Beam: Corruption title hard to shake

By By Jim Beam / American Press

Mention political corruption, and Illinois and Louisiana immediately come to mind. That is no surprise because the two states

have been leaders in that field for more years than we like to count.

A recent study by political scientists

at the University of Illinois in Chicago determined that Louisiana was

the most corrupt

state per capita from 1976 to the present. However, per capita is

the key phrase there. Louisiana was in 10th place with 906

federal public corruption convictions during that time, which

comes to 2 per 10,000 population.

New York had 2,522 convictions during

that same time period to put it in the No. 1 position in total cases. It

was followed

by California with 2,345 convictions and Illinois with 1,828. All

three had lower corruption cases than Louisiana per 10,000

residents. Others in the top 10 are Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas,

Ohio, the District of Columbia and New Jersey.

The Northern Judicial District of

Illinois, which contains the entire Chicago metropolitan area, is the

federal district that

has had the most public corruption convictions in the country

since 1976. It had 1,531 of that state’s 1,828 corruption cases,

or 84 percent of the total.

The real story as far as Louisiana is

concerned is the fact the federal Eastern Judicial District that is

centered around

the Greater New Orleans area is where the major public corruption

in this state takes place. It had 238 federal public conviction

cases from 2001 to 2010.

Louisiana has two other federal

judicial districts — the Middle and Western. The Western District

includes most of the state

west of the Mississippi River. The Middle District is centered in

the Baton Rouge area. The largest Western District had 92

public corruption convictions from 2001-2010. The Middle District

had 54 during that same period.

For some strange reason, a number of

public officials in the Eastern District seem to think election to

public office entitles

them to special benefits that are clearly illegal in the minds of

most officials elsewhere. A brief look at some of the more

recent cases in that district gives us a sample of the kinds of

charges that lead to federal convictions.

Aaron Broussard, the former president

of Jefferson Parish, was sentenced to nearly four years in federal

prison last week.

Broussard pleaded guilty to taking kickbacks from a businessman

and getting a public job for his then-girlfriend and now ex-wife.

He got the former parish attorney to hire his ex-wife as a

paralegal supervisor in the attorney’s office although she wasn’t

qualified for that position and rarely showed up for work.

The former parish attorney and Broussard’s ex-wife were each sentenced to three years’ probation for their part in the bogus

hiring scheme.

Dana Boente, the interim U.S. attorney for the Eastern District, summed up the case well when he said, “This sad end to Aaron

Broussard’s career is a self-inflicted wound resulting from his venality, corruption and deceit. The citizens of Jefferson

Parish deserved honest, effective government, and Mr. Broussard made the decision to line his own pockets...”

Two former New Orleans city councilmen

went to prison for their crimes. Oliver Thomas got a three-year prison

sentence after

pleading guilty to accepting bribes. He had been considered at the

time of his crime as a potential mayor of the Crescent

City. Jon Johnson got a six-month prison sentence after he pleaded

guilty to a conspiracy charge for siphoning off FEMA grant

money for his unsuccessful run for the state Senate in 2007.

Johnson had previously served in the state Senate.

Betty Jefferson, a former New Orleans

assessor, pleaded guilty last year to being involved in a criminal

conspiracy to siphon

public money away from city-supported charities. She was sentenced

to five years’ probation that included 15 months of home

detention. Jefferson was required to pay $604,000 in restitution

to the city of New Orleans.

Renee Pratt, another former city council member and ex-state representative, was sentenced to more than seven years in prison

for her role in a scheme that skimmed more than $1 million in taxpayer dollars for bogus city charities.

Bill Hubbard, former president of St.

John Parish, was sentenced in 2011 to nearly four years in prison for

taking $20,000

in bribes from three parish contractors in order to buy his

girlfriend a car. The judge told him he abused his position “because

of your own arrogance.”

One of the biggest federal cases still

pending involves former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. He was indicted on

21 federal

charges involving bribery, wire fraud, filing false tax returns,

conspiracy and money laundering. Nagin’s trial has been set

for April 29.

We can thank former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten for the convictions listed here. He had a stellar record while serving Louisiana’s

Eastern District. The New York Times summed up his tenure well when Letten retired recently.

“Mr. Letten’s office successfully prosecuted parish presidents for bribery, sheriffs for mail fraud, mayors for tax evasion,

housing agency officials for embezzlement and contractors for all kinds of things,” the newspaper said.

The citizens of Louisiana hope his successor will be just as diligent. Maybe, just maybe, the state will be able some day

to shed its image as one of the most corrupt states in the nation. We have held that dubious title long enough.

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Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or jbeam@americanpress.com