Saturday, November 18, 2017
Politics

Carlton column: Anticorruption prosecutor for a Hillsborough scandal? Great idea

RECOMMENDED READING


What will investigators looking at allegations of cozy relationships in the awarding of a fat Hillsborough County contract ultimately find? Were any actual crimes committed?

And what sort of person would have to be part of that investigation for everyone who's closely watching to trust the answers we expect any day now?

More on that mystery man in a minute in what's as close to a cliffhanger as local politics gets.

By now you know the scandal — or at least the allegations, depending on your perspective, and believe me, everyone involved in this has a perspective.

In the Go Hillsborough initiative to let voters decide on a sales tax for transportation — if county commissioners agree to put it on the November ballot — critics question whether savvy and connected public relations consultant Beth Leytham helped steer a $1.35 million contract to an engineering firm that was her client. That firm then hired her as a subcontractor for a public outreach campaign.

What an insinuation to drop into the laps of vocal antitax and anti-Go Hillsborough activists, even if it has not a whit to do with the actual need to improve roads and transit around here. Nothing distracts like the possibility of scandal.

Even when the county administrator brought in no less than Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee to investigate and determine if there was wrongdoing here, critics sniffed that the well-regarded sheriff was not independent enough, that he was too tied to the county.

So. Who might they want to see in this investigative mix?

Someone with experience as a federal anticorruption prosecutor weighing in, maybe? A former U.S. attorney, perhaps?

Done, as it turns out.

Bobby O'Neill, once the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida, was brought in by the Sheriff's Office as a consultant in its investigation — a smart move in a case that involves both public trust and actual fact.

Think: former Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White, who went to prison for taking a bribe. Or Audley Evans, accused of misappropriating Tampa Housing Authority funds. Or Steve and Lynne LaBrake, who went to prison in a city housing department scandal.

O'Neill prosecuted them, and he also ran a 35-county district before he left two years ago to work for a risk-management company run by former FBI director Louis Freeh.

The Sheriff's Office also brought in an independent auditor from a CPA firm on the Go Hillsborough matter.

"We had various independent reviews that took place aside from HCSO personnel," says sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon.

What sounds like an exhaustive investigation — if you ask people interviewed in it — is now in the hands of the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office pending its review. Barring further investigation or glitches, it could be released within a few weeks.

We'll have to see what it says about what did and did not happen regarding Go Hillsborough, if politicians blurred lines and if lobbying rules are woefully lax. (Actually, commissioners addressed that one in their recent scramble to put some bite to those rules.)

But already, investigators deserve some credit for moves that could go a long way toward shoring up public trust and moving ahead to what's next.

Sue Carlton can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
As sex scandals topple the powerful: Why not Trump?

As sex scandals topple the powerful: Why not Trump?

WASHINGTON — "You can do anything," Donald Trump once boasted, speaking of groping and kissing unsuspecting women. Maybe he could, but not everyone can. The man who openly bragged about grabbing women’s private parts — but denied he really did so — w...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Allegations against Alabama’s Roy Moore dividing GOP women

Allegations against Alabama’s Roy Moore dividing GOP women

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Standing on the white marble steps of Alabama’s Capitol, Kayla Moore surrounded herself with two dozen other women Friday to defend husband Roy Moore against accusations of sexual misconduct that are dividing Republicans, and women...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Franken apologizes to woman who says he kissed, groped her

Franken apologizes to woman who says he kissed, groped her

WASHINGTON — Minnesota Sen. Al Franken personally apologized to the woman who has accused him of forcibly kissing her and groping her during a 2006 USO tour, saying he remembers their encounter differently but is "ashamed that my actions ruined that ...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Negative mailers trace back to campaign of state House candidate who denies them

Negative mailers trace back to campaign of state House candidate who denies them

An 87-year-old widow from Melbourne, a mysterious direct mail company in tiny Buffalo, Wyo., and a tangled web of political committees all were linked to the onslaught of negative mailers that helped Lawrence McClure win the Republican primary in Pla...
Updated: 11 hours ago

10,000 more FBI records unsealed from JFK assassination files

DALLAS — Yet again, the National Archives released a trove of records from the Kennedy assassination files on a Friday afternoon, another strange stream of loose ends, dead ends and tangents with little apparent connection to the assassination of the...
Published: 11/17/17
William March: Why Jose Vazquez had to campaign from a prison cell

William March: Why Jose Vazquez had to campaign from a prison cell

Jose Vazquez, Democratic nominee in the Dec. 19 state House District 58 special election, doesn’t seem like a criminal. He’s 43, divorced with six children, and has worked as a security guard and in auto recycling. He was a high-level political field...
Published: 11/17/17
Selective outrage: Trump criticizes Franken, silent on Moore

Selective outrage: Trump criticizes Franken, silent on Moore

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is displaying selective outrage over allegations of sexual harassment against prominent men in politics, as his own tortured past lingers over his response. Trump moved quickly Thursday to condemn accusations again...
Published: 11/17/17
In struggling upstate New York cities, refugees vital to rebirth

In struggling upstate New York cities, refugees vital to rebirth

UTICA, N.Y. — Pat Marino pulled into the shop on a cold, wet Thursday and stood close as a young mechanic with gelled-up hair and earrings lifted the truck and ducked underneath."You need a little bit more oil," the mechanic said."Five quarts wasn’t ...
Published: 11/17/17
Franken draws swift condemnation in Congress after woman claims he groped her

Franken draws swift condemnation in Congress after woman claims he groped her

WASHINGTON — Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., faced swift condemnation and bipartisan calls for an ethics investigation Thursday after he was accused of forcibly kissing and groping a broadcaster and model while traveling overseas in 2006.The allegations ag...
Published: 11/16/17
Alabama GOP stands by Roy Moore; Trump declines to urge him to quit Senate race

Alabama GOP stands by Roy Moore; Trump declines to urge him to quit Senate race

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Roy Moore won a reprieve in his struggle to survive as a U.S. Senate candidate Thursday when the Alabama Republican Party affirmed it would continue backing him despite allegations that he sexually assaulted teenagers."Judge Moore ...
Published: 11/16/17