BRADENTON, Fla. — Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has asked that a statewide grand jury be impaneled to investigate government corruption in the Sunshine state.
Crist, who is running for U.S. Senate next year, asked that a grand jury look at problems across the state but suggested the panel should take a close look at the high number of local elected officials arrested and jailed in South Florida, including Palm Beach County, where a commissioner and her husband were accused of abusive municipal bond practices earlier this year.
“A recent rash of crimes committed by public officials in South Florida has led to a crisis of confidence among those who have elected them to office,” Crist said Wednesday. “I have petitioned the Florida Supreme Court to impanel a grand jury to investigate these crimes, bring indictments, and provide specific recommendations to address fundamental problems within the system that may be cultivating a culture of corruption.”
Crist said he has suspended or removed more than 30 people from public office since he became governor in January 2007.
Most recently, the governor on Sept. 23 suspended from office Broward County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion and Broward County School Board member Beverly Gallagher after separate criminal complaints were filed against them alleging they had taken bribes.
In January, Palm Beach County commissioner Mary McCarty resigned from office and later pleaded guilty to depriving constituents of her honest services. She was accused, among other things, of steering bond business to her husband, former banker Kevin McCarty, while he worked at Bear, Stearns & Co. and Raymond James & Associates. No charges were filed against the investment banks.
Kevin McCarty pleaded guilty for not reporting his wife’s illegal activities. In June, he began serving an eight-month sentence in prison.
While Mary McCarty’s case is the only one known to be connected to municipal bonds, three Palm Beach County commissioners and two West Palm Beach city commissioners were convicted of corruption charges in the last four years.
In response, a Palm Beach County grand jury was impaneled and in June released a report concluding that the county faced “a crisis of trust in public governance.”
The grand jury’s recommendations included some for Palm Beach County regarding strengthening its bond issuance practices, which the county has adopted.
If the Florida Supreme Court complies with Crist’s request, a statewide grand jury would be impaneled for a year.