Political Corruption and Misconduct; they’re Only Human

As Americans, when we go to the ballot box to cast our vote for candidates that will represent us in elected office, we imagine our support is being given to individuals of a higher standard than that of the average Joe. Those that we hope are beyond reproach, of the highest principals, and incorruptible.

But as we've learned, through headlines past and present, this is not always the case.

In June 2011, former Governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich began serving a 14-year prison sentence for his conviction of political corruption charges. Federal agents arrested the Governor at his home on Dec. 9, 2008. The complaint filed by the Justice Department alleged that Blagojevich was involved in a conspiracy to commit arrangements, in his capacity to attain personal gain, political and monetary, through the unethical use of his power to fill the vacated seat in the Senate which was previously held by Barack Obama before his win of the 2008 presidential election.

FBI wiretaps regarding the Senate seat showed that Blagojevich had conversations implying his desire to get something out of the appointment. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald spoke out on the charges, characterizing Blagojevich's actions as attempting to auction the unfilled Senate seat to "the highest bidder" in what he termed a "pay to play" scenario. Most of the conversations gathered by the Agency through wire taps were between Blagojevich and his then chief of staff, John Harris. Harris was also arrested on the same day. Harris has since pleaded guilty to a single corruption charge and became a cooperating witness in the court proceedings against his boss.

From the witness stand, Harris said Blagojevich was looking for opportunities to "leverage the appointment of a senator to get something for himself."

Blagojevich was originally found guilty of one count of lying to federal agents when he said he "did not track campaign contributions", but in his second trial a jury crushingly convicted him on their tenth day of their deliberations. He was found guilty on 17 of the 20 counts brought against him. The ex-governor was convicted on all counts relating to the transaction that would fill the newly sworn in President's vacant Senate seat as well as being found guilty of allegations that he shook down an Illinois racetrack executive and the Chief Executive Officer of a hospital.

But not all verdicts to politicians deal such harsh penalties. It has been found over the years that more than a few politicians who are convicted of crimes achieve minimized sentences for the crimes they commit.

Recently, former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) was sentenced by a federal judge to a mere two-and-a-half years in prison for the misuse of approximately three quarters of a million dollars derived from his campaign funds. He must also serve a three year probationary sentence after he is released from incarceration. He pleaded guilty to using the funds to buy a multitude of personal items. In the State of Illinois, grand theft of over $500,000 is usually considered a Class X felony with a mandatory minimum sentence of 6-30 years in prison. Jackson's wife Sandra was also sentenced on a related charge of filing false tax returns and sentenced to one year in prison as well as being ordered to pay $22,000 in restitution. Coincidentally, Jackson was one of the persons considered as "in the running" for the seat mentioned in the Blagojevich case and subsequent conviction.

Also making the headlines lately was the guilty plea by San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, 71, who left his position in a sexual harassment scandal that caught the attention of the National media. One of the felonious counts against him was that he used "undue" force to hold a woman against her will. Other allegations of false imprisonment by violence, fraud, menace and deceit as well as two misdemeanor counts of battery were named in the charges against him. He was processed then released from the San Diego County jail by order of County Superior Court Judge Robert Trentacosta. He later pleaded guilty to the one felony false imprisonment charge and two counts of misdemeanor battery.   

The plea agreement assured that he won't spend any time behind bars, but will have to endure three months of home confinement. He was also ordered to never pursue running for public office again and undergo counseling. The agreement also demands the forfeiture of a substantial portion of his city pension.

Another well-known case of note was that of former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer. Spitzer resigned in 2008 after being charged in a sex scandal involving his frequenting of a well-known VIP brothel that supplied prostitutes. The FBI originally began an investigation when suspicions of Spitzer's wire transfers of large sums of money initially looked to be possible bribe or payoffs. Through their investigation, the FBI later discovered that the money was transferred to the prostitution service through an overseas account.

At the conclusion of the investigation, prosecutors considered filing charges associated to "structured withdrawals" or money laundering, in Spitzer's attempt to conceal illegal movement of monies but after what was called "a thorough investigation", they said that "no evidence of misuse of public or campaign funds" was uncovered, according to U.S. Attorney Michael J. Garcia. Garcia was furthermore quoted as saying "In addition [to their findings] we have determined that there is insufficient evidence to bring charges against Mr. Spitzer for any offense related to the withdrawal of funds for, and his payment to, the Emperors' Club VIP," which was named as the alleged brothel.

Earlier this year, Spitzer again ran for public office in a race to try to become the Democratic nominee for city comptroller. He lost that race to Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer by an almost five-percent margin.

To read more about political corruption, misconduct and convictions follow this Wikipedia link