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FBI takes aim at public corruption

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Residents to find much easier reporting mechanism

By Carol A. Clark

The FBI in Albuquerque and its law enforcement partners have announced several initiatives designed to make it easier for New Mexico residents to report public corruption and for the FBI and its partners to work more effectively together.

A new hotline is available for anyone wanting to report public corruption to the FBI in Albuquerque.

Public corruption undermines the nation’s security and the people’s trust in their government while wasting billions of tax dollars, said Albuquerque FBI Public Affairs Specialist Frank Fisher Foster, adding that public corruption includes corrupt public officials, border corruption, economic stimulus fraud, abuse of government contracting authority and many other examples.

A newly formed Regional Public Corruption Working Group had its first meeting at the FBI office in Albuquerque Thursday. The group is comprised of representatives of the FBI, U.S. Attorney’s Office, U.S. Housing and Urban Development, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy, New Mexico Judicial Standards Board, New Mexico Attorney General, District Attorneys from Santa Fe and Albuquerque, New Mexico State Auditor, New Mexico State Police, Governor’s Office and New Mexico Department of Public Safety.

“This initiative is not just federal and state but reaches the local level as well,” Fisher said in an interview this morning. “This could be an avenue that local law enforcement can use to reach out to us and through which we can reach out to them.”

Los Alamos Police Capt. Randy Foster, a recent graduate of the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va., said,

“The recent embezzlement and tax fraud indictments brought against the former bookkeeper at a local business shows how much damage a person can do and when it’s a government corruption – it’s even worse because the public trusts those people to do the right thing.”

Fisher said in a news release Thursday: “Public corruption impacts everything from how well our borders are secured and our neighborhoods protected … to verdicts handed down in courts … to the quality of our roads, schools, and other government services. And it takes a significant toll on our pocketbooks, wasting billions in tax dollars every year.”

The FBI is singularly situated to combat this type of corruption, with the skills and capabilities to run complex undercover operations and surveillance, according to information on the national FBI website. Special Agent Patrick Bohrer, assistant section chief of Public Corruption/Civil Rights program at FBI Headquarters explains in a news release why the bureau takes public corruption so seriously and how it investigates these crimes.
The reason public corruption is so high on the FBI’s list of investigative priorities is because of its impact, he said.

“Corrupt public officials undermine our country’s national security, our overall safety, the public trust and confidence in the U.S. government, wasting billions of dollars along the way,” Bohrer said. “This corruption can tarnish virtually every aspect of society. For example, a border official might take a bribe, knowingly or unknowingly letting in a truck containing weapons of mass destruction. Or corrupt state legislators could cast deciding votes on a bill providing funding or other benefits to a company for the wrong reasons. Or at the local level, a building inspector might be paid to overlook some bad wiring, which could cause a deadly fire down the road.”

While the types of public corruption that the FBI investigates run the gamut, bribery is the most common. But there’s also extortion, embezzlement, racketeering, kickbacks and money laundering, as well as wire, mail, bank and tax fraud.

“Right now, based on our intelligence on emerging trends, we are focused specifically on several major issues including corruption along our national borders, corrupt officials who take advantage of natural disasters or economic crises to divert some of the government’s aid into their own pockets and a myriad of officials who may personally benefit from the economic stimulus funding,” Bohrer said.

The FBI uses sophisticated investigative tools and methods to probe allegations of public corruption such as undercover operations, court-authorized electronic surveillance and informants, which often gives the bureau a front-row seat to witness the actual exchange of bribe money or a backroom handshake that seals an illegal deal … and enough evidence to send the culprits to prison.

The FBI often works in conjunction with inspector general offices from various federal agencies, as well as with state and local partners. And the bureau depends greatly on assistance from the public, he said.

“So let me end by saying, if anyone out there has any information about potential wrongdoing by a public official, please submit a tip online or contact your local FBI field office – your help really makes a difference.”

To report public corruption in New Mexico, residents can call the new FBI hotline at 505-889-1580. The Albuquerque FBI also has created a series of online questionnaires people can use to identify public corruption. Visit www.fbi.gov/albuquerque/priorities and scroll down to item No. 4 to find the links.