- Elliott Stonecipher
- Elliott Stonecipher
Such is classically Dickensian, we know. Today in Caddo Parish there is the awful loss uniquely born of natural disaster, and the feel-good of a supposed victory in a public corruption skirmish. The combination of forces nets, lopsidedly, damage of immense proportions.
Nature’s water-born decimation of so much is indescribable, easily seen even by those of us whose prayers were answered. In that other storm, our public corruption is drowning us as a silent, invisible flood. Our infrequent skirmishes against it should have long ago been declared our war.
Yes, ex-Caddo Parish Commissioner Michael Williams was convicted in federal court of corruption yesterday. That, for us, ranks as a big deal because we do not “do” corruption investigations and trials here, much less see any convictions.
This conviction is rooted in our sheriff carrying the underlying set of facts to the FBI, and the FBI to the U. S. Attorney. Our District Attorney – former and/or current – would not prosecute, we are told. So the sheriff convinced the U. S. Attorney to do so, we are told.
In his success, the sheriff proved there is an effective work-around, if it is true our District Attorney refuses to prosecute.
There is much else I could – and likely will – write about this sordid chapter in our history, but for now I will continue by being carefully direct. I am uniquely qualified to do so in this instance because I have far more deeply researched corruption at the Caddo Parish Commission than any other human being … all on my personal dime … for several years … for the benefit of our poor and suffering community.
Make no mistake: corruption at the Caddo Commission other than the instant matter is far uglier, runs deeper, and is actually more flagrant, to those who look for it and at it, rather than purposely away from it.
When, in 2000, and again in 2005, a group of Commissioners, top staffers and a gaggle of attorneys sat together to concoct their criminal scheme now simply called “CPERS,” their work and its product was a screaming conspiracy to defraud taxpayers. Loud … proud … ugly … barely hidden … and easy to understand and prosecute, with most conspirators yet among us. Tellingly, some of them are very highly regarded here.
Before we celebrate Michael Williams’ conviction, let us remember that his case was the lowest of low-hanging investigative and prosecutorial fruit. Real criminal conspiracies in our recent past – involving Commissioners who many of us believe are responsible for Williams’ prosecution – cry out for like results.
Michael Williams is guilty of corruption, yes. He is most guilty, however, of being not at all smart: he did openly what many other Commissioners and other public officials here long ago figured out how to do not so openly … with the full blessing and cover of officialdom here, not to mention too many in our news media.
To me, the message of the Williams conviction to our sizable class of corrupt officials and their handlers is this:
“Go ahead and steal the public’s money, especially since we agree that you are special, and deserve much more money than law allows. BUT, don’t do it so openly that your fellows take offense and come raise hell with those of us the public expects to punish and stop you.”
Here, we exist within a culture of corruption so deeply set that public officials treat citizens as lackeys. Many public officials openly ignore the law as easily as they ignore the words of their Oaths of Office.
Much of our “leadership,” elected or anointed, is in on the deal. Its most remarkable trait is a studied and freakish silence about any of this, much of our news media included. Their game is no longer invisible. Our failing economy, choked with taxes befitting cities with much greater wealth, yields public budgets bizarrely flush … arranged that way so all offenders tap them for personal gain, one way or another. Systemic corruption.
Mr. Williams’ conviction is sad … particularly in how it inarguably proves what could be done to clean up our place.
Me? I last felt this way 40 years ago, when our very own Jim Leslie was murdered for openly opposing public corruption. His sacrifice meant very little … I can only now admit.
Yes, to the many who ask me, I well understand. Here, the corrupt are far safer than those who fight them.