10 Outrageous Cases of Leaders Abusing their Power

As the old adage says, power corrupts. It’s not uncommon to hear about leaders who take advantage of their positions. But here are 10 examples of people who went above and beyond when it comes to abusing their power. They include a variety of leaders who displayed shocking levels of corruption, greed, and audacity.

1. In the late 1970s, Tennessee Governor Ray Blanton accepted bribes in exchange for pardoning criminals including 20 convicted murderers

Ray Blanton, Prison Cell Block
Image credits: Library of Congress/Wikimedia, Pixabay

Blanton was governor from 1975 to 1979. While in office, he fired the chairman of the Board of Pardons and Paroles for refusing to release some prisoners he wanted to pardon.  He then pardoned 52 prisoners, including 20 convicted murderers. It was later discovered that the prisoners had bribed state officials. One of them was a convicted double murderer who had killed his ex-wife and her boyfriend. The murderer was also the son of a Blanton supporter.

When Blanton’s term in office was nearly over, one of his friends notified state leaders that he was planning another round of pardons, so they searched for a way to stop him. They realized the state constitution wasn’t clear about exactly when a new governor should be sworn in, so they moved up the inauguration of the new governor by three days.(source)

2. In 2013, Mexico’s Attorney General for Consumer Protection shut down a restaurant based on a complaint from his daughter. She was mad because they didn’t seat her at the specific table she wanted.

Humberto Benitez Treviño, Maximo Bistrot Local restaurant
Image credit: Cuartoscuro via adnpolitico.com, Image source: thehappening.com

The attorney general’s name was Humberto Benitez Treviño. His daughter had gone to a popular restaurant in Mexico City without a reservation. When the staff refused to seat her at the table she wanted, she threatened to call her father and have the restaurant shut down. Soon after, four officials from the consumer protection agency showed up to carry out a “lightning raid” on the restaurant. They said they found some violations, including a problem with their reservation policies. They shut it down. At the same time, the daughter went on Twitter to complain about the restaurant.

Public opinion quickly turned against her. Mexico has long had problems with officials abusing their power, and this case was particularly blatant. It became a topic for discussion across the country, so the Mexican president fired Trevino, and the restaurant was reopened.(1,2)

3. In 2017, a mayor in Florida got caught using the handicapped parking permits of dead people.

darlene bradley, Handicapped parking
Image credits: Polk County, Florida, Sheriff’s Office via nola.com, Eric Fischer/Flickr

Darlene Bradley was the Mayor of Davenport, Florida. What makes her abuse of power particularly outrageous is that she stole a dead person’s identity for something as trivial as a parking spot.

She got caught after someone tipped off police, and they reviewed security footage from the parking lot at City Hall. The video showed her parking in a handicapped space and then lifting a heavy, wheeled briefcase from her trunk. Police discovered her parking permit had been issued to a woman who died in 2012, and Bradley had altered the expiration date. They eventually searched her house and found she had additional permits, including one from someone who died in 2015.

Prosecutors said the mayor’s actions showed she thought she was above the law. As part of a plea deal, she was forced to resign. In exchange, prosecutors dropped the charge of criminal use of the identity of a deceased person.(1,2)

4. The head of China’s State Food and Drug Administration took bribes in exchange for allowing companies to register products that didn’t meet safety requirements. They included poorly made medicines that were blamed for causing several deaths.

Zheng Xiaoyu, Chinese money, Medicine
Image credits: China Daily via nytimes.com, Pixabay, pxhere.com

Zheng Xiaoyu ran China’s drug administration from its founding in 1998 until 2005. In 2002, China created new rules that said all drugs had to be approved by the agency. There was a huge backlog of drugs that needed approval, so companies were eager to get their products pushed through the process. Xiaouy reportedly accepted bribes totaling about $850,000.

One of the drugs the agency approved was an antibiotic that killed 10 people before being taken off the market.

Xiaoyu was executed for his crimes. Commentators said the punishment was unusually harsh (even for China) and was carried out surprisingly quickly. They say his execution was used by politicians to show they are dealing with the country’s poor record in product safety.(1,2)

5. In 2010, it was revealed the Bishop of Bruges had sexually abused his own nephew over a 15-year period.

Roger Vangheluwe
Image credit: Carolus/Wikimedia, Image source: alchetron.com

Not all leaders that abuse their power are politicians. The Catholic Church has been rocked by scandals involving priests using their power to abuse children, but the case of the Bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, is especially troubling.

Before the scandal was uncovered, a cardinal had come to Vangheluwe’s aid and tried to convince the victim to not go public. When the abuse finally did come to light, the statute of limitations had expired, so Vangheluwe was never charged with any crimes. He resigned as Bishop, but he was never stripped of his priesthood. He retired and received a state pension of about $3,600 per month. In a TV interview, he admitted to abusing a second nephew, and downplayed the seriousness of his crimes by saying “I had the strong impression that my nephew didn’t mind at all.” Since then, a number of other people have come forward who accused Vanheluwe of also sexually abusing them.(1,2,3)

6. Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was accused of everything from bribing senators to having ties with the mafia. One of his most outrageous abuses of power came to light in 2010. It involved his alleged dealings with an underage prostitute and his attempt to cover it up.

Silvio Berlusconi, Italian protest in Amsterdam
Image credits: Gobierno de España/Wikimedia, Jos van Zetten/Wikimedia

When a 17-year-old girl was arrested on theft charges, Berlusconi called the police and told them to release her. He falsely claimed the girl was the niece of Egyptian President Mubarak, and that her arrest might lead to a diplomatic crisis. After repeated calls, he successfully got her released. The girl was a belly dancer and alleged prostitute. Six months later, she came forward and said she had been paid thousands of dollars by Berlusconi at orgy-like parties at his private villas.

That accusation led to Berlusconi being charged with paying for sex with an underage prostitute and abusing his office. He was convicted, but he appealed and got acquitted. His defense was that he thought the girl was 18 years old, and he believed she was Mubarak’s niece.

Berlusconi has since been accused of paying off other young women who attended his parties to give false testimonies. During the trial, some of them disputed the claim that the parties were orgies, and instead described them as “elegant dinner parties.”(1,2,3,4)

7. William M. Tweed became a member of the New York State Senate in 1868 and oversaw an organization of corrupt politicians. He was later convicted of stealing more money than any other American politician in history.

William M. Tweed, Boss Tweed and the Tammany Ring
Image source: Wikimedia, Image credit: Thomas Nast./Wikimedia

Tweed was a politician and businessman with many connections to politicians who held high offices in New York. They became known as the “Tweed Ring”. Their methods of embezzlement were simple as one biographer described, “there were no skillful manipulations of figures.” Instead, they had control of the records and simply refused to show them.

The Tweed Ring would tell contractors working for the city to charge extra, up to 100 times more than the true cost, and then they would share the extra money between them. This led to ridiculous contractor bills, such as one plasterer who worked on the construction of a courthouse. He was paid the equivalent of $1.82 million for two days work. In total, it’s estimated Tweed may have stolen as much as $200 million from New York taxpayers.(source)

8. In 2013, Detroit Mayor Kwame M. Kilpatrick was convicted of two dozen federal felony counts, ranging from extortion to mail fraud. He was also accused of ordering corrupt cops to murder a stripper so she couldn’t testify against him. He was dubbed the “crime boss mayor.” 

Kwame Kilpatrick, Kwame Kilpatrick's arrest
Image credit: Dave Hogg/Wikimedia, Image source: Screengrab via cnbc.com

Prosecutors said the mayor’s corruption was so vast that he contributed to the city’s bankruptcy. He was once known as “the hip-hop mayor,” and would wear flashy suits and a diamond-studded earing. But he later earned the nickname of “the crime boss mayor.”

He was convicted on 24 felony counts including mail fraud, extortion, and racketeering. He was also accused of a wide range of other misconduct, such as throwing a wild party with strippers at the city-owned, mayor’s residence, ordering the firing of police officers who were investigating him, and having corrupt cops murder a stripper so she couldn’t testify against him. He was sentenced to 28 years in prison.(1,2,3)

9. In 2014, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was convicted of twenty charges of bribery, wire fraud, and money laundering. He accepted kickbacks such as free vacations to Hawaii when the hurricane-ravaged city needed him most. 

Ray Nagin, Hawaii beach, New Orleans, Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina
Image credits: Jeffery Schwartz/Wikimedia, pxhere.com, AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard, Petty Officer 2nd Class Kyle Niemi/Wikimedia

Nagan’s misconduct included giving city contracts in exchange for kickbacks. For example, he reportedly took “plenty of trips” that were paid for by city contractors including a family vacation to Hawaii. In another instance, a contractor delivered truckloads of free granite to his sons’ countertop company.

One thing that makes this abuse of power so outrageous is that Nagin had taken advantage of his position both before and after Hurricane Katrina. As he criticized the federal government for not doing enough to help the city, he continued to act in the interest of making himself richer. He was sentenced to ten years in prison.(1,2)

10. The Treasurer of Pennsylvania, R. Budd Dwyer, was convicted of taking a bribe in exchange for awarding a state contract. He was facing up to 55 years in prison. But the day before his sentencing hearing, he called a press conference, made a speech, and shot himself in front of the reporters and TV cameras.

R. Budd Dwyer, R. Budd Dwyer shooting himself
Image credit: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania/Wikimedia, Image source: taringa.net

In the 1980s, the Treasurer of Pennsylvania agreed to take a $300,000 bribe in exchange for awarding a state contract to an accounting firm. It was a $4.6 million contract for a large and complex project. Dwyer awarded the contract to a firm called Computer Technology Associates (CTA). It was an inexperienced company based in California with just a few employees and little equipment. Dwyer had chosen CTA despite a large Pennsylvania-based firm offering to do the job at half the price.

One outrageous thing about this case is the way it ended. Dwyer was convicted of perjury, mail fraud, conspiracy, and more. He was facing up to 55 years in prison. But the day before the sentencing hearing, Dwyer called a press conference. He made a long speech, where he professed his innocence and talked about problems with the US justice system. Some reporters started to pack up and leave halfway through his speech, but he stopped them. He said his death would hopefully cause his story to get a lot of news coverage and lead to the “development of a true justice system.”

He then pulled a .357 magnum revolver from a manila envelope and fired it into his mouth. His suicide was broadcast by a number of television stations.(source)

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