CL: Mississippi’s History of Corruption

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!

Mississippi has tangled history of public corruption

By Jerry Mitchell, Clarion Ledger, December 6, 2014

635535031763710412-AP656984595016From Theodore Bilbo to the “Mississippi Hustle,” corruption has plagued the Magnolia State since its inception nearly two centuries ago.

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 jmitchell@jackson.gannett.com or (601) 961-7064. Follow @jmitchellnews on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. It seems that here in Mississippi we fail to go after so many of the corrupt politicians or their appointees, thereby leaving it to the feds to expose them for what they are. Let’s see, we had the marine resource scam, the correctional institution debacle, alleged voter fraud in the recent election, supervisor kickbacks, and this is just recently. Where in the world is Jim hood? Seems unless you stole $40 from a vulnerable adult or you are a blogger from California then everything else is good to go and is just the price of politics and doing business in state and local government. I guess maybe we earned our designation as the most corrupt state in the union. It is just sad to know that we have passed Illinois and Louisiana for that designation yet we continue to elect the same officials who are supposed to be looking out for our interest.

  2. There are several types of corruption. The obvious kind is where a public official steals tax dollars. The other is where a former governor( along with other elected friends) sets up his kith and kin( and friends) to get no-bid federal contracts to suck up tax dollars and then race-baits his only opposition so he can continue to sop at the public trough. And there is yet another type of corruption involving lobbyist and how they entrap elected officials with generous campaign contributions and who suddenly begin to believe compromise is better than standing on core principles upon which they campaigned and won the public trust, now long forgotten. And the latter is never, ever caught except by those who know the truth and we are demonized as being Right Wing Zealots. Just ask ole Trent Lott who never met a principle he couldn’t ignore.

  3. Hey Guys: Jerry Mitchell provides a good historical overview of MS corruption. However, “corruption” can be more than deed alone. The Republican Party has been struggling with its own “immigration problem” which has been corrupting the Republican Party brand for 40 years. The icing was put on the cake when Ronald Reagan ran for President in 1980 and defeated Jimmy Carter. Reagan and the GOP made a Faustian deal. In an effort to attract as many white Southern voters as possible, he and politicos like Lee Atwater reached out to the lint that clings to the fringe of the Republican Party base at that time–the so-called “Religious Right” and the Dixiecrat holdovers from the old Democrat Party. When Reagan reached out to shamen and Dixiecrats such as Pat Robertson, Bob Jones, and Jerry Falwell, he sold not only his own
    soul as a conservative, but that of the Republican Party, (Goldwater’s and
    Buckley’s secular conservative principles and visions) only to pander to these two Paleolithic tribes who have done nothing but create discord and division since their unholy intrusion into the party over 40 years ago. By imposing their sectarianism, coupled with their shameless use of racial division to create a monolithic Christian Commonwealth, these Christian Collectivists have made it almost impossible for the Republican Party to ever maintain a
    national majority at the federal level. Over the years, these people have done more to hinder the cause of good conservative republican government than anything that liberal Democrats could ever have done on their own–especially when it came to pushing the American voters to the Left in federal elections.
    As conservatives, we can only hope that with the 2014 midterm election victory, the GOP will not once again squander the opportunity to address America’s economic needs, by instead attempting to pass social legislation designed to limit liberty and freedom, and thereby once again return the Congress to the control of the Democrats. Yes, corruption for personal gain is a problem. But corruption of of the political process in order to promote sectarian beliefs on what is supposed to be a secular democratic republic is perhaps the true unforgivable sin in American politics.
    David Frazier

  4. PaleolithicRacistSectarian says:

    Wow-someone sure is appearing a Tad on edge about the unwashed, ignorant members of the GOP. I find it almost, but not quite, amusing to refer to corruption of the political process and acscribing it to the Religios Right of “40 years ago”. Who is it today that is corrupting the political process? And who have been the counterwieghts in the GOP to the Paleolithic Racist Christian Collectivist? I guess one might characterize them as the Progressive wing that sympathizes with the Liberal Democrats. They go along to get along. They pave the way for the downward slide of the country.

    • Hey PRS: My apologies to all Cruz-controllers and McGOPers. When I wrote that I was probably experiencing a “manic moment”. The point that I was intending to get across is that demagogues like TC and the Anointed One prey upon the fears, (legitimate and otherwise) and prejudices (we all have some) of their followers/listeners. Ronald Reagan (whom I supported) was without question the best at pandering to his intended audience of listeners. That gift of communication, coupled with the vision of purpose and the ability to govern, (notwithstanding the Iran-Contra
      scandals) made him the most effective President of the Twentieth Century. We should remember that Lott, Gingrich, Barbour, and Kemp all learned from Reagan. One of those lessons was the Eleventh Commandment–“Thou shalt not speak or do ill to another Republican.” Although Senator Cruz likes to quote Reagan every all of the time, he evades and violates this commandment every day when he attacks his Republican colleagues in the Senate. This mashed him a GOP apostate which leads to the stream of criticism from Republicans throughout the country. It’s sad really. TC is a truly brilliant individual. However, he has made it clear that he has not gone to Washington to get along with his Senate colleagues and to represent the great state of Texas. Rather, he considers himself to be a “Constitutional-Anarchist”. He wants to tear down and destroy while tilting after windmills (government
      shutdown) in order to score points with his fans and followers. TL knows the difference between bravado (Cruz/McDaniel) and being a visionary (Reagan). That’s all he was attempting to point out.
      David Frazier

      • “Thou shalt not speak or do ill to another Republican.” Would this also apply to the Barbours and Ole Thad, given their treatment of Chris McDaniel?

        Cruz considers himself a “Constitutional Anarchist”? When has he ever said that?

        I find it so interesting that you use the above quote from Reagan, as well as the glass houses remark, yet you seem to relish throwing stones and speaking ill of other Republicans. Can we say hypocrite?

  5. Hey MCD: You are correct on all points in your 4:44 p.m. post. On the other hand, it’s not that I relish throwing stones and speaking ill of other Republicans, but when you have folks, particularly GOP office holders, who claim to be Republicans, but they go out and say and do whatever they can to discredit and defeat other Republican incumbents with whom they do not agree with 100% all of the time, contrary to what is in the best long-term
    interest of the nation, their state, district, and party, I do admit that I get
    impatient and a bit testy with such selfish and short-sighted attitudes. I am just a voice in the wilderness, trying to bring the Founders’ principles of Classical Conservatism to the world for all to heed in hopes of bringing forth a more ordered and just society, where life, liberty, and the pursuit of property may be enjoyed by all.
    David Frazier

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