21 Feb

Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute defines corruption as “a dishonest, fraudulent, or even criminal act of an individual or organization, using entrusted authority or power to make a personal gain or other unethical or illegal benefits.” The rhetorical question one is left to ask is why should Kentuckians care about corruption? The simple answer is that when corruption is allowed to exist, honest government rots from the inside out and Kentuckians lose the faith they once had that public officials have their best interests at heart.

Many of us were of the belief that when elected Russell Coleman would make public corruption the number one priority for his administration. In fact, it is clear that the Kentucky Legislature considered public corruption so important that the Department of Law “shall include the following major organizational units” … and the first major organizational unit listed under the Department of Criminal Investigations is the ‘Public Corruption Division.’

During a recent interview with Tessa Duval, a reporter with the Lexington Herald Leader, “[Attorney General] Coleman spoke extensively about his plans to tackle Kentucky’s drug crisis, violent crime and child exploitation.” While AG Coleman’s comments regarding Kentucky’s drug crisis, violent crime and child exploitation are laudable, each of those investigative priorities are already being investigated and prosecuted extensively by local, state, and federal law enforcement. More importantly, a review of the major organizational units listed for the Department of Law, there is only one major organizational unit which touches on AG Coleman’s investigative priorities, the Office of Trafficking and Abuse Prevention and Prosecution which is tasked with “prosecution assistance to law enforcement, policy development, and constituent services for any questions related to child sexual abuse or human trafficking prevention and prosecution.”

So, let us return to the issue of the investigation and prosecution of public corruption. For those of us who were engaged in prosecuting public corruption in 1995, we can still remember when then Attorney General Ben Chandler announced a new investigative unit which would focus on public corruption in Kentucky. AG Chandler made it a priority of his office to investigate public corruption regardless of the political affiliation of those who chose to engage in conduct which breached the public trust. And when he established the public corruption unit, he chose recently retired Supervisory Special Agent James E. Huggins, a retired Federal Bureau of Investigation agent with a reputation for taking on the most difficult cases of his time. For the first time in Kentucky, a loud message was sent to corrupt officials that they would no longer have a place to hide.

Although it is early in AG Coleman’s tenure, one can only hope that he will refocus his priorities from drug investigations and violent crimes and provide honest citizens with the hope that corrupt public officials will begin to live in fear that public corruption will not be tolerated. A straightforward way for AG Coleman to send this message is to work with federal law enforcement, the Kentucky State Police, and the United States Attorney’s offices in Kentucky to establish a statewide task force staffed with those who have experience investigating and prosecuting public corruption crimes.

Of course, it is always easy to investigate and prosecute public corruption cases which are considered low hanging fruit. However, Kentuckians deserve more than just a few public corruption prosecutions cases which would fit the category.

Admittedly, it is never easy to investigate and prosecute public officials for corruption. With that said, it might be time for the Kentucky Legislature to consider legislation which would establish an independent office of Inspector General for Public Corruption, an inspector general appointed, not elected, an inspector general with years of experience actually investigating public corruption.

Oh, and by the way, if the Kentucky Legislature does consider an independent inspector general for public corruption, there is a rumor out there that James Huggins’s son, James Huggins, Jr. might just be available after retiring from the Federal Bureau of Investigation after a career of investigating some of the most important public corruption cases prosecuted in federal court in Kentucky.

In the end, every Kentuckian, regardless of political affiliation, regardless of political connections, deserves honest government, and more importantly, every Kentuckian deserves to know that all public officials will serve them honestly without regard to lining their own pockets with taxpayer money. In the end, one of the most famous quotes from Ronald Reagan, a quote which still resonates today would be when he said, “the nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.” Those nine words are even more terrifying when that person from the Government is also corrupt.

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