A DMV employee accepting bribes, a volunteer fire department chief using department money for personal expenses, a school employee stealing from student activity funds.
All are examples of public corruption and the FBI’s Washington Field Office wants the public’s help to identify other acts like this.
FBI officials this week announced a campaign aimed at cracking down on public corruption in Northern Virginia.
“The idea behind this is public awareness,” Tim Gallagher, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Washington Field, office said Tuesday at an event announcing the public awareness campaign.
Public corruption often involves secretive acts that can be difficult to detect without tips and information from the public, Gallagher said.
Investigating public corruption is a priority of the Washington Field office, which has three divisions dedicated to investigating such cases in Washington, Northern Virginia and in federal cases. The Northern Virginia public corruption squad includes 12 agents and was established two years ago, officials said.
The FBI defines public corruption as “any public official who utilizes their office for public gain,” Gallagher said.
Cases the FBI investigates include corruption among law enforcement officers, judges and other court personnel, public officials such as DMV employees, zoning officials, town councils, mayors and governors, contracting officials an real estate investors involved in foreclosure auctions.
The FBI wants the public to be on the lookout for signs of corruption, which are often acts done in secret, “disguised to look like normal business when it’s not,” Gallagher said.
The Washington Field Office has set up a Northern Virginia public corruption hotline at 703-686-6225 that area residents can call to report possible corruption. Tips can also be emailed to NOVAPC@ic.fbi.gov.
“We want to make people aware… and to give them a venue to report something that they feel might not be right,” said Rebecca Madvay, supervisor of the Washington Field Office’s public corruption division.
Among the recent public corruption cases investigated by the Washington Field Office was a bribery scheme that involved issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. In that case, according to court documents, Jose Calderon, 42, of Sterling, solicited cash from more than 100 illegal immigrants between September 2007 and July 2010 in exchange for helping them obtain driver’s licenses. Calderon used the money to bribe Maria Cavallaro, 45, of Springfield, an employee at the DMV service center at Fair Oaks Mall, to falsely verify that the applicants were eligible for driver’s licenses, learner’s permits and identification cards. Calderon pleaded guilty in November to conspiring to bribe a DMV employee and was sentenced to two years and six months in prison. Cavallero and a third defendant, Noemi Barboza, 42, of Sterling, also pleaded guilty to charges in the case.
The FBI also recently investigated a fraud and embezzlement case involving Douglas G “Bo” Taylor, the former chief of the Remington Volunteer Fire & Rescue Department. According to court records, Taylor, 52, of Remington, a master electrician, offered to do renovations on the fire station and submitted false invoices charging the fire department for materials he did not purchase and services he did not perform. Authorities said Taylor, who was also a facilities services employee for Prince William County schools, also used a school division credit card to buy materials used in the fire station renovation project. He was also accused of not reporting the money he received from the fire department and from Virginia Lottery winnings to the IRS. He was sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to pay restitution if $70,833 to the Remington Volunteer Fire Department, $59,419 to Prince William County schools and $79,576 to the IRS.
Taylor’s case is an example of how public corruption can affect a community, Madvay said.
After news spread of Taylor’s arrest, some in the community were more hesitant to support the volunteer fire department at fundraisers and by joining the department, she said.
“That is where you see fallout from something like this,” Madvay said. “It does impact the community.”
By cracking down on public corruption, FBI officials hope they can encourage the public to maintain faith in public officials, even when such isolated examples of fraud emerge.
“When a public official chooses a path of corruption and greed, we want to ensure that same path leads to prison,” Madvay said.