Politicians have the power to influence the world, and they have a direct impact on the day-to-day lives of the people they represent. That’s why politicians get to enjoy perks from their jobs, jet around the country doing photo ops and appear on TV looking perfectly put together. Their words are listened to and broadcast around the world. They debate the important issues and deal with the really tough questions. They’re in positions of power, and there’s a reason that everyone knows power corrupts.
Not all politicians are what they appear to be, public servants who have been called to perform a duty that’s much greater than themselves. In fact, after you look at this list you might start to have serious doubts about why people become politicians, and what they really want from their careers in the first place.
History is littered with tales of terribly corrupt politicians, and that list is way too long to create. But the powerful people who abuse their power don’t often get what they deserve, even when they get caught. The 15 politicians on this list, however, are different. Not only did these corrupt, crooked politicians get caught, they got what they deserved.
15. Ray Nagin – Funnelled Federal Funds During Hurricane Katrina Aftermath
Ray Nagin came to public attention in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. He served as mayor of the city from 2004 to 2010, but more recently he’s performing public service in a different way. Nagin used Hurricane Katrina to his benefit, funneling federal funds toward his own family business and making no-bid deals with friends during the rebuilding effort to help line his pockets. People of the city were horrified by his actions when he was charged with corruption crimes, particularly because Hurricane Katrina caused such devastating losses to New Orleans. Today, Nagin is serving a 10-year sentence in federal prison.
14. Edwin W. Edwards – Charged With 17 Counts Of Racketeering And Extortion
Edwin W. Edwards, who has a name made for political office, was elected as Louisiana’s governor four times — despite a shocking 25 corruption cases being brought against him during his political career. He once boasted that the only way he could lose his election was to be “caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy.” It was in 1995 when his luck finally ran out and the 25th corruption case against him was filed. This time, he was convicted of 17 counts of racketeering and extortion. He was sentenced to 8 years in prison, which he served. At age 87, Edwards did something even more shocking: he ran for Congress. With his 35-year-old wife and 1-year-old son, Edwards tried once more to gain political power in 2014. He was defeated.
13. Kwame Kilpatrick – Stole Money From Detroit Taxpayers
The former mayor of Detroit, Kwame Kilpatrick took scandal to a whole new level in the early 2000s. He funneled city dollars into his own bank account and made quite a bit of money for himself on the back of Detroit citizens before he was eventually convicted of 24 criminal counts. Kilpatrick launched a complex scheme in order to steal city funds for himself by frauding city contractors and Detroit’s taxpayers, and enjoyed big profits before it all came crashing down. Despite appealing to the Supreme Court, Kilpatrick is serving a 28-year prison sentence for his various crimes. That should give him plenty of time to think about everything he did wrong while serving as the Mayor of Detroit.
12. Albert Fall – Convicted Of Accepting Bribes In Exchange For Oil Leases
Fall was a controversial Cabinet pick from the start, and raised plenty of eyebrows when President Warren G. Harding appointed him as Secretary of the Interior. Fall was a member of the “Ohio Gang,” a group of cronies Harding brought along with him to Washington, D.C. He was later at the center of the Teapot Dome scandal, in which Harding was never implicated but forever sullied. Fall was convicted of accepting bribes in exchange for oil leases in Wyoming in 1921. He was the first Cabinet member in history to be sent to prison for crimes he committed while in office.
11. Richard Nixon – Only President To Resign From Office
The most notorious President in American History, Richard Nixon’s name is synonymous with political scandal. He was taken down by the Watergate scandal, which truly set the bar for Presidential crimes. Nixon funneled his own campaign funds to thieves who broke into the Watergate hotel in order to obtain information about the Democratic National Committee. Nixon was also accused of spending as much as $1 million in bribes to keep the scandal quiet, which ultimately didn’t work.
Nixon resigned when Congress began to investigate possible impeachment. He was later pardoned by Gerald Ford, who was serving as Speaker of the House and later Vice President during the Watergate scandal. Nixon didn’t do any time for his crimes, but he was convicted in the court of public opinion and is still a famously disgraced President and the only one (so far) to ever resign from that high office.
10. Randy Cunningham – Accepted $2 Million In Bribes
Known as “the most corrupt Congressman ever caught,” Randy “Duke” Cunningham was a Vietnam War veteran and a polished politician. He served in the House of Representatives from 1991 to 2005, and in that time earned millions of dollars in bribes. He plead guilty to the crime in 2005 and admitted to taking over $2 million from at least three different defense contractors. He used the money to buy himself luxury items like a Rolls Royce, a mansion and a yacht — among other nonsense. He was sentenced to 8 years in federal prison and ordered to pay $1.8 million in restitution.
9. Rod Blagojevich – Indicted On 23 Felony Charges
Blagojevich is actually just one in a surprisingly long list of names of former Illinois governors who were sent to prison. This one in particular stands out because Blagojevich put himself in the national spotlight. He joined the cast of “The Apprentice” even as he was using his office for “pay to play” schemes, a crime he was later convicted of. Most notably, he attempted to sell Barack Obama’s empty Senate seat following the 2008 Presidential election. He was first impeached, then barred from ever holding public office of any kind for the rest of his life. He was also indicted on 23 felony charges and sent to prison to join several other former Illinois governors.
8. Ray Blanton – Issued Pardons And Commuted Sentences For 52 Inmates
He was only Governor of Tennessee from 1975 to 1979, but Ray Blanton managed to squeeze a lot of scandal into his time in office. Three of his aides were accused of accepting money in return for approving paroles. And though Blanton wasn’t directly implicated, he was well-known for issuing a ton of pardons. As Governor, he issued pardons and commuted sentences for 52 inmates. Of those 52, 24 were convicted of murder charges. For his part, Blanton was convicted in 1981 for extortion and conspiracy while in office. He served 22 months and spent much of the rest of his life trying to clear his name. He was not successful.
7. Boss Tweed – Used Fake Documents To Drain New York’s Funds
How corrupt was Boss Tweed? His real name is William — he earned the nickname “Boss” because he ran New York. He got involved in New York politics as early as 1850, but didn’t become a member of the city board until 1856. This is where his corruption began. By 1860, Boss was in control of the state’s Democratic Party and put the people he picked into key positions such as Mayor and Governor. His corruption was so far-reaching, he was known as the head of the Tweed ring. He was so confident in 1860 he opened up a law office…even though he wasn’t a lawyer. In 1870, he managed to take control of the city’s treasury. He started using fake documents to drain New York’s funds.
His downfall was just as epic as his reign at the top of the corrupt political heap. He was convicted of forgery and larceny in 1873 and spent the rest of his life getting out of jail and being put back in, a powerless man so famously crooked he’s often listed as the most corrupt politician ever in American history. It’s never easy being the boss.
6. Jabez Balfour – Set Up A Fake Bank To fraud British Businesses And Citizens
Jabez Balfour has the rather dubious title of being the greatest financial fraudster in Britain’s history. He had a 22-year career in politics before he tried to leave the country, stepping on a boat bound for Buenos Aires in 1892. He actually set up a fake bank to fraud British businesses and citizens. Scotland Yard chased him across the globe and caught up to him 13 months after he left Britain, dragging him all the way back to England so he could stand trial. He served 11 years in prison on a 14-year sentence, and spent his last years working inside a tin mine.
5. Thomas J. Maloney – Convicted Of Racketeering, Conspiracy, Extortion And Obstruction Of Justice
Judge Maloney is likely to live on as the most corrupt Chicago judge in history for quite some time. He was convicted of taking thousands of dollars in bribes. While serving as a judge, Maloney fixed three murder trials and a felony case. He acquitted gang members and passed money through a lawyer when he thought the FBI might be watching him. He had a murder charged reduced to manslaughter after accepting several thousands dollars to do so. Maloney was convicted of racketeering, conspiracy, extortion and obstruction of justice. He served 12 years of a 15-year sentence, and was released in 2007. He died in 2008.
4. Caligula – Was Assassinated By His Guard
He ruled Rome from the year 12 to the year 41, and that’s an unbelievably long time ago. But this former Emperor was so corrupt, his name has become interchangeable with the word. He arrested people for treason whenever he liked, terrorized the Senate to get them to do what he wanted and spent much of his time having sex. One of his strangest offenses was to declare war on the god Neptune, king of sea. He sent the Roman army into the waves and ordered them to slash at the water with their swords before he commanded them to fill up chests full of seashells — the emperor’s spoils of war. The Praetorian Guard assigned to protect him assassinated him to put an end to his reign.
3. Adrian Nastase – Convicted Of Blackmail, Collusion And Political Corruption
While serving as the Prime Minister of Romania, Adrian Nastase managed to commit a whole bunch of crimes when just one would have put him in jail anyway. He was convicted of blackmail, collusion and political corruption. Nastase worked out several deals with China to receive building materials and furnishings, and appointed a State Construction Inspectorate who worked on the shady dealings with him. He attempted to kill himself when police arrested him at his posh villa, but they stopped him and put him in jail instead. While campaigning in Romania, Nastase moved $2 million in state funds into his own campaign coffers.
2. James Traficant – Accepted Kickbacks And Bribes
For what it’s worth, Congressman James Traficant was one of the House’s most entertaining characters. He was known for crying “Beam me up!” while speaking on the House floor before he became known for his corruption. He was convicted in 2002 on federal corruption charges and expelled from Congress. He served 9 scandal-filled terms in the House and had mafia connections. Traficant accepted kickbacks and bribes, and was brought up on federal charges as early as 1982 — but was acquitted. He was indicted on 10 federal counts in 2001, including conspiracy to defraud the United States, filing false tax returns and racketeering.
1. Ferdinand Marcos – Embezzled An Estimated $5 To $10 Billion
As President of the Philippines, which he was from 1965 to 1986, Ferdinand Marcos embezzled an estimated $5 to $10 billion. He dissolved Congress midway through his second term and declared martial law. That’s how he remained President for the next 10 years. He was overthrown in 1998 and lived the rest of his life in exile. While he was President, Marcos burdened the Philippines with crippling debt. He made his money off the back of the country by taking over businesses, treating the treasury like his own personal piggy bank and skimming off of foreign funds coming into the country.
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