PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — For the past year north Florida has been rocked by a series of criminal investigations into public corruption.
In Tallahassee, the mayor plead guilty in a bribery case. In Holmes County, the clerk of court, and others were accused of a conspiracy to steal federal funds. And in Lynn Haven city leaders, including Mayor Margo Anderson and City Manager Mike White and City Attorney Adam Albritton are accused of defrauding taxpayers out of millions in money that was supposed to go to the clean up of Hurricane Michael.
On Thursday, the man behind these investigations, U.S. Attorney Lawrence Keefe, discussed this work and his duty to the public.
His campaign against public corruption began while asking Floridians about their concerns, even before he became U.S. attorney.
“I was fascinated by the depth and breadth of all ends of the spectrum that were very focused on public corruption and the increasing cynicism and loss of trust in our government,” he said.
While Keefe cannot talk about active cases he did say that public trust cases often begin with a tip, or local law enforcement reaching out for help.
“The Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s offices are able to focus on things we do extremely well and often times we are best suited to do because we are completely apolitical, we’re completely independent and we’re not part of the local political ecosystem,” he said. “And so very often it is that status, that stature and that prestige that results in people trusting us trusting the Federal Burea of Investigation, trusting the Department of Justice and trusting U.S. Attorneys to be independent to come into a community and to build and prosecute a case without any sort of political concerns whatsoever.”
Despite what people might think about politicians’ attitudes or behavior, U.S. Attorneys like Keefe are only interested in violations of the law.
“In the public corruption area poor ethics, disagreeable decision making, general shadiness or sketchiness, is not equivalent to, it is not the same thing, as a clear violation of a federal statute,” Keefe said. “A clear violation of a federal statute is apolitical. It is not partisan. It has nothing to do with personalities. It is all about the conduct. It is not about personalities and politics and other such things.”
Keefe also said subpoenas are a valuable tool for prosecutors and grand juries but they’re not the same thing as an indictment.
“So a lot of people infer a lot of things about a federal grand jury subpoena when it comes out and there is a lot of analysis and speculation as to what they mean. But a subpoena for a federal grand jury is simply the way that the federal grand jury and the Department of Justice acquires documents and witness testimony so determinations can be made as to whether there is probable cause to believe that a federal criminal statute has been violated,” Keefe said. “The subpoena itself is not any sort of charging document.”
Local residents can expect to see more, including possible indictments, in the future.
“I would add that our investigation in Bay County is ongoing and that our work in Bay County is not finished.”