August 2, 2004: In corrupt circles the hot trend is full family fraud. Graft
seeking pols and public contractors no longer kiss clueless
wives and kids at the door, then head off for a day of paying and
playing. Nor do scamming bankers and builders keep real estate
fraud under conversational wraps at the dinner table. Now whole
families roll in the Gabba Gabba Hay.
Take the Erpenbecks in southern Ohio. Homebuyers in the area
would say "please". Until a few years ago the Erpenbeck Company,
a family run business, was one of the largest developers in the
tri-state area of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. While on a seeming
real estate roll, the Erpenbecks defrauded hundreds of homebuyers
plus over a dozen banks in 3 states. They were aided in their
activities by the president and vice president of Peoples Bank
of Northern Kentucky. Three Erpenbeck family members have been
convicted on federal charges related to bank fraud. Others await
trial. Bill Erpenbeck was Number One Son in the nest. When the
feds came knocking the Erpenbecks turned on their banker
buddies-- and each other. Bill and his father Tony, pressed
sister/daughter Lori Erpenbeck, the company accountant, to take
the rap. When she refused Bill threatened to kill her. In return
Lori wore a wire for the feds. The entire Erpenbeck family
crumbled into blame shifting factions. When your family becomes
a crew no one gets kissed at the prison door.
In Springfield, Massachusetts, the threat of prison looms for
nine members of a prominent political family. Springfield, in
Hampden County, is the state's 3rd largest city with a population
of roughly 150,000. The city's poverty rate is more than double
the state average. Once a thriving smokestack city, Springfield
lost a third of its remaining manufacturing jobs in the 80s. But
heroin trade thrives: Springfield is a major drug distribution
center for points north in Vermont and west in upstate New York.
Most of the heroin flowing into and out of Springfield comes
from South America. By way of Boston, New York City and
Providence, Rhode Island.
The Springfield Housing Authority (SHA) provides subsidized
housing for 15,000 people. A hefty chunk of which is in public
housing projects. Ones beset with poverty and drug gangs. Until
last year the SHA was headed by executive director Raymond
Asselin Sr. He held the position for 34 years. Nixon was
president when Ray Asselin first went to work for the agency.
Computers were the size of outhouses. But Springfield, like many
ex-smokestack cities with entrenched political machines, has
a love of tradition. Along with an in-depth rep for public
corruption and organized crime.
Ray Asselin Sr., who was once named "man of the year" by the
National Association of Housing and Redevelopment, is now charged
by the FBI and several other federal agencies, with having turned
the Springfield Housing Authority into a trough for himself and
his family. Ray's top assistant Arthur Sotirion allegedly helped
him with the renovation-- while hunkering down with his own
family. Sotirion started working at the SHA in 1970 and was head
of maintenance till 2003. Thanks to the free labor of housing
authority employees and an endless flow of U.S. Housing and Urban
Development (HUD) dollars, the Asselins and Sotirions lived in
home improvement heaven. In manses far from public housing.
There were no do-it-yourself cob jobs for the SHA royal families.
Kustom kitchens and in-ground swimming pools were standard
amenities. Landscaping was lush. Loam flowed like wine.
Home improvements weren't the only booty. Public contractors
seeking SHA contracts kicked in boats, cars and electronic toys
to a wide circle of Asselin and Sotirion family members. As well
as homier items such as washers and driers. Plus generous amounts
of plain old money. Ray Asselin Sr. and Arthur Soterion left no
cash cow unmilked. Allegedly skimming $2000 monthly in quarters
from the laundry facilities at 9 different housing complexes.
In late July, 9 Asselins, Arthur Sotirion and 3 subcontractors
were arrested at their homes, on multiple count federal
indictments connected to robbing the SHA. Some have been charged
with racketeering and conspiracy. Though Raymond Senior is said
to have been the ringleader, the rest of the Asselin clan didn't
sit around and wait for him to bring home bags of quarters: they
had their own fish to fry. Some at places other than the SHA.
Raymond's son James Asselin, now indicted on SHA related charges,
once worked in the Springfield City Hall Community Development
office. The local outpost of a state agency connected to HUD.
James Asselin was convicted in March of stealing from the Greater
Springfield Entrepreneurial Fund; a small business loan program
administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration and the
U.S. Department of Commerce. James Asselin was co-administrator
of the program. He was also director of the Hampden County
Employment and Training Consortium (HCETC). A job training
program which channels money from HUD and the U.S. Department
of Labor. The Greater Springfield Entrepreneurial Fund came
under the HCETC financial umbrella. Both the HCETC and the
Entrepreneurial Fund have been ongoing subjects of federal
investigation. Possibly because so many people connected to
the agencies seem connected. Politically and otherwise.
Then there's Raymond Asselin Jr. An apple close to the tree.
Indicted for SHA related bribery, theft, mail fraud and
obstruction of justice, Ray Junior also served as treasurer on
the 2000 political campaign of his younger brother, State
Representative Christopher P. Asselin.
Christopher Asselin has been indicted for bribery, theft, mail
fraud and extortion. Democrat Asselin represents the 9th district
of Hampden County. His district includes much of Springfield,
which is the county seat and its largest city. Asselin serves on
several Massachusetts State Legislature committees. Including
Commerce and Labor, and Housing and Urban Development. Aka HUD.
As well as skimming from the SHA and extorting graft, Christopher
Asselin is charged with using housing authority money to help
fund his 2002 re-election campaign.
Christopher Asselin's mother and Raymond Senior's wife, 68 year
old Janet Asselin served as bookkeeper during that campaign.
Mom's indictments are for bribery, theft, mail fraud and
obstruction of justice. Charges involve covering up illegal
contributions to her son's campaign, including SHA "donations".
Hiding money seems to have been an Asselin family past time.
Indicted daughter Maria Asselin Serrazina, allegedly hid $240,000
of Dad's alleged stolen money in her attic. After Raymond Junior
allegedly moved the cash over from his house. Hopefully it wasn't
the alleged laundry room loot. $240,000 in alleged quarters
would be awfully heavy. Allegedly.
The Asselin family saga reads like a soap opera synopsis. It has
plenty of soap opera aspects. Such as cliff hangers. Stay tuned
and see who rats out who. Lisa Asselin, the estranged wife of
Raymond Asselin Jr. is already in witness protection. Seems she
wore a wire at the Asselin family dinner table. Plus a host of
other spouses and non related SHA subcontractors have been
indicted. Many face lesser charges. Any one of the supporting
cast could turn fed helpful in hopes of avoiding prison.
Massachusetts State Representative Christopher Asselin's
political career is another cliff hanger. He faces a Democratic
primary in September. Even though Christopher Asselin will
remind voters he fought for a recent state financial bail out
of Springfield, the city he allegedly helped leech, the race will
be tough. As he himself put it: "Running a re-election campaign
when the federal government has indicted you, your wife, mother,
father, sister and brothers is a challenge to say the least."
When your family is charged with being a crew no one is left to
juggle campaign contributions.
At the behest of Common Cause, the Massachusetts State
Legislature has agreed to look into Christopher Asselin's
record for possible ethical lapses. Considering the particular
committees Christopher Asselin serves on, if the Legislature
looks too hard they might find themselves eyeballing systemic
regional corruption, juiced by federal and state money. Since
more arrests are said to be in the offing, the ultimate cliff
hanger is where federal investigations in Springfield are
heading. If the Asselin family falls, will they take something
larger with them?
Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
"Gabba Gabba we accept you we accept you one of us"
The Ramones, Pinhead, 1977
"All corruption is local."
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