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Lawmakers look to dissolve corrupt Florida town with one cop for every 25 residents

By Travis Gettys
Monday, March 10, 2014 8:42 EDT
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Lawmakers have threatened a Florida town with dissolution if it doesn’t clean up dozens of problems revealed in an “outrageous,” “crazy,” and “weird” state audit.

Investigators found 31 violations of state law, federal tax regulations, and the city charter during the audit of Hampton, an 89-year-old town about 30 miles southwest of Jacksonville.

Auditors said the city government was filled with nepotism and could not account for at least $200,000 in speeding-ticket revenue, although the actual amount of misused revenue could be as much as $1 million.

The city clerk, police chief, and water utility operator have all resigned, and its mayor, Barry Lynne Moore, has been suspended while he remains jailed on felony drug charges.

Moore is accused of selling a single 30-milligram pill to an undercover sheriff’s informant for $20 just a few weeks after he began serving as mayor, and he’s unable to raise the $4,500 in bond money.

Auditors found the city clerk, who admitted she was not an organized person and lacked formal training in bookkeeping and accounting, was overpaid by about $9,000, and employees charged $27,000 on the city’s credit card and another $132,000 to an account at the BP station next door to City Hall.

Under its charter, Hampton exists only to provide water and police protection to its 477 residents, but investigators said city officials badly mismanaged both responsibilities.

The state took over the town’s water plant and system, which was leaking 46 percent of its water, and authorities found that many new water meters had never been properly hooked up, if at all.

Hampton had been known as a speed trap for years, and the city even annexed land about 20 years ago along County Road 18 and U.S. 301 to allow its officers to patrol busier roads to maximize revenue.

Officers sat in lawn chairs along U.S. 301, pointing radar guns at motorists or hiding behind recycling bins to surprise them.

The town had up to 19 officers – one for every 25 residents – on its payroll, including three who lacked state law enforcement certification.

One of those officers was nicknamed “Rambo” by motorists because he stopped traffic offenders while wearing SWAT team tactical gear and an AR-15 strapped to his chest.

Hampton collected nearly $617,000 in ticket money between 2010 and 2012, but Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith began investigating the town’s actions due to numerous citizen complaints.

“It became ‘serve and collect’ instead of ‘serve and protect.’ Cash register justice,” Smith said. “Do y’all remember the old ‘Dukes of Hazzard’? Boss Hogg? They make Boss Hogg look like a Sunday school teacher.”

Smith persuaded a judge to dismiss Hampton’s tickets and cut its officers off the county radio channel and a national criminal record database, and the sheriff ordered his deputies to stop accepting the town’s prisoners at the county jail.

State Rep. Charles Van Zant (R), who began looking into the town’s police practices after receiving his own ticket while passing through, asked the state’s auditor general to examine Hampton’s books in April 2013.

Van Zant and state Sen. Rob Bradley (R) have called on the state legislature to dissolve Hampton, but official must first determine how the town would get its water and police service.

The county’s sheriff’s department is currently patrolling Hampton and an independent trade association is making sure its drinking water is safe, but neither arrangement is permanent.

But both lawmakers said they would wait until the end of the month to give volunteers in the town a chance to correct some of the issues found in the audit.

Watch this video report posted online by CNN:

 
 
 
 
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