TALLAHASSEE, FL - In an unprecedented move, prompted by a federal investigation and subsequent prosecution of several corrupt public officials, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has asked the Florida Supreme Court to impanel a statewide grand jury to investigate political corruption. Crist cited an apparent "culture of corruption" in Florida.
Crist indicated that he decided on this action based on "an unsettling string of crime, and unconscionable violations of the public trust by public officials"
The grand jury of 18 citizens will be meeting in secret for one year during which time it has wide latitude and authority to indict public officials and make recommendations for changes in state law.
Today, we take a stand to root out public corruptionFlorida Governor Charlie Crist
Closer to Crist's home, Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom, R-Destin, stepped down from his post amid a scandal involving a Republican fundraiser.
This month, Broward County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion and school board member Beverly Gallagher were arrested, as was fundraiser and Hollywood eye doctor Alan Mendelsohn, who served on Crist's gubernatorial transition team.
These cases, however, were investigated and prosecuted by Federal prosecutors and not the state attorney. There were complaints that the governor was laggard in initiating this much needed grand jury inquiry. State Attorneys in Florida are elected officials and often criticized for ignoring corruption cases where their campaign financiers, friends or associates are affected.
Federal authorities have more far-reaching tools to combat corruption, including the federal "honest services" law that requires public officials to act in their constituents' best interest.
Crist's office has not yet indicated whether the grand jury will also look into the various criminal complaints filed but that have not yet been acted upon against Daytona Beach public officials.
Among these complaints is the city purchase of the personal residence of Daytona Beach Commissioner, Rick Shiver for over twice its just value. The home was suddenly demolished under orders by the City Commission and without public scrutiny. This inexplicable move by the Commission and City Management was taken amid multiple citizens complaints for lack of transparency and apparent abuse of powers to provide financial benefit to one of their own at the expense of taxpayers.
Other complaints include the unbudgeted funding of personal hobbies and indulgences of local multimillionaires which also happen to be key political supporters and friends of the same elected officials making the gifts. Other uninvestigated actions uncovered by residents include the purchase of grossly overvalued property from campaign contributors and friends (such as City of Daytona Beach buys small 20-foot strip of land from campaign financer for $320,955 ).
In all, several hundred million dollars have been dissipated from Daytona Beach mostly into the hands of a handful of local multimillionaire special interests that exert control over the City Commission during this last wave of local government corruption. The formerly bustling beach town has fallen into a state of anarchy, poverty, crime and overall despair.
The Orlando Sentinel reported that Florida leaders have known for years that state public-corruption laws lack teeth. In 1999, then-Gov. Jeb Bush created a task force that recommended a broader definition of public corruption and a stiffer, 15-year maximum sentence for bribery. Even with Bush pushing the idea, a watered-down version didn't pass until 2003.