Corrupt public officials are not simply the realm of historical researchers or big-city newspapers in other parts of the country, as West Virginians and Ohioans have learned this year.
Although we may wish to believe the likes of former Rep. James Traficant, D-Ohio, are a thing of the past; or the likes of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich are a product of notorious hubs of corruption like Chicago, the sad truth is such criminal activity continues closer to home.
Traficant and Blago-jevich were convicted on corruption charges that included taking bribes. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's special agent in charge of investigating public corruption in Columbus, there is as much need as ever for vigilance against corruption of all kinds. Special Agent Jeffrey Williams told Ohio legislators, lobbyists and lawyers that, for example, two former representatives, W. Carlton Weddington, D-Columbus, and Clayton Luckie, D-Dayton, are now in jail for selling their offices.
At one point, Wedding-ton told a payday-lending lobbyist that if the lobbyist was unable to come up with some "serious cheese," then Weddington at least wanted a suite to an upcoming Cleveland Cavaliers game.
Luckie, meanwhile, improperly spent about $130,000 in campaign funding and falsified documents to cover it up.
In Mingo County, W.Va., the murder of Sheriff Eugene Crum came as the FBI was investigating him for mail fraud and money laundering amid allegations of links to a drug dealer and a doctor who was convicted of conspiring to misuse a Drug Enforcement task force registration number.
Caught up in the mess were former circuit court Judge Michael Thorns-bury, who pleaded guilty to conspiring to deprive the alleged drug dealer of his constitutional rights; former Mingo County Commis-sioner Dave Baisden, who ended up pleading guilty to an unrelated attempted extortion charge; and former Prosecutor Michael Sparks, against whom prosecutors have filed an information accusing him of depriving the alleged drug dealer of his constitutional rights.
Public officials who abuse the trust of their constituents to such criminal degrees display an outrageous level of arrogance and ego. Perhaps some of the kinds of people who seek public office believe they are untouchable.
Constant vigilance is, therefore, essential. Federal public corruption units must remain open and available to listen when members of the public or other officials have concerns.
And those tempted to disregard their responsibilities to the public must know they are always being watched.