Criminal Justice Degrees Guide

10 Politicians Who’ve Done Time

Despite the depressingly high rate with which most crooked politicians are able to skirt the big house, there are some public office-holders who find themselves behind bars after a series of ethically questionable dealings. Impropriety is happily bipartisan, though it’s also somewhat dull: almost all of these men all did time for taking money that wasn’t theirs. Still, it’s somewhat refreshing to know that, at least some of the time, guilty politicians are forced to pay for their crimes. Now if only they’d behave well all the time.

  1. Bob Ney: The Jack Abramoff scandal wound up affecting lobbyists, politicians, and staffers at all levels — Tom DeLay is still dealing with the fallout — but Congressman Bob Ney, R-Ohio, was the only one to quickly be sentenced to spend time behind bars. Ney was already infamous on Capitol Hill for being the brain to say that French fries be renamed "freedom fries" on the House of Representatives food menus, but he would go on to more notorious heights. He was pegged for receiving cash gifts for political favors, and he resigned in fall 2006 as the House Ethics Committee began to investigate him. He pleaded guilty to multiple charges, including conspiracy and fraud, and served 17 months of a 30-month sentence. Ney was remarkably forthcoming about his experience in the 2010 documentary Casino Jack and the United States of Money.
  2. Bill Janklow: The governor and attorney general of South Dakota before acting as one of the state’s representatives to Congress, Republican Bill Janklow only served that body for a year before tragedy struck. In August 2003, Janklow was involved in a car accident while drinking and speeding (investigators pegged his speed around 63 mph in a 55 zone). He struck and killed a motorcyclist. The trial revealed that he was a regular speeder, and had been stopped but not ticketed on multiple occasions because of his office. He was sentenced to 100 days in jail but released after 30 to perform community service for the duration. He resigned from Congress as a result.
  3. James Traficant: Congressman James Traficant, D-Ohio, did not play well with others. He was expelled from Congress following his conviction on a variety of money-related crimes, including racketeering, submitting phony tax returns, taking bribes, and, weirdly, making his aides perform basic chores on his Ohio farm and his Washington, D.C., houseboat. (That just seems mean, you know?) Even crazier, Traficant ran as an independent while incarcerated and got 15 percent of the vote, meaning people in Ohio must have frighteningly low standards for office-holders. He was in prison from 2002 to 2009.
  4. George Ryan: The Republican governor of Illinois from 1999 to 2003, Ryan started out as a crusader for human rights, enacting a moratorium on the death penalty in 2000. Before he left office, he commuted the sentences of state death row inmates to life terms, and he pardoned four more. Yet he had to leave office because of a string of scandalous investigations relating to bribes that greased the process by which unqualified truck drivers were acquiring licenses. He went to prison in 2007 and is set to be released in 2013.
  5. Dan Rostenkowski: A Democrat from Illinois, Dan Rostenkowski served in the House of Representatives from 1959 to1995, a stunning 36 years. He eventually chaired the Ways and Means Committee and was integral in President Reagan’s tax policies. However, he was hit in the 1990s by allegations of impropriety and involvement in the Congressional Post Office scandal, which dealt with politicans using the CPO to launder money (e.g., making cash bribes look like stamp purchases). He pleaded guilty in 1996 to mail fraud and spent 15 months in federal prison.
  6. Pat Swindall: Pat Swindall only served four years in the House; that was all it took for the Alabama Republican to do some dirt. He was convicted of perjury in a money-laundering case and served a year in prison, and years later he found himself in trouble again.
  7. Don Siegelman: Alabama Democrat Don Siegelman was a lifelong politician, serving as secretary of state, attorney general, lieutenant governor, and governor for the state during his career. His string of luck came to an end in the ’00s, though, as he was indicted on bribery and fraud charges for accepting campaign donations in exchange for favors. However, his conviction drew controvery because of potential connections to Bush-appointed prosecutors who had intentionally taken a tough stand on Democrats. He served time but was released to pursue his appeal.
  8. Fred Richmond: New York Democrat first faced criminal charges in 1978 for soliciting sex from a 16-year-old boy. That wasn’t the one that undid him, though; the charges were dropped when Richmond consented to counseling. In 1982, he pleaded guilty to marijuana possession and tax evasion, and he consequently resigned his office in the House of Representatives. He was sentenced to a year but served nine months in prison.
  9. Duke Cunningham: Duke Cunningham, R-California, was in the House of Representatives from 1991 to 2005. In his final year, it came to light that he’d underreported his 2004 income (which is something the federal government doesn’t, you know, let you do) and had taken more than $2 million in bribes. Yikes. He was hit with charges including conspiracy, fraud (wire and mail), and tax evasion. He pleaded guilty and resigned his office. In 2006, he was sentenced to eight years and change, and he should see free sunlight in 2013.
  10. Edwin Edwards: After serving in the House of Representatives, Republican Edwin Edwards went on to earn four terms as governor of Louisiana. He dealt with allegations of financial impropriety almost from the start, and was indicted in the mid-1980s on bribery charges that he managed to beat. His shady ways caught up with him in the late 1990s, though. A 1998 indictment led to conviction on counts of fraud, racketeering, money laundering, and extortion, among others. He entered prison in 2002 and was released on January 13, 2011, with the provision that he finish his sentence in a halfway house.