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Larry Keefe: U.S. Attorney’s Public Trust Unit — protecting our institutions and way of life

The overwhelming majority of individuals who serve in public office are good and honorable women and men.

One year ago, when I announced the creation of the Public Trust Unit within the United States Attorney’s Office, I described its guiding principle simply: A public office is a sacred trust.

Today, I can report that this specialized unit of dedicated professionals has succeeded beyond expectations, working to restore integrity, responsibility, and trust to public offices across the 23 counties of the Northern District of Florida. Working in close collaboration and unprecedented cooperation with federal, state, and local partners, the Public Trust Unit has relentlessly pursued individuals who abused their public positions for personal benefit and those who sought to illegally influence them.

Thanks to the ongoing work of this extraordinary team, the word is getting out across the District that if you violate the public trust, we will find you, and you will pay the price.

Even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, members of our Public Trust Unit work each day to focus the resources of the Department of Justice on supporting and improving public confidence in the institutions of government and the electoral process on which those institutions are built. In just its first year, this team has:

— Indicted and prosecuted multiple former elected public officials, including Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Maddox, Lynn Haven Mayor Margo Anderson, Holmes County Clerk of Court Kyle Martin Hudson, and Milton Mayor Guyland W. Thompson. Allegations against these officials, some of whom were still in office when they were charged, ranged from selling their official votes and embezzlement to fraudulently stealing tax dollars intended for hurricane cleanup and drought assistance.

— Indicted and prosecuted multiple individuals – including Lynn Haven Mayor Margo Anderson and the City Manager Michael White, the City Attorney, J. Adam Albritton, and the city Parks and Recreation Director – in a scheme to defraud taxpayers of $5 million in funds provided for cleanup after Hurricane Michael.

— Indicted and prosecuted several active law enforcement and correctional officers on charges ranging from assisting a drug enterprise, to participating in a dogfighting ring, to sexually assaulting a female inmate.

— Secured sentences of a half-dozen separate U.S. Postal Service employees after convictions for stealing mail, including debit cards and checks, from residents of the District.

— Obtained indictments, guilty pleas, or convictions of multiple individuals on health care fraud charges, including stealing more than $4.8 million from TRICARE and over $4.4 million from Medicare and Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Our system of government – indeed, the American way of life – rests on a foundation of public trust. The people must believe that the individuals in positions of authority will serve the public interest, working for the betterment of all. Any act that violates this trust threatens to do long-lasting harm to the relationships between the people and the federal, state and local governments that exist to serve them.

I have lived in North Florida nearly all my life, and it is clear to me that the overwhelming majority of individuals who serve in public office – elected and appointed – are good and honorable women and men. They dedicate themselves to helping their neighbors and making their communities even better places to live, work, and raise a family.

That is what the People expect and deserve.

Regrettably, there is always a small number who see public office as a golden ticket to undeserved opportunity. They seek to use their positions for their own illegal benefit or profit, or to corrupt our elections for unseemly purposes. Any private citizens who also try to profit by illegal influence over public officials will be primary targets, too.

As our recent indictment in the Lynn Haven hurricane cleanup fraud case underscores, our Public Trust Unit will continue to stop them and reaffirm the people’s trust in their government. When corrupt officials seek to undermine the integrity of our public institutions, we simply cannot – and will not – look the other way. The virus of corruption is one for which we already have the cure: accountability and justice.

The United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida is one of 94 offices that serve as the nation’s principal litigators under the direction of the Attorney General. To access available public court documents online, please visit the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida website. For more information about the United States Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Florida, visit http://www.justice.gov/usao/fln/index.html.

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Larry Keefe is the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Florida.

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