Tuesday night, a new New York state commission on corruption held its first public meeting and here’s what one of the invited speakers reportedly had to say about the issue:
“Public corruption, based on all evidence, appears rampant.”
That was U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara. “The ranks of those convicted in office have swelled to absolutely unacceptable levels,” he reportedly added.
That may be true, but corruption convictions in cases brought by U.S. attorneys’ offices in New York have trended down lately, according to the latest available Justice Department data.
The four U.S. attorney offices in New York helped bring about 52 public corruption convictions in 2011, down from 82 in 2002, according to a Justice report to Congress. In 2010, the offices won 37 convictions—the lowest number over that decade.
But while those numbers are interesting, they don’t tell the whole story: these are just convictions based on federal violations and they don’t include those convicted under state corruption laws.
Last year, researchers at the University of Illinois tallied corruption convictions from 1976 to 2010 and found that New York actually led the pack by total federal convictions—with 2,522 of them—over that period. Per capita, New York was fourth, behind top-ranked D.C., Louisiana and Illinois.
Bharara’s Southern District of New York had the third-most convictions since 1976, behind California’s Central District—centered on Los Angeles—and Illinois’ Northern District, which includes Chicago.
In 2012, the Center for Public Integrity, Public Radio International and Global Integrity handed out state report cards on corruption, with no state getting an A and 38-ranked New York getting a D.