The 10 Most Corrupt Places in America
In 2018, the U.S. lost its ranking on the list of the top 20 least corrupt countries in the world. Transparency International, a non-government organization responsible for monitoring government corruption, released its Corruption Perceptions Index and placed the U.S. in 22nd place with a 71/100 score.
This is the lowest score the country has received in seven years, ranking in 16th place in 2017. Check out our list of the top U.S. states with convictions of bribery and corruption below.
What qualifies as government corruption?
Government corruption is any behavior by an elected public official that violates state laws and the code of conduct for the official’s role. For instance, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) states that U.S. firms and individuals cannot pay bribes to foreign government officials for business purposes.
After being elected, lawmakers must take an oath to adhere to their code of conduct and always serve their constituents.
If a lawmaker commits any of the actions listed below, that is cause to report corruption and may result in his or her removal from office along with imprisonment:
- Cyber extortion
- Wire fraud
1. District of Columbia
At the top of the list of corruption in the U.S. is the nation’s capital. Since 1976 until 2017, there have been over 1,100 convictions in D.C. for violations of the anti-corruption law. Despite having the lowest population on the list at 672,228 (as of 2015), it has an average of 17 convictions per 10,000.
This is 15 convictions higher than the second-highest state on the government corruption list, with several examples of corruption of all kinds.
The District’s public officials have a long history of violating the anti-bribery and corruption policy in the city. Back in 2010, the Council of the District of Columbia censured former mayor Marion Barry for unlawfully awarding a contract to his former girlfriend. This violated conflict-of-interest laws and resulted in Barry being stripped of his chairman position.
Most recently, in 2019, two city council members violated the anti-corruption law by using their influence and government resources for personal gain.
Since 1976, Louisiana has had 1,202 convictions of public officials for violating anti-bribery policy and failing to uphold public trust.
Back in 2014, former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in a kickback scheme (a form of bribery in which the participant receives a commission for his or her role in illegal activity) that involved city contractors and his family members.
Government corruption in Louisiana also extended to law enforcement. In August of 2019, federal authorities filed charges against former Sheriff Jack Strain for bribery corruption and wire fraud.
According to officials, Strain used taxpayer money to “enrich himself, his friends and his family.”
This isn’t Strain’s first run-in with the law. The former sheriff was also accused of several counts of aggravated rape within the same timeframe.
Historically, Illinois has maintained its ranking as one of the most corrupt states in the country. Over 30 public officials were convicted of corruption in 2017, with over 2,100 total public corruption convictions since 1976.
Barbara Bennett, the chief executive responsible for the Chicago public school system, was charged with wire fraud and bribery, and sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison. After receiving bribes from two companies, she agreed to grant them no-bid contracts.
Willie Cochran, a former alderman in Chicago, allegedly stole from his own ward’s charity funds – over $115,000 – over a period of three years.
More recently, state senator Tom Cullerton was caught embezzling almost $300,000 and committing fraud. However, his case has not yet been finalized.
These are only three examples of the corruption that has been rampant in Illinois.
Despite having the lowest number of convictions of all 10 listed states, Tennessee is still one of the most corrupt states in America. According to data from the Department of Justice, from 1976 until 2015, there have been on average 1.54 convictions per 10,000 people in the state. While instances of these crimes seem to have decreased, examples of extortion and violations of anti-bribery laws are still rampant in the state.
Early in 2019, one of the most prominent judges in Nashville, Casey Moreland, received a 44-month prison sentence for bribery and corruption.
According to records, Moreland used his powerful status to extend preferential treatment in exchange for sexual favors. Following his arrest, the former judge further violated the state’s bribery law by attempting to bribe witnesses and impede the investigation.
5. New York
With 2,860 convictions, New York has the second-highest number of public convictions after California. In 2018 alone, five public servants were convicted of bribery, witness tampering, fraud and embezzlement.
For instance, lawmaker Pamela Harris was charged with misusing funds meant for government purposes to use on her mortgage, personal shopping trips and more. According to records, the former New York assemblywoman pocketed over $50,000 from the nonprofit Coney Island Generation Gap and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Back in 2013, former state senator John Sampson was charged with embezzling money upwards of $400,000. As a result, Sampson was sentenced to five years in prison and will have to pay restitution.
Some experts argue that New York should be at the top of the list given that within the last 10 years, the state has seen over 30 examples of corruption from lawmakers.
With the fifth-highest number of convictions, the state of Pennsylvania has had its fair share of lawmakers found guilty of embezzlement of funds, extortion and fraud.
In the summer of 2019, former mayor of Scranton Bill Courtright signed a plea agreement in which he admitted to violating the anti-bribery act. According to the report, Courtright would regularly extort money from city contractors and developers by asking for cash in exchange for greenlighting their projects. Before he was indicted, the former mayor had received thousands of dollars.
Mayors from two other towns – Allentown and Reading – were also sentenced to 15 and eight years in prison, respectively, for corruption.
Next on the list is Virginia, which received a score of 35/100 from the non-partisan organization Coalition for Integrity for its corruption and lack of an anti-corruption agency. Old Dominion also received an F in its Corruption Risk Report Card from the State Integrity Investigation project.
With its many corruption scandals, it’s easy to see why Virginia would receive such low scores.
Back in 2014, Phillip Hamilton, the vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, was convicted of bribery and extortion. Hamilton held his position for 21 years until news broke that he had embezzled $500,000 of government funds to secure a job at Old Dominion University.
As a result, he was sentenced to nine-and-a-half years in prison.
During the early 2000s, prosecutors began probing into Cuyahoga County for violations of anti-corruption law. Since then, over 20 public servants have been disgraced as their shady dealings were discovered.
One example is County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora, who was sentenced to 28 years in prison for racketeering and bribery, along with other corruption charges. Several reports reveal that during his time as a public servant, he accepted over 100 bribes and used his influence to affect the outcome of several court cases.
Several auditors were also found guilty of bribery and corruption charges during this time.
9. New Jersey
Though its position is low on the top-10 list, corruption is still prevalent in New Jersey. In recent years, public servants like councilpersons, family services workers, state troopers and police chiefs have been found guilty of committing bribery and corruption in the state.
The Superior Court in Essex County sentenced Bloomfield councilman to five years in prison for accepting bribes and giving preferential treatment to certain businessmen.
The former police chief of Jersey City, Phillip Zacche, was also in hot water after billing around $30,000 to the housing authority when in fact, he didn’t perform any duties. Zacche agreed to a plea agreement and received a two-year probation.
According to 2017 data from the Department of Justice, corruption in Georgia has gone down. However, constituents are still worried about the prevalence of government corruption within the state, since Georgia still has more public crime than many other states.
Known for his “deportation bus” pitch, former State Senator Michael Williams was convicted of insurance fraud in early 2019. Williams filed a false claim with his insurance companies regarding his computer server, according to news reports.
State Insurance Commissioner Jim Beck was also caught violating anti-corruption law. He was charged with fraud, specifically wire and mail fraud, shortly after his election in November of 2018. Beck allegedly stole over $2 million from the Georgia Underwriting Association and used the funds for personal expenses.