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"There is a combination of reasons why we are now able to devote more resources to public corruption cases," Rundle offers. "Part of it had to do with the fact that we have been very successful in our fight against violent crime. That is always going to be my main priority, because we're basically the only show in town that can prosecute violent criminals. But because of the decrease in violent crime, we've been able to shift some resources over to the public corruption unit."
According to figures provided by Rundle, in the last five years the State Attorney's Office investigated 584 cases involving public officials or public employees, including police officers and politicians. Charges were filed in 263 of those cases, resulting in 171 convictions.
Rundle also wanted to dispel what she considers to be a misconception -- that her office is (or should be) in competition with the U.S. Attorney's Office. In the past two years, federal prosecutors have garnered headlines for indicting City Manager Cesar Odio, Miami City Commissioner Miller Dawkins, and County Commissioner James Burke through Operation Greenpalm. And in the coming weeks, the feds are expected to announce a major set of indictments against local officials stemming from mismanagement of the Port of Miami. Rundle knows that people will ask why her office wasn't making those big cases.
Lots of reasons, she said. Federal laws are often tougher and have stiffer penalties. It can also be a matter of resources. More important, the public doesn't understand that the U.S. Attorney's Office and the State Attorney's Office often work closely in deciding who should handle a particular case.
"When the seaport case first surfaced, my office and the U.S. Attorney's Office were contacted at the same time, and the audits were given to us and the U.S. Attorney's Office, and I personally looked at it and we decided who could best handle that case," she recalled. "I have complete confidence in them. We mutually agreed they would handle that case, just like we mutually agreed that we would take the Kaplan case. We coordinate all the time. They have confidence in us, we have confidence in them. Why would we want to in any way interfere with their case?"
Rather than comparing them to federal prosecutors, Centorino and Rundle said, it would make more sense to contrast their office with other state attorneys around Florida. None of them, Centorino argued, devotes as much time to public corruption cases as Rundle. "What happens down here is that we work the case with the law enforcement agencies," he noted. "Take the voter-fraud case. We were in that from the very beginning with FDLE, working with them in developing the investigative strategy and working toward the arrest. That would not have happened at most places in Florida. They would have let the law enforcement agency do the work and bring them the case if they had one. I think we are much more proactive and investigative than any other State Attorney's Office in the state."
Rundle added that the work her office is doing is essential to restoring public confidence in government. "I think there are some very good public servants -- I work with a lot of them right here in this office -- and I think there are some very good elected officials out there," she said. "And I think there are a few rotten apples that spoil the image for the rest of us. My real fear is that right now the next generation of leaders, the ones who should be coming forward, the ones we would want running for office and who would actually serve the public and who are honest are saying to themselves, 'I never want to work in government because it's corrupt. Nobody thinks highly of it. It's not noble, it's not respected.'
"I think it is real important that they see that the rotten ones do get held accountable," Rundle continues. "We are going to have to somehow rebuild more faith in government. Not only to keep those who are good we've got now, but to attract new people.