After audit reveals corruption, Florida town's days could be numbered

Mike Krumboltz, Yahoo News
Yahoo NewsMarch 10, 2014

After a state audit revealed massive corruption, the Florida town of Hampton could be completely wiped off the map if state lawmakers have their way, CNN reports.

Critics of the town (population less than 500) argue that it has long existed for the sole purpose of enforcing a speed trap on a 1,260-foot stretch of highway. Issued tickets (12,698 between 2011 and 2012, according to the New York Times) resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

But where did the money go? No one knows. Auditors were told by city officials that some of the records were "lost in the swamp," according to CNN.

CNN notes that while it does have a bloated police department, the town isn't filled with McMansions or flashy cars.

But there are some signs of extravagance. The excess in fines allegedly resulted in a city clerk being overpaid to the tune of $9,000. Perhaps most amazing, according to the audit, city employees charged $132,000 on an account at a BP convenience store located next to City Hall. Other alleged offenses include a failure to insure city police cars and failure to track what became of the revenue that came from ticketing motorists.

Now, state officials — including State Senator Rob Bradley — are seeking to erase the city and make it a part of Bradford County.

"It's like something out of a Southern Gothic novel," Bradley told Time magazine. "This town exists apparently just to write speeding tickets. Most people don't understand why it exists in the first place."

Via CNN:

Hampton cops were a fixture out on U.S. 301. They sat on lawn chairs, pointing radar guns at unsuspecting motorists. They hid behind recycling bins. As more and more money came in, they idled in slick SUVs, trolled the median strips in riot gear and toted state-of-the-art firepower. Locals gave one the nickname "Rambo" because he slung an AR-15 rifle across his chest.

The town's former mayor, Barry Layne Moore, was recently accused of selling oxycodone to an undercover police officer. Moore had only been mayor for a few weeks, according to CNN, and is "not connected to the city's mess." Even he called the city officials "either a bunch of crooks or a bunch of stupid people."

Via CNN:

"They made it sound as if I was running some kind of pill mill right out of my house, which is not the case at all," he said. "If I was some kind of drug dealer, I would at least have a car. I ride a bicycle around town. I had my lights cut off twice last year. If I am a dope dealer, why are my lights getting cut off?"

The alleged corruption goes back years and involves three full-time city officials, according to the audit. The speed trap has been so lucrative, the town of Hampton could afford to employ one police officer for every 25 residents.

Another former mayor, Jim Mitzel, who served from 2000 to 2008, said he played a role in "greasing the revenue pipeline" from the speed trap. But he told CNN he thought the money would go back into the town.

"Where did all the money go?" Mitzel asked. "I hate to say it, but in somebody's pocket."

Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith told CNN that the speed trap turned Hampton to "'serve and collect' instead of 'serve and protect.' Cash-register justice." He also said the officials of Hampton made the over-the-top corrupt, white-suit-wearing Boss Hogg from the popular "Dukes of Hazzard" TV show "look like a Sunday school teacher."

So, what happens now? The town has one month to come up with a plan to get its act together, according to the New York Times. Failure to do so will result in Bradford County taking over the town, and Florida maps getting a small but notable update.

Follow Mike Krumboltz on Twitter (@mikekrumboltz).