Corruption among local public officials

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The Scranton Times-Tribune has an interesting story today about an FBI sting that nabbed local public official Robert Sweet accepting kickbacks on tape.

When confronted in March, Mr. Sweet, 63, admitted to accepting between $10,000 and $30,000 in kickbacks from several businesses and individuals over a period of about five years. In July, he pleaded guilty in federal court and is awaiting sentencing.

Deron Roberts, Scranton’s FBI supervisory senior resident agent, says Mr. Sweet is the first public official corruption case they’ve had locally in two years

But while Mr. Sweet’s arrest and subsequent resignation came as a surprise to many in Taylor, whispers and allegations of corruption are nothing new to Northeastern Pennsylvania – from township police to top-ranking officials.

In the 1940s, The Scranton Times won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing corrupt federal judges. Those stories led to the removal of a U.S. District judge and indictments against several court officials.

Now, The Times-Tribune is following reports that the FBI is looking into allegations of fraudulent billing involving Executive Claims Administration Inc., hired by the county under a no-bid contract to administer its workers’ compensation program. One of Endless Mountain Investigation’s owners, Charles A. Costanzo, is a close friend of County Commissioner Robert C. Cordaro.

[Continued reading Corruption Crackdown]

The article discusses public corruption, lists some specific types of corruption and features University of Scranton Professor William Parente discussing how easy it can be for politicians to slide gradually into corrupt behavior.

It’s easy to be cynical about political figures and government employees. In more than 20 years following local, state and national government, I have seen incidents of corruption too numerous to mention — from rampant bribery in Louisiana (one visiting businessman I flew in with said he wished they had a central location where he could just drop all the bribes rather than having to negotiate individually with each corrupt official) to widespread cronyism in Pennsylvania (where, as one example among many, I once covered school board officials as they created a new, unbudgeted job and immediately filled it with a political buddy rather than advertise it to the public).

Cynicism, while a natural byproduct of constantly witnessing such corruption, is poison to good journalism. Skepticism is what’s called for. Yes, quite a few politicians and government higher ups do routinely engage in unethical and illegal behavior. But there are also many who are genuinely there to serve the public. There are still school districts that hire teachers based on what they know rather than who they know. There are mayors who actually work to better their communities rather than themselves and their friends or relatives.

Cover politics and government skeptically. Look for corruption and expose it when you can. But always remind yourself that there are plenty of good people serving the public as well.

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This blog is maintained by Dr. Matthew M. Reavy as a service to journalism students at the University of Scranton.

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