Federal authorities in Birmingham are stepping up their efforts to crack down on public corruption.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Roger C. Stanton and U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance today announced a new initiative to solicit the public's help in fighting fraud and corruption through north Alabama.
For a time in recent years the Northern District of Alabama was a hotbed of corruption, as Mayor Larry Langford and five other county commissioners were implicated in crimes. The Jefferson County sewer scandal and the two-year college probe convicted dozens of public officials, contractors and businesses. Currently, federal investigators have been asking question of Birmingham Water Works contractors.
A new toll-free public corruption hotline has been set up, and authorities also will hold training conferences in Birmingham and Huntsville to help the public, as well as those who work in government, to better understand public corruption laws and ethics rules. Beginning today, the hotline number will be featured on Lamar billboards north Alabama.
Public corruption occurs when a public official, at any level of government, does any official act in exchange for money or other free goods or services. Accepting a bribe for awarding a contract, taking a kickback for providing a permit, or inaction by law enforcement for payment are examples of types of public corruption. A violation of federal law, public corruption includes bribes, embezzlement, racketeering, kickbacks, and money laundering as well as wire, mail, bank, and tax fraud--all which occur at the public's expense.
It is the FBI's top criminal investigative priority because public corruption poses a fundamental threat to our national security and way of life, according to the agency's website. It can affect everything from how well borders are secured and neighborhoods are protected to how verdicts are handed down in courts to how public infrastructure such as roads and schools are built. They said it takes a significant toll on the public's pocketbooks by siphoning off tax dollars--it is estimated that public corruption costs the U.S. government and the public billions of dollars each year.
Stanton and Vance held a press conference to announce the initiative. They said while the vast majority of government officials are honest in their work and committed to serving their fellow citizens, unfortunately, a small percentage of public officials abuse their office and the position which they were sworn to uphold.
"The public's help can make all the difference, and this initiative gives the public the necessary tools to provide that help,'' Stanton said. "I want the citizens of north Alabama to know that if they have information about potential wrongdoing by a public official or law enforcement officer, the FBI wants to hear from you."
Vance said public corruption is a breach of the public's trust by government officials who use their office for personal enrichment. "Because these crimes are the result of secret deals sealed with quick handshakes and money paid on the side, the public's help is indispensable in holding accountable corrupt officials and contractors who misuse the taxpayers' money,'' she said. "Greed and self-interest have no place in public service, and violations of the law will be thoroughly investigated and prosecuted."
The toll-free public corruption hotline is 844-404-TIPS (8477). Tips can also be emailed to PCTips@ic.fbi.gov.