It was sad to read about the personal misfortunes that led a former Gwinnett County Commissioner to take bribes, to sell her office in return for cold, hard cash. Her son, also implicated, made recorded statements to an undercover FBI agent that indicated he had a lot of experience and no qualms in betraying the public trust if it personally benefited him. What we don’t know, at least not yet, is if he learned from his mother, if the apple didn’t fall far from the tree, or if he developed the criminal skills on his own. What we do know is that what they did is among the most egregious of crimes. Any instances of bribery undermine the public trust at all levels of government. The consequences of citizens not believing that they will be treated fairly by the police, prosecutors, judges, representatives, and others acting on their behalf, can be catastrophic for a civilized society. Just imagine that you have a contract dispute that you take to court in the good faith belief that you will get a fair hearing, only to find out that the judge was paid to swing the outcome. Or a prosecutor paid to affect whether a case will be indicted or the charges that will brought to bear. And on and on.
In this instance Gwinnett Commissioner Shirley Lassiter took a bribe for her vote to affect a real estate development. Another former Gwinnett County commissioner is under local indictment for taking bribes to influence the county’s purchase price of land from a developer seeking to maximize his price. Their crimes may have impacted much more than the parties to the illegal transactions, and that is where it becomes much more serious. Artificially inflated land values cause other properties to also go up contributing toward the making of a bubble. A development that should not be approved for legitimate reasons ends up as abandoned property. Homeowners who believed the false representations of their developer are left holding the bag of amenities not built, the development not completed, and much more.
Anarchy to greater and lesser degrees is what happens when people no longer believe they have honest government. Cheating on taxes, bribery and extortion by government officials to get any kind of service becomes the norm, and it becomes the equivalent of a nuclear arms race as to who becomes the highest bidder to get the myriad of government services we rely on, services that allow us to sleep peacefully at night. If anyone doubts the effects of corruption, I suggest visiting some of the poorer countries of the world, some of the former Soviet bloc countries (although they have made a lot of progress).
In addition to the raw, naked corruption of Shirley Lassiter, there is the legal version of it. Thankfully, the Tea Party has taken on this issue and is demanding that our elected representatives no longer be allowed to receive unlimited lobbyist largess. To suggest, as House Speaker David Ralston has, that honest politicians aren’t influenced by money and gifts from interested parties, defies human nature and is an insult to Georgia citizens. Angela Speir used to be an elected representative on the Georgia Public Service Commission. She had a policy of taking no meals or gifts from lobbyists. Lobbyists were free to have lunch with her in her office, each bringing their own baloney sandwiches. Reportedly, not many chose to discuss issues with Speir. I wonder why. Could it be that she couldn’t be influenced by anything but facts, logic, reason and evidence?
I am grateful to the FBI and United States Attorney Sally Yates for making corruption busting a top priority. Well done. And may you have much more success in ferreting out this form of evil. The public stands with you.