Tags: Hampton | Florida | corruption | speed trap

Small Fla. Town May Be Abolished Amid Corruption

By    |   Monday, 10 March 2014 11:50 AM

If Florida lawmakers have their way, a small town will be abolished after a scathing audit uncovered widespread financial corruption and forced the resignation last week of its entire municipal staff.

Hampton, located about 130 miles north of Orlando, has been found to be in violation of 31 state or federal laws. Lawmakers plan, in the next month, to introduce a bill dissolving the town, population 477.

"It became 'serve and collect' instead of 'serve and protect.' 'Cash register justice,'" Sheriff Gordon Smith said in a CNN report. "Do y’all remember the old 'Dukes of Hazzard?' Boss Hogg? They make Boss Hogg look like a Sunday school teacher."

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Hampton, founded in 1870 and named after the 10-year-old son of a local farmer, has in recent years survived on a harvest of corruption.

Hampton’s problems began in 1993 when it annexed a quarter-mile stretch of U.S. 301 and set up a speed trap. The town expanded its police force to 17 officers, one for every 25 residents, to man the trap. According to the CNN report, one officer was nicknamed "Rambo" because he approached pulled-over motorists wearing SWAT tactical gear with an AR-15 rifle slung over his shoulder.

The AAA Motor Club, which labeled the speed trap one of the most notorious in the country, estimated that 60 percent of the city's revenue was derived from moving violations. The exact amount of that figure remains up for debate. Most accounts suggest that total exceeded $200,000. One legislator suggests it could be as high as $1 million.

How that money was spent remains the biggest mystery and the root of the town’s problems.

The 42-page report from the state auditor general finds that municipal cars, cellphones, and credit cards were misused. The town clerk was overpaid by some $9,000, and employees ran up $27,000 on the town credit card and charged another $132,000 on an account at the convenience store at the BP gas station adjacent to City Hall.

The city's budgets weren't posted on the county website; receipts, petty cash, and voided checks weren't properly tracked; the city's water department had run six-figure deficits that weren't properly accounted for in its annual financial reports; and the city didn't keep personnel files or time sheets. A number of public records were – some say conveniently – lost in a flood.

"What's wrong with that picture?" former Hampton Mayor Jim Mitzel told CNN. "That’s a lot of cigarettes and beer and what-have-you. That's corrupt as heck. Where did all the money go? I hate to say it, but in somebody's pocket."

Mitzel, who said his monthly salary of $125 during his eight years as mayor "wasn’t worth the hassle," added that the town’s government structure was such that the employees were essentially the ones in charge.

Barry Layne Moore, the man elected earlier this year to run Hampton, is currently in Bradford County jail, arrested just before Thanksgiving (a month and a half into his term) in an undercover sting for allegedly selling oxycodone. He is unable to raise the $4,500 required to post bond.

Moore, who was suspended by Gov. Rick Scott after his arrest, was not in office during the period the audit covers. Though he has not seen a copy of the report, he has heard it does not paint Hampton officials in a positive light.

"They are either a bunch of crooks or a bunch of stupid people," Moore told CNN. "I hate to say it like that, but it's the truth. I look like a crook sitting here in an orange suit, don’t I?"

While Florida lawmakers may have deemed Hampton too corrupt to save, not everyone is eager to see the town disappear.

A Facebook page was set up called "Save Our Town Of Hampton, Fla."

Mitzel told CNN, "The government bailed out General Motors, the government bailed out Chrysler. Why can't the state of Florida bail out Hampton? Don't shut our town down."

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If Florida lawmakers have their way, a small town will be abolished after a scathing audit uncovered widespread financial corruption and forced the resignation last week of its entire municipal staff.
Hampton,Florida,corruption,speed trap
Monday, 10 March 2014 11:50 AM
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