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US Attorney's Public Trust Unit Marks One-Year Prosecuting Corruption In Panhandle

Valerie Crowder
U.S. Attorney Lawrence Keefe announces the indictment of former public officials in Holmes County on fraud charges on Friday, Nov. 15, 2020.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida marked the one-year anniversary of its Public Trust Unit this week.

The unit’s team of prosecutors and investigators have so far worked on almost 20 public corruption casesin the 23-county district, which stretches across the panhandle and into Gainesville.

Prosecutors have pursued cases involving mail theft, an alleged conspiracy to steal federal drought assistance dollars and the misuse of $5 million in hurricane cleanup funds. As a result of the unit's work, indictments have been brought against former public officials in Holmes and Bay Counties.

“The greatest cost of public corruption is the potential widespread loss of the public’s trust in their own government," said U.S. Attorney Lawrence Keefe at a recent press conference in Panama City. "Corruption is a dangerous virus that threatens to infect public service and the public’s trust in it."

Keefe wrote in a recent press release that he hopes his office's commitment to rooting out corruption in the community will "have a deterrent effect" on public officials tempted to abuse their power.

“The word is out that we have zero tolerance for any betrayal of the public trust and that we will continue to vigorously make cases against those who put their own selfish interest above the public interest."

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.