Monday, June 28, 2004
Editorial: In Buchanan County, a case of public trust
Public corruption is something that distressed Buchanan County can ill afford.
From the RoundTable blog
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Now, it appears, they may share another misfortune as well: abuse of the public trust by top local officials. In Henry's case, there's no doubt. Former County Administrator Sid Clower served more than 15 months in state prison after his 2002 conviction for embezzling more than $800,000 from the county. In May, he was sentenced to 41 more months in federal custody on related charges of tax evasion and mail fraud.
In Buchanan's case, determinations of guilt or innocence have yet to be made. But things don't look good: On Thursday, federal prosecutors announced corruption indictments against 16 people and six companies, with more indictments possibly to come. Among the defendants are two current county supervisors, one former supervisor, the county engineer and the county emergency coordinator.
They are alleged to have participated in a bribery scheme to award and obtain contracts for federal- and state-funded cleanups after flooding devastated portions of the county in May 2002. Some $8 million was disbursed in the county, most of it to be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. Officials, prosecutors say, took $545,000 worth of bribes from local contractors eager to get in on the work.
In their alleged impact on a strapped local treasury, the Buchanan charges are less serious than Clower's crimes. But because of the greater number of people said to be involved, they could prove more serious in their undermining of public confidence in local government. And in the end, even in economically distressed places, theft of trust can be worse than theft of money.