In the next Anglo refuge north of Miami’s corruption sump, four Palm Beach County commissioners and two West Palm Beach city commissioners and the former chairman of the South Florida Water Management District have gone down for various kickback and bribery schemes.
My own skepticism about the immigrant dimension to political corruption probably goes back to my own roots, in West Virginia, a state, 94 percent non-Hispanic, that in 1990 sent a three-term governor to prison to join two successive presidents of the State Senate, the former Senate majority leader and a member of the House of Delegates.
Two years before that, the Herald dispatched me to southern West Virginia, to Mingo County, 96.39 percent white, and the spectacularly corrupt town of Kermit, 99.5 percent white, and not a single person listed on the census as foreign born. Sixty city and county officials had just been busted. The police chief was nabbed for selling drugs. The fire chief for arson. The school board president was busted for bribing jurors. The head of the antipoverty agency was stealing program money. Federal investigators photographed a handwritten sign taped to a walk-up window by the Kermit police station: “Out of drugs. Back in 30 minutes.”
Federal investigators said Kermit’s convenient “drive-in, carry-out” became so busy peddling pot, cocaine, LSD, PCP — some of it filched from the Mingo County sheriff’s evidence locker — that the town cops had trouble finding a parking place.
The pervasiveness of official corruption in Mingo eclipsed anything we’ve seen lately in South Florida with three county commissioners and a city commissioner arrested, along with the sheriff, the police chief, a police captain, the county surveyor, the county public service commissioner, the county director of senior affairs, the county clerk. Even the cook at the county jail was convicted of bribing a public official.
The year before that, I was in East St. Louis, Ill., writing about an election in which three candidates running for mayor had done hard time for extortion, fraud, forgery, mail fraud and perjury, and one of the candidates was accused of attempting to arrange the murder-for-hire of a rival mayoral candidate.
At the time, East St. Louis was regarded as the most corrupt, dysfunctional city in America. Yet, no one employed the term “banana republic.”