The novel "McTeague", by Frank Norris takes place in late 19th
century San Francisco. The eponymous main character practices
dentistry, not very successfully and without formal training.
Outside his office window hangs his shingle-- in the form of
a giant gilded tooth. McTeague marries a skinflint and their
marriage becomes a bitter war of wills, with McTeague bent on
obtaining his wife's money. Eventually he murders her. In the
1920's, a never completed silent film was made of "McTeague" by
director Erich Von Stroheim. It was retitled "Greed". The final
scenes were amongst those shot and take place in Death Valley,
in a landscape of baked out isolation. But not all roads
to hell are so hot or so lonely.
A few months ago the NYTimes ran a column about how Connecticut
is now vying with New Jersey as the most corrupt state in the
northeast. Among Connecticut's qualifications were the recent
conviction of former state Treasurer Paul Silvestri for
racketeering and money laundering and the municipal corruption
cases of Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim and ex-mayor Phil Giordano
of Waterbury. The Giordano case had taken a particularly nasty
turn when wiretaps caught X Mayor Phil arranging to buy two
girls, aged 8 and 10, for sexual purposes. But the NYTimes
ultimately came down in favor of Jersey, saying their sleaze is
more ingrained. I thought it a wrong call. First, the author
seriously underestimated Connecticut's history. Second, he was
slighting other northeast states in making the contest a two
horse race. Finally, the scoring was way off. Phil Giordano
ratchets up Connecticut's numbers big time: if X Mayor Phil
were a baseball card he could be traded for handfuls of others.
And after the column appeared, federal corruption investigations
moved further into Governor Rowland's administration. Proving
Connecticut is definitely nosing ahead.
Both Joseph Ganim and Phil Giordano became QT subjects almost
two years ago, as did other corruption cases that were beginning
to unfold in the northeast USA. Since that time numerous pols
from both parties plus various cronies and public contractors
have troted out the old line: "I welcome this investigation".
Some got shackled and did the perp walk. There have been
convictions of the mighty. Trials still loom. Investigations are
ongoing. But for Giordano and Ganim the game is almost over. Of
course, for every door that closes another one opens. But before
moving on through, some last words about Giordano and Ganim.
Phil Giordano was elected mayor of Waterbury for three terms. In
2001, immediately after those terms, Waterbury went broke. The
state became its financial steward. As recently as 2000, Giordano
was Connecticut's Republican candidate for U.S. Senate. When
mayor, Giordano was seen as a revitalizin' ball of fire. His
bully boy style and penchant for public contractors with
questionable connections went largely ignored. In his recent
trial testimony, Giordano admitted taking cash and expensive
clothes from one "Joe" in return for a city sewage contract.
X Mayor Phil was long time buddies with Joe Pontoriero of Worth
Construction. Worth had been barred from doing business with the
New York City school system because of Pontoriero's alleged
mob ties, yet was awarded the contract to upgrade Waterbury's
wastewater treatment facilities. X Mayor Phil also tried to put
Worth in charge of the city's downtown revitalization, neglecting
to mention that the company was under investigation by the New
Jersey Attorney General's office. X Mayor Phil also had a widely
rumored thing for hookers. Particularly those with addictions.
Some were black and some were clients from his days as a public
defender. As was the woman who eventually--and repeatedly-- sold
him her 8 year old daughter and 10 year old niece. Graphic
testimony about these encounters has been carried in local and
national media, including the fact that when the little girls
cried, they were promised gifts and money. Their mother/aunt took
most of the cash and bought crack. The two children received an
education in corruption and betrayal from their closest flesh and
blood and from a white authority figure that to an 8 and 10 year
old, seemed like God. No doubt that was part of the thrill for
X Mayor Phil. And since, by his own words, he took gifts and
money in exchanged for favors, he may have enjoyed casting
children in his own image.
Some have said: "This isn't about Waterbury, it's about Phil
Giordano". No? As mentioned, a good portion of the truth was
out there. At times it reached critical media mass. Though his
taste for children wasn't known, Giordano sported a major coat
of corruption and sleaze. Yet he won three terms as mayor. And
what about the wider arena of Connecticut? X Phil X ran for
United States Senator. The state Republican Party vetted his
candidacy. He got campaign contributions from movers and shakers
statewide. Some came from public contractors and politicians
prominent in the administration of Democrat Mayor Joseph Ganim
of Bridgeport, Connecticut, the state's largest city. And in an
act of true bi partisanship, Mayor Ganim himself contributed
to X Mayor Phil.
In mid March, Mayor Joseph Ganim was found guilty on 16 federal
corruption counts, including racketeering, extortion and bribery.
Ganim took kickbacks on contracts for city sewer work,
redevelopment of city land, demolition of blighted housing and
the investment of police and fire department pension funds. He
bought himself a million dollar insurance policy with city money.
Bridgeport is poor. Despite a ballyhooed rebirth, median income
is on the decline. Yet Ganim conspicuously consumed. His hunger
for graft was mammoth. Custom suits. Shoes. Jewelry. His BMW
literally sagged beneath the weight of gift cases of investment
quality wine. A gym was built in his McMansion. City sewer lines
were extended to his door. In the mid 90's, Donald Trump was
looking at Bridgeport as a potential casino site. Ganim pressed
his weary bagmen to squeeze Trump harder. Mayor for 5 terms,
Ganim's star was on the rise. In 1999, Ganim shared top honors
in the City Livability Awards Program, sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and supported financially by Waste Management, Inc. the world's largest provider of comprehensive
waste services. By 2000 Ganim was considered the likely
challenger to Republican Governor John G. Rowland in the 2002
Connecticut gubernatorial race. Thanks to the feds, Rowland
dodged the bullet. Thanks to the feds, he has other problems.
In early March, Governor Rowland's former Deputy Chief of Staff
Lawrence Alibozek, pled guilty in federal court to taking
"corrupt payments" in return for steering multi-million dollar
state contracts. Prior to Alibozek's 97-99 stint as Rowland's
deputy Chief of Staff, he was deputy commissioner of the
Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development.
Alibozek is believed to be cooperating with the FBI. A few days
after his plea, subpoenas were awarded to current officials in
the Rowland administration, including a chief deputy commissioner
at the Department of Public Works and a deputy commissioner at
the Department of Children and Families. Subpoenas were
also issued for information, such as phone logs, files,
correspondence and billing records at other agencies. Including
the Department of Transportation and the Department of Economic
Development. Investigators seem to be focusing on three state
projects: the Connecticut Juvenile Training School in Middletown,
a parking garage at Bradley International Airport and the
Superior Court and Center for Juvenile Matters in Bridgeport.
The contracts to build all three sites were held by the Tomasso Group, contractors based in New Britain. Tomasso is a prominent
northeast company, with a number of related entities. A senior
official and family member of Tomasso is believed to be a subject
of investigation along with his friend, former Rowland chief of
staff Peter N. Ellef. Ellef resigned last year when the state
trash authority, an agency he chaired, lost $220 Million dollars
in a deal with Enron. Ellef was good friends with Lawrence
Alibozek and both were part of the Rowland crew during the same
period. Ellif was also an ex-officio member of the Connecticut
Development Authority. As was former state Treasurer Paul Silvestri, now in federal custody awaiting sentencing on the
racketeering and money laundering charges mentioned earlier.
Governor Rowland says that as far as his own actions go, all
is jake. And he stands by the Tommaso Group. His low rent
stays at their luxo resorts in Vermont and Florida mean nothing.
Tommaso may have contributed to his campaigns but so have all the
state's major contractors. No quid pro quo was expected or given.
Rowland also points out, quite rightly, that both Democrats and
Republicans in Connecticut benefit equally from public contractor
largesse, including that of the Tommaso Group. And in a March
12th New York Newsday article, a Democratic former mayor of New
Britain agreed, stressing the harmless nature of such generosity:
"I think a lot of this has to go to access more than anything
else...the ability to get in the door." Does that mean those who
don't ante up have to hang in the hall? And how specific does
a spade have to be before it gets called a spade?
Speaking of digging, I hope the FBI filled in the holes in
Lawrence Alibozek's New Bridgeport backyard. The ones made when
they dug up his hidden cache of gold. Alibozek preferred his
"corrupt payments" colored mellow yellow and distrusted banks
because of then looming Y2K. As a more broad matter of taste
you could say Alibozek, like many others, has a gold tooth.
As in-- a craving for other people's money. Which in public
servants gets fed by abuse of power.
Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
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