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Did Larry Langford bet Birmingham's future on Wall Street scheme?

Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford is charged with money laundering and bribery. No-bid bond financing schemes have led to billions of lost taxpayer dollars across the US.

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Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford, left, arrives at the federal building with his wife, Melva Langford, for jury selection in his trial on Oct. 19 in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Butch Dill/AP

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Mayor Larry Langford has a bold vision for Birmingham’s future. But is he a bona fide leader – or a con man, aided and abetted by Wall Street?

Now on trial in US District Court in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on 60 counts of money laundering and bribery charges, Mr. Langford is at the center of a spectacular scandal where, prosecutors say, a popular mayor whose motto is “Do something!” gambled a city’s future on a risky Wall Street scheme, all while taking bribes in the form of cash, Rolex watches, and designer clothes.

Langford’s trial is sure to illuminate whether a gung-ho investment atmosphere played into small-time municipal corruption, only to explode into what could become the largest municipal bankruptcy ever, dwarfing the 1994 default of California's Orange County.

But behind the details of Langford’s personal and political life lies a surprising fact: Across the US, billions of dollars have been lost in similarly risky municipal bond deals, leaving US taxpayers on the hook.

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