Public Corruption and Private Enterprise

October 3, 2002

Mark Miester

When Burkenroad Institute director Arthur Brief chose public corruption as the theme of the 2002 Burkenroad Symposium, little did he know the topic would prove so timely. Then, in July, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin captured national headlines for his historic crackdown on corruption in city government.

The director of the city's Department of Utilities was arrested, and dozens of cab drivers and break-tag station employees were booked on bribery charges. Less than a month later, a federal appeals court upheld the May 2000 conviction of former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards on racketeering and fraud charges, a decision that will likely land Edwards behind bars for the rest of his life. Allegations of corruption and malfeasance have always underscored life in Louisiana, but at few times in history has it been in such focus.

"This is a miracle in timing," Brief says. "In the letter I sent out months ago announcing the topic, I wrote, 'The bribery of government officials is dirty business in need of public airing.' And Nagin did it!" Mayor Ray Nagin, a student of Brief's when Nagin was in the business school's Executive MBA program, will be on hand as a special guest to introduce "Public Corruption and Private Enterprise," the topic of this year's Burkenroad Symposium on Business and Society.

Joining Nagin to address the topic will be Tyler Bridges, reporter for the Miami Herald and author of Bad Bet on the Bayou: The Rise of Gambling in Louisiana and the Fall of Governor Edwin Edwards; Joel S. Hellman, a lead specialist at the World Bank on public sector and governance in Europe and Asia; and Andrew C. Lourie, chief of the public integrity section of the U.S. Department of Justice, criminal division. Bridges will kick things off with a discussion of public corruption in Louisiana. Lourie, one of the nation's top law enforcement officials, will broaden the discussion to the national level.

To close things out, Hellman, who has taught political science at Harvard and Columbia universities, will address the impact of public corruption on government and democracy in European and Central Asian nations.

"We're going to focus on local, national and international issues," Brief says. "And the problem really is huge internationally. It even puts New Orleans to shame."

According to Brief, the topic for this year's symposium emerged from conversations with a local friend, a New Orleans native, about the extent of corruption in the city. While his friend railed about corruption he perceived to be permeating every level of City Hall, Brief defended former Mayor Marc Morial and argued that it couldn't possibly be as bad as his friend alleged.

"So I said let's do a symposium on this and find out," Brief explains. "I started doing research and I got a copy of a speech given by the then-director of the local FBI. We're the 38th largest FBI office, so we're pretty small, but in the number of public corruption indictments and convictions, we're No. 1. They send agents to Louisiana to learn how to do public corruption investigations."

The Burkenroad Symposium takes place from 9 to 10:30 a.m. on Friday Oct. 4, in Dixon Hall.

Mark Miester may be reached at

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000