Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Violating the Public's Trust

http://www.lowellsun.com/breakingnews/ci_1143693

A 40-year-old former Lowell man who worked as an intelligence analyst for
the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency is under felony indictment after prosecutors
say he used his security clearances to harass his ex-girlfriend and falsely tie
her to drug investigations...

...Prosecutors say Hoffman worked for the Massachusetts National Guard, and was assigned as an analyst with the DEA's New England High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force, which is based in Worcester. The job gave Hoffman access to several computer databases, including Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicle information. Prosecutors say Hoffman used that job to obtain personal information about his ex-girlfriend, including telephone numbers and her driver's license photograph, and then used that information to send e-mails to her son.
Those e-mails disparaged the ex-girlfriend, and Hoffman made it appear they originated from her current boyfriend, prosecutors said.

Pretty creepy stuff, for sure. This caught my eye this morning as a good reminder that violations of the public trust aren't limited to *just* elected officials. I know I've spilled plenty of virtual ink on these pages to talk about the Rod Blagoyeviches, the Duke Cunninghams, the Mark Foleys, etc. -- those who would abuse power in an instant and feel that the laws only apply to other people.

Anyone who draws a twice-monthly paycheck from Uncle Sam is just as accountable to the taxpayers who keep his plate and his cup full every day.

It's easy to fall under the trap of thinking that politics is *just* dirty, period, while someone who works, say, for a government agency Monday to Friday and with the Mass. Natty Guard on the weekends must be doing something noble and wonderful for the state.

But stories like this remind us that it ain't necessarily the case. Public officials, especially those with the type of access to information that this man held, would be wise to heed the words offered in Luke, Chapter 12, Verse 48: "...For to whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more."

The military uses a very simple but descriptive epithet to label someone who happily draws a government-sponsored paycheck but will do virtually no more to earn it -- turd. For the cases where someone actively uses that position for nefarious personal ends, I think even harsher words might apply.

2 comments:

kad barma said...

I've recently wondered if we've been applying the death penalty to the wrong bunch of crooks--OJ, for example, would generally never be a threat to you and me, but one Bernie Madoff can thoroughly ruin the lives of thousands with relative impunity, and it's hard to argue he hasn't damaged all of us. (Besides--which bunch do we expect is more likely to consider such a penalty as a deterrent?)

The recent looting of a local water company brings the dilemma to sharpest focus: A woman in a position of trust abuses it to pilfer tens of thousands from innocent ratepayers. Her husband, also employed by the same public utility, upon learning of his wife's theft, not only repays the stolen funds, but additional monies to cover court costs and other expenses. How the two of them wound up married, given the yawning gulf between their moral centers, is beyond me, but its clear that public service cannot be what it should be without guys like that. Now all we have to do is figure out how to tell the difference on the civil service exam...

The New Englander said...

Kad,

Nice point about "white collar" crime and its effects. I'm anti-death penalty in all cases, but I agree that it's total B.S. that people can ruin so many lives and in so many cases avoid the types of punishments that far less *dangerous* criminals receive..

And like you said about the deterrent effect, people with more to lose should (rationally) fear punishment more than those on the fringes...if the Enron thieves and Madoff types really believed they were facing something other than minimum security and creature comforts, they might really have something to fear!

best,
gp