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No lack of possible suspects in public corruption scandals for U.S. attorney to investigate

This week came the titillating news that the feds were ready to charge an undisclosed public official with public corruption.

Big news. And that undisclosed part? Not a problem.

In our newsroom, we easily and quickly came up with a half-dozen possible suspects, since "under federal scrutiny" is not an unfamiliar phrase in these parts.

Posters to our Web page chimed in with suggestions of their own, even tossing out names of people not known to be in trouble, for now anyway. Some posters sounded downright hopeful.

Federal prosecutor Robert O'Neill dropped the bombshell while interviewing for the job of U.S. attorney in the Middle District of Florida. The interviews were open to the public (though you had to promise to stay awake), and Times reporter Kevin Graham was there, notebook at the ready.

O'Neill, appearing before a committee that would ultimately whittle the candidates down to three including him, opined that prosecuting public officials gone bad should be a priority. (Hard to argue, though the feds aren't known for being fleet of foot on that score.) He also mentioned a pending charge for a public official who had agreed to plead guilty, though he wouldn't name names.

We had our possibles, both the under-investigation and the maybe-should-be. Sure, plenty of good public servants hold office around here, but we've also been known to, oh, say, send a city's housing chief and his wife to prison in a big fat corruption scandal.

The most obvious were former Hillsborough Elections Supervisor Buddy Johnson and current County Commissioner Kevin White, though in both cases the "agreed to plead guilty" made you wonder. Neither would seem to have this in his genetic make-up.

Johnson's trouble-plagued tenure and news of his personal financial dealings may be what caught the eye of the FBI. They aren't saying, but we know agents have seized records on how he spent money while he was in office.

As for White, agents have reportedly interviewed the woman who is accusing him of sexual discrimination, and a guy convicted of mortgage fraud told the FBI that he paid White for votes. White denies both.

Less high profile but still of interest — his story puts "judge" and "stripper" in the same sentence, after all — was former 2nd District Court of Appeals Judge Thomas Stringer. Amid news stories of allegations that the married judge helped a stripper/friend hide financial assets and took gifts from her, he resigned.

See what I mean about possibilities?

The news came the next day: The judge had agreed to plead guilty to a bank fraud charge related to a Hawaiian home he bought with said stripper. ("Hawaii" is a good word for a scandal, too.)

More than one person I talked to that day seemed disappointed to hear it was Stringer — not because they knew him or especially empathized with him, but because they believed there were bigger, greedier fish to fry.

Well, don't worry. The headlines keep coming, from the potentially corrupt to the just plain odd, like the surgeon charged with palming a bullet from the body of a suspect as a souvenir while officers waited to collect it as evidence.

One thing's for sure: Whoever becomes U.S. attorney won't lack for work.

No lack of possible suspects in public corruption scandals for U.S. attorney to investigate 07/24/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 31, 2009 7:18pm]
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