It's an embarrassment of riches this week, with examples of corruption ranging from the opportunistic and banal to the systematic and fatal. Let's just start at the bottom and work our way down -- while also remembering the presumption of innocence for those merely charged and not yet convicted of a crime:
Forsythe County, Georgia, sheriff candidate Gary Allen Beebe, a 15-year law enforcement veteran, was arrested by FBI agents July 13 on charges he promised contracts and political favors -- including ignoring crimes -- to supporters if elected. Among Beebe's promises recorded by government informants was an offer to give "permission to rob known drug dealers in Forsyth County that have eluded law enforcement without threat of prosecution," according to a complaint filed by federal agents.
In more than two hours of audio and video tapes made public by the US Attorney's office on CD and DVD, Beebe also offered to treat a proposed murder by a supporter as "an unsolved murder." But most of Beebe's bribes had to do with more mundane matters, such as contracts for bail bonds companies, towing companies, and county jail concessionaires. At one meeting, the FBI informant, someone in the adult entertainment industry, handed Beebe a stack of cash. As, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported: Beebe smiled, looked around and said, "Okay. Got any cameras in here?" The informant responded: "Oh yeah, I got 'em all over the property. Don't worry about it."
In Birmingham, Alabama, former Lauderdale County Drug Task Force director David Scogin was arraigned on federal fraud and extortion charges July 15. In a 10-count indictment, he stands accused of taking money and vehicles from drug suspects in exchange for dropping charges against them. According to sources cited by the Florence Times Daily, the booty was supposedly to be turned over to the task force, but 14 vehicles and more than $40,000 in cash remain unaccounted for. He is also charging with ripping off his informants by forging their signatures on reimbursement forms and only paying them a fraction of their blood money.
Most counts of the indictment describe Scogin seizing cash or vehicles from parties identified only by their initials between 2000 and 2003. Three counts come from allegedly lying to the FBI as it was called in by the Alabama Bureau of Investigation. Count seven is illustrative of Scogin at work. He told the FBI an individual wanted to donate a vehicle to the drug task force because he had "done such a good job in the battle against drugs." But the FBI found that the person in question had really paid Scogin $5,000 in cash after Scogins found a small quantity of marijuana at his home. Scogin turned in half of it and pocketed the rest. The pay-off was a "necessary condition" for Scogin's help in making any charges go away.
In Muskogee, Oklahoma, a local couple has filed a federal civil lawsuit against Muskogee County District Attorney John David Luton, his chief investigator Gary Sturm, and several members of the District Attorney's Drug Task Force, alleging retaliation and harassment for reporting apparent corrupt practices. Luton had been the subject of scathing report from the state auditor's office last August regarding his forfeiture practices, and it was those practices that are at the root of this lawsuit.
Kimm Bushey is an auto mechanic, while his wife, Ruth, was employed by the district attorney's office. According to their lawsuit, Ruth Bushey reported to Sturm that her husband had noticed parts taken from vehicles seized by the District Attorney's Drug Task Force and installed on other vehicles. But instead of investigating the allegation, Sturm and the task force used a methamphetamine search warrant at one address to raid a garage containing Kimm Bushey's tools at another address. The tools, valued at $5,000, were improperly seized and ordered returned by the Muskogee County District Court, but never were. Luton admitted to the court that some of them had already been auctioned off.
But that wasn't all, the suit complains. Luton, Sturm, and task force members defamed Kimm Bushey by claiming he was a meth cook, threatened witnesses, and drove Ruth Bussey from her job at the district attorney's office. The intimidating behavior continues to the present, the lawsuit alleges, with unwarranted traffic stops and harassing questioning of the couple's teenage son.
The couple's attorney, Robert Haupt, said Muskogee county law enforcement thought it was a law unto itself. "This is a situation where we have law enforcement officers just out of control, and that is what this lawsuit is going to be about," he told the Oklahoma City newspaper the Oklahoman. And since a story about the case ran in a local newspaper, he added, he had received dozens of phone calls from local residents with similar stories or worse.
Meanwhile, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is the target of a federal civil suit filed by a Roanoke, Virginia, car dealer who claims the agency is unfairly targeting him. Bill Kennedy, a luxury car dealer, has had four cars seized as part of Roanoke drug investigations, and he filed suit last week to get them back.
The suit names Kenny Garrett, a DEA task force office in Roanoke, who, Kennedy swore in an affidavit, accused him of knowingly selling cars to drug dealers and threatened to go after him personally. "I have news for you, I'm going to pick up every car you own in Roanoke," Garrett allegedly said.
Kennedy told the Roanoke Times he believes he was targeted by the DEA after repossessing a high-end luxury car purchased by a Roanoke man. The man became so angry, he threatened to tell the DEA Kennedy sold cars to drug dealers, Kennedy said. Since that time, he has repeatedly been approached by men wanting him to launder money, but who expressed no interest in buying cars.
DEA agent Garrett denies he is targeting or harassing Kennedy. But when asked by the Times whether he was investigating Kennedy, he replied, "I can't comment on ongoing investigations."
And in a particularly nasty episode, in El Paso, Texas, four US Customs special agents are being investigated over allegations their "close relationship" with an informant led them to ignore agency requirements to warn people they found during their investigation could be in danger. The informant in question, nicknamed "Lalo," is believed to be a high-ranking member of Mexico's Juarez cartel, and, according to the Dallas Morning Herald, was involved in a number of slayings in Ciudad Juarez while under the supervision of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. Some of those slayings took place while ICE agents listened over an open cell phone line, the paper reported. At least one of the victims was a US citizen, Luís Padilla-Cardona, from the nearby town of Socorro, Texas.
Ten months after ICE first knew "Lalo" had killed someone, an ICE investigator reminded the agency that "during the course of criminal investigations, threats to life or serious bodily injury to individuals, as well as threats to occupied structures and conveyance can become known to agents." In such cases, "reasonable action must be taken to attempt to protect the individual or structure in question." As in the present case, failure to do so can get people killed. Or worse yet, wrote the investigator, it can result "in a Federal Tort Claims Act suit against the agency and the individual agents involved."
The case has wracked the agency since the Morning News first broke the story in March, with two ICE group supervisors transferred to Washington in June and four special agents, Raul Bencomo, Todd Johnson, David Ortíz and Luís Rico facing questioning by the agency's Office of Professional Responsibility. It is likely to be the subject of a Senate committee hearing today, the Morning News reported. Lawsuits from the victims' families are in the works, the newspaper reported.
According to the Morning Herald, US law enforcement officials describe the case as one of the worst examples of government misconduct they have seen. "I am embarrassed and disgusted that I am part of an agency that allowed this to happen," said one current agent who requested anonymity.