Criminal Justice Degrees Guide

10 Most Corrupt State Governments

It seems that political corruption is influenced by several intrinsic factors that are almost impossible to change. Some states have struggled with the same issues of embezzlement, extortion and bribery for centuries, and have done little to change for the better, which explains why, as Americans, we’re perpetually cynical about our elected officials, despite purporting ourselves to be a moral beacon for the world. Charles Caleb Colton said it best: "Corruption is like a ball of snow; once it’s set a rolling, it must increase." The following state governments are proof of that, as their politicians have routinely made headlines for their wrongdoings. Hopefully, some day, each will undergo a sort of moral cleansing and make changes for the better.

  1. New York: The last few years have been rough for New York governors. First, Eliot Spitzer resigned in 2008 after it was revealed that he had made several liaisons with a call girl. The investigation of possible bribes led to the ordeal. His successor, David Paterson, was accused of witness tampering in a domestic abuse case involving a staffer and lying under oath about charges he obtained free tickets from the Yankees for the World Series — he was ultimately fined $62,125 for the latter. Of course, New York City was infamous for its corruption during the 19th century, when Boss Tweed, leader of the Tammany Hall political machine, stole between $25 million and $45 million from the city.
  2. Tennessee: Under the radar of the nation’s dirtiest states flies Tennessee, which experienced an enormous scandal in 2005 known as Operation Tennessee Waltz. Seven lawmakers were arrested on bribery charges, all of whom were already suspected of corruption. Led by State Senator John Ford, who took a $55,000 bribe, they agreed to push legislation to help a phony company named E-Cycle comprised of federal agents. Sadly, the legislation almost passed. On the plus side, however, Ford is now serving a 66-month federal prison sentence and faces additional corruption charges in Nashville for accepting $800,000 in bribes from medical contractors.
  3. Illinois: Former governor Rod Blagojevich infamously tried to sell President Obama’s vacated senate seat, and has managed to further embarrass Illinoisans by relishing the resulting limelight, notably appearing in season nine of Celebrity Apprentice. He was impeached and removed from office in January of 2009, the same month Obama was sworn into office, and has been the subject of more than a dozen federal investigations since 2005. Blago is the sixth Illinois governor to have been arrested or indicted in the state’s history. George Ryan, his predecessor, is currently serving a six-year prison sentence for his role in a scandal involving the illegal sale of truck operators’ licenses for political contributions. He was one of 79 state officials, lobbyists and other participants who were charged for their participation.
  4. Mississippi: Southern states such as Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama have long had established good ol’ boy networks supporting cronyism and general elitism. Mississippi’s most recent high-profile corruption case, however, involved someone who detested the old way of doing things in the South. As a prosecutor, Bobby DeLaughter secured the conviction of Byron De La Beckwith, the man who murdered civil rights leader Medgar Evers in 1963 — the Rob Reiner film Ghosts of Mississippi famously depicted the trial. As a state judge, he ruined his career after lying to a federal agent who was investigating a gift of $1 million his friend received that came from a corrupt attorney who intended to influence a case. Currently, DeLaughter is serving an 18-month prison sentence.
  5. Florida: The prevalence of Florida’s corruption is evident in the numbers. From 1998 to 2007, it led the nation in the number of federally convicted public officials with more than 800. Things haven’t improved much in the ensuing years — for example, last December, the state Republican Party was subpoenaed for its financial records in a corruption inquiry by the FBI, IRS and U.S. Attorney’s Office. Apparently, party big wigs went on a spending spree using party-paid American Express cards. Not long before that, there were criminal inquiries into the state’s former House speaker, a chairman and a fundraiser. The ball is still rolling in the Sunshine State.
  6. Virginia: Virginia tax payers can’t be pleased with the handling of their hard-earned money. In January, former Del. Phillip A. Hamilton, one time a member of the state’s House Appropriations Committee, was indicted by a grand jury on bribery and extortion charges. Responsible for overseeing a bill that sought $500,000 to construct a new teaching center at Old Dominion University, he successfully obtained a $400,000 per year job from the school, an apparent abuse of power. Also recently, former Secretary of Finance John W. Forbes II was given a 10-year prison sentence for stealing $4 million from a fund purposed to support literacy.
  7. New Jersey: When New Jersey does corruption, it does it big. See Operation Big Rig, an ongoing investigation that has been undertaken in three phases since 2002, netting a total of indictments of more than 60 public officials and people connected to them. The third phase, which involved real estate developer Solomon Dwek and an extensive money laundering network, resulted in the arrest of 44 people in 2009, including 28 political officials for corruption. The operation has caused the demise of several high profile political figures.
  8. Ohio: Amid the state’s economic struggles, Ohio hasn’t had much else to hang its hat on — aside from the Buckeyes, anyway. Its former governor Robert Taft was convicted in 2005 of ethics violations for his involvement in Coingate, an investment scandal centered on Republican Party fundraiser and coin dealer Tom Noe, who stole $13 million from a fund for the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. In 2002, former congressman James Traficant was found guilty of bribery, racketeering, filing false tax returns and forcing aids to do work on his farm. He served seven years in prison, during which David Duke kindly offered his support. After he was released, he ran for his old seat in the 2010 election — not exactly the national representation Ohio needed.
  9. South Carolina: Then-Governor Mark Sanford’s 2009 disappearance and the resulting revelation that he was having an extramarital affair with an Argentine journalist made for juicy headlines. The fallout included his resignation as Chairman of the Republican Governors Association and a censure due to his misuse of travel funds. Once discussed as a presidential candidate, his stock took a significant hit because of the scandal, though it may not slow him down in 2012. This year, Willie E. Randall, Jr., former Union County Tax Assessor, certainly outdid Sanford in the dirtiness department, pleading guilty to a number of charges including extortion and accepting bribes. What’s more, he pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute cocaine and methamphetamine.
  10. Alabama: Alabama’s state legislature took a bit of a PR hit in late 2010, when four state legislators, three lobbyists and four others were charged in a scandal that involved bribery, extortion, money laundering, obstruction of justice, making a false statement and mail and wire fraud. The legislators, of course, took and even demanded bribes. Earlier in 2010, former Birmingham mayor Larry Langford was sentenced to 15 years in prison for soliciting and receiving $236,000 in cash, jewelry and clothes from businessman and former Alabama Democratic Party chairman Bill Blount.