"It is our top priority," says Chip Burrus, assistant director of the FBI.
Six hundred fifteen agents in 56 field offices are now assigned to investigate public corruption. There are some 2,200 active investigations throughout the country, according to Burrus.
THE BLOTTER RECOMMENDS
High profile corruption investigations, such as those involving convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Congressmen Bob Ney (R-OH) and William Jefferson (D-LA), have received most of the media's attention, but Burrus says that public corruption is more widespread than just Capitol Hill and that it runs much deeper than just the very top officials.
"Corruption doesn't come in one size. It comes in all different sizes," Burrus said, "everything from small towns in Alabama to big cities all over the country, in state houses, in police departments, everywhere. It's a unique crime that permeates a lot of government."
Burrus says he wants to beef up the Washington, D.C., field office in particular. The D.C. field office currently has three different corruption squads, and Burrus thinks a fourth is in order. Aside from high profile congressional investigations which are run from the D.C. field office, Burrus said the office also has many other corruption issues to deal with."There is an awful lot of corruption that is systemic here in Washington, D.C.," said Burrus, "that has to do with city government, surrounding state government, with municipalities; there's police corruption included."
Public corruption charges are particularly difficult to prosecute, said Burrus, because unlike other crimes, like a bank robbery, it must be proven that the politician did wrong and knew he or she was doing wrong.
Field agents have been given special one-on-one training on how to investigate public corruption.
"I have to admit that these are tough cases to dig up, and we've got to dig and dig and dig and find these things," said Burrus. "These aren't cases that walk through the door and say here I am. We have to find these things, and our agents work damn hard on them."