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  biting dust & spitting nickels
Boom. Boom. Boom. The drum tempo is slow and somber. As befits a funeral procession. The casket bearers stagger forward, their burden heavy. They tote a hefty corpse. One inflated by years of repetition. Reposing on velvet, dressed in denial. Zircon studded, lips rouged red as blood. With pomp and ceremony "perception" is being laid to rest.

Drugs. Drugs. Drugs. The drums beat the words. Along with gangs gangs gangs. The intensity of drug trade in Albany, the capital city of New York State, is being officially acknowledged. For years, city officials characterized citizen reports of drugs and gangs as a matter of "perception". Strong implication being "mistaken". Or "negative". Eventually the reports were admitted to be valid. Though still negative in nature. And the word "perception" lingered. Now Mayor Jerry Jennings has laid it to rest. Proving each man does indeed kill the thing he loves. In June of this year, in his third term, Mayor Jennings requested that the federal government designate Albany "a high intensity drug trafficking area". The HIDTA designation brings federal dollars (!) and multi agency law enforcement coordination.

The HIDTA program existed in the 90's. The decade when NYC gangs migrated upstate to Albany, bringing with them big time drug traffic. Drugs and organized trade were no cherry pop for Albany, but what already existed became much more so. Signing on to HIDTA wouldn't have averted the situation: too many factors produced it. And a whole string of cities along highways and borders in upstate New York have become drug distribution centers. Mayors of Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse are also going for the HIDTA designation. But a little less official denial might have turned down the volume. Or saved a life or two. Or helped some people stem the deterioration of their neighborhoods.

The HIDTA program, among other things, coordinates efforts between city, state and federal law enforcement agencies in targeting drug production, manufacturing, distribution and transportation. It's been employed in about 30 cities since 1990. A notable example being Camden, New Jersey. Camden is in South Jersey, near the Pennsylvania border. Organized crime ties between Camden and Philadelphia have always been strong. But in the 90's, when Milton Milan was mayor of Camden, organized crime and municipal administration just about merged. Camden became the home turf of New Jersey's largest, most violent and lucrative drug business. Certain neighborhoods became open drug markets and Milan himself was laundering drug profits. As a federal prosecutor put it: "..during his entire term in office Milan conspired with the very people who have made it difficult for Camden to solve its social and economic problems". In the late 90's, a HIDTA coordination of law enforcement agencies, succeeded in arresting and convicting some of the city's high level players. Some of them testified in Camden municipal corruption trials, ones linked to ongoing, state wide federal investigations into "pay for play" public contract practices. Mayor Milton Milan was convicted on corruption charges. Camden turned into Bedford Falls and George Bailey became mayor.

OK. The last is a joke. A wonderful life doesn't come that easy. But there are gradations in everything. Camden's situation was extreme. By a certain point it had reached the bottom of the bag. HIDTA helped give it a step up.

Speaking of bags, picture this. One day your 14 year old son goes out to make a little money mowing lawns. He gets hired by a guy who owns an asbestos abatement service and who has a warehouse. Stored behind the warehouse are bags of friable asbestos-- the raw stuff ripped from buildings. Instead of your kid mowing lawns, he's told to to empty those bags into dumpsters. Turn the bags inside out so the labels won't show. Wearing no special protective clothing, your 14 year old works for 9 months emptying those bags. Sometimes, by the end of the day, his clothes are covered with asbestos dust. But hey, no biggie. His 18 year old buddy has been doing the same thing for two years and he's still standing. Besides, not everyone gets lung cancer from asbestos and when they do, it takes roughly 30 years to kick in. How real is that to a teenager? Neither kid wants to quit cause they need the money. Plus, they worry about being blackballed from the abatement biz.

The above is taken from testimony given in the trial of Joseph P. Thorn of A+ Environmental Services, Inc. An asbestos abatement company once based in the Capital region. Thorn is one of a collection of asbestos professionals who in the 90's, took part in widespread, complex and conspiratorial abatement frauds in upstate New York. Frauds which involved either ripping out asbestos in a illegal "snow storm" and dumping it who knows where, or just leaving the stuff in the buildings. Dummy labs faked safety tests. The buildings involved included hospitals, jails, nursing homes, grade schools, colleges, restaurants, hotels, churches and the New York State Capital itself. Worker safety? See above.

The investigation and resulting legal proceedings have taken years. As of Spring, the alleged ring leaders were still awaiting trial. Oddly, one of them (or someone with the exact name) was quoted in the Albany Times Union at Xmas in a little article on hi tech gift buying. No mention of the charges-- just chit chat about how digital cameras can alter recorded reality. Less socially prominent figures have largely pled guilty or been convicted. Joseph Thorn is one of the latter. Last Summer his attorney lodged an appeal regarding aspects of the verdict. The trial testimony of Thorn's teen age employees was cited in the state's rebuttal. Amongst the government attorneys who contributed to the rebuttal was Craig A. Benedict of the U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of New York in Syracuse. On April 24th (Earth Day) Mr. Benedict received an Environmental Quality Award from the New York State EPA. Among the reasons: "In the past four years, he has brought perhaps the most successful, and lengthy, string of asbestos-related prosecutions in the country with 57 defendants charged, convicted or pleading guilty."

I'm not wild about all things EPA. I have doubts about dredging the Hudson. Small property owners can get horrific bureaucratic hosings. And sometimes, environmental regulations are used to club businesses that threaten gentrifugal pretensions-- jobs be damned. But none the less, environmental dangers are real. There are thorns in the garden of human nature. Some folks would give cancer to their own mother-- or your child-- if they thought it meant a buck in hand. Then bill the taxpayer back for pretending to remove it.

But beams do beam. On June 13th child molester X Mayor Phil Giordano of Waterbury, Connecticut got 37 years from a judge who could barely stand to look at him. Xcremental Phil will supposedly be informing the feds on Mafia involvement in the public contract process. Perhaps they could haul him around from state to state like a dowser. In New Jersey, U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie marches on. While X Hudson County exec and federal witness Robert Janiszewki has kept carefully mum about some major players, the unmentionables still twitch when they hear the word "shackles". Back in Connecticut, Governor John Rowland has been fined for his cheapie stays at the Guest House O' Tomasso. And though the gold tooth of X deputy chief of staff Lawrence Alibozek has turned to dust, he's allegedly still spitting info nickels. Another X member of the Rowland administration, Paul J. Silvestri, the X state treasurer, has been busy in Boston, testifying in the pay for play trial of investment firm Triumph Capital Group and their attorney Charles Spadoni. Who allegedly bought themselves partial management of Connecticut's state pension funds. Spadoni is also accused of destroying laptop records of dealings with Silvestri-- turning them into X files with a software program called Destroy-It. In New York State, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has given a big shout out (Yo! Culture Of Criminality!) to the New York Racing Association. Seems bad things happen to good box offices when well organized grifters run them. On a larger stage, mortgage Munsters Freddie "Play It Forward" Mac and cousin Fannie Mae might just get the oversight they deserve-- HUD's house boy simply couldn't cut it. And please, no jokes about icebergs and the Titanic.

Next up: Super sized Mondo Links are served, along with a full course semi fiction account of the good, the bad and the ugly.

Roll out those lazy hazy crazy days of Summer..

Carola Von Hoffmanstahl-Solomonoff

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Copyright (c) 2003 by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff. This material may be freely distributed subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Open Publication License. This license relieves the author of any liability or implication of warranty, grants others permission to use the Content in whole or in part, and insures that the original author will be properly credited when Content is used. It also grants others permission to modify and redistribute the Content if they clearly mark what changes have been made, when they were made, and who made them. Finally, the license insures that if someone else bases a work on this Content, that the resultant work will be made available under the Open Publication License as well.

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