Erik Wallin: The Cancer That Is Corruption
The cancer that is corruption continues to devour our state. Most recently, the Governor’s audit shed light on $75 million of willfully mismanaged taxpayer dollars for insider deals, extravagant bonuses, over-paying, and a variety of other corrupt actions. Taking a step back from these despicable practices for just a moment, one can look at the bigger problem. The Governor ordered this audit by the state’s Bureau of Audits almost one year ago, and the audit covered a time period of between 1999 and 2007. It is reasonable to assume that if an investigation went back even further then more of this insider dealing and purposeful mismanagement would be found. What Rhode Islanders can see from these actions at the landfill is inaction from the state’s highest elected official responsible for enforcing our laws, the Attorney General.
What we know and do not know is a telling example of the state of affairs. There is little question that laws were broken, and no one can disagree that if charges were brought at the time these illegal acts occurred, or sometime thereafter, then those responsible would be prosecuted. Was any investigation done at any point prior to the Governor’s audit by the Attorney General? After the Governor ordered his audit, the Attorney General appointed one prosecutor to assist the State Police and Bureau of Audits with the investigation. This individual also has the responsibility of prosecuting white collar crimes in Rhode Island. Regardless of the talents of this single prosecutor, given what was at stake, was it fair to that person or Rhode Islanders to dedicate so little resources? Is it possible this corruption occurred under the nose of the Attorney General and he had no idea? Rhode Islanders are entitled to answers rather than a statement that no prosecution of anyone involved in this fleecing of taxpayer dollars will occur.
Rhode Islanders deserve an Attorney General who actively seeks out and prosecutes the corruption that litters our state — not just at the landfill but statewide. Public corruption must be a top priority of the Attorney General and the office. No longer can the responsibility for investigating and prosecuting public corruption at the state or municipal level be abdicated to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Governor or to a single prosecutor. Being committed to fighting corruption requires establishing an Attorney General’s Public Corruption Task Force, staffed with seasoned prosecutors, investigators and a forensic auditor. The moment corruption is suspected, a corruption task force should immediately initiate an investigation so that those who betray the public trust can no longer hide behind the statute of limitations and escape accountability. An Attorney General 24-hr corruption hotline must be established so that Rhode Islanders can provide information and/or tips. Those who provide information on public corruption, as well as the members of the Attorney General’s Public Corruption Task Force, must have confidence that the Attorney General has the integrity and courage to back them, regardless of where and to whom the trail of corruption leads.
Taking the offensive against those who betray the public trust will not only put the corrupt behind bars, but will demonstrate to businesses and all others that we will no longer sit on the sidelines while the future of our State is stolen by the powerful and corrupt insiders. It is time we stand up together and put them on warning that their days are numbered.
Erik Wallin is an attorney in Wakefield, RI, and the presumed Republican candidate for the office of Attorney General in 2010.