March 29, 2009


Louisiana sees shift in cleaning out corruption: The state ranks third in corruption convictions per capita, but since Hurricane Katrina, people don't want to tolerate it anymore, officials say. 'It's no longer a spectator sport.' (Howard Witt, March 29, 2009, LA Times)

Ranked according to corruption convictions per capita from 1998 to 2007, Louisiana is No. 3. (Only Washington, D.C., and North Dakota ranked higher -- and those results were skewed because of their small populations.)

The jobbery here is so much like elevator music -- ubiquitous and inevitable -- that the state Legislature declined to pass a law in the last session that would have cut off state pensions for public officials convicted of corruption. Why, the legislators reasoned, should they have to pay twice if they get caught stealing from the public purse?

In the last six years, the U.S. attorney for the New Orleans district has issued 236 corruption indictments, and many more may be on the way.

Prominent scandals under investigation by the FBI include a federally financed New Orleans housing agency set up to rehabilitate houses damaged by Hurricane Katrina that allegedly spent millions but did little or no work, and a City Hall contract to install a network of crime-surveillance cameras that the New Orleans inspector general says resulted in $4 million in mysterious overpayments for a system that mostly doesn't function.

"I am absolutely certain we have increased the paranoia level on the part of those who would abuse the public trust," said U.S. Atty. Jim Letten, who cemented his reputation as a corruption fighter as the prosecutor who sent former Louisiana Gov. Edwin W. Edwards to prison. "If you're a corrupt public official, we want you to be nervous. You will never know if the businessman or woman you are trying to shake down is wearing a wire."

Law enforcement officials believe that the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when 80% of New Orleans flooded after the city's crumbling levees failed, was a turning point. Residents and businesspeople returned to New Orleans determined to cleanse their hobbled city of the mildew of decades of public corruption.

Suddenly victims started picking up their phones to report attempted shakedowns or sliding incriminating documents over to law enforcement, officials say.

And in 2007, Louisiana voters elected Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal on a reformist anti-corruption platform -- and Jindal promptly pushed through a package of legislative reforms including expanded whistle-blower protections, new limits on lobbyist gifts to lawmakers and prohibitions against state officials taking state contracts.

"The average person out there understands now that public corruption has adversely affected his or her quality of life, whether it's the crumbling streets they drive on, the dismal state of the public school system, the crime rate or the lack of jobs," Letten said.

"The tolerance of corruption was partly a belief that it was a way of life, that it was so entrenched and endemic that it was untouchable and unreachable," Letten added. "Now the average citizen believes that something can be done about it."

You can hear the Left choking on the horrifying idea that W--and his Justice Department--did more for Louisiana than any other president.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 29, 2009 9:25 PM
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