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A Times Editorial

Public shame is not justice

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 29, 2000


It's not every day that conscience allows a defense of union boss Perry Harvey Jr. But last week, federal prosecutors named Harvey, a former Tampa city council member, in a bribery scam. All the elements were there -- names, dates, canceled checks, conspirators exposed in a press release. Only one thing was missing: Harvey wasn't charged with a crime.

The only person charged was Joseph F. Casella, a shipping executive who prosecutors claim illegally contributed to Harvey's failed 1996 campaign for the Hillsborough County commission. Casella, the government alleges, contributed during the time he was negotiating with Harvey over a contract that cut pay and benefits for Harvey's union, the International Longshoremen's Local 1402. According to court papers filed by prosecutors, Harvey sold his union workers "up the river" in a "criminal enterprise" that ultimately saved Casella's company $132,000.

But bribery is a two-way street. If prosecutors had enough to charge and arrest Casella, why not Harvey? The U.S. Attorney's Office would say only that its investigation is "continuing." Continuing? It implicates Harvey in a "corrupt practice" and "criminal enterprise," yet fails for days now to file charges that Harvey, like any other American, should be able to challenge in court?

The tactic of appending Harvey's name to another person's criminal complaint is one that previous U.S. Attorneys have tried to use and have been criticized for. . Either the government has a case or it doesn't. If not, it would be irresponsible to use public shame as a weapon when the means to indict are unavailable. The U.S. attorney, Donna Bucella, deserves credit for making public corruption a priority and for adding depth to her special prosecutions section. But the government has tried and failed to convict Harvey before for misusing his union position. His actions may warrant another swing by the government, but this is not the way to go about it.

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