American Politics: Corruption In Politics and Business [277*2]
Corruption Is Everywhere in Politics and Corporate America
THE HEADING SAYS IT ALL. I WAS READING YET ANOTHER ARTICLE that highlights corruption. In this case it has to do with a Flint-type situation, polluted water and the local government. So, it occurred to me to start documenting them.
Crystal City, Texas
RESIDENTS WOKE UP ONE MORNING TO FIND THEIR DRINKING WATER BLACK as oil and sludgy. It seems the city emptied the elevated water tank for the first time in like ... forever. As a consequence, out went the built up sediment in the bottom of the tank (yuk, the fact that it was there at all turns my stomach).
Shortly before, in February 2016, the FBI arrested several officials of the city that likes to call itself the "Spinach Capital of the World". They were Mayor Richardo Lopez; council members Rogelio Mata and Roel Mata; former council member Gilbert Urrabazo; and William James Jonas, who served as city manager and city attorney. Ngoc Tri Nguyen, a businessman, was also indicted; and the charges were bribery and taking kickbacks. Councilman Margo Rodriguez was indicted January 27 on unrelated federal charges of smuggling undocumented immigrants,
Joel Barajas is the only council member not under indictment.
Carlos Ramierez, the city's water superintendent on the job less than a year and through a press release said that "The city said the problem started Wednesday when the elevated water tank was drained and flushed." and "This, in effect, caused all sediments and deposits sitting on lower portion of tank to run through distribution lines,"
Ramierez told CNN that "When we were draining the tanks, we didn't know what was inside ... The previous operator was here 25 years, I've been on the job eight, nine months. It hadn't been cleaned in 20-25 years. ... The previous administrations neglected it. Just neglect on the city's part. We had to clean their mess."
Who Is The Most Corrupt?
Which of the groups below do you think has the HIGHEST rate of Serious Corruption in their ranks?See results without voting
Which of the groups below do you think has the LOWEST rate of Serious Corruption in their ranks?See results without voting
Even Tiny Can Be Very Corrupt
How To Set Up a Speed Trap
THIS TINY BURG IN NORTH FLORIDA OF 477 RESIDENTS (476 if you don't count the former mayor sitting in jail on drug crimes) was once labeled the "Most Corrupt Place in America" by CNN; I live about 5 miles away in another, not nearly corrupt (if it is at all) small rural town of Keystone Heights. This infamous community is called Hampton, FL.
It was founded around 1925 and remained a sleepy little place where nothing much happened ... until around 1995 when it annexed a part of Hwy 301 to the West. Depending on which story you believe, they 1) did this at the request of a Texaco owner who was afraid of accidents in front of is station, as well as crime or 2) did this to produce revenue by setting up what became a notoriously famous speed-trap (to accompany the one just to the South in Waldo and to the North in Lawty). I would bet on the latter since, in 2012 alone, the city's coffers were increased by $211,328 from ticketing people driving its 1,260 feet of U.S. Highway 301!
The resulting corruption of Hampton's government runs deep and was well known by the surrounding communities. Unfortunately for Hampton, one of the victims of their speed trap was state Representative Charles Van Zant who was given a ticket in 2011, a bumper year for tickets, which he paid. But he didn't forget.
At its height, the Hampton police department swelled to 19 officers and at least six patrol cars. Yet, it continually overspent its budget and all of that money the city was raking in didn't seem to help anybody. Amidst mounting complaints, Van Zant, in 2013, asked the state auditor to investigate Hampton.
What the audit found was awesome indeed. Some of the malfeasance was:
- Untrained police officers (one was called Rambo who wore full body armor and carried an assault rifle slung across is chest)
- Uninsured police cars
- 31 code violations
- $132,000 credit account at the local BP station
- $27,000 in credit card charges for items that "served no public purpose."
- Personal use of city property.
Van Zant and others wondered why this community of 500 people was a chartered city at all for, as the audit put it, Hampton "read like a textbook of municipal malfeasance ". Consequently, they set in motion proceedings to dissolve the city.
Long story short, some honest and caring citizens of Hampton asked for a second chance. After 1) divesting themselves of the annexed property and 2) developing a plan rehabilitate the city. Apparently it was good enough, for, on March 31, 2014, Hampton was given a new lease on life
RealClearPolitics' 10 Most Corrupt Politicians ... Ever
REALCLEARPOLITICS PUT TOGETHER A LIST OF THEIR CHOICE of the 10 most corrupt politicians for our enjoyment. The first was one of the most infamous politicians, yet beloved by the poor, America has ever known.
1. "BOSS" TWEED
William "Boss" Tweed is synonym with Tammany Hall of New York City. He held elective offices, and one time or another, in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1852, the New York City Board of Advisers in 1856, and the New York State Senate in 1867. He became the American symbol of inner-city political corruption,
Tweed was a "War" Democrat, meaning he supported the effort to keep the South in the Union and were generally anti-slavery. (The Southern Democrats who seceded from the Union became the conservative Democrats after WW II and then later today's conservative Republicans.) Tweed became the master trading favors for his constituents and business partners in return for votes, money and power as well as profiting from the Civil War. Many politicians from all parties did this, before and after him, but none so well as "Boss" Tweed,
Tweed was convicted in 1873 for his role in a corruption ring that stole at least $1 billion (in today’s dollars) and given a 12-year sentence. He was released a year later however after his prison term was suspiciously reduced, only to be rearrested by NYC who sued him for $6 million. After escaping from prison, fleeing to Spain, getting rearrested and returned to NY, he died in prison from pneumonia in 1878. Ironically, like the mayor of Washington D.C. after him, Marion Berry, many people believe that despite his crooked ways he did a lot of good for the city, especially for the poor.
Ray Blanton (TN)
2. RAY BLANTON:
Most of you might recognize many names in this vignette, but probably not Gov. Ray Blandon, a conservative Democrat from Tennessee. Besides governor, he also served a stent in the Tennessee House of Representatives as well as a US Representative; so this wasn't all that long ago from my point of view, I was in my 20s then.
Blanton's early claim to fame was, in a very surprising turn of events, in unseating 12-term Congressman Tom Murray in 1966. Following this was a rather four uneventful years where he spent most of his time massaging his constituents (and opposing the Voting Rights Act).
Blanton was elected Governor in 1975 and actually did a very good job for Tennesseans. He:
- Called for a state income tax, but the state legislature, fearing a revolt from voters, refused to consider it, and instead raised the state sales tax.
- Overhauled the state's excise and franchise tax laws
- Revised the state's income tax to provide relief for the state's elderly residents
- Elevated the state's Office of Tourism to a cabinet-level department, making Tennessee the first state in the nation to do so,
- Upgraded the state's retirement system
- Successfully recruited foreign industrial and trade opportunities and was instrumental in bringing British, West German, and Japanese investment to the state
In February 1978, the state constitution was amended to allow Blanton and future Tennessee governors to succeed themselves, but Blanton did not run for reelection in 1974 and his Republican opponent in 1974, Lamar Alexander!
But why didn't Blanton run? Maybe because of what he did that ruined all of the good he did for the state. What were these transgressions? Try:
- Pardoning a convicted double murderer whose father was later found to be a county chairman for Blanton.
- Nearing the end of his term, three state employees -- two from Blanton’s office --were charged by the FBI with extortion and conspiracy to sell pardons, paroles and commutations.
- Pardoning 24 convicted murderers and 28 prisoners of other crimes in what many believed were performed in exchange for money.
- To stop Blanton’s pardon spree, with a little help from the Lieutenant Governor and State House Speaker, the new Governor, Lamar Alexander was sworn in three days early to stop Blanton from pardoning anyone else.
- Blanton set up up a large network of county patronage officials, stating they were his political advisers.
- His family's company was awarded a paving contract at a state park,
- Blanton was indicted and convicted on charges of mail fraud, conspiracy, and extortion for selling liquor licenses and sentenced to federal prison.
Ironically, another well known person, Fred Thompson, became famous when in 1977 he represented Marie Ragghianti who had tried to inform authorities of the corruption taking place while she served as chairwoman of the state’s Pardons and Paroles Board. She was fired by Blanton but sued for reinstatement and won. The story was made into a book and later a film (“Marie”), in which Thompson played himself, launching his movie career. Thompson, of course, became Tennessee's United States Senator.
A Corrupt Politician Who Took the Easy Way Out
4. BUDD DWYER
An amazing story with a tragic ending. Budd Dwyer was Pennsylvania Republican politician who served in the state House of Representatives from 1965 to 1970 and spent the following decade in the state Senate. Following this, Dwyer was then elected state Treasurer and his world started falling apart.
During the early 1980s, due to a massive error with public employee FICA taxes, Pennsylvania solicited bids from accounting firms to determine refunds for its employees. The contract was awarded to Computer Technology Associates (CTA), owned by John Torquato, Jr, a native of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Sometime later the Pennsylvania Governor received an anonymous memo detailing allegations of bribery that took place during the bidding process for the $4.6 million contract. After a federal investigation, Dwyer was charged with taking $300,000 in kickbacks from using his Treasurer's position to steer the contract to CTA. Also charged by the feds were Torquato, Torquato's attorney William T. Smith, Smith's wife, and Bob Asher, the former State Republican Party Chairman. In return for their testimony against Dwyer and Asher, the rest received lighter sentences.
On December 18, 1986, Dwyer was convicted on 11 counts of conspiracy, mail fraud, perjury and interstate transportation in aid of racketeering, and as such faced a sentence of up to 55 years' imprisonment and a $300,000 fine. Budd Dwyer maintained his innocence until the day he died, when, on January 22, 1987, one day away from a federal court sentencing hearing at a full press conference he held where everybody present, including his staff, thought he was tendering his resignation ... he put a gun to his mouth and pulled the trigger.
5. Edwin Edwards
EDWIN EDWARDS WAS THE CONSERVATIVE DEMOCRATIC GOVERNOR of Louisiana from 1972–1980, 1984–1988 and 1992–1996. Before that, he was one of Louisiana's U.S. Representatives from 1965 to 1972. It is said Edwards was responsible for Louisiana becoming known as a "captivating but corrupt backwater, the province of rogues and scoundrels."; an image that still holds today.
Edwards was suspected of corruption from almost the get-go in his political career. In running for governor the first time, he was accused of receiving illegal campaign contributions, to which he infamously replied "It was illegal for them to give, but not for me to receive." While governor he was also investigated for investing in a New Orleans office building to be called "One Edwards Square". (The building was built but took on another name.)
Always dogging Edwin Edwards were allegations of excess gambling, extramarital affairs, Further, Edwards' commissioner of administration Charles Roemer – father of future governor Buddy Roemer – was convicted of taking bribes and having connections with Mafia boss Carlos Marcello. (Edwards managed to avoid direct implication in the Roemer case.) All of this was minor compared to what was to come.
In 1976, Governor Edwards was involved in a scandal called Koreagate where it came to light that Edwards and his wife Elaine had received questionable gifts in 1971, while Edwards was still a U.S. representative. South Korean rice broker Tongsun Park was under investigation for trying to bribe American legislators on behalf of the South Korean government, and for making millions of dollars in commissions on American purchases of South Korean rice. Edwards admitted that Park gave Elaine an envelope containing $10,000 in cash, but insisted that the gift was given out of friendship and that there was nothing improper about it.
In February 1985, soon after his third term began, Edwards was indicted on charges of mail fraud, obstruction of justice, and bribery by the federal government. The charges were centered around an alleged $2 million scheme where Edwards et al. would grant preferential treatment to companies dealing with state hospitals. The first trial ended in a mistrial and the popular governor gained an acquittal in 1986 at the retrial.
It all came crashing down in 1997 when former Congressman Cleo Fields achieved considerable notoriety after FBI surveillance videotape showed him accepting about $20,000 in cash from Edwards and stuffing it in his pockets. Following 1500 hours of surveillance and wiretapping, FBI agents raided his house and seized records and more than $400,000 in cash. He was charged for his involvement in extorting payments from businessmen -- including San Francisco 49ers owner Edward Debartolo Jr. -- in return for riverboat casino licenses. In 1998 Edwards found guilty in a federal court on 17 of 26 counts of extortion, fraud, racketeering, and conspiracy.
6. Vice President Spiro Agnew
SPIRO AGNEW, A REPUBLICAN, WAS THE 39th VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, from 1969 to 1973, but that didn't lead to his indictment and conviction on corruption charges. His crimes occurred when he was governor of Maryland and ultimately resulted in his having to resign his position of Vice President in 1973. The only other vice president to have done so was John C. Calhoun, a very conservative Southern Democrat who set the stage for the secession of the South from the Union, in 1832, to return to the Senate.
Soon after President Nixon was re-elected, contemporaneously with the beginning of Watergate Scandal, the Justice Department began an investigation of Agnew for tax evasion and bribery while he was Maryland's governor. Agnew was formally charged with accepting over $100,000 (he later admitted in an civil suit that it was $147,000) in bribes as Governor. Rather than risk a trial, Agnew pleaded "no contest". The deal was, he would resign as Vice President, pay a $10,000 fine, and serve three years on probation.
But that light sentence didn't end there. He was sued civilly and paid the State $268,482, the amount he was thought to have accepted in bribes (the $10,000 covered interest and penalty on the taxes owed from the money "earned" from the bribes. He was also disbarred.
An ironic twist is that Nixon and Agnew's relationship deteriorated after the first election to such a point that Nixon froze out Agnew. Nixon plotted with his aides on how to get Agnew to resign, but never did anything about it. Agnew claimed, in professing his innocence, was this was a plot by Nixon ... who knows.
Rep. Carroll Hubbard
REPRESENTATIVE CARROLL HUBBARD (D), 1975 - 1993, WAS A small time political crook, compared to the others of his ilk. His other political achievements were being a member of the Kentucky Senate from 1968 to 1974; a failed attempt to be Kentucky's Governor in 1979; a failed attempt to be a Kentucky Senator again in 2005 (lost by 58 votes); and failed attempt to become a Congressman again 2008.
What Hubbard was indicted for, and ultimately pleaded guilty to, was misusing government property, as well as his personal staff, as part of the 1992 Rubbergate House Banking Scandal, in which House members were found to have overdrawn their House checking accounts. In 1994, Hubbard pleaded guilty to three felony charges of violating federal campaign spending rules, conversion of federal property, theft and obstruction of justice and was sentenced to three years in federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas and fined $153,794.
While this was a personal scandal for Hubbard, the real crime here is the "bank" the House set up for its members to use. Fundamentally what Hubbard did was "kite" checks, but with the full knowledge and collaboration of the bank the bad checks were written on. When a new member arrives, he or she is given an account, unbidden, in the non-interest bearing House bank account. The unwritten rule was that members could write up to $2,000 a year in bad checks and effectively get an interest-free loans until they paid it back!
In the firestorm resulting from the revelation of this secret bank, it was found that 355 current and former House members, including three members of President Bush's Cabinet, wrote bad checks! You and I would have gone to jail for such larceny but Congress has long insulated itself from the laws it imposes on others, from civil rights to workplace safety. Consequently, the House Bank was exempt from the state and federal regulations that govern traditional banks, meaning weren't required to file charters, keep capital reserves, pay fees for deposit insurance, and face tough examination by bank regulators.
What's more, it was found that taxpayers' money was used to support the bank's operations. How? Well, who paid the salaries and other administrative costs of running the bank, to the tune of at least $1 million ... you, the taxpayer. In addition, taxpayers may have helped finance House members' overdrafts.
Your People's House in action.
12 School Principals Charged With Bribery
ON MARCH 30, 2016, THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT INDICTED 12 current and former principals, one administrator, and a vendor in Detroit, Michigan. They were charged with running a nearly $1 million bribery and kickback scheme involving school supplies that were only partly ever delivered.
It was a simple scheme really (allegedly); businessman Norman Shy, 74, of Franklin, Michigan apparently paid $908,500 in kickbacks and bribes to at least 12 Detroit Public School principals to get them to sign off on invoices for school supplies and then look away when Ray didn't deliver all that was paid for. Pretty nifty, eh?
The charges suggest that some principals could be bought for as little as $4,000, while another went for $324,000! This scam apparently went on for 13 years to tune of $2.7 million. The Detroit district has been under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager since 2009 and has accumulated an operating deficit of at least $515 million to which the actions of these trusted public servants only made bigger.
While the Detroit public school system has been under constant emergency management and financial oversight, U.S. attorney Barbara McQuade said that " Public corruption never comes at a good time ... This case is not about DPS. It is not about emergency managers. It is about these 14 individuals who breached their trust."
The investigation started in 2014 as an audit of the Education Achievement Authority, a state-formed agency that was supposed to oversee and help Detroit's most troubled schools. That audit resulted in the indictment and guilty plea of former principal Kenyetta Wilbourn Snapp for bribery; she agreed to cooperate with the government in its prosecution against others and faces up to 46 months in prison for pocketing $58,050. Two other people have also pleaded guilty in her case — a contractor who acted as middleman and a vendor.
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