter.com/corruptreport.pdf).

The source of the information is the U.S. Justice Department's; Public Integrity Section, which issues an annual report documenting the number of prosecutions and convictions of individuals nabbed in public corruption investigations. A qualified Delaware expert assures me that since this report was released through the National Press Club that the Corporate Crime Reporter is a credible publication.

Public corruption is described as crimes involving abuses of the public trust by government officials and used data from 1993 to 2002 to prepare the report. The authors then calculated a corruption rate for each state defined as the total number of public corruption convictions per 100,000 residents. The data is only federally-prosecuted cases and not state prosecutions, however, it represents about 80% of the total of public corruption cases.

As a citizen of Delaware, I am appalled and offended at this unique distinction. But having worked as a volunteer community leader for the last 4 plus years and having been involved in many issues in both New Castle County and Delaware government, I am, sadly, not surprised.

I am, however, surprised over the almost non-existent reaction by Delaware citizens and local news media to this information. On the other hand, I am not surprised that Delaware politicians have ignored this report.

The chart below shows Delaware's shame. For the period of 1993 to 2002, 32 Delaware politicians have been convicted of corruption in political offce. Keep in mind this is only those convictions at the federal level and does not include those convictions by our state attorney general, although I doubt that upon research there will be any since our own attorney general is also a politician with questionable ethics.


Information extracted from Table I 11, "Public Corruption in the United States"
U.S. Attorney's Office 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998
8 1 0 0 1 4
Delaware 1999 2000 2001 2002   Totals
2 1 8 7   32

 

In 2003 and this part of 2004 there have been three more convictions (Mike Harkins, John Cunningham and Chris Roberts). Add to this the current indictments against County Executive Tom Gordon, CAO Sherry Freebery and Special Assistant Janet Smith. If these three people are convicted, that will add 6 more convictions to the data in the Corporate Corruption Report and certainly move Delaware closer to the top.

Obviously, the ethical and moral conduct of some of our politicians is unconscionable. The leadership of the Democratic and Republican parties from whence our political leadership comes must share in this disgrace for this is the breeding ground for back room deals and compromises that are at the expense of the American public.

The Public Corruption Report makes a special note of the corruption rate in Washington D.C. It notes that D.C.'s rate is 79.33 more than ten times that of Mississippi's rate "and Mississippi is the most corrupt state in the country."

When will this stop or will it continue and the public becomes unshaken and complacent by this information. My fear is that Delaware, except for a few activists, is almost there. Until these activists spoke out recently and alerted citizens, Delaware almost became the dumping ground for byproducts of toxic nerve gas.

As part of the analysis of the data and its correlation to strong laws, the authors conclude that "Perhaps what matters more than strong laws is a strong political economy reporters, citizen groups, prosecutors, judges, religious leaders who are willing to speak out about the rampant corruption in our midst."

Delaware citizens must send a strong message to Delaware politics that resounds off the walls in Dover and reverberates in the Governor's mansion and the chambers of all three county councils. Their conduct is absurd; it is beneath contempt and those we Delaware citizens expect-no; demand-a higher standard of performance.

I urge every Delaware citizen to send a message to the political community by exercising the only barrier to further corruption, vote and hold every politician accountable by sending him or her the message that we are watching and that we won't take it anymore.

I also implore Delaware citizens to become more active in local civic organizations but more importantly umbrella groups. Our quality of life and our future depends on it.

Special Note: Since I wrote the above piece, the News Journal had their article about Mike Harkins and his long record of corruption. If you read the article carefully, you would see that Harkins was described as the "Darth Vader of Delaware politics" yet many of our political leaders supported him, even helped him pass legislation by cutting deals with him. And none of them truly did anything about his unethical and immoral activity, much of which was legally questionable. Despite his conviction, Mike Harkin's attorney, Victor Battaglia, submitted 74 letters to the judge, many urging leniency. This is again a show of the "good old boys" network where they are working to protect their own. Mike Harkins, like all convicted felons, needs to receive the maximum penalty and go to jail. A message needs to be sent that we are all equal under the law and politicians especially need to receive the worst punishment for breaking citizen's trust.


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Posted: FLR -