Mathis isn't alone in having legal problems - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Mathis isn't alone in having legal problems

January 12, 2005

Albany--    Henry Mathis is the most recent, but certainly not the first elected official to find himself in legal trouble. The number of public officials indicted by federal authorities has steadily risen in the past few years.

How is that affecting opinions of politicians?

We're a generation that's seen politicians from local commissioners to district attorneys get caught breaking the law. The Justice Department says the number of public official indicted by the feds continues to rise.

So, are there more dirty politicians or are more of them getting caught?

"I did not have sexual relations with that woman," proclaimed former President Bill Clinton. The infamous lie lead to impeachment hearings for former President Bill Clinton and cost him his credibility with most Americans.

It seems one after another, public officials from the federal to local governments are caught in corruption from sexual improprieties to extortion.

Ideally, leadership should never corrupt., but when it does, you're left wondering if the people you chose to lead you are really criminals in nice suits. "It frustrates you to the bone," says Ken Morrow. "Because usually you're not in a position to do anything about it yourself other than wait on your next opportunity to vote."

But federal prosecutors don't have to wait until election day to find justice.

  • According to the latest Justice Department statistics, 1,136 public officials were indicted by federal prosecutors in 2002. One thousand and one were convicted, and 413 were awaiting trial.

  • The numbers have risen slightly since 2000 when 1,000 public officials were indicted. In 2001 there were 1,087 indictments.

  • In 2002, seven public officials from the Middle and Southern Districts of Georgia were convicted in federal court. Since 1993, there have been 131 convictions.

But politicians are not the only ones breaking laws. So should they be held to higher accountable than the average Joe?

"Sure they should," said Mike Dowdell. "They are setting the laws for the people to live by. They're serving the people."

Even more public officials are prosecuted that doesn't mean there are more corrupt politicians. The Justice Department is cracking down, investigating and bringing more cases to trial.

Other south Georgia public officials in legal trouble this year include Alapaha District Attorney Bob Ellis. Ellis was accused of having sex with a female drug defendant, then lying to the FBI.

Tift County School Board member Richard Golden plead guilty to pointing a gun at another and criminal damage to property, for shooting a trespasser's car. He resigned as Board Chairman, and remained on the Board, but recently re-elected to his leadership position.

posted at 4:35PM by dave.miller@walb.com