January 15, 2006: Lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Congressman Duke Cunningham. House
Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Ho hum. So say local folks as
national news heads pop their corks over corruption in
Washington. Come on down CNN & MSNBC! You too Time Magazine!
Check the myriad political scandals unfolding in the Northeast
at state, county and city levels. You want pay-to-play? Pols
copping pleas, wearing wires and ratting each other out to the
feds? Being forced to resign as scandal and indictments mount?
Or how about cronyism served so thick democracy chokes on it?
When it comes to all that, we here in the Northeast can proudly
say, like the strip club barker in From Dusk Till Dawn, "If we
don't have it, you don't want it!"
But though we have it, do we want it? And is it curable?
Corruption inevitably follows power and public money. You can
pass law after law but the cunning will always find ways to
circumvent. Yet treatments do exist that can keep corruption
from becoming life threatening.
Cures: Transparency re government spending and political
contributions at all levels of government. Make it stick. Also
say yay to term limits. New crooks are never as skilled as the
old. Bring on the kind of newspaper publishers and editors who
haul local pols and players over the coals instead of jockeying
for a piece of the action. Hellooooo law enforcement. Local and
federal. Hang white collar crims as high as the kind who aren't
attorneys. And let bloggers and websites spread their doings far
and wide. But the most effective cure would be to stop enabling
the disease. Give politicians less power to bestow advantages
and public money and bribers and cronies would thin to a
Placebos: Forget partisan fantasies that the other party is the
culture of corruption made flesh. The elephant and donkey feed
together. Whichever party is in power gets the most chow. Change
partners and do the same dance. Also forget the kind of campaign
finance reform which involves taxpayers footing the bull oops the
bill for political contests. Corruption would turn totalitarian.
Ruling parties would become even better than they already are at
keeping public campaign funds out of the hands of challengers.
Besides, taxpayers already pay for enough golf trips.
One excuse often given as to why pols are forced (sob) to take
mega contributions from interested parties is the high cost of
political campaigns. Particularly television advertising. But
except for media congloms, who needs it? The public sneers at
political infomercials and low voter turnout is proof they aren't
effective. Of course some say pols dig low turnout because it
means ideological zombies do the electing. The kind who want
candidates to validate their personal lives. Whose knees jerk
at words like god, guns & gays. Good government be damned. But
this may be too Machiavellian a read. I think the taste for TV
pitches is merely a matter of habit. And habits can be broken.
If laws must be passed to address corruption let the first one be
a ban on all paid political advertising. Let pols mount cheapie
Internet campaigns and appear on public access television and
radio. Have them-- or their true believers-- pound the pavement,
ring doorbells and make speeches in public forums. There are
still plenty of schools and libraries with auditoriums. Plus,
most newspapers welcome letters to the editor and the occasional
op-ed piece. Though they might edit out an expletive or two,
they'd probably let the lies stand. If all else fails, candidates
could cut rap records delineating their platforms and hawk them
out of the back of their cars. When campaigns tanked, pundits
would declare it a case of "too much junk in the trunk".
Patty Cake Patty Cake
Time Magazine's revelation that X Congressman Duke Cunningham of
California had been wearing a wire for awhile is said to have
shocked his fellow Congresspeople. And there's much quaking in
the boots over indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff's agreement to
cooperate with the feds. But as said, anything a sullied public
servant in Dee Cee can do, a local boy or girl can do better.
See New Jersey. Where the possibility always exists the public
contractor or developer chatting quid pro quo with County Exec
Slipknot or Rep. Palmgrease may be wrapped in federal wire. For
that matter so might Slipknot or Palmgrease. With this in mind,
pols and players have become adept at the art of the pat down.
Such was the case a few years ago with the female mayor of a
post-industrial city in northern New Jersey. The kind of place
where crime and poverty never quit despite lashings of public
money. With a corruption record that has nothing to do with the
latter and where revitalization is always just around the corner
of another load of HUD and/or DOT* bucks. Evidence in this
particular public servant's criminal case (the usual graft thing)
included an account of her patting down a co-conspirator in her
parked car. But where did Madam Mayor learned to body surf? Is
there a school for scandal prone pols somewhere deep in Secaucus?
If so, Congress might want to sign on for a crash course.
Though Duke Cunningham has been unplugged, wires have a way
As for Abramoff, wild and crazy lobbyists are legion in the
halls of state governments. And Jack's not the only mack
sporting federal indictments. In Massachusetts, X Representative
Christopher Asselin is lobbying the mighty on Beacon Hill, as
a partner in the newly formed Global Group. Back in his home
town of Springfield, Asselin is facing what the Associated Press calls "a slew of corruption charges".** Chris and 8 other
members of his family allegedly treated the Springfield Housing
Authority (SHA) as their own private trough. Helping themselves
to resources meant for low income housing projects. Asselin's
parents are among those named in the 100 count federal
indictment. His father, Raymond Asselin Sr. was top dog at the
SHA for 34 years and alleged ringleader of the frauds. Mom
managed a Chris campaign allegedly jacked with SHA money. Aka
HUD on the home front.
Though the voters of Springfield rejected Chris Asselin in his
last run for office, apparently he believes a slew of corruption
charges will mean less to Global Group's clients. And to the
members of state government he'll be lobbying. After all,
indictments are not convictions.
Speaking of indictments and convictions, on January 10th the
right Reverend Paul J. Starnes of the Morning Star Church in
Springfield admitted to what he once denied strenuously. Yes, he
WAS part of a mortgage fraud ring that using several corporate
names (including Trinity Mortgage Brokerage) purchased and
flipped close to 100 depressed properties in Springfield. Using
revitalizing techniques all too frequently found in post
industrial cities. As in: unqualified buyers led by promises of
kick backs and supplied with phoney verifications of down
payments and income, appraisers inflating property values and
citing invisible improvements, mortgage brokers hustling inflated
loans to lenders who seem to have no knowledge of the local
market, and attorneys covering up the frauds with falsified
closing documents. Into this typical stew toss an illegal alien
from Guyana who rounded up prospective properties and buyers in
depressed neighborhoods. Guyanese guy eventually copped a plea.
The feds, as usual, seem to be working their way up. The case
is the result of a joint investigation by the FBI, IRS and HUD.
More from Springfield's home front: on January 13th, Francis
Keough, the X Director of the city's homeless shelter had his
already existing federal indictment for extortion, witness
tampering, and obstruction of justice, enhanced by 50 new counts
involving mail fraud, tax evasion and harassing a few more
witnesses. Allegedly, Keough applied $350,000 of public money
meant for the shelter to renovate his vacation home in Rhode
Island. He also used shelter residents as free labor. While
allegedly collecting HUD subsidized rent vouchers for tenants
living in a basement below an apartment he no longer owned,
coercing homeless women into sex, and obtaining rental properties
with falsified loan docs. The manager at Friends of the Homeless,
an ex-con (armed robbery) whom Keough hired, allegedly helped
with the latter. To keep the board at "Friends" on board with his
doings, Keough allegedly got them HUD funded rental assistance
to which they weren't entitled. Before becoming a friend to the
homeless in 1994, Keough was on the City Council for 5 terms.
A job he left after pleading guilty to misdemeanor tax evasion.
Back to Washington. Where Tom DeLay is homeless. Cast out amidst
scandal by those who once craved his favor. How very old hat.
Here on the Eastern Seaboard 2 governors from 2 of the regions
wealthiest states (John Rowland of Connecticut and Jim McGreevey
of New Jersey) were forced to resign in the last 2 years. Plus,
Rowland and McGreevey only toppled after dozens of lesser heads
rolled. Whereas in Washington, lesser heads still rest uneasy.
As for cronyism at its most stifling and anti democratic, cast an
eye at New York State and its powerful quasi-public agencies and
authorities. Among which the Empire State Development Corporation
(ESDC) rules. The ESDC and its litter of related lesser agencies
stage eminent domain land grabs, juice commercial real estate
and development deals for political pals with public money and
grant multi level tax breaks in exchange for jobs that never
materialize in the numbers promised. No amount of incompetence
and/or fraud at entities such as the New York Racing Authority
(NYRA) or the Erie Canal Corporation brings more than a slap on
the wrist for those in top slots and good taxpayer money follows
bad. Bailouts-R-Us! Until recently, Medicaid fraud in the state
couldn't even be examined by the counties that pick up part of
the tab. Organized drug trade is booming upstate. Attorney
General Eliot Spitzer, whose job title should mean unrelenting
attention to most of the above is busy making alliances with AGs
in other states and running for governor. Meanwhile Andrew Cuomo,
the former HUD head under whom the types of real estate fraud
practiced by Trinity Mortgage in Springfield flourished, wants
to fill Spitzer's shoes.
Eat your heart out Dee Cee. The Northeast is THE place to be!
Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
"...when patronage and politics rule over competence and
experience, this is the mess that follows."
Assistant U.S. Attorney William Welch re new indictments delivered to Francis
Keough of Springfield, Massachusetts, Boston.com 01/13/06
"I find it very troubling that so many citizens in our Nation's
cities have been victimized by the predatory practices of
unscrupulous real estate agencies, appraisers and lenders. But
what I find most appalling is that the Federal Government has
essentially subsidized much of this fraud."
Property "Flipping": HUD's Failure To Curb Mortgage Fraud,
Senator Susan M. Collins, Chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee
on Investigations, Committee on Governmental Affairs United
States Senate, 09/25/01
*U.S. Departments of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) and
**Ex-lawmaker facing corruption returns to Beacon Hill as
lobbyist, Adam Gorlick, 01/06/06, Associated Press
Shelter Director faces more federal charges, Adam Gorlick,
01/13/06, Associated Press/Boston.com
Pastor faces up to five years in prison for role in real estate
scheme, 01/10/06, Boston.com
Officials in Rockland Question Medicaid Billings of $13 Million,
Richard Perez-Pena, 01/06/06, New York Times
Ex-lawmaker facing corruption charges returns to Beacon Hill as
lobbyist, Adam Gorlick, 01/06/06 Associated Press/Boston.com
Plea Entered in Massachusetts Mortgage Fraud, Changasie Admits
Guilt in Flipping Scheme, 10/10/05, mortgagefraudblog.com
Three more accused in land-flip case, indictment filed, 09/29/05,
Mortgage Fraud News
Ten Individuals Indicted For Participation In Mult-Million Dollar
Mortgage Fraud Scheme In Springfield, Press Release, 09/24/04
United States Department of Justice
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