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Full Family Fraud
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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Copyright (c) 2004 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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