Analysis: Corruption sweeps Mississippi again

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It’s an old tale around Mississippi. Corrupt officials feed on an unsuspecting public for years undeterred by state laws or the efforts of crime-fighting state or local officials.

Paul Hampton | jphampton@sunherald.com | www.sunherald.comFebruary 28, 2015

  • “Former Commissioner of Department of Corrections and local businessman plead guilty in federal court.” 
  • “Three plead guilty to bribery charges.” 
  • “Former public works general manager pleads guilty to federal kickback scheme.”

But they aren’t from the Chicago Tribune, the paper of record for Illinois, a state with an image tarnished by decades of crooked government. They are from this state, torn straight from the FBI’s Jackson Division website. And they are just for February.

It’s an old tale around Mississippi. Corrupt officials feed on an unsuspecting public for years undeterred by state laws or the efforts of crime-fighting state or local officials. Then the feds swoop in, issue a flurry of indictments and send the bad guys off to prison.

One federal prosecutor last week said he’s had his fill of this cycle of government malfeasance. He quit his job and threw his hat in the ring for the state attorney general post.

Former prosecutor Mike Hurst said Attorney General Jim Hood has been absent during these probes, including the most-recent one that was punctuated by the suicide of Harrison County Supervisor William Martin of Gulfport. Martin killed himself Thursday, shortly before he was due in federal court to face corruption charges.

We’re No. 1

“Our attorney general should be prosecuting these public-corruption matters,” Hurst said. “If our attorney general was prosecuting these cases with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, we wouldn’t be No. 1 in the nation in public corruption.”

Hurst was referring to a study of Cheol Liu of the City University of Hong Kong and John L. Mikesell of Indiana University that covered federal convictions from 1976 to 2008.

Hood was invited via email Friday to weigh in on the issue, but he didn’t respond to those questions.

“We were trying to get this to you before we left today, but just cannot pull it together on such short notice,” his spokeswoman Jan Schaefer wrote in an email. “It will have to be next week. I’ll get it to you just as soon as we are able.”

Hurst said he has had a willing partner in the corruption fight in state Auditor Stacey Pickering.

“We work real close with the auditor’s office and they work really close with the FBI,” Hurst said. “I wish they had prosecutorial authority.”

Hurst and Pickering are Republicans. Hood is a Democrat.

Pickering disagrees with the No. 1 ranking — he said the numbers are old. But he said they show officials are being brought to justice.

“We do a very good job in Mississippi going after public corruption,” he said. “We don’t tolerate it. You’re going to be held accountable.”

But he agrees more could be done.

“There are always things we can do to strengthen our laws,” he said.

These are the headlines of a state’s despair.

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