Friday Reads: Public Corruption Extravaganzas!Posted: March 28, 2014
The unbelievable number of arrests of public officials due to public corruption during the last week has been mind blowing. I thought I’d highlight a few of the goings on today.
First up, have they found the Smoking Gun in Cristie’s Bridge Scandal? Only time will tell, but, I really think it’s just a matter of time before he has to resign as Governor of New Jersey.
The Port Authority official who directed the shutdown of lanes to the George Washington Bridge said that he informed Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey about it at a Sept. 11 memorial ceremony while the lanes were closed, according to an internal review that lawyers for the governor released on Thursday.
The official, David Wildstein, who was a longtime political ally of the governor, told Mr. Christie’s press secretary, Michael Drewniak, of the conversation at a dinner in December, on the eve of his resignation from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, according to the inquiry.
But the report said that Mr. Christie did not recall Mr. Wildstein’s raising the topic during their interaction and, in a sweeping claim of vindication, found no evidence that he — or any current members of his staff — was involved in or aware of the scheme before it snarled traffic for thousands of commuters in Fort Lee, N.J., from Sept. 9 to the morning of Sept. 12.
The number of California Democrats in the state’s Senate chambers subject to arrest for public corruption is on the arise. This is another incredible example of a pig at the pubic trough. How on earth did this guy get elected in the first place?
If you thought the charges against Leland Yee would be bad, you had no idea. As in, he offered to set up an arms deal with Islamic rebels for $2 million in cash. As in, he has ties to a gangster namedShrimp Boy. As in, he makes corrupt state senator Clay Davis from The Wire look like George Washington. You can read the whole affidavit here, but it’s really, really long, so we’ve gone ahead and pulled out the highlights. The allegations (and for now they are only that—allegations) are cinematic, staggering, and remarkable in their scope. Here they are, in descending order ofsheeeeeeeeeeeit:
Yee told an FBI agent to give him a shopping list of guns: “Senator Yee asked [the agent] to provide an inventory list of desired weapons […] [The agent] told Yee he would deliver $2,000,000 cash.”
Yee could arrange from some serious firepower: “[The agent] asked about shoulder fired automatic weapons. Senator Yee responded by saying the automatic weapons are the equivalent to the “M16″ Automatic Service Weapon […] [The agent] asked about the availability of shoulder fire missiles or rockets. Senator Yee responded ‘I told him about the rockets and things like that.'”
Yee took personal responsibility for delivering the weapons: “Senator Yee said, ‘We’re interested’ in arranging the weapons deal […] and said of the arms dealer, ‘He’s going to rely on me, because ultimately it’s going to be me. [The agent] stated he would compensate Yee for brokering the relationship and arms deal.”
Yee was in it for the cash: “Senator Yee said, ‘Do I think we can make some money? I think we can make some money. Do I think we can get the good? I think we can get the goods.'”
Yee masterminded a complex scheme to import illegal weapons: “Keith Jackson [a political consultant who worked as Yee’s fundraiser] told [an agent] that Senator Yee had a contact who deals in arms trafficking. This purported arms dealer was later identified. Jackson requested [a campaign donation] on behalf of Senator Yee, for Senator Yee to facilitate a meeting with arms dealer with the intent of [the agent] to purportedly purchase a large number of weapons to be imported through the Port of Newark, New Jersey. During a meeting […] Senator Yee discussed certain details of the specific types of weapons [the agent] was interested in buying and importing.”
Yee had connection with Filipino rebel groups: “Keith Jackson advised that Senator Yee had an unidentified Filipino associate who was supplying ‘heavy’ weapons to rebel groups in the Philippines.”
Including Muslim terrorists: “According to Senator Yee, Mindanao was largely population by Muslim rebel groups who were fighting the federal government. Yee continued by saying the Muslim rebels had no problem ‘kidnapping individuals, killing individuals, and extorting them for ransom.”
In specific the Moro Islamic Liberation Front: “[The agent] asked about the major Muslim organizations in the Mindanao region of the Philippines. Senator Yee responded by saying ‘M.I.L.F.'”
Yee allegedly wasn’t making up the identity of his arms dealer: “This purported arms dealer was later identified.”
And, Russian arms dealers: “According to Senator Yee, the arms dealer source the weapons from Russia.”
Yee knew he was on the wrong side of the law: “Despite complaining about [the agent’s] tendency to speak frankly and tie payment to performance […] Senator Yee and Keith Jackson […] never walked away from quid pro quo requests.”
Yee took envelopes full of cash to influence marijuana policy: “The group discussed the status of medical marijuana policy and the politics of state marijuana regulation. [The agent] took an envelope containing $11,000 in cash and put it on the table in front of Yee and Jackson. [The agent] stated, “this is a campaign donation […] That’s for the meeting with [another, un-named State Senator]. [The agent] said his contributions were ‘not coming in the form of checks.’ The envelope remained on the table for the duration of the meeting […] As Yee and Jackson got up to leave, Yee made a gesture to Jackson toward the envelope of cash, but Jackson did not see the gesture. Senator Yee then walked over Jackson, tapped him on the back, again gestured to the enveloped, and said, ‘take that.” Jackson picked up the envelope.”
Yee nickled and dimed the FBI agent over the price of his bribe: “[The agent] told Senator Yee that he was paying for the meetings and handed en envelope with $10,000 cash to Jackson while telling Senator Yee that the playing field was now level […] [The agent] asked Senator Yee how much he would to introduce marijuana legislation. Senator Yee said that he would have to think about the number.”
The FBI got to Yee through a Chinatown gang: “During the course of multiple undercover operations, [an undercover agent] was brought into a criminal relationship with many of the targets. The purpose of this criminal relationship was for Chow [and others] to launder [the agent’s] money, purported to have been derived from illegal activities […] In further support of [the agent’s] legend, [he] portrayed himself to Chow and others as an east coast member of La Cosa Nostra, an Italian organized crime syndicate. Chow, as the Dragonhead, was the supervisor of the criminal relationship.”
Yee’s fundraiser Keith Jackson was the go-between man: “In addition to his relationship with Chow and the Chee Kung Tong, Jackson is also a close associate with, and has a long-time relationship with, Senator Yee. Keith Jackson owns and runs a business called ‘Jackson Consultancy,’ a San Francisco based consulting firm. During the time frame from at least May 2011 through the present, Keith Jackson has been involved in raising campaign funds for Senator Yee.”
Yee exceeded campaign contribution limits in his mayoral bid: “Keith Jackson solicited [an undercover agent] to make contributions to Senator Yee’s San Francisco mayoral campaign [including donations] in excess of the $500 individual donation limit. [The agent] declined […] but introduced Keith Jackson and Senator Yee to […] another undercover FBI agent. Keith Jackson and Senator Yee then solicited [the second agent] for campaign contributions, and [he] made at least one personal donation in the amount of $5,000 to Senator Yee’s mayoral campaign.”
Yee allegedly traded favors directly for campaign cash: “In connection with efforts to retire [his] mayoral campaign debt, Senator Yee and Keith Jackson agreed that Senator Yee would make a telephone call to a manager with the California Department of Public Health in support of a contract under consideration with [an undercover agent’s] purported client […] in exchange for a $10,000 campaign donation. Senator Yee made the call on October 18, 2012 […] On November 19, 2012, Keith Jackson accepted the $10,000 cash donation.”
Not just once, but twice: “Senator Yee and Keith Jackson agreed to [the agent’s] request that Senator Yee provide an official State Senate proclamation honoring the Chee Kung Tong in exchange for a $6,800 campaign donation, the maximum individual donation amount allowed by law.”
Not twice, but three times: “Senator Yee and Keith Jackson agreed that in exchange for campaign donations, Senator Yee would introduce a donor to state legislators who had influence over pending and proposed medical marijuana legislation […] The donor was another FBI undercover agent, who was posing as a businessman involved in medical marijuana in Arizona and wanted to expand his business interests to California. On June 20, 2013, Senator Yee made one such introduction [and the agent] delivered $11,000 cash to Senator Yee and Keith Jackson on June 22, 2013.”
Yee yearned for a different life: “Senator Yee stated he was unhappy with his life and said, ‘There is a part of me that wants to be like you […] Just be a free agent out there.” Senator Yee told [the agent] that he wanted to hide out in the Philippines.”
Meanwhile, the recently elected Mayor of Charlotte, NC has just resigned due to corruption charges. His charges correspond to his time on the City Council.
The mayor of Charlotte resigned Wednesday hours after his arrest on public corruption charges.
Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon is accused of accepting about $48,000 in bribes from undercover FBI agents posing as businessmen who wanted to do business in the city.
Cannon had been in office 114 days when he was arrested and charged Wednesday.
A spokesman for the city said Cannon submitted his letter Wednesday to the city manager and attorney. In his letter, Cannon said the pending charges will create too much of a distraction for the business of the city to go forward.
Cannon’s resignation is effective immediately, said City Manager Ron Carlee. Mayor Pro-tem Michael Barnes will serve as interim mayor until the City Council appoints a councilmember as the new mayor.
Cannon, 47, faces several charges including theft and bribery.
Cannon’s arrest followed an undercover investigation that began in August 2010. Authorities allege Cannon solicited and accepted cash from the agents who were posing as real estate developers and investors.
Cannon, a Charlotte native, allegedly accepted bribes in exchange for the privileges of his position as an elected official, whether as mayor, mayor pro-tem or a city council member.
If convicted of all charges, he faces 20 years in prison and more than $1 million in fines.
Cannon, a Democrat, was elected mayor in November, replacing Anthony Foxx, who was named Transportation Secretary by President Barack Obama.
The FBI said Cannon accepted money from agents on five separate occasions. The last was on Feb. 21, 2014. He is accused of accepting $20,000 in cash at the mayor’s office. The exchanges began in January 2013, according to the Department of Justice.
We insist that we are a democracy. How is this possible with so many rich people willing to bribe our public officials? How many billionaires are buying justice and our law making system? Former Clinton Secretary of Labor Robert Reich has been preaching to my choir about the recent binge of rent seeking billionaires and more than willing to accept the political pay off politicians.
But in using their vast wealth to change those rules and laws in order to fit their political views, the Koch brothers are undermining our democracy. That’s a betrayal of the most precious thing Americans share.
The Kochs exemplify a new reality that strikes at the heart of America. The vast wealth that has accumulated at the top of the American economy is not itself the problem. The problem is that political power tends to rise to where the money is. And this combination of great wealth with political power leads to greater and greater accumulations and concentrations of both — tilting the playing field in favor of the Kochs and their ilk, and against the rest of us.
America is not yet an oligarchy, but that’s where the Koch’s and a few other billionaires are taking us.
American democracy used to depend on political parties that more or less represented most of us. Political scientists of the 1950s and 1960s marveled at American “pluralism,” by which they meant the capacities of parties and other membership groups to reflect the preferences of the vast majority of citizens.
Then around a quarter century ago, as income and wealth began concentrating at the top, the Republican and Democratic Parties started to morph into mechanisms for extracting money, mostly from wealthy people.
Finally, after the Supreme Court’s “Citizen’s United” decision in 2010, billionaires began creating their own political mechanisms, separate from the political parties. They started providing big money directly to political candidates of their choice, and creating their own media campaigns to sway public opinion toward their own views.
So far in the 2014 election cycle, “Americans for Prosperity,” the Koch brother’s political front group, has aired more than 17,000 broadcast TV commercials, compared with only 2,100 aired by Republican Party groups.
“Americans for Prosperity” has also been outspending top Democratic super PACs in nearly all of the Senate races Republicans are targeting this year. In seven of the nine races the difference in total spending is at least two-to-one and Democratic super PACs have had virtually no air presence in five of the nine states.
What’s a citizen to do?
And, what’s on your reading and blogging list today?