Hampton, Fla. (CBS TAMPA) — A tiny Florida town is being threatened with extinction by state officials and auditors that are giving some residents three weeks to prove that the town is not one of the most corrupt in the country.
In a wide-ranging report labeling the town “the twilight zone of government gone wrong,” CNN reports that Hampton, the 1,260-ft town off Highway 301, is one of the country’s most notorious speed traps. And that is the least of the tiny town’s troubles, as some are labeling it the dirtiest little town in an already corrupt state.
The town’s financial windfall, and later downfall, began when city officials sanctioned a speed trap off the busy Highway 301 stretch it occupies north of Gainesville:
Hampton employed 19 police officers in the town with a population of 477, or, one officer for every 25 residents. In 3 years, the town’s police force wrote more than $600,000 in traffic fines. In 2011 alone, 9,515 traffic tickets raked in $253,000 to city coffers.
“It became ‘serve and collect’ instead of ‘serve and protect.’ Cash register justice,” Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith told CNN. “Do y’all remember the old ‘Dukes of Hazzard’? Boss Hogg? They make Boss Hogg look like a Sunday school teacher.”
Smith noted that one of the officers was nicknamed, “Rambo,” because of his habit of wearing full SWAT team tactical armor and strapping an AR-15 assault rifle across his body just to write speeding tickets.
A recent Florida House vote to dissolve Hampton’s 1925 city charter received unanimous approval that cited “wholesale corruption” and “abuse of the public.” But state legislators have given the town a few weeks before the Senate will rubber-stamp its approval to wipe the town off the map.
State auditors found 31 instances in which local, state and federal laws were violated with both small and vast infractions of shady accounting, nearly $1 million in missing funds, and nepotism. But auditors also found that the money hadn’t completely disappeared: The city clerk was overpaid by nearly $9,000, and employees ran up $27,000 on the city’s credit card and charged another $132,000 on an account set up at the convenience store at the BP station next door to City Hall.
But one person that won’t be found in Hampton City Hall – the elected mayor.
Barry Layne Moore, who served just a few weeks in office after being elected mayor, is currently in county jail after being arrested as part of a police sting on oxycodone dealing. Moore is accused of selling a single 30-milligram pill of oxycodone to an undercover sheriff’s informant for $20, CNN reports. He is unable to raise the $,4500 bond to leave, and accuses higher state officials of using him as a scapegoat.
“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?
“I’m a good guy that got caught up in a bunch of nonsense that was bigger than me.”
Jim Mitzel, mayor of Hampton from 2000-08, conceded that the town is “corrupt as heck,” although he is not accused of any personal wrongdoing.
“Where did all the money go?” he asked CNN. “I hate to say it, but in somebody’s pocket.”
But Mitzel does not think the city should be dissolved for the past wrongdoing, and he has launched the “Save our Town of Hampton, Fla.” Campaign.
“The government bailed out General Motors,” said Mitzel. “The government bailed out Chrysler. Why can’t the state of Florida bail out the City of Hampton?”