Shocking! True! Stories!
December 31, 2008 5:35 AM   Subscribe

Please point me towards true stories of small-town corruption.

I recently watched this episode of The Rockford Files, and I loved it. I've always had something of a fascination with stories of rural corruption involving multiple people, particularly if one or more participants represent The Law in some capacity (judges, sheriffs, etc.).

Please point me towards similar stories that also happen to be true. In print, online, or on video are all fine.
posted by Nonce to Law & Government (32 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Try Tulia, TX for starters; there was even a film about it.
posted by TedW at 5:50 AM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

Some towns in Georgia were notorious traps for passers-through from far away. Ludiwici had a trigger that suddenly turned a traffic signal to red. Some speed traps got so bad that the legislature decided that unless you're in a school zone, no local cops can cite you for less than 10 miles over the speed limit.
posted by cmiller at 6:29 AM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

In a small town I lived in in the mid-1980s, a county official was found to have embezzled thousands of dollars (five figures) over several years, and it was further learned that he had stolen it in order to donate it to Oral Roberts' ministry, as instructed by the teevee box.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 6:50 AM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

Radley Balko's coverage at The Agitator of the Rack n Roll Billards case in Manassas Park, Virginia is pretty interesting.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 7:02 AM on December 31, 2008

I'm on my Blackberry, so I can't link to it but there's a story going on in the Chicago suburbs right now, with a tiny suburb involving the mayor and liquor licenses. The prior mayor was having the city vehicles get all gas and maintenence at his gas station. Check the Chicago Tribune website, I saw it there yesterday.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:06 AM on December 31, 2008

In my local town, the name P. David Romei is rather infamous.
posted by SpecialK at 7:08 AM on December 31, 2008

New Rome, OH is the Midwest's classic corrupt little town.
posted by pjern at 7:12 AM on December 31, 2008

TPM has its "All Muck is Local" feature. Not all the stories are from small towns, but some are.
posted by worldswalker at 7:25 AM on December 31, 2008

Providence's greatest claim to fame (or at least it's most amusing) is former mayor Buddy Cianci.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:39 AM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

Battle of Athens (Tennessee), 1946
posted by astrochimp at 7:43 AM on December 31, 2008

My home-town has an ongoing scandal that's still unfolding. It may seem minor, but it's a real example:
Federal investigators allege that Canby police officer Jason Deason openly purchased anabolic steroids and growth hormone from local steroid sources and tipped off his suppliers to any police inquiries; furthermore, Canby Police Chief Greg Kroeplin was aware of his housemate Deason’s involvement with local steroid sources and not only failed to act upon it but may have actively covered it up.
The supplier in this case is an alleged drug dealer (and my brother's best friend from high school), and the sleepy neighborhood in which he lives has been frustrated by the increased crime in the area because of the dealing. From my understanding, it's actually the neighbors who brought this to a head since the police wouldn't respond to their concerns.

I don't live in this town anymore, but I live nearby. I know it's a big concern for the residents. Stories from the local paper:I don't know that this is as dramatic as you're looking for, but it's corruption, and it's very real.
posted by jdroth at 8:11 AM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

Not exactly town-related, but Oklahoma garnered no small amount of infamy in the 80's for an extensive culture of corruption among County commissioners. Here's a writeup from some random website.
posted by Shohn at 8:47 AM on December 31, 2008

Here is the story on Island Lake, IL, referred to by Ironmouth.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:48 AM on December 31, 2008

Years ago, the New Yorker had the most amazing article about a sheriff in a small southern town who had an immense amount of power. The townspeople actually called him the High Sheriff. If I remember properly, the sheriff was a general force for good, but it's worth trying to find the article for a view on small town power and relationships.
posted by TorontoSandy at 9:15 AM on December 31, 2008

Not really a small town, but Łodz, Poland, had a scandal where the local ambulance service was engaged in a racket with funeral homes back in 2002.
posted by mdonley at 9:17 AM on December 31, 2008

The head of the Department of Public Works in Maynard, MA (pop. 11,000) has recently been arrested on bribery charges. He took office in May 2007. He was arrested Saturday, December 20 on corruption charges (Story 1, Story 2, Story 3, Story 4).

posted by acridrabbit at 9:48 AM on December 31, 2008

A small town lost its entire volunteer fire department due to financial irregularies and nepotism.
posted by apartment dweller at 10:37 AM on December 31, 2008

er, "irregularities"
posted by apartment dweller at 10:38 AM on December 31, 2008

How would you like to have your criminal case run by a judge who never made it out of high school?

Apparently, there are virtually no requirements to hold a judgeship at the level of the local court system in the state of New York. Many judges lack a legal education, some lack a college education, and a few don't even have that.

One excerpt:
A woman in Malone, N.Y., was not amused. A mother of four, she went to court in that North Country village seeking an order of protection against her husband, who the police said had choked her, kicked her in the stomach and threatened to kill her. The justice, Donald R. Roberts, a former state trooper with a high school diploma, not only refused, according to state officials, but later told the court clerk, “Every woman needs a good pounding every now and then.”
posted by Maxwell_Smart at 10:43 AM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

On the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, there was an organization known as the "Dixie Mafia" in the '70's and '80s. They were pretty hardcore and had their fingers in many pies in the South East. The New York Times has styled them the "Cornbread Cosa Nostra," but that must be some of that Yankee talk, because I never heard it called that. I first became aware of the organization with the gangland-style murders of a judge and his wife. The definitive resource on all things Mississippi Mafia is a book called "Mississippi Mud."
posted by thebrokedown at 10:56 AM on December 31, 2008

Vernon, CA is a small town right smack in the middle of greater Los Angeles. It's almost entirely industrial, with only about 100 residents, ruled by the same family for something like 100 years. Periodically, someone else tries to run for city council, and then there are shenanigans.
posted by equalpants at 11:32 AM on December 31, 2008

Lincoln County, West Virginia, is riddled with corruption. Vote-buying was the big thing in 2005, to the point where if you were a supporter of the candidate, he would allocate county resources to lower your property tax or fix your roads.

This year, the community newspaper in Lincoln County (full disclosure, I have a couple of journalism school friends who work there) uncovered some issues - candidates dictating what is written about them in the Lincoln County newspaper (which is owned by the brother of the vote-buyer above as well as the second vice-chair of W.Va's Democratic party) as well as a bit more. If you want to scroll through some awful web formatting, you can read the collection of stories here.

Most of Southern West Virginia is a pretty corrupt little chunk of mountains, helped by the massive amount of poverty in conjunction with the coalfield greed.
posted by kerning at 11:36 AM on December 31, 2008

Response by poster: These are perfect. Keep 'em coming!
posted by Nonce at 12:31 PM on December 31, 2008

In my small Iowa town of about 1500, the mayor was a big fan of town-wide garage sales. He first encouraged everyone to participate once a year, then twice a year. He always had a large garage sale during these events. Pretty soon, he was having garage sales in between the two town-wide garage sales. It wasn't until someone from the city showed up at one to discover that he was stealing city property in large amounts and selling it. Everything from copy machines to snow tires to post-it notes. True story.
posted by Foam Pants at 1:15 PM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

NPR recently produced a riveting series of segments on Angola Prison, which really functions like a town unto itself, and it sounded like there was a great deal of scandal and abuse of the justice system there. It's on my list of things to read more about.
posted by katemcd at 1:17 PM on December 31, 2008

Murder in Coweta County is a famous true story of law-enforcement corruption in Georgia. There is a book and a movie (the later staring Johnny Cash and Andy Griffith) -- both are good.
posted by ChrisHartley at 1:56 PM on December 31, 2008

Dixie County Florida recently indicted several county commissioners for as reported in the Gainesville Sun & Dixie County Advocate
posted by misspat at 3:27 PM on December 31, 2008

thebrokedown's mention of the Mississippi Mafia reminded me of how Galveston, TX was noted for organized crime well into the 1950s, with illicit casinos, prostitution, etc, etc. I just went to Google this to find links for you, and kept running into links to Robert Durst instead -- a different sort of crime connection, but also a fascinating story.
posted by Robert Angelo at 6:01 PM on December 31, 2008

From Aus: Mile High Rise Club. The Wollongong town council had an entertaining (for anyone not from Wollongong) corruption investigation resulting in 139 criminal charges recommended. Standard small town sex for development licences scheme.
posted by dangerousdan at 10:49 PM on December 31, 2008

Also this story about a sheriff who remains in office while awaiting trial on federal corruption charges, including racketeering, money laundering, cockfighting, and obstructing a grand jury investigation.

Newspaper column reflecting on these charges, by someone who knew him as a young man here.
posted by apartment dweller at 6:45 AM on January 3, 2009

Response by poster: Looks like this thread is done. Thanks for all the answers. All are best.
posted by Nonce at 1:35 PM on February 12, 2009

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