Is This The Most Corrupt County In America?
Carl Andrews | January 25, 2010
For years, people have spoken about dirty politics in Cook County, Illinois.
Well, forget about Chicago-style politics being the most corrupt.
An area in Pennsylvania is poised to take the trophy for shady dealings.
Police tryin to hide a murder, a county official who was once a NFL lineman headed to federal prison, and judges “selling” juveniles.
And the FBI probe is just getting started.
After a six-year run in the NFL, Greg Skrepenak came home to Pennsylvania and parlayed his name recognition and hometown popularity into a seat on the Luzerne County Board of Commissioners.
He’d campaigned as a reformer. It turns out he was anything but: Prosecutors charged him last month with accepting $5,000 in gifts from a developer seeking public financing of a condominium project. He is scheduled to plead guilty on Tuesday.
Another day, another fallen politician in the coal fields of northeastern Pennsylvania, where FBI agents and federal prosecutors have spent the past year rooting out government corruption in a hardscrabble region known for its pay-to-play politics, suspicion of outsiders and resistance to political change.
Twenty-three people in Luzerne County â€” including a school superintendent, three county judges, four courthouse officials, and five school board members â€” have been charged so far in a variety of unrelated schemes.
In the most egregious abuse of the public’s trust, two judges are charged with taking $2.8 million in kickbacks to place youth offenders in for-profit detention facilities â€” a scandal known as “kids for cash.” While thousands of juvenile convictions have been dismissed by the state Supreme Court, youth advocates say the lives of countless children and their families were ruined.
The ongoing federal corruption probe has sent tremors through an insular political culture where graft, patronage and nepotism have been accepted practice since the golden age of anthracite coal a century ago â€” when waves of European immigrants arrived in this mountainous region 100 miles north of Philadelphia to work in mines, breweries and railroads. Their descendants still live in the tiny patch towns and tightly packed houses built by long-defunct coal companies.
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