Statewide grand jury nears and state wants your corruption tips

Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald

By Patricia Mazzei

Published February 3, 2010

Selection will begin next week for a statewide grand jury created to look into public corruption and recommend changes to Florida law and state prosecutors are asking the public for tips on what to investigate.

Gov. Charlie Crist called for the grand jury after a spate of high-profile arrests of public officials and major campaign contributors in South Florida.

On Monday, Attorney General Bill McCollum urged the public to report instances of wrongdoing by public officials, from bribery to nepotism to fraud, to his office and its investigative arm, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

"We'd really like to know if you're a whistle-blower or willing to be a whistle-blower," McCollum said.

The Republican attorney general, who is running for governor, was speaking to reporters in Fort Lauderdale, which is where the grand jury led by Broward Chief Judge Victor Tobin will meet over the next year once it is impaneled.

Last month, the Florida Supreme Court sent a grand jury summons to more than 300 randomly selected people in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee counties.

Eighteen people will be chosen for the panel, as well as dozens of alternates, said statewide prosecutor William Shepherd, who reports to McCollum and is leading the corruption probe.

The grand jury will be based in Broward but investigate cases throughout the state. It may eventually suggest changes to Florida public corruption laws.

The last statewide grand jury convened to look into gang-related crime. It resulted in a report on improving gang prevention and partly led to the Criminal Gang Prevention Act Crist signed into law in 2008.

Prosecutors already have a number of leads for public corruption cases across Florida, Shepherd said. They hope to get more from tips through a hotline and Web site.

Tipsters can remain anonymous, though McCollum said he hoped people would give their names and provide specific examples and evidence of wrongdoing, like documents.

"If you're just giving some bland generalities, there's no way for our investigators at FDLE to follow up," he said.

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