Detroit Vs Public Corruption

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Public corruption has plagued the city of Detroit slowing the cities revival and betraying the trust of its people. For the government to be trusted we must have consistent and thorough investigations of the city’s public officials. Public corruption is defined by the Federal Bureau of Investigations as, “the FBI’s top criminal investigative priority, poses a fundamental threat to our national security and way of life. It can affect everything from how well our borders are secured and our neighborhoods protected as to how verdicts are handed down in courts to how public infrastructure such as roads and schools are built. It also 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. The FBI is uniquely situated to combat corruption, with the skills and capabilities to run complex undercover operations and surveillance” (FBI, 2019). “...policy analysis represents an attempt to dissect problems and solu­tions in what is usually described as a rational manner. By this, practitioners mean that they bring information and systematic analysis to bear on policy issues and try to show how a given set of goals and objectives might be achieved most efficiently” (Kraft & Furlong, pg. 28). The policy being analyzed includes the Kwame Kilpatrick Indictment as well as the Detroit Area Public Corruption Task Force as solutions to the problem of public corruption in the city of Detroit.

Though public corruption is a nationwide issue, nowhere else have we seen more public corruption than In Detroit and its surrounding areas. Steve Neavling of the Metro Times reports that “Fifteen cops. Five suburban trustees. A former state senator. Millionaire moguls. They're among more than 40 public and private officials charged as part of a long-running and expanding federal investigation into public corruption in metro Detroit” (Neavling, 2019). These officials have been charged with crimes such as extortion, bribery, money laundering, conspiracy to distribute drugs. Neavling claims that these 40 officials could just be the beginning. The corruption in Detroit goes not partisan either. Tom Perkins of the Metro Times explains, “The level of corruption in Michigan is staggering. It's Democrats, Republicans, it's the entire political establishment, which is mostly a cesspool of morally bankrupt dirtbags working on behalf of corporations and the wealthy instead of the middle and lower class” (Perkins, 2019).

Why would our public officials commit such a high level of fraud and risk their entire career on it? Victor Hartman and Sridhar Ramamoorti claim that corruption is a human act and can be understood intuitively. They explain how corruption starts small with acts that rid of ethical behavior that leads to more major ethical erosion in a type of domino effect. “They are unaware of what is taking place, or may have a misplaced confidence in their internal, psychological defenses. In reality, before they realize what is occurring, it’s too late, the trap has been sprung, and the unsuspecting victim has walked right into it” (Hartman & Ramamoorti, 2016). These corrupt public officials are abusing their trust of the public for personal gain despite how harmful it can be to the people they have been elected to serve. Luminita Ionescu of Spiru Haret University explains what public officials can gain from going corrupt: “Corrupt public servants may choose to distribute more money to particular budget categories as expenses in these categories enable them to obtain more rents via corrupt practices”. What Ionescu is describing is extortion, something Detroit has seen many times. “The publicly hired agent's choice to obtain money from corrupt contrasted with legal undertakings is contingent at the margin on contrasting the effects of honest conduct with the magnitude of the rents from illegal undertakings”. Ionescu is stating that corruption is taking money from the government for their own personal gain, something that can be very harmful in a city like Detroit (Ionescu, 2016).

Using government money for other purposes is unfavorable to the taxpayers these public officials are serving. Steve Neavling interviews Jeffrey Downey, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI's Detroit office. Downey tells the Metro Times, “Public corruption erodes the trust that our citizens have in our governments, so it's important that we investigate all of these allegations” (Neavling, 2019). “Corruption tends to pull away the composition of public expenditure from the necessary fixed assets for health and education, as there is less chance of getting commissions than from other, perhaps unnecessary projects”. Here Štefan Šumah explains another harmful effect caused by corruption. “Because of corruption, less taxes are levied than would otherwise be, as some of the taxes end up in the pockets of corrupt tax officials”. Public officials are evading taxes to keep more money in their pockets (Šumah, 2018). Jill Washburn of the FBI interviews U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade who states, “Public corruption robs citizens of the honest government we deserve. Bringing together resources from various agencies helps us to attack this problem wherever it occurs”. Washburn also interviews Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette who states, “Public corruption destroys trust in government. Taxpayers work hard for their money and have zero tolerance for those in a position of trust who abuse their authority” (Washburn, 2012). Unfortunately, Detroit has been hit hard by public corruption in its many forms however the future is looking bright for catching and prosecuting these criminals.

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What is quite possibly the largest case of public corruption in Detroit’s history is the indictment of the former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick promised to revitalize the city and instead, he used his power to steal from the people he was supposed to serve. Kilpatrick was the Mayor of Detroit from 2002 until 2008 after he was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice. After some jail time and probation that was eventually violated, in March of 2013, Kilpatrick was convicted on 24 federal felony counts that included 10 counts of mail fraud, 3 counts of wire fraud, 5 counts of filing a false tax return, and one count of tax evasion. Seven months later, Kilpatrick was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison (Baldas, 2013). Kilpatrick was able to pay for his personal expenses and fund his mayoral campaigns by taking funds from the Kilpatrick Civic Fund. The Civic Fund was a tax-exempt social welfare organization that was registered with the IRS. U.S Attorney Barbara L. McQuade of the Department of Justice states that, “Kilpatrick used Civic Fund monies to pay himself cash kickbacks, which he took from the paychecks of an individual employed by the Civic Fund, to provide money to friends and relatives, and to pay for items such as counter-surveillance and anti-bugging equipment, yoga and golf lessons, golf clubs, summer camp for his children, personal travel, moving expenses, car rentals and leases of cars and a personal residence”. The indictment also alleges that Kilpatrick paid for campaign expenses using the Civic Fund. “The tax charges in the indictment allege that, while Mayor of Detroit, Kilpatrick received unreported taxable income of at least $640,000 between 2003 and 2008, including cash, private jet flights, and personal expenses paid for by the Civic Fund. The indictment alleges that Kilpatrick filed false tax returns, failing to declare this income in tax years 2003 through 2007, and that he evaded taxes in tax year 2008”. The charges against Kilpatrick have truly afflicted the City of Detroit (McQuade, 2010).

The investigation on Kilpatrick was conducted by the FBI and the IRS and the case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney R. Michael Bullotta and Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark D. Chutkow (Schneider, 2010). The FBI first opened the case in 2004, two years after he took office. Kilpatrick left a trail of evidence that he was corrupt that the FBI uncovered via wiretaps, undercover operators, text messages, and bank statements. The FBI reported that, “Kilpatrick’s bank records revealed more than $840,000 in unexplained expenditures above and beyond his salary as mayor—and none of that money was disclosed on his tax returns”. Kilpatrick truly thought he was above the law and that he would be able to get away with whatever he wanted. “During his six years as mayor of Detroit, Kwame Kilpatrick pervasively and systematically corrupted city government...The citizens had the right to expect honesty, integrity, and responsibility when they elected Kilpatrick. What they got instead was widespread graft, extortion, and theft” (FBI, 2013). CBS News Detroit states, “scandals destroyed his political career and helped steer a crisis-laden city even deeper into trouble” (CBS News Detroit, 2013).

The methods used by the FBI and IRS in Kilpatrick's investigation were proven to be successful and have locked up a public corruption criminal for 28 years. The success of this investigation has led to the creation of the Detroit Area Public Corruption Task Force. Steve Neavling states, “Bombarded with allegations of corruption in 2012, the FBI assembled the Detroit Area Public Corruption Task Force, a team composed of local, state and federal law enforcement” (Neavling, 2019). This task force is made up of local, state, and federal law officials with a goal to rid Detroit of any other public corruption harming the cities revival (Perkins, 2019). “The Detroit Public Corruption Task Force will help ensure that those who violate this trust will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law”, DOT-OIG Special Agent in Charge Michelle T. McVicker states. Washburn states: “Public corruption is currently the highest criminal priority within the FBI Detroit Division. The dedication, hard work, and collaboration of all those involved have already resulted in countless violations exposed. The focus of the task force will continue to be on corruption at all levels of local, state, and federal government” (Washburn, 2019).

The Detroit Area Public Corruption Task Force has proven to be very effective with several corrupt public officials being sentenced for their crimes. The task force has convicted a former Detroit police officer by a federal jury on the charge of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances (Department of Justice, 2019). They had six Detroit police officers charged with extortion (Department of Justice, 2017). They sentenced a former Detroit deputy chief of police to 12 months in prison for bribery (Department of Justice, 2018). They convicted a former Detroit Public Schools principal on bribery charges (Department of Justice, 2016). They sentenced a former City of Detroit employee to prison for embezzling $265,000 from the city (Department of Justice, 2018). They indicted a Detroit police officer for taking $15,000 in cash bribes from a drug trafficker. These are just a few examples of the work the Detroit Area Public Corruption Task Force has done towards convicting corrupt officials. “The dedication, hard work, and collaboration of all those involved has already resulted in countless violations exposed”, says Washburn. (Washburn, 2012). U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider explains that “Our statistics show we lead the nation in corruption cases, by far...Every state has about one corruption case each year...while larger districts like New York City, Los Angeles, and Miami, usually see around four. In Michigan, there were about 18 per year for the last five years” (Perkins, 2019).

“Only fifteen years after World War II, Detroit’s landscape was dominated by rotting hulks of factory buildings, closed and abandoned, surrounded by blocks of boarded up stores and restaurants” (Surgue, pg. 147). Detroit has truly struggled in the last couple of decades and public corruption has not been a positive addition to its revival. We need people to believe in our city, and if Detroit’s citizens can’t gain the city’s trust, then how will we get investors in this city to make positive change. Tresa Baldas of the Detroit Free Press argues that “Kilpatrick is not the main culprit of the city's historic bankruptcy, which is the result of larger social and economic forces at work for decades”, federal prosecutors said in court documents. “But his corrupt administration exacerbated the crisis”. The Detroit Area Public Corruption Task Force is working towards this issue that goes beyond large officials like Kilpatrick. If the mayor of Detroit can be indicted, so can anyone else no matter how small or large the crime.

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