According to a new report on public corruption, Florida leads the nation with public officials and employees who have been accused, charged and convicted of breaking the law.
Corruption is nothing new here in the Bay area. For example, former Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White is now serving three years in a federal prison, convicted of taking bribes.
Mulberry's city manager and the public works manager were arrested last month, accused of forgery.
Those instances are among 781 convictions in Florida in the last decade. They are detailed in the Corruption Risk Report, published by Integrity Florida, a watchdog group that exposes public corruption.
The report calls it a crisis that threatens Florida's economy, and our ability to attract new jobs.
"Florida ranks number one in the country in the number of federal public corruption convictions in the last 10 years," said LT Lafferty, head of the white collar crimes division at the law firm Fowler, White and Boggs.
Lafferty also used to serve on the Florida Commission on Ethics, the group that investigates ethics complaints.
"The foundation of all white collar crimes and public corruption is ethics. It's an ethics issue that went unchecked, got out of control and was enabled to rise to the level of white collar crime," Lafferty said.
Complaints don't always lead to charges. Senator Jim Norman admitted he failed to disclose on financial reports a gift of $500,000 given to his wife from a Tampa businessman.
Lafferty says the commission lacks the teeth needed to fully investigate and punish those who do wrong.
"When we have a system in place that allows individuals to skirt the ethics laws, we allow them to violate the ethics laws, go unpunished, because we have a weak and powerless commission on ethics," Lafferty said.
Integrity Florida is urging change by giving the commission on ethics more power, launching a whistleblower hotline and requiring top officials to disclose financial transactions over $1,000.
They also want to raise the penalty for ethics violations, from $10,000 to $25,000.
"We believe $25,000 is an appropriate penalty. That hurts just about anybody if you violate an ethics law and receive a $25,000 penalty," said Dan Krassner, with Integrity Florida.
The hope is that the report will give citizens the ammunition they need to push for ethics reform.
Bills that focus on ethics reform are brought up by state legislators every year, but every year, they are shot down.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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