Outtakes – Watch Out
When the Florida Association of Counties teaches its courses on ethics for county commissioners, Escambia County is its poster child for corruption. The instructors walk the participants through how four commissioners were indicted by a grand jury in 2002 over charges that ranged from bribery to violations of that state’s Sunshine laws.
Despite this spot on our reputation, locals still have given a wink to such violations and backroom deals are done. When President Donald Trump appointed Larry Keefe to be the U.S. Attorney for the North Florida District, Inweekly was told Keefe planned to tackle public corruption.
Keefe didn’t take long to act once the Senate approved his appointment. In early August, he announced the formation of an anti-corruption unit after Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Maddox pled guilty to three fraud charges in a “pay-to-play” bribery probe.
“That very small group that serves for their own illegal benefit or profit, and those who illegally seek to influence them, will be the targets of our work in the Public Trust Unit,” Keefe told the media in Tallahassee. A nice soundbite, but did he mean it?
Two days later, Keefe traveled to Pensacola and held his first press conference with local media. While other reporters wanted to focus on a gun task force Mayor Grover Robinson had announced, I wanted to know more about the anti-corruption unit.
The U.S. attorney said the new unit’s mission was to identify, investigate, disrupt and prosecute government corruption. Keefe didn’t mince words. He said, “It’s my view that this office needs to do more with regard to the issue of public corruption.”
Keefe has announced two corruption cases this month. On Nov. 15, he announced the indictment of a “criminal network of 29 people who actively worked to defraud the federal government” that was allegedly led by the county executive director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency in Holmes County. Current and former federal, state and local officials were among those arrested.
On Nov. 20, two former ranking City of Lynn Haven officials, including the city manager,
were indicted by a federal grand jury for conspiring with three local business executives to
process some $5 million in fraudulent invoices for Hurricane Michael cleanup work that was not
In a viewpoint in the daily newspaper this weekend, U.S. Attorney Larry Keefe made it clear that one of his highest priorities is “to prevent, pursue, prosecute and punish public corruption.”
He wrote, “These are not mere words, but instead reflect a very real, intensive focus on rooting out those who violate the duty associated with holding any position of public trust.”
His actions are backing up his words. The “Good Old Boys” have been warned.