Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Both women, not surprisingly, are in the news today.
Here in Birmingham, Martin announced that former Jefferson County Commissioner Mary Buckelew agreed to plead guilty to an obstruction of justice charge connected to county sewer-bond deals. Buckelew admitted to lying to a special grand jury about receiving $4,000 worth of gifts--designer shoes, a purse, and a spa treatment--from an investment banker whose firm received millions of dollars in fees from sewer-bond deals.
The Buckelew story is filled with intrigue and irony:
* Buckelew is a Republican. But something tells me her relationship with Martin must have been frosty. Just about everyone on the commission has come under scrutiny during Martin's reign except for commission president Bettye Fine Collins, a known Martin ally. Hmmm.
* Several Democrats on the commission had kind things to say about Buckelew. That adds to the evidence that Martin would not see Buckelew as part of the Bush "home team."
* Not to excuse Buckelew's behavior, but isn't $4,000 an awfully small amount for which to sell your influence? Is it possible that Buckelew mainly is being strong-armed in order to get her testimony against someone else?
* Could that someone be Larry Langford, Birmingham's black and Democratic mayor. Langford, by the way, called Buckelew an "exceptionally good person" in today's paper. I wonder how much longer the mayor will hold that view.
* Even Martin seems to admit that the Buckelew plea is part of a larger picture. "The important thing is to move on to the bigger target," Martin said. Hmmm, again.
* Regular readers, of course, will detect the rich irony in Alice Martin charging anyone with lying under oath. It's well established that Martin herself lied under oath in an employment-related case involving former assistant U.S. attorney Deirdra Brown Fleming. The Bush Justice Department has let Martin get away with this little crime we call perjury.
As for Palin, she just seems like a Northern Exposure version of our gal Alice.
The Public Record Web site remains one of the go-to sources for information on Palin, John McCain's surprise choice as a running mate. Reporter Jason Leopold notes that Palin has portrayed herself as a reformer who believes no one is above the law. (Shades of Alice Martin.)
But Leopold reports that investigators have solid evidence showing that members of the Palin camp might have violated the law by trying to deny state trooper Mike Wooten worker's compensation benefits due to a back injury.
Leopold also reports that Palin's husband, Todd, could be looking at an arrest on contempt charges after the first of the year, stemming from his refusal to testify in the Troopergate investigation.
An earlier Public Record investigative piece shows that Sarah Palin, Todd Palin, and senior aides collaborated in an effort to deny worker's compensation benefits for Wooten.
Finally, we have one other disturbing similarity between Alice Martin and Sarah Palin. It is well established that Martin has a history of using racial politics in the investigations she chooses to pursue.
Now we have a report that Palin allegedly said she would not hire blacks in her cabinet or for her staff.
Ah, Sarah and Alice. Just the kind of leadership we need for America's future.
Blame has been placed at the feet of greedy investors, clueless politicians, hapless regulators, and even bamboozled home buyers.
But one entity has generally avoided sharing the blame. And maybe that should change.
We are talking about citizens themselves, the great American masses.
Syndicated columnist Froma Harrop says the public should shoulder a major portion of the blame and should take the time for a hard look in the mirror.
Harrop compares the American public to a convenience store owner who left the cash register open while he went outside for a smoke. A bad guy comes in, sees bills hanging out of the register, helps himself, and leaves. Certainly the bad guy has committed a crime. But the store owner was in some way a party to it.
"And so are you, the voters of America," Harrop writes. "You did not demand the proper monitoring of the markets and the plunder that inevitably followed. The Bush administration's $700 billion bailout of bad debt is proof that, all along, the American cash register had been left open."
Kevin Phillips, author, of the recently released Bad Money, has seen this coming for quite some time. But many Americans apparently are too busy to pay attention to what Phillips says.
In an excellent post titled "Economic Bloodbath Foretold," our friends at WriteChic include a Bill Moyers interview with Phillips.
Here is a question to ponder: Is citizen cluelessness going to be the death of our nation yet? I could not help but wonder after reading about "Maxed Out Moms" in the current issue of Time magazine.
Maxed-Out Moms, also known as "Wal-Mart Moms," are defined as white women, between the ages of 45 to 64, with no college education. Supposedly they could decide the upcoming presidential election. And based on the Time article, that is one scary thought.
Time describes one Maxed-Out Mom:
* Her husband can barely afford the gas it takes to get back and forth from the job he is in danger of losing;
* She sometimes puts her utility bill on her Visa;
* She often does the family laundry at 11 p.m.
Sounds like this mom is prospering in the Age of Bush, doesn't it?
But according to a Time poll, John McCain leads Barack Obama 59 to 41 percent among Maxed-Out Moms.
My thought? If Maxed-Out Moms don't have the time to educate themselves or think with some clarity, they should do us all a favor and stay home on election day.
Meanwhile, there is some good news on the polling front. A Washington Post/ABC News poll has Obama leading McCain, 52 to 43 percent, with the lead driven largely by economic concerns.
Perhaps the public is starting to pull its collective head out of some deep, dark crevice. Let's hope the Maxed-Out Moms join us between now and November 4.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
But here is an amazing thing we learn from a close review of the Siegelman appeal: The bribery charge never should have made it to court for a simple technical reason--the statute of limitations had run out before the charge was made.
Like many folks who have followed the Siegelman case, I was aware the defense raised limitations questions about the bribery charge. But until I had read the appeal closely, I did not realize just how powerful the defense argument is on this matter.
Here are the basic law and facts related to the statute-of-limitations question:
* The federal statute of limitations is five years. 18 U.S. Code 3282;
* The initial indictment came down on May 17, 2005;
* Five years before that date would have been May 17, 2000;
* The statute of limitations begins to run when each element of an alleged offense has occurred;
* Richard Scrushy was appointed to the CON board on July 26, 1999, and the prosecution's evidence showed the first check from Scrushy was received in that same time frame;
* The check was in an amount greater than $5,000, the level required under the sec. 666 bribery statute;
* This means all of the elements of the alleged crime were in place by the summer of 1999.
* To fall within the five-year statute of limitations, the alleged criminal events would have had to taken place after May 17, 2000. But they took place some 10 months prior to that.
The record shows that the prosecution brought its case too late.
The prosecution apparently tried to get around this little problem in several ways. One, it crafted the indictment in such vague terms that it was unclear exactly when the alleged crime took place. Siegelman's team moved for a Bill of Particulars, seeking specifics about when the alleged crimes took place. But U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller denied the motion, forcing Siegelman to defend himself against allegations that were so vague the prosecution could not even put a date on them.
Second, the prosecution argued that Siegelman could not raise the issue for the first time at a post-trial Rule 29 meeting. Siegelman's team, however, points out that the prosecution seemed to be confusing criminal procedure with civil procedure.
In the civil rules, a statute-of-limitations defense must be raised in the answer to a complaint. But no such requirement is present in the criminal rules.
In fact, Rule 29(c)(3) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure states: "A defendant is not required to move for a judgment of acquittal before the court submits the case to the jury as a prerequisite for making such a motion after jury discharge."
So the bribery charge against Siegelman failed the fundamental test of timeliness. And yet, it still managed to go to court, to a jury, and result in a conviction.
That can only happen when you have a corrupt judge in charge of a trial. And that clearly was the case with Fuller in the Siegelman/Scrushy case. Fuller, of course, is a George W. Bush appointee.
If the prosecution fails on the bribery and honest-services mail fraud counts, that leaves only the obstruction of justice charge. And the Siegelman team makes a compelling argument that the prosecution fails on two essential prongs of that charge. Obstruction of justice, like conspiracy, tends to be a "piggyback" charge, one that requires another offense to be present. The obstruction charge, based on my understanding of the law, would not hold up without the presence of the bribery and mail fraud charges. And we've already shown that Siegelman was wrongly convicted on those.
Several thoughts come to mind after a close reading of the Siegelman appeal:
* How does a bribery count even make it to court when it clearly was brought well after the statute of limitations had run?
* How are unlawful jury instructions presented to a jury?
* How did Judge Mark Fuller ever get put in charge of this case, and what repercussions should he face for blatantly violating his oath to uphold the law?
Legal Schnauzer has dared to wade deeply in the citizen-journalism waters, and that probably explains why I no longer am employed at UAB and one of my former coworker is.
I raised this issue in a recent post about my former UAB Periodicals colleague Doug Gillett, who got into some blog-related hot water back in 2004 and received no more than a warning. I, unlike Doug, did not violate UAB policy and was fired. As you probably have guessed, I detect a slight injustice at work here. (The injustice being that I was fired, or disciplined at all for that matter, not that Doug was retained. Doug is a great guy, and I wholeheartedly supported UAB's decision to keep him on board.)
Election law prohibits public employees from using "state, county or city funds, property or time, for any political activities." The state ethics law has a similar prohibition.
Blogs, short for Web logs, resemble electronic diaries, usually informal in tone but souped up with photos and Web links. Increasingly popular, blogs have been used by war correspondents, political reporters, and ordinary citizens with something to say about any sort of subject.
Monday, September 22, 2008
The Augusta (GA) Chronicle reported on Sunday that former Georgia legislator Robin Williams helped set up a meeting between Georgia businessman Robert Moultrie and Musgrove, who was governor of Mississippi at the time.
That information, reporter Johnny Edwards writes, might explain why Williams and fellow legislator-turned-prisoner Charles Walker recently were moved from a federal facility in Estill, South Carolina, to a county jail near Oxford, Mississippi.
Moultrie is among three Georgia businessmen who entered guilty pleas in the Mississippi Beef Processors case. Musgrove faces no charges at the moment and has denied wrongdoing in the Beef Processors case.
But sources have told Legal Schnauzer that the move of Williams and Walker under a federal writ probably is tied to a possible indictment against Musgrove.
Polls show Musgrove running neck and neck with Wicker for Trent Lott's old seat. A Musgrove win would mark the first time Mississippi has sent a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in 25 years.
An indictment against Musgrove, which could come between now and the November 4 election, probably would secure a victory for Wicker. It also would raise questions about a number of criminal investigations by the Bush DOJ that appear to be politically time and motivated.
Most prominent among those cases is the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman.
That prompted your humble correspondent to take a close look at the Siegelman appeal, and what did we find? Strong indications that, as we suspected, Siegelman was wrongly convicted.
First, I should say this: The Siegelman document is not the kind of reading you would take to the beach. It's 86 pages long and filled with legal lingo that can make the head begin to nod. I'm a Legal Schnauzer, not a lawyer. And I don't have the prosecution's response to the Siegelman document.
But key sections of the appeal are drawn straight from the trial record. And those sections alone tend to show that Siegelman's conviction was not correct under the law.
We addressed the Siegelman appeal in a post a few weeks back that drew on the fine work of the Tuscaloosa News' Tommy Stevenson. In addition to an excellent overview of key points in the Siegelman appeal, Stevenson provided a link to the appellate document itself.
After girding our loins upon checking out this formidable piece of legal work, we decided to take the plunge. And it proved to be a rewarding endeavor, convincing us that Siegelman and codefendant Richard Scrushy were wrongly convicted for several reasons.
First, we were not surprised to learn that U.S. Judge Mark Fuller gave improper jury instructions, mirroring the actions of his fellow Republican appointee Henry Wingate in the Paul Minor case next door in Mississippi.
Citing McCormick v. U.S., 500 U.S. 257 (1991), Siegelman's attorneys show that federal law requires proof of an explicit quid pro quo for conviction in a public-corruption case. In short, an explicit "agreement" or "promise" of favorable action is unlawful, but an "expectation" of such a result is not.
Fuller's jury instruction did not make that distinction. On page 48 of the appeal, Siegelman's team states: "The District Court advised jurors that they could convict Gov. Siegelman upon finding that [he] intended to alter [his] official actions as a result of the receipt of campaign contributions or other benefits."
This, however, is not what the law says. The Siegelman team correctly points out that the instructions did not require an agreement or promise at all, much less an explicit one. "They allowed for conviction based on attribution of a state of mind to Gov. Siegelman."
Based on the error in jury instructions, Siegelman should receive a new trial, his team states. But it goes on to show that evidence at the trial was insufficient, meaning the former governor is due a judgment in his favor.
Talk of evidence brings us back to Nick Bailey. Siegelman's attorneys recite the key conversation between Bailey and Siegelman after the former governor had met with Scrushy:
Bailey: What is Scrushy "going to want for that [campaign contribution]?"
Siegelman: "The CON Board."
Bailey: "I wouldn't think that would be a problem would it?"
Siegelman: "I wouldn't think so."
This shows that Siegelman thought Scrushy wanted a CON Board appointment, and that Siegelman didn't think that would be a problem. But it does not show an explicit quid pro quo.
"Evidence from Bailey shows that there was at best a tentative expectation about what would happen in the future . . . ," the Siegelman team states. "That is what Bailey's testimony shows: future possibility at best. It does not show that there was a promise made to Scrushy."
A close look at the appeal drives home a point we have made before. The public tends to think the Siegelman trial was primarily about bribery. But in terms of numbers, it was about honest-services mail fraud. Roughly two-thirds of the charges, and five of the seven counts upon which Siegelman was convicted, involved honest-services mail fraud.
We noted in a previous post that the honest-services mail fraud convictions could not stand. That's because federal law requires that the conduct "actually deprive the public" of an official's honest services. (U.S. v. Walker, 400 F. 3d 1282.) And that did not occur because Scrushy clearly was qualified to serve on the CON board and had served on the board under three previous governors.
In terms of public opinion, the conviction on a single bribery count might have been most damaging to Siegelman. Many citizens probably could not begin to define honest-services mail fraud. But folks have a pretty good idea of what bribery means.
Here is something else we learn from a close look at the appeal: The bribery charge almost certainly should not have gone to the jury--or before the court at all, for that matter.
So how did it happen? Scott Horton, legal affairs contributor at Harper's magazine, has written numerous posts about Judge Fuller's myriad conflicts in the case. Those conflicts appear to have come to life in the form of a judge who clearly favored the prosecution.
We've already seen that the Siegelman conviction was built on a shaky foundation. Now we learn that the most important count, bribery, was even shakier than we thought.
(To be continued.)
A new poll from the Capital Survey Research Center shows that Democratic candidate Barack Obama has the support of only 16 percent of whites in Alabama.
Republican John McCain has 73 percent of the white vote, giving him a 55 to 35 percent lead overall.
These numbers come as McCain is trying to follow a Republican president who has presided over one of the worst and most corrupt administrations in history.
It's enough to make any rational person scratch his head. But William H. Stewart, University of Alabama professor emeritus of political science, says no one should be surprised by the numbers. Many white Alabamians identify with the Republican "brand" in presidential elections. But that brand seems to be built largely on race.
"Alabama's intense racism has played a significant role in the state's history, and racism is still part of our fabric as a state, not as pronounced as it once was, thank goodness, but it still exists and it will play a role in the election," Stewart said.
The Birmingham News noted that even former House majority leader Dick Armey earlier this month recognized the "Bubba vote."
"The Bubba vote is there, and it's very real, and it is everywhere," the former Republican congressman from Texas said. "There's an awful lot of people in America, bless their heart, who simply are not emotionally prepared to vote for a black man."
Is there hope for Alabama? If there is, it probably is best embodied by Rep. James Fields, who is black and defeated a white Republican in overwhelmingly white Cullman County for a seat in the Alabama Legislature. Some called that win a miracle. Fields does not
"Could I have won 10 years ago? Twenty years ago? Maybe not. But today isn't 10 years ago," Fields said. "I'm not from somewhere else. I'm an Alabamian. I've worked side-by-side with whites, gone to school with whites, roomed with whites, preached to and prayed with whites. People know who I am, what I stand for and they don't have to depend on labels alone like Democrat or black guy."
Fields said Obama likely won't win in Alabama.
"He will lose first because he's a Democrat running in a state in a presidential election year that hasn't seen Alabamians vote for a Democrat in 32 years," Fields said. "Second, he won't lose because he's just black, he's black with an Islamic-sounding name. If he was Charles Smith, his race wouldn't matter as much. But in Southern Baptist Alabama, the name is a problem."
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Commentators are noting that greed plays a starring role in what is now being called our nation's worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
The crisis, so far, has focused on the mortgage, investment, and banking industries. But a recent story shined a spotlight on another industry where greed has reigned. And this industry, like the others connected to the evolving Great Bush Disaster, also has ties to our homes.
Who are these "professionals?" Real-estate appraisers. And they are another example of greed run amok in the Age of Bush.
Anyone who has ever shopped for a house on a middle-class income knows how frustrating the experience can be.
My wife and I bought our house in 1990, and we still get chills thinking about some of the wretched properties we saw--with price tags that would make us swoon like Scarlett O'Hara in the Deep South humidity.
We loved the lingo our real-estate agent dropped on us to make these "deals" seem palatable. "Isn't this one cozy," she would say. (Translation: It's tiny.) "This has so much potential." (Translation: It's currently a wreck.) "Look at this old-world charm." (Translation: It was built during the U.S. Grant administration.) "Wow, what a handyman special." (Translation: It's dilapidated.) "It's zoned to good schools." (Translation: Predominantly "white" schools, and your imaginary kids will need to be there 24/7 because the roof on this house leaks like Monica Lewinsky.)
Real-estate prices in "good neighborhoods" within a 10- to 12-mile radius of downtown Birmingham are godawful, which is why we landed in North Shelby County, about 15 miles from downtown and ruled by the kind of corrupt public officials you would expect to find in Nicaragua.
People who live in places like Maryland and Virginia have told us that home prices in Birmingham actually are wonderful compared to other parts of the country. We're supposed to feel good about that, I guess.
Anyway, Mrs. Schnauzer and I have long wondered what drives outrageous real-estate prices. We've attributed it to 3-4 things:
* Seller arrogance
* Buyer desperation
* Societal and familial pressures
* And that old standby, supply and demand
Thanks to a recent investigative report from Associated Press, we know that another factor has helped drive soaring home prices: Fraud by real-estate appraisers, often in concert with unscrupulous real-estate agents and mortgage brokers.
Given that our nightmarish experience with Alabama's justice system began with a funky real-estate deal, this report drew more than casual interest in the Schnauzer household.
Writes AP's Mitch Weiss:
After the nation's last major banking disaster, Congress set up a system to catch rogue appraisers. Their game: inflating the value of homes at the direction of equally unscrupulous real estate agents and mortgage brokers, whose commissions are determined by the size of the deals.
But a six-month investigation by the Associated Press found that the system is crippled by both the bumbling of its policemen and their inability to effectively punish those caught committing fraud.
And despite ample evidence appraisers are pressured into inflating home values — sometimes to prices in support of loans that are more than buyers can afford — the federal regulators charged with protecting consumers have thus far made a conscious choice not to act.
"The system is completely broken," Marc Weinberg, the former acting director at the federal agency charged with monitoring the appraisal industry, said before he retired earlier this year. "It's amazing that the system ever worked at all."
Boy, those are encouraging words. And what impact have rogue real-estate appraisers had on our economy?
To be sure, there are many causes of the housing crisis — lenders who allowed people with spotty credit to buy homes with little or no money down, mortgage brokers who focused on selling loans without regard to the borrowers' ability to repay, investment bankers who bought and sold risky mortgage-backed securities. A few of the worst offenders — appraisers included — have been put behind bars.
But experts and industry insiders, including appraisers who feel betrayed by colleagues who don't follow the rules, believe the failure to effectively monitor the real estate appraisal industry contributed to housing's collapse.
What about our own experience with a funky real-estate deal? I wrote about it in a post dated November 27, 2007. I have no indication that fraud of any kind took place in the deal that caused us to wind up with Mike McGarity, and his extensive criminal record, for a next-door neighbor. But the more we learned about the deal, the stranger it seemed.
Normally, I wouldn't care what took place when a nearby house was sold. But McGarity's presence unleashed a series of events that culminated with the unlawful "auction" of our house and the loss of my job at UAB under mysterious and unlawful circumstances. So you can understand why we've been more than a little curious about how McGarity came to buy the house from our previous next-door neighbor--Fred Yancey, the football coach and dean of students at Briarwood Christian School.
Here's a brief overview of what happened when Fred Yancey sold his house to Mike McGarity:
* There was never a for-sale sign in the yard;
* There was never an ad in the local newspaper or in our main area "shopper" publication;
* The house was never listed with the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS), according to an appraiser I consulted;
* Even though the house was never listed, a real-estate agent named Phyllis Tinsley was involved in the deal. At the time, Tinsley worked for Prudential Realty, but she now has her own real-estate company. Her husband, Roye Tinsley, is a real-estate appraiser.
* Phyllis Tinsley told my wife that she happened to see a for-sale-by-owner sign at McGarity's house in Cahaba Heights and stopped to talk with him. That, Tinsley said, is how she found a prospective buyer. And how did she find a prospective seller? She happened to be in our neighborhood and knocked on Fred Yancey's door. Lo and behold, he was looking to sell his house!
Maybe real-estate agents sell houses this way all the time. But it sure seems like a strange way to do it to me--awfully inefficient.
Did Ms. Tinsley just stumble upon Mike McGarity, without anyone telling her he was interested in buying, and then stumble upon Fred Yancey, without anyone telling her he was interested in selling?
Well, snip my pickle and call me Shlomo, that was a real-estate match made in heaven.
It's caused my wife and me to go through hell, but I doubt that Phyllis Tinsley, Fred Yancey, or any of the fine Christians at Briarwood School really care about that.
Oh, and here's something interesting about Phyllis Tinsley. I called her one evening a couple of years back to ask her about the funky real-estate deal that landed Mike McGarity next door to us. She didn't seem terribly anxious to discuss it, but she did pretty much repeat the story she had told my wife--that she had just happened upon a seller and a buyer, almost as if God was making this deal happen!
We had a fairly pleasant chat, and I tape recorded things for posterity's sake. When I played back the tape, something interesting happened. I could hear what I said, but when Ms. Tinsley spoke, her voice was scrambled or somehow blocked.
I have no idea how or why that happened. Just another chapter in a real-estate transaction that gets curiouser and curiouser.
This is Murphy and her "mom" at Oak Mountain State Park, and it's probably my all-time favorite photo.
Why? Well, as I've written several times, my wife and I were "nuts" about Murphy. And now, I'll probably convince some of you that we are just nuts in general.
Anyway, after having Murphy in our lives for 11 years, we developed this notion that maybe she could connect with God in a way that we could not. Why did we think about this? While our daily lives were wracked with fear and worry and uncertainty, Murphy never seemed to experience those feelings. More than once, Mrs. Schnauzer or I have said something along the lines of, "Why are we even here? Is it just to be tormented by unethical lawyers and corrupt judges?"
These kinds of thoughts never seemed to enter Murphy's mind. She seemed to understand exactly what her mission was, and she wasn't going to be distracted from it. Her mission, as best we could tell, was to help keep us relatively sane during a horrible time in our lives. She took great delight in her mission, and we are eternally grateful that she not only helped keep us functional, but even brought a sense of joy and hopefulness to our home--at a time when it felt like it was under siege.
Perhaps that's why, when we view this picture, we see Murphy looking up to her Creator and saying, "Big Guy, I'm doing my best to help these people. What do you want me to try next?"
Before you dismiss us as fruitcakes, consider this: We know that dogs can smell in ways that we can't smell and hear in ways that we can't hear. Is it possible that they can connect with God in ways that we cannot?
We are in touch with reality enough to realize that Murphy probably was looking at a squirrel in a pine tree in this photo. But we believe in a loving God, and we wonder if he presents himself on earth in mysterious and unknown ways--perhaps in the form of a beloved pet.
Human activity these days does not present much evidence in favor of a loving God. We seem to spend much of our time inflicting harm upon others, and the planet. So perhaps it's the "least of these," our animal friends, who truly embody a loving God.
That's how Murphy seemed to us. We like the idea that she could connect with God in an intimate way that we could not imagine. And we take comfort in knowing that she is with Him now.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
That would be like hiring Bob Guccione to clean up the porn industry.
In fact, one of McCain's best buds is largely responsible for our current mess. Consider the words of syndicated columnist Froma Harrop. She lays much of the blame for the U.S. financial meltdown at the feet of former McCain economic advisor and ex-Texas Sen. Phil Gramm:
On Dec. 15, 2000, hours before Congress was to leave for Christmas recess, Gramm had a 262-page amendment slipped into the appropriations bill. It forbade federal agencies to regulate the financial derivatives that greased the skids for passing along risky mortgage-backed securities to investors.
And that, my friends, is why everything's falling apart.
So the woes of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Bear Stearns, AIG, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers? All set up by Phil Gramm.
The wily Texan recently lost his title of economic adviser after making his fabled remark about this being "a nation of whiners." But he still is the architect of McCain's economic plan--the one that is supposed to lead us out of the very jam that Phil Gramm helped create.
Would you want Evel Knievel to teach your children about health and safety practices? If that sounds like a good idea, by all means vote for John McCain to handle a fiscal crisis that seems to get worse with each passing day.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
We raised that question in a post last week. And Johnny Edwards, a reporter with the Augusta (GA) Chronicle, adds to the growing body of evidence that suggests the answer is "yes."
Edwards reports today that former Georgia legislators Charles Walker and Robin Williams have been returned to federal prison in Estill, South Carolina. Edwards earlier had reported that Walker and Williams had been transferred to another facility under a federal writ, meaning they were to testify in a criminal case.
That prompted our report that the Justice Department probably was using their testimony to help prepare an indictment against Musgrove related to the Mississippi Beef Processors case. That case has produced three guilty pleas from Georgia businessmen who had donated to Musgrove's failed 2003 campaign for governor against Republican Haley Barbour.
The Musgrove-Wicker race reportedly is tight, and a Musgrove victory would send a Mississippi Democrat to the U.S. Senate for the first time in 25 years. Our sources tell us that the Bush Justice Department wants to ensure that does not happen by bringing a politically timed and motivated criminal case against Musgrove between now and the November 4 election.
Will that, in fact, happen? Did the mysterious Walker/Williams transfer have anything to do with Musgrove?
Well, Edwards reports that Walker and Williams were held from July 28 to September at the Lafayette County Jail in . . . Oxford, Mississippi. And Oxford just happens to be the site of the Mississippi Beef Processors case. The Lafayette County Jail holds federal inmates during trials.
Oxford-based U.S. Attorney Jim Greenlee is heading the Mississippi Beef Processors case, and a spokesman for his office would not comment on the reasons for the Walker/Williams transfer.
Walker and Williams have been back at Estill, South Carolina since last Friday.
But here in deep-red Alabama, many citizens don't seem to care that the Abramoff machine apparently poisoned our government. You don't get the feeling that Alabamians are demanding accountability in the Abramoff affair. In fact, it seems that folks in our state would just as soon forget Captain Jack and his sleazy sidekicks.
But the editors of the Anniston Star are not among those folks. In the wake of Abramoff's sentencing last week, a Star editorial noted that the affair is far from over and a laundry list of wrongdoers need to be held accountable.
The Star notes that more than a dozen politicians and lobbyists have pleaded guilty to charges associated with the Abramoff case. And former House Republicans Tom DeLay and John Doolittle remain on the hot seat. But the newspaper correctly points out that the trail hardly ends there, and it cuts a wide swath through the Heart of Dixie:
Closer to home, Abramoff was connected to corruption allegations surrounding Alabama's 1999 vote on a statewide lottery and other initiatives to introduce gambling into the state. The most famous case involved former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. He was convicted for allegedly selling influence in order to secure funds to campaign for the lottery. A reasonable person might conclude the money was nothing more than a campaign contribution from a deep-pocketed citizen looking to curry favor. In other words, it appears to be the same sort of transaction that happens when donors give to presidential candidates in hopes of landing an ambassadorial appointment to, say, Luxemburg.
Siegelman got seven years, three years more than Abramoff.
The Star goes on to outline Abramoff's efforts to scuttle regulated gaming in Alabama out of fear that it would provide competition for his clients, the Mississippi Choctaws.
The result was that gambling initiatives failed, in part, because social conservatives in Alabama used casino dollars from a neighboring state to fight the lottery election.
This sordid episode had many losers. The credibility of (Ralph) Reed and his religious-right friends in Alabama was mortally wounded. Americans for Tax Reform, which is a lynchpin for the conservative movement, should have been deeply embarrassed by having its name associated with this kind of deception.
In the two years since the Senate released a comprehensive report on Abramoff's dealings, what hasn't happened is anyone connected to this money laundering and deception facing charges of wrongdoing.
The Star doesn't mention Alabama Governor Bob Riley, and the ample evidence that he received about $13 million of Mississippi Choctaw money for his 2002 election--all of it freshly laundered by Captain Jack Abramoff. The Star also does not mention that Republican presidential nominee John McCain knew about Riley's connections to Abramoff and kept them out of a Senate report on the scandal.
With Abramoff's sentencing now behind us, the Star seems to be saying, now is a good time to truly check the foundation of the ugly House That Jack Built.
If someone ever does the checking, they will find a number of snakes inside. And they will have "Alabama" written all over them.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Insurance executive John Goff filed a lawsuit in March 2007 against Gov. Bob Riley, former Lt. Gov. Steve Windom, Insurance Commissioner Walter Bell, and others, alleging they conspired to destroy Goff's workers compensation business.
The Montgomery Independent reports that depositions have been scheduled over the past two weeks, through today.
Perhaps the most interesting name on the deposition list is Bill Canary, director of the Business Council of Alabama and husband of Leura Canary, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama. Leura Canary oversaw the Siegelman prosecution, and according to Republican whistleblower Jill Simpson, Bill Canary told associates on a telephone conference call that "his girls" (Leura Canary and fellow U.S. attorney Alice Martin) would "take care of Don Siegelman."
As regular readers know, I am not an attorney. But my understanding is that the rules governing depositions in most states [Rule 30(c), Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure] allow for a wide-ranging inquiry. Questions that draw an objection from a defending attorney generally still must be answered.
That means the depositions were likely to produce information that goes beyond the Goff case to associated matters--including the Abramoff and Siegelman cases.
Montgomery County Circuit Judge Truman M. Hobbs Jr. on June 24 dismissed claims against all defendants except for one count of fraudulent misrepresentation against Bell. Hobbs ruled that the two-year statute of limitations had run on a number of the claims.In a surprise move, Bell resigned his position in Riley's cabinet at the end of August and became chairman of Swiss Re America Holding Corp. When asked if Bell's resignation was connected to the Goff case, spokesman Ragan Ingram said, "Not at all."
Goff once was a Riley supporter, helping to raise about $500,000 for the 2002 campaign--which Riley won in a bitterly fought contest over Siegelman--and allowing the use of his company airplane.
But Goff claims in his lawsuit that two of Windom's associates, Jim Tait and Don Price, visited his office in August 2003 and said they could help Goff retain an important account if he split the commission with them. The men, Goff alleges, said the Riley administration would make sure Goff lost the account if he did not give in to their demands.
"In my 30 years in the insurance business in dealing with the state, I have never experienced such an open attempt at extorting money from me," Goff said.
Thomas Gallion, Goff's attorney, reported the incident to the Alabama Insurance Department. Rather than investigate a possible criminal act, Commissioner Bell initiated a series of events that led to Goff Group Inc. going into bankruptcy, the lawsuit alleges.
Two months before filing his lawsuit in March of last year, Goff wrote a letter to Riley. Goff said an audit related to his company's bankruptcy revealed irregularities regarding the use of his airplane. According to Alabama Secretary of State records, Goff said, Riley had not reported the "in kind" contribution based on his use of the plane.
Because the contribution was not reported for campaign purposes, Goff said, he had to assume that Riley used the airplane on two trips to Washington, D.C., for personal reasons. "I knew that you were going to use this plane to campaign in the state of Alabama," Goff wrote, "but I did not know that you used my plane on March 12, 2002, and May 14, 2002, to go to Washington, D.C."
Goff enclosed an invoice for $25,000 to cover the cost of the two trips to Washington. The Riley Campaign, after balking initially, paid the amount. But it apparently bristled because of another issue Goff raised in his letter: the activities of disgraced GOP lobbyists Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon, and their connections to Bob Riley.
"It puzzles me as to why you did not report (this in-kind contribution), and I am very much concerned that it could be related to your handling of the Indian casino money that has been recently described in the news media," Goff said. "I have read that the two people you dealt with were a Mr. Abramoff and a Mr. Scanlon (your former congressional aide) who were indicted and plead guilty to illegal funneling of these Indiana gambling-related monies to various political croniees. The article clearly describes that you were the recipient of millions of dollars of this money and through your use of my airplane in your campaign; I need assurance that you did not use my plane to pick up these monies on the two above described trips to Washington, D.C.
"I need for you to respond to this letter in that I have had enough problems with your administration and certainly don't want to get innocently involved in this Indian casino gambling scandal that I understand is still ongoing."
How did the Riley administration react to Goff's concerns? Not well.
It apparently encouraged U.S. Attorney Leura Canary to investigate and indict Goff on criminal fraud, conspiracy, and embezzlement charges. Goff is scheduled for trial in federal court on January 5, 2009.
These charges came even though the subject controversy already had been settled in an administrative-law case. Gallion says the criminal charges amount to double jeopardy. Goff says they are retaliation for his lawsuit.
With most of its claims dismissed, the Goff lawsuit appears to be foundering. But that might not remain the case. Gallion has filed a motion to reconsider, asking that Judge Hobbs reinstate a number of charges against Windom and Bell. The motion, for now, does not ask that Governor Riley and his son, Rob Riley, be reinstated as defendants. But that could come once depositions are completed today.
Whatever happens in the weeks ahead, the Goff lawsuit appears to have led to one major event-- Bell's resignation.
"It seems to me to be more than coincidence," Gallion told the Montgomery Independent. "My sources tell me that after Bell received the deposition notice, there was a meeting in Gov. Riley's office with Windom and Bell, and that's when Bell resigned. The appearance of it is rather peculiar."