Leader Blues

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

FROM THE PUBLISHER >>Next move may be up to federal prosecutor

When the FBI completes its public-corruption probe into former Cabot Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh’s administration, interim U.S. Attorney Tim Griffin in Little Rock could be the one who decides whether to file charges against Stumbaugh and his cronies.

Both Stumbaugh and Griffin are prominent Republicans, so Griffin could recuse himself and let nonpolitical appointees decide on whether to file charges — or he could go ahead and give the green light for a corruption trial if the findings warrant it just to prove he is not the partisan attack dog that the media have portrayed him since the U.S. attorney firings became a national scandal.

Unless you’ve been on vacation all year, you know the U.S. attorney’s office in Little Rock and seven others around the country have been under a cloud ever since the dismissal of the top prosecutors. U.S. attorneys were fired either for prosecuting too many Republicans or not prosecuting enough Democrats.

Griffin falls somewhere in between. His predecessor, Bud Cummins, was supposedly dismissed for “poor performance,” although he was probably fired to make way for Griffin, a protégé of White House aide Karl Rove.

Now Griffin has to decide if he’s a partisan Republican or an independent prosecutor. In our dealings with him, we’ll go with the latter: A month ago, he demoted his chief of the criminal division after the fellow sent an off-the-wall threat to file a libel suit against this editor for reporting his involvement with Jay Campbell, the convicted former Lonoke police chief.
Griffin, who could leave his post before summer is over, wouldn’t comment on the Stumbaugh investigation, but you have to wonder: If and when he receives the FBI file, would he take the case on himself to show he’s not just a political hack but a fair-minded prosecutor who goes after wrongdoers regardless of party affiliation?

When our reporter Joan McCoy revealed two months ago that the FBI was investigating Stumbaugh and his administration and carting away computers with city records, the former mayor denied there was a probe. Last week, McCoy reported that not only is the FBI continuing its investigation, but Stumbaugh, as is his right, has requested city documents to clear his name.
Investigators are curious about city contracts that were made under Stumbaugh’s watch, particularly with USI-Arkansas to upgrade Cabot’s water system and sewer treatment plant. USI, the Alabama-based parent company, has a history of bribing public officials, and its former president is awaiting sentencing after he was found guilty of bribery. He could get leniency if he comes clean about his company’s business practices and helps corner others who took payoffs.

Investigators are also looking into another company that did business with Cabot, the giant garbage hauler IESI, which hired Stumbaugh as a consultant after he left office in December. IESI’s employees in Cabot have been terminated, although the company insists that had nothing to do with the investigation.

Yet another angle in the case could involve a multi-level marketing firm that Stumbaugh is involved in. Investigators might want to know if the former mayor did business with contractors who may have bought goods and services from the marketing firm.

Stumbaugh is preparing his defense on several fronts, including the USI-Arkansas and IESI’s contracts. Last month, he requested documents under the state’s Freedom of Information Act, and it wouldn’t surprise us if he hired a lawyer before the FBI’s findings go to the U.S. attorney’s office.

In a few short years, Stumbaugh, who is now out of office, has seen a promising political career come crashing down, from chairman of the Lonoke Republican Party to mayor of Cabot to congressional candidate, albeit a failed one. The White House and national Republicans had recruited Stumbaugh, a former Little Rock cop, to challenge Cong. Marion Berry in 2006.

He agreed, but changed his mind, then agreed again to run against Berry, who, it turned out, was unstoppable, especially in a Democratic year.

Stumbaugh’s political career lasted but four years. The one-term mayor has been accused of mismanaging the city, which was on the brink of bankruptcy until newly elected Mayor Eddie Joe Williams began turning things around.

Sending a city into insolvency is not necessarily a federal crime — mayors around the country manage that feat all the time — but there are some things a politician cannot and should not get away with.

The FBI will determine if crimes were committed, and then the U.S. attorney will decide if indictments are warranted.
It looks like interim U.S. Attorney Griffin might have one big case to decide on before he leaves office. The White House and the Justice Department may be watching.