A good article in the Clarion Ledger shows just how corrupt our state has become. We conservatives have a lot of work to do to begin the clean-up process! And it starts with the elections next year!
By Jerry Mitchell, Clarion Ledger, December 6, 2014
Mississippi topped the nation in corruption, according to an index developed from a study of federal convictions of public officials between 1976 and 2008.
That study by researchers at the University of Hong Kong and Indiana University concluded corruption is costing Mississippi taxpayers (and taxpayers in the other nine most corrupt states) an average of $1,308 per person per year, or 5.2 percent of those states’ average expenditures per year.
In addition, the report found “states with higher levels of corruption are likely to favor construction, salaries, borrowing, correction and police protection at the expense of social sectors such as education, health and hospitals.”
Since Mississippi’s earliest days, “corruption is an unfortunate theme that has gone throughout our history,” said David Sansing, history professor emeritus for the University of Mississippi. “It was said then, ‘Everybody’s in danger when the Legislature is in session.'”
A politician involved in his share of scandals was Bilbo, who despite being 5-foot-2, referred to himself as “The Man.”
In 1910, he took a $645 bribe as a state lawmaker — only to claim he did it as part of his own investigation into those giving bribes.
He had taken the bribe to switch his vote to choose LeRoy Percy as the successor to the late U.S. Sen. James Gordon.
The Mississippi Senate voted 28-10 to kick him out of office — one vote short of the three-quarters needed, calling Bilbo “unfit to sit with honest, upright men in a respectable legislative body.”
Despite such criticism, Bilbo was elected governor five years later.
He once again became embroiled in a scandal when he unsuccessfully tried to keep the former secretary of Gov. Lee M. Russell from suing him for getting her pregnant and suffering damage from an abortion.
After Bilbo was caught hiding in a barn for a calf to avoid a subpoena in the lawsuit, journalist Fred Sullens wrote: “Some feel sorry for Gov. Russell, others for the girl, and some even for Bilbo; but I, personally, feel sorry for the heifer calf.”
Bilbo refused to testify, was found guilty of contempt of court and had to serve 10 days in jail. He wound up being elected governor again and then U.S. senator.
In 1947, the Senate refused to seat Bilbo after he reportedly took bribes from defense contractors to repair his house and encouraged the intimidation of African-American voters.
On Aug. 21, 1947, he died — his enemies said appropriately — of mouth cancer.
State officials hailed Bilbo as a hero and ordered a statue, which remained in the rotunda of the state Capitol for decades.
After William Winter was elected governor in 1979, he moved the statue downstairs.
The statue was created for a room with other state leaders, and that’s where he ordered it moved, he said. “I thought it was inappropriate for a statue of anyone to be in the middle of the rotunda.”
Starting in the 1970s, James Tucker, who headed the criminal division in the U.S. attorney’s office in Jackson, pursued many corruption cases.
Former U.S. Attorney Brad Piggott described Tucker as “the principal individual force for prosecuting the cheating of the public treasury and was tantamount to being Mississippi’s Eliot Ness (the FBI agent whose work helped lead to the conviction of mobster Al Capone).”
In 1985, FBI agents arrested Mississippi Senate President Pro-Tem Tommy Brooks at the state Capitol.
A week earlier, undercover agents had watched as an operative left Brooks with a brown paper bag packed with $15,000 cash in a Jackson motel parking lot.
It was the first payment of a $50,000 bribe the eight-term lawmaker had reportedly received to influence senators to vote for a bill allowing horse racing and pari-mutuel betting in Mississippi.
Prosecutions also included the state auditor, sheriffs, Jackson City Council members, a highway commissioner, public utility commissioners, bankers, businessmen and many others.
The FBI’s undercover probe, “Operation Pretense,” which utilized a preacher offering kickbacks, led to the prosecutions of 57 county supervisors on bribery charges, including all of the supervisors in Pontotoc and Rankin counties.
Tucker said he doesn’t think Mississippi is more corrupt than other states. “I think we were more active in prosecuting corruption than other places were,” he said.
Since his 2001 retirement, federal corruption prosecutions have continued, including that of longtime trial lawyer Dickie Scruggs, who pleaded guilty to bribing a judge to rule in his favor in a legal fees dispute.
The latest FBI probe, Mississippi Hustle, has resulted in the arrests of former Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps and former state lawmaker Cecil McCrory.
Both have pleaded not guilty to corruption charges that accuse McCrory of giving more than $700,000 in bribes to Epps, including money to pay off the mortgage on a beachfront condo.
Last week, a grand jury indicted an Alcorn County supervisor, purchase clerk and three vendors on 259 criminal charges alleging the embezzlement of public funds.
Supervisor Jimmy “Dal” Nelms is accused of using county funds to pay for work that was never performed and of intercepting checks intended for vendors, forging their signatures and cashing them.
He is also accused of using county funds to buy his wife’s cell phone and pay her monthly bill as well as purchases for his home from Lowe’s.
The state auditor, which conducted a yearlong investigation, is demanding $308,245 from Nelms, who, if found guilty of all charges, could face more than 600 years behind bars.
“I believe that all human beings of all races, creeds and colors are torn between honesty and integrity, dishonesty and greed,” Sansing said. “The Greeks, Romans and Egyptians all had the same problem.”
The democratic system lacks “a built-in watchdog system,” he said. “It is disheartening, disappointing and sometimes discouraging, but it’s never surprising when public officials are found corrupt.”
In the end, however, the system offers one saving grace, he said. “We have a free press.”
Contact Jerry Mitchell at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 961-7064. Follow @jmitchellnews on Twitter.