After six days of deliberations, according to the New York Times, Sharpe James has been convicted by a jury of fraud. After purchasing nine properties from the city, his girlfriend, Tamika Riley, flipped the South Ward real estate for a profit of over $600,000. Riley not only neglected to pay her taxes, but she also utilized federal housing subsidies for her apartment totaling more than $27,000. James was accused of pushing the real estate deals in her favor. He still awaits a federal corruption trial – accused of using city issued credit cards to incur $58,000 in debt for traveling with Riley among other women. James had been mayor for twenty years.
Unfortunately, Sharpe is not alone in his status as a mayor convicted of a crime. There have been many mayors and former mayors in recent years convicted of crimes perpetrated while they were serving in public office.
In 2003, Mayor Joseph P. Ganim in Bridgeport Connecticut was convicted on charges including extortion, bribery, and mail fraud according to the New York Times. Ganim had been mayor of his city for twelve years. Ganim was the fourth mayor in Connecticut in a thirteen-year period to face criminal charges. The other Connecticut mayors facing charges includes Philip A. Giordano of Waterbury. Giordano was convicted of sexually abusing two girls while mayor of his town.
In 2006, Mayor Frank Melton of Jackson, Mississippi pleaded guilty to the charge of carrying a handgun on both church and school property according to CNSNews.com. Melton was fined and put on probation.
Also in 2006, former Atlanta mayor Bill Campbell was sentenced to 30 months in prison and fined for tax evasion. Campbell, like Sharpe, had participated in public service for twenty years according to CNN. Campbell was accused of failing to provide the proper documents for money won during gambling.
In February of this year, former Fairbanks, Alaska mayor Jim Hayes was found guilty of fraud, theft and money laundering. According to Anchorage Daily News, this former mayor was convicted on 16 counts involving the misuse of more than $450,000 in government grants. What did he spend the money on? One thing was the new home for the Lily of the Valley Church of God in Christ – the church where Hayes serves as a pastor.
One common thread between all of these incidents is that these mayors were not “newbies”. They instead had been elected and then re-elected by their constituencies. Perhaps they became comfortable in their positions and sincerely believed that they could get away with these crimes.
A second common thread is that most of these cases are like the case of James. These mayors misappropriate or misuse the funds that the government and the public has entrusted them with. Combine that with tax evasion and tax fraud and there is a recipe for disaster.