D.C. corruption eruption
FBI forced to triple fraud probe squads to keep up
JAMES GORDON MEEK / NY Daily News | September 19 2006
WASHINGTON - There is so much political corruption on Capitol Hill that the FBI has had to triple the number of squads investigating lobbyists, lawmakers and influence peddlers, the Daily News has learned.
For decades, only one squad in Washington handled corruption cases because the crimes were seen as local offenses handled by FBI field offices in lawmakers' home districts.
But in recent years, the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal and other abuses of power and privilege have prompted the FBI to assign 37 agents full-time to three new squads in an office near Capitol Hill.
FBI Assistant Director Chip Burrus told The News yesterday that he wants to detail even more agents to the Washington field office for a fourth corruption squad because so much wrongdoing is being uncovered.
"Traditionally, a congressional bribery case might be conducted on Main Street U.S.A., but a lot of the stuff we're finding these days is here in Washington," said Burrus, who heads the FBI's criminal division.
He said typical crimes involve lawmakers' illegal interactions with lobbyists and "people who have a lot of savvy about how the congressional process works and appropriations."
Plus, the electronic and legislative paper trail that winds up as evidence is in Washington, as Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and ex-Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham (R-Calif.) can attest.
Ney has agreed to plead guilty to corruption charges. Cunningham was sentenced to eight years in the slammer for taking bribes.
Two years ago, only 400 agents worked on public corruption cases. Now, 615 agents nationwide - including 30 in New York - are trying to nail public servants for betraying the public trust in 2,200 ongoing cases.
A recent FBI search of the Alaska Statehouse was a first of its kind.
In Washington, agents conducted unprecedented searches of the offices of the CIA's third-ranking executive and the House office of Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.).
Both stemmed from bribery allegations.
Burrus wouldn't speculate about why there is so much graft, but said, "We have to pull the whole weed up or it's just going to grow back again."
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