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Wires & Liars
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 manageable herd.

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 of spreading.

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, 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 Transportation (DOT)

**Ex-lawmaker facing corruption returns to Beacon Hill as lobbyist, Adam Gorlick, 01/06/06, Associated Press

Sources include:

Shelter Director faces more federal charges, Adam Gorlick, 01/13/06, Associated Press/

Pastor faces up to five years in prison for role in real estate scheme, 01/10/06,

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/

Plea Entered in Massachusetts Mortgage Fraud, Changasie Admits Guilt in Flipping Scheme, 10/10/05,

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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Copyright (c) 2005 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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