When it comes to looting, organized crime has nothing on a far-from-trivial share of unelected “public servants” at the state and local levels. Theft, bribery, manipulation of compensation packages—it’s clear that many bureaucrats prioritize their greed over low-cost, high-quality services for taxpayers.
And in 2019, the bust-out schemes continued.
With a constant deluge of dollars pouring in from taxes, fees, fines and “intergovernmental revenue,” opportunities for embezzlement abound. This year’s lowlights included:
- An investigation by the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office prompted the indictment of a teacher who filched payments made to a vocational meat-processing program, and “sold a steer from the school farm at a livestock auction and kept the $636 he received from the transaction.”
- The treasurer of Harlan County, Nebraska, was sentenced “to 90 days in jail and four years’ probation for felony theft after a state auditor’s report showed $108,000 missing.”
- A court of appeals in Texas signed off the 2018 conviction of “a former juvenile detention center employee” who purloined “more than $1 million worth of fajitas over nine years,” as well as “brisket, pork chops, sausage and chicken that (he) also admitted … to stealing and selling to people and restaurants.”
- A Montgomery County, Maryland, official, who stole more than $7 million “between 2010 and 2016 when he was second-in-command at the economic development department,” received a 15-year sentence.
Since state and local governments subsidize and/or regulate darn near everything, bribery and kickbacks were big in 2019, too:
- Michigan’s attorney general prosecuted an eldercare bureaucrat for steering contracts to home-assistance businesses that rewarded her with “nearly $200,000.” (In New Jersey, a similar case involved an employee who arranged services for the disabled.)
- An official with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation “pled guilty to conflict of interest-restricted activities, a felony, for soliciting and accepting bribes from at least one contractor in exchange for continued contracts with the … agency. He was sentenced to nine to 23 months home incarceration, a $10,000 fine and 50 hours of community service.”
- A Delaware State University registrar who “holds two master’s degrees and is working on her doctorate in educational leadership” submitted a guilty plea for taking “bribes to give students a break on their tuition.”
Of course, what’s legal in “public” employment is often costlier than criminality:
- In Hartford, an audit documented “77 employee dependents that were not eligible to use (the city’s) medical benefits package”—yielding a savings of “$492,000 in health care costs by removing dozens of ineligible ex-spouses and children from the health plan.”
- Use-it-or-lose-it is the norm in the private sector, but an investigation by the Los Angeles Times uncovered “more than 450 state workers who took home six-figure checks when they left their jobs” in 2018. An engineer got “$405,000 for time off he never used,” and a “a prison surgeon … pocketed $456,002.”
- A survey of pensions by The Philadelphia Inquirer revealed that 18 municipal employees did “something that seems illogical: By retiring, they guaranteed themselves a bigger paycheck each month than the base salary they earned going to work day after day.” The newspaper found that “two-thirds of the 401 full-time municipal workers who started collecting a pension in 2017 had their retirement checks significantly boosted by overtime—on average 22 percent of their pensions are a direct result of overtime they logged in their final years. Together, it could add at least $17 million to the city’s pension obligations in the ensuing decades.”
- Responding to a request from The Boston Globe, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority disclosed that almost a third of its “employees who retired (in 2018) were under the age of 55, and dozens were still in their 40s, adding to the flow of younger retirees state lawmakers had hoped to stem years ago.”
- The New York Post exposed the inconvenient truth that while the Big Apple’s weather-obsessed mayor boasts “that his administration is leading the charge to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by slashing the city’s official car fleet,” the “number of city workers who get round-the-clock free use of government cars has jumped by more than a third since he took over.”
Meaningless anecdotes? Ignorable aberrations? Sadly, no. These kinds of abuses are quite common. And despite the noble efforts of auditors, inspectors general, reporters and scrupulous elected officials, more’s to come in 2020.
Got Big Government? You’ll get Big Corruption.