Philadelphia FBI agents spent nearly 2 1/2 years tapping phones involving two top supporters of Mayor John Street and then they hid a bug in the mayor’s office. In New Jersey, they raided the state Democratic headquarters and secretly taped Gov. James McGreevey. The Philadelphia Inquirer says such bold measures reflect a more aggressive federal approach to political-corruption cases. “Right now, the topic is corruption. It’s hot,” said law Prof. Charles Rogovin of Temple University, who called it a “massive effort to get at a very dangerous problem.”
Political corruption has long been a priority for federal law enforcement officials in New Jersey and Philadelphia. New Jersey has had many corruption cases dating to the 1970s. “New Jersey has had an unending series of public officials who just don’t learn,” said John C. Coffee Jr., Columbia University law professor. The number of state and local officials indicted each year has increased since 1994. A total of 247 state and local officials nationwide were indicted in 1994; 409 were indicted in 2002. The ability to effectively prosecute such cases can be affected by priorities set by the Justice Department. During the 1990s, for example, there was a push for federal prosecutions of drugs and weapons cases. “Political corruption sort of dropped off the radar,” said Peter Vaira, a former federal prosecutor in Philadelphia and Chicago.