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Panel: South Florida's public corruption won't stop. But we'll keep trying to fight it


After the recent arrests of three city mayors in Miami-Dade County, it seemed particularly apt to hold a panel Thursday titled: "Public Corruption -– When Will It Stop?"

The answer, of course, was never.

But that doesn’t mean law-enforcement agencies should stop trying, said U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer, Assistant State Attorney Howard Rosen and Ethics Commission Director Joe Centorino. Or that people should stop tipping off investigators.

"That's where we get most of our cases," Ferrer said.

The three spoke at a discussion hosted by the Good Government Initiative, the organization created by former County Commissioner Katy Sorenson at the University of Miami to groom better elected officials.

Ferrer’s office has the largest public-corruption investigations squad in the country, he said, with 11 FBI special agents and 12 local police officers. Over the past 10 years, Florida has had the highest number of federal corruption convictions in the U.S.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s more wrongdoing here, he emphasized.

“It shows you we’re on it –- and there’s so much,” Ferrer said.

Rosen noted that with more government services and new technology, “there are ways to commit public corruption now that didn’t exist” before. But there are also more ways to detect it -– not only by investigators, but also by reporters and citizens armed with public records.

Most politicians and public employees are decent people, Centorino added. But he said he fears a “rotten barrel” –- instead of only a few “rotten apples” -– of miscreants if their deeds go unpunished.

The Commission on Ethics & Public Trust is working on an honor code, he said, to make it a public-sector obligation to come forward when someone sees a bribe, for example.

“You’d be amazed,” he said. “Some people didn’t think they needed to do anything about it.”