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Corruption



All Reason.com articles with the "Corruption" tag.



Published: Thu, 22 Feb 2018 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Thu, 22 Feb 2018 08:12:45 -0500

 



D.C. Public School Chief Resigns After Sneaking His Kids Into Top School

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 13:55:00 -0500

(image) The top public school administrator in Washington, D.C., resigned his position Tuesday, four days after it was revealed that he had conspired with another official to place his daughter in the district's highest-performing public high school. In the process, Public Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson bypassed the rules governing placement of district students in schools outside their own neighborhoods.

The other official, Deputy Mayor for Education Jennifer Niles, was forced to resign last week.

Wilson is the second consecutive chancellor to be embroiled in a school placement scandal. Last May, The Washington Post obtained a report from the city's inspector general revealing that his predecessor, Kaya Henderson, had helped influential D.C. officials get their children directly into the most desirable schools by bypassing the lottery system with so-called "discretionary placements." By the time the report became public, Henderson had already left the school system following a five-year stint in the top job.

On one level, this is maddening malfeasance. District residents have now had two consecutive chancellors, both of whom promised to be champions of reform and good governance, caught abusing their positions for personal gain in the same way. Families across the city with many fewer resources than these officials face the school lottery's notoriously long odds every year. Often, it's their only chance to avoid dismally underperforming neighborhood schools. That the people responsible for maintaining and operating that system are apparently unwilling to play by the rules they enforce is inexcusable and grotesque.

But it's worth pausing to ponder why Wilson and the others did this. In addition to being city leaders, these people are parents. They are fiercely determined to give their children the best chances at success that they can get. In D.C., placement at an out-of-neighborhood school can mean the difference between plentiful access to advanced course offerings and competent college counseling and no access to either.

At the end of the day, these self-dealing bureaucrats were trying to get what libertarians have long argued all parents deserve: meaningful choices about where to educate their kids. It's not enough to kick them out of office. We need to extend what was once their privilege to everyone else.




Brickbat: Shocking

Wed, 17 Jan 2018 04:00:00 -0500

(image) Armed federal agents raided a warehouse in Puerto Rico and seized materials that were supposed to be used to rebuild the island's electrical infrastructure that was damaged by Hurricane Maria but were instead hoarded by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority. Federal officials then began distributing the materials to contractors who are repairing the electrical system.




The Corrupt Politics of Low-Income Housing

Mon, 15 Jan 2018 06:00:00 -0500

The rent is too damn high—so each year Congress appropriates billions of dollars to address the nation's collective housing needs. The programs vary from loans to tax credits to straight-up subsidies, but a common feature is that federal taxpayers pony up the dough and then a motley collection of state-level politicians, financing agencies, and housing authorities decide how it's spent. Can you guess where things go wrong? In theory, oversight is provided by bureaucrats in Washington tracking every dollar and by local leaders increasing their re-election prospects by providing housing assistance to their constituents as effectively as possible. In practice, the feds turn a blind eye to inefficient uses of the funds while local officials gleefully engage in politically advantageous graft. Take California Treasurer John Chiang. By virtue of his position on the three-member California Tax Credit Allocation Committee, Chiang exercises enormous influence over who gets $94.9 million each year in federal tax credits intended for developers of low-income housing. He has used this position to great effect, steering millions to major campaign donors. These include Pacific West Communities, to whom Chiang has voted to give some $60 million in federal tax credits since 2007. The company has returned the favor with $37,000 in campaign contributions back to him. Some 82 California housing developments were funded with these tax credits in 2016. If California-style corruption isn't your bag, perhaps you'll appreciate the sheer incompetence of the Atlanta Housing Authority (AHA), which is currently struggling to get out of an expensive subsidy deal it literally forgot it made with local developer Integral. Over the past two decades, the AHA has awarded $114 million in federally funded loans to the company, which has yet to pay them back, and which now owes about $29 million in interest to the agency. That did not stop former AHA chief Renee Glover from unilaterally agreeing to sell Integral $137 million worth of AHA-owned land for the bargain price of $20 million. Glover resigned in 2013, and the current leadership can't recall this deal ever being made. They're now suing to stop it from happening. In Michigan, the state's housing finance agency was given $761 million in Troubled Asset Relief Program funds to protect distressed homeowners from foreclosure during the Great Recession. Instead of using the money as intended, officials sat on it while thousands in Detroit had their homes seized for failure to pay property taxes. When the state did start spending its bailout funds, half the total went toward demolishing the homes left vacant by those tax foreclosures. But all of this pales in comparison to the misdeeds of the Navajo Housing Authority (NHA), which is supposed to provide housing on the Navajo Indian reservation. In the past decade, the NHA has received some $803 million in federal funding while building slightly over 1,000 homes. That works out to $723,000 per home, or about 10 times the median home price in the Navajo community of Kayenta, Arizona. Much of the money was spent on structures that were either never finished or never occupied, including a women's shelter that stood completed but empty for nearly 18 years while homeless people slept outside it. All these examples of fraud, waste, and abuse are the natural result of separating the people paying for housing programs from the communities that are supposed to benefit from them. Federal functionaries have very weak incentives to ensure the program dollars are used well. The worst they usually have to worry about is for their failure as watchdogs to become a paragraph in a local news story or the subject of a little-read Government Accountability Office report. State officials, meanwhile, have little to gain from providing better oversight. It's not their constituents picking up the tab, after all, and any misspent funds can be made up in next year's appropriations. The ultimate way to avoid corruption or waste in[...]



Duped by State Detectives, Pennsylvania Police Chief Shows Up at Sheetz Gas Station for Sex With Underage Girl

Mon, 08 Jan 2018 10:28:00 -0500

(image) Yet another U.S. law enforcement agent has been caught up in a child-sex sting conducted by his colleagues. On Friday, 40-year-old Michael Diebold—chief of police for the small Western Pennsylvania town of Leechburg—was arrested after arranging a sexual tryst with what he thought was a 14-year-old girl.

The "teenager" was actually an undercover officer from the Pennsylvania Bureau of Criminal Investigations. Diebold was charged with two first-degree felonies: unlawful contact with a minor and criminal attempt to commit involuntary deviate sexual intercourse. He remains in the Westmoreland County Jail on $500,000 bond. Diebold's lawyer says he will plead not guilty at a January 18 hearing.

The undercover agents had been chatting with Diebold since September after responding to an online sex ad he posted on Kik. Diebold was not initially seeking an underage companion; his ad sought an adult female for a consensual dom/sub relationship. But the chief was apparently undeterred when the "woman" who responded said she was actually just 14 years old and in the eight grade. "Everyone has to have a first time," Diebold allegedly responded, according to the criminal complaint against him.

Over the next few weeks, Diebold allegedly sent the girl lewd pics and asked "her" repeatedly to meet in person. They eventually arranged to meet at a Sheetz gas station last Friday, where Diebold was taken into custody. According to the police affadavit, Diebold admitted that he had been the one chatting with undercover officers, said that he knew sexual activity with a 14-year-old was wrong, and said that he knew his "life was over" now.

Diebold—a 21-year police veteran and the town's police chief since 2007—had gone on paid medical leave following a fireworks accident last year, and he remains on paid leave now, according to Leechburg Mayor Wayne Dobos. As for Diebold's future with the department, Dobos told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "Right now I have no comment outside of I'm shocked."

Diebold was also married last summer, and his wife recently gave birth to a son.

Diebold's wife Danielle released a statement to CBS Pittsburgh on Sunday, saying she was "broken, devastated, humiliated," and "completely blindsided." Michael Diebold "was the first man ever in my life who never made me question, never gave me a gut feeling, never a bad instinct or sign and we were even in the process of planning to extend our family," she said. "This is not who we knew. We knew a loving, caring father and husband and we are grieving the loss of that man."




Less Regulation Means Less Opportunity for Government Corruption

Mon, 11 Dec 2017 16:00:00 -0500

The federal indictment of a former Massachusetts state senator, Brian Joyce, gave some headline writers an opportunity to focus on the comic element of his alleged scheme. The Democratic politician pleaded not guilty. He was charged in part with having accepted 504 pounds of free coffee from a franchise widely identified as Dunkin' Donuts. With Saturday Night Live already memorably mocking that company's seductiveness for a certain element of lowbrow New England culture, it's tempting to react to the Joyce news with a certain Boston cynicism—"at least it wasn't Stahhbucks"—and move on. But there are some serious points here, too. It will be interesting to see whether the federal effort to make "honest services fraud" charges stick against Joyce are any more successful here than were so-far failed efforts by zealous prosecutors to criminalize sketchy but maybe not actually criminal behavior by the Republican governor of Virginia, Robert McDonnell; by the Democratic Speaker of the New York legislature, Sheldon Silver; and by the Republican majority leader of the New York State Senate, Dean Skelos. In all three of those federal cases against state-level politicians, judges eventually defined honest services fraud differently than prosecutors did, and dismissed the convictions. The Supreme Court's 8-0 opinion in McDonnell v. United States was emphatic on the point: "conscientious public officials arrange meetings for constituents, contact other officials on their behalf, and include them in events all the time. The basic compact underlying representative government assumes that public officials will hear from their constituents and act appropriately on their concerns…The Government's position could cast a pall of potential prosecution over these relationships." The opinion, by Chief Justice Roberts, warned that if the prosecutors prevailed, "officials might wonder whether they could respond to even the most commonplace requests for assistance, and citizens with legitimate concerns might shrink from participating in democratic discourse. This concern is substantial." The honest services fraud issue is just one part of the story here, though. Reading the indictment—which includes charges of racketeering, extortion, money laundering, defrauding the IRS, and bribery—it's hard to miss the fact that a lot of the alleged corruption involves government interference with free markets. The "nationally branded coffee and pastry fast-food business" had an interest in state laws governing the relations between franchise holders and parent companies, and in "tip-pooling" legislation about how employees split tips. The indictment also discusses Joyce's involvement in allegedly "exerting pressure on and advising" members of a town planning board whose approval a developer needed to subdivide a piece of land. The indictment also features a company "interested in promoting property-assessed-clean-energy 'PACE' legislation in Massachusetts. PACE was an alternative energy financing program that required state legislation because its funding was derived from issuing bonds that were secured by increased property tax assessments." If state and local government just let restaurants do what they want with their tip money, let landowners do what they want with their property, and let people who want solar panels or windmills on their property pay for them themselves, there would be less opportunity for corruption. Smaller government, in other words, in addition to whatever other virtues it has, has the possibility to be more honest government. And larger government—more involvement of politicians in regulating or subsidizing or licensing the economy—has the potential to be more dishonest government. It provides more opportunities for crooked politicians to shake down businessmen, and more opportunities for crooked businessmen to try to buy political influence. Whether that is what happened in Joyce's case will be for a jury or p[...]



Inept and Corrupt Border Patrol Does Not Need More Money: New at Reason

Thu, 30 Nov 2017 08:01:00 -0500

Donald Trump will demand money for more border patrol agents in December when Congress takes up the appropriation bill to fund the government.(image) But] a new study by Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute finds that the agency is riddled with severe discipline and corruption problems. Till it fixes it, Congress shouldn't even think of acquiescing to Trump's demand.

He notes:

From 2006 through 2016, Border Patrol agents had the highest termination rate of any large federal law enforcement agency. On the whole, they were 2.2 times as likely to be terminated for discipline or performance as federal law enforcement officers in general and 49 percent more likely than Customs officers, 54 percent more likely than guards at the Bureau of Prisons, six times as likely as Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, 7.1 times as likely as Drug Enforcement Administration agents, and 12.9 times as likely as Secret Service agents.




Trump Wants More Money for Corrupt Border Patrol

Thu, 30 Nov 2017 08:00:00 -0500

President Donald Trump doesn't just want to build a wall along the southern border, he also wants Congress to hire 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents—a 25% increase—to patrol it. However, Border Patrol suffers from worse discipline, performance, and corruption problems than any other federal law enforcement agency, my study for the Cato Institute found. Congress should fix those problems before even considering any new request for more agents. Stories of Border Patrol misconduct and corruption have dribbled into the press for years. They range from ordinary corruption to brutal crimes. On the ordinary side, Border Patrol agents Raul and Fidel Villarreal were convicted of smuggling in around 1,000 illegal immigrants in exchange for $1 million. On the brutal side, Border Patrol agent Esteban Manzanares kidnapped, assaulted, and raped three illegal immigrant women he apprehended while on the job in 2014. There are many other cases just like those, but the full extent of the problem is very unclear. Are these just a few bad apples? Or is it "conservative to estimate" that 5 percent of the Border Patrol force, adding up to about 1,000 agents, is corrupt, as James Tomsheck said after he was removed as head of one of the internal affairs departments that oversaw Border Patrol in 2014. Government reports offer confusing, contradictory, and incomplete answers. According to evidence released under the Freedom of Information Act, 158 Customs and Border Protection (CBP) employees were convicted or charged with corruption from 2005 to 2016. The Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General found 358 corruption or misconduct convictions, but it doesn't distinguish between government employees and civilians who conspired with them. CBP further complicates this mess by distinguishing between "mission-compromising" convictions, which include drug and immigrant smuggling, and "non-mission-compromising" ones, which include sexually assaulting detainees and murder. Not only are records of corruption and misconduct poorly reported but the government can't even agree on the definition of what constitutes a complaint. CBP even shifted the definition and reporting system for "complaints" in a way that reduced the number of those filed against Border Patrol officers. That's why Government Accountability Office (GAO) watchdogs recorded thousands more complaints made against sub-components of CBP than CBP itself records against the entire agency, which just strains credulity. A new Cato Institute study analyzed Office of Personnel Management (OPM) data on the number of terminations for disciplinary and performance reasons by agency and occupation – data that includes (but is not limited to) those fired for corruption. This data is more reliable because the agency actually records the reasons for why an agent left or was fired, something neither the CBP nor Border Patrol does. From 2006 through 2016, Border Patrol agents had the highest termination rate of any large federal law enforcement agency. On the whole, they were 2.2 times as likely to be terminated for discipline or performance as federal law enforcement officers in general and 49 percent more likely than Customs officers, 54 percent more likely than guards at the Bureau of Prisons, six times as likely as Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, 7.1 times as likely as Drug Enforcement Administration agents, and 12.9 times as likely as Secret Service agents. Two explanations are generally offered for Border Patrol's relatively high termination rate. One, that its internal affairs department is just better at providing effective oversight and firing troublemakers. But this is laughable given that the oversight at Border Patrol deteriorated precipitously after 9/11. Congress disbanded the old Immigration and Naturalization Service that housed Border Patrol after it approved student visas for two 9/11 hijackers[...]



Chicago's Chronic Police Corruption Leads to Its First 'Mass Exoneration'

Fri, 17 Nov 2017 11:50:00 -0500

Guess which city's police department is so corrupt that prosecutors this week performed what they're calling the county's first "mass exoneration" of men framed for drug crimes? It's Chicago, of course. Cook County prosecutors have just tossed out the convictions of 15 men framed by a pack of police led by Sgt. Ronald Watts. Watts was accused of running a drug and protection racket with his fellow officers and was eventually convicted and sent to prison for taking money from a drug courier who was actually an undercover FBI officer. There may be more to come. According to defense attorneys with the University of Chicago's Exoneration Project, Watts was involved in nearly 500 convictions, all of which are now considered suspect. As for the rest of Watts' crew, Chicago Police announced Thursday night that seven other police officers have been put on desk duty while their behavior is investigated. Asked why they're still on the force, a city official said they hadn't been convicted of a crime. Via the Chicago Tribune: Asked earlier Thursday why several officers tied to Watts' corrupt crew were still on the force, police Superintendent Eddie Johnson noted none had been convicted of a crime — unlike Watts. "They have due process and rights just like any citizen in this country," he told reporters after his speech to the City Club of Chicago. "… But we just can't arbitrarily take the job away from people." Apparently, it was even a struggle to get the police to take them off the street during the investigation. Earlier Thursday, the city was adopting a "wait and see" attitude, but they had changed their mind by the evening. In the private sector, employers don't have to wait for somebody to be convicted of a crime to cut ties with them. It's not "arbitrarily" taking a job away to fire a police officer who is deemed to be dangerous or incompetent or corrupt, even if he or she has not been convicted of an actual crime. The Tribune notes that the exonerations will now allow the 15 men to file wrongful conviction lawsuits against the city. Chicago has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements for police misconduct. Two police officers who were blackballed while attempting to expose Watts' misconduct themselves earned a $2 million settlement in a lawsuit. Chicago has a serious police misconduct problem. Chicago also has a serious budget crisis that they're trying to tax and fine their way out of (and failing). It's not "arbitrary" to dump out bad cops that are costing the city millions due to their bad behavior. It, in fact, may be necessary to keep the city solvent.[...]



Mass. State Trooper Suing After Commanders Made Him Edit Report About Judge's Daughters

Wed, 08 Nov 2017 14:55:00 -0500

Massachusetts State Trooper Ryan Sceviour is suing his superiors with the State Police, including Supt. Richard D. McKeon, alleging they ordered him to alter a police report involving the daughter of a judge in a DUI and drug incident. The state police aren't disputing Sceviour's central claim, arguing the order to change the report was appropriate. Sceviour arrived at the scene of a crash Oct. 16 on I-190 in Worcester. Behind the wheel he reported he found Alli Bibaud, daughter of Timothy Bibaud, who presides over drug cases for the Dudley District Court, reeking of alcohol with a "heroin kit" in the car, according to the Boston Globe. Sceviour's report said Bibaud told him she had traded sex for drugs and that she was the daughter of a judge who would kill her if he found out. Bibaud allegedly offered to have sex with Sceviour for more lenient treatment. A state trooper called Sceviour on his day off two days later and told him to report to barracks in Holden, 90 miles away, where he was ordered to alter his police report. In his suit, Sceviour alleges he was reprimanded for including Bibaud's statements in his report. A police spokesperson responded to that by insisting, as WBUR reports, that a reprimand was not "technically discipline." "The revision consisted of removal of what the Colonel and senior commanders felt was a sensationalistic and inflammatory directly-quoted statement that made no contribution to proving the elements of the crimes with which she was charged." a police spokesperson told the Globe. Whether Bibaud's comments belong in the report is an open question. Between 2009 and 2014, nearly 1,000 officers in the U.S. were fired for sex crimes or sexual misconduct. It's not hard to imagine how neglecting to report an offer of sex for leniency could backfire. More importantly, the lack of any effort to ensure that "sensationalistic and inflammatory" statements by other suspects don't appear in police reports suggests the state police was more interested in protecting Bibaud's father than the privacy of all people arrested by state police. Sceviour's lawsuit suggests a lack of any substantive mechanism for whistleblowing, either within the state police agency itself, or elsewhere in state government. Sceviour claims the actions of his commanders and McKeon, caused "damage to his reputation, have negatively impacted his employment, and have caused him severe emotional distress." Remember that next time police insist a bad actor within their ranks has been reprimanded. This incident illustrates the toxicity of a law enforcement and criminal justice culture largely aligned to protect and perpetuate itself, as well as the urgency of substantive police reform and its nexus with limiting the size and power of government. It starts with the ability to hold police officers, their superiors, and other government officials accountable in systematic ways. Real whistleblower protections, transparency in criminal justice processes, and zero tolerance for misconduct and other inappropriate behavior (and the role back in the privileges and immunities cops and other actors are afforded by law and contract) are policies lawmakers at local levels of government can deploy to transform the police agencies that are supposed to work for the same people that elect those lawmakers.[...]



Feds Keeping Homeland Secure with Fake Sex-Trafficking Busts

Wed, 01 Nov 2017 15:00:00 -0400

As America debates how to handle terrorist attacks like the one in New York City yesterday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the FBI are busy helping small-town police arrest people for prostitution and marijuana. In Louisiana this week, the FBI helped arrest—and publicly ridicule—57 men who responded to fake (adult) prostitution ads. Meanwhile in North Carolina, DHS has pitched in to help round-up people with small amounts of marijuana or cocaine on them. Local media described the DHS efforts as a "human trafficking case." But the only offenses any suspects were arrested for were drug possession, driving with a revoked license, and parole violations—all state-level offenses, and mostly misdemeanors. The stunt—which the Burlington Times-News describes as a "covert investigative/outreach operation focusing on human trafficking"—took place Monday with assistance from the Alamance County Sheriff's Office, the North Carolina Bureau of Investigation, North Carolina Alcohol Enforcement, police officers from three local departments, and a group called Alamance for Freedom. About 30 law enforcement personnel were involved, according to the sheriff's office. What this alliance did was just an old-fashioned prostitution sting, with undercover detectives luring sex workers to appointments with a "customer" and cops pouncing when they arrive. It yielded no human-trafficking arrests, no children were found, and no victims of sex trafficking were rescued. Nonetheless, police still found cause to arrest some of the people they lured to their "secure location." Two women, ages 22 and 46, were charged with possession of cocaine and possession of drug paraphernalia; the younger woman was also booked for driving with a revoked license. A 22-year-old and a 31-year-old were arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession. Two other individuals were arrested as well, both for probation violations. CBS North Carolina reported it as "a human trafficking ring" bust. Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson has been using human trafficking for a while now to garner good PR for his department—which certainly needs it. In 2012, Johnson was the subject of a Department of Justice lawsuit for allegedly targeting Latinos. North Carolinans compare Johnson to disgraced Arizonan Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Just last week, Johnson settled with a former deputy for $600,000 in a lawsuit alleging that the deputy was fired in retaliation for his testimony against the sheriff in the federal civil rights case. In addition, Alamance County has paid more than $400,000 over the past three years in lawsuits from former staff. But as long as Johnson slaps "human-trafficking bust" on his shenanigans, he doesn't need to actually catch any traffickers, or any illicit sex at all, to trigger hero headlines from local press. At least Johnson's motivations here make sense, even if they don't make him commendable. But why are we, week after week, wasting federal resources on enforcing small-town misdemeanor vice laws?[...]



Yulia Tymoshenko Warned Us About Paul Manafort Years Ago

Tue, 31 Oct 2017 06:48:00 -0400

Yulia Tymoshenko warned us about Paul Manafort years ago. In a civil complaint, the former Ukrainian prime minister accused Manafort—who would go on to chair Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign—of conspiring with Ukrainian and Russian partners to launder dirty money through "a labyrinth of shell companies" in the U.S. These companies, it claims, "were solely used for purposes of furthering the unlawful objectives" of people like Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian businessman indicted in 2009 for U.S. racketeering and money laundering, and Russian crime boss Semyon Mogilevich, who made the FBI's "Most Wanted" list for suspected fraud, racketeering, and money laundering. Documents filed in the civil action reveal many similar allegations to those Manafort and Gates are now facing at the hands of U.S. Department of Justice special prosecutor Robert Mueller. On Monday, a federal grand jury indicted the former Trump-campaign chairman and Rick Gates, a Manafort business associate, for conspiracy to launder money, making false statements, failing to register as an agent of foreign principal, and failing to file reports on foreign bank accounts. (For a detailed breakdown of the charges, see Popehat.) They pleaded not guilty Monday afternoon. The DOJ indictment accuses Manafort and Gates of "extensive lobbying" in the U.S. on behalf of Ukrainian interests and "in connection with the roll out of a report concerning the Tymoshenko trial commissioned by the Government of Ukraine." Manafort and Gates paid $4 million to law firm Skadden Arps to monitor and report on the Tymoshenko proceedings, ostensibly on behalf of an "independent" European Centre for a Modern Ukraine (which they had helped set up), the indictment says. And it claims that "between at least 2006 and 2015, Manafort and Gates acted as unregistered agents of the Government of Ukraine, the Party of Regions (a Ukrainian political party whose leader Victor Yanukovych was President from 2010 to 2014), Yanukovych, and the Opposition Bloc (a successor to the Party of Regions that formed in 2014 when Yanukovych fled to Russia), generating "tens of millions of dollars in income as a result" and "launder[ing] the money through scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships, and bank accounts." The work was done through Davis Manafort Partners (DMP), which Manafort co-founded in 2005, and DMP International (DMI), founded in Manafort and his wife Kathleen in 2011. Rick Gates worked for both entities Through these agencies, Manafort and Gates helped propel Viktor Yanukovych to the Ukrainian presidency and oversaw a "watchdog" report on the prosecution of his opposition. Tymoshenko, who served as prime minster from 2007 through 2010, was not just an enemy of Tanukovych's but also of Firtash and Mogilevich. In an agreement with Russia, she helped cut Firtash's company out as a profitable middleman in natural-gas deals between the two countries. Tymoshenko's suit against Firtash and unnamed Yanukovych officials was first filed in U.S. court in April 2011, when Yanukovych was still president. Later amended complaints were eventually filed—the second in November 2014, after Yanukovych had been forced to flee Ukraine amid protests over his administration's corruption and thuggery—and also named Manafort and his partners at CMZ Ventures. The suit accused Manafort, Firtash, and the other defendants of financing politically motivated and "unlawful investigations and prosecutions of Tymoshenko" and her associates through secret payments to Yanukovich and others in his administration or control. Their money-laundering and shell-company scheme "was the proximate cause of Tymoshenko's damages, since it provided the necessary funds to make the unlawful payments to the Ukraine prosecutors and other corrup[...]



Chicago Alderman Who Told Businessman to 'Come Back To Me On Your Knees' Sued for Abuse of Power

Thu, 12 Oct 2017 14:30:00 -0400

Chicago Alderman Proco Joe Moreno wanted to help a business that had contributed to his campaign coffers. So he told Brian Strauss, a firefighter and property owner, to rent his building to the business or suffer the consequences. When Strauss refused to comply, Moreno made good on his threats, downzoning Strauss's building and scuttling multiple attempts to sell the property. Strauss is now suing, arguing that Moreno's abuses of his aldermanic powers violate Strauss' rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. According to Strauss's suit, Moreno's threats and eventual downzoning "were completely out of character with both the zoning and actual uses of the neighborhood," "were proposed in bad faith," and "were done for personal rather than a public interest". Strauss's trouble began in late 2015, when he tried to evict the Double Door Music Hall from a Wicker Park property his family had owned since the '60s. (The eviction was prompted by several lease violations.) Moreno, who had received more than $7,500 in campaign donations from Double Door's management, requested that Strauss let the business stay on. Strauss declined and began looking for another tenant. Then Moreno's gloves came off. "I'm tired of hearing about the sympathy of you and your family," the alderman reportedly told Strauss and his attorney at one meeting. "Double Door is going to be in that building, there will never be another tenant in there, there will never be another sign on that building." Over the coming months, Moreno—in meetings brokered and attended by staffers for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel—tried to get Strauss to sell his building to Double Door for $7 million, despite its market value of nearly $10 million. When that failed, the alderman started introducing downzoning proposals for Strauss's property that would have made it off limits for most business uses. In June 2017, Moreno even tried to reclassify the building as a residential unit, which would prohibit practically all commercial uses. That failed, but in September the city council did pass a downzoning ordinance, which prevents Strauss from converting his property to a general restaurant, a bar, or even, ironically, its previous use as concert venue. In a very public, and very disturbing, encounter with Strauss, Moreno made clear his zoning changes were all about extracting concessions. "You can come back to me on your knees, which is going to happen," he raged. "It's gonna be an empty building with no income for you or your family." Other officials went along with this under the longstanding practice of "aldermanic privilege," which basically means that other aldermen don't interfere with their colleagues' zoning and regulatory practices in their own wards. Moreno's actions have taken their toll on Strauss's attempts to sell the building. Three sales have now fallen through, with developers citing the downzoning proposals as reasons for walking away. Strauss is now asking for $9.6 million in damages from those lost sales, saying that Moreno's "extreme and outrageous" conduct amounts to a taking of his property without due process of law. As Reason's Eric Boehm noted when this story surfaced in May, Moreno is not a big fan of property rights. He previously tried to prevent a Chick-Fil-A from opening in his ward because of the owners' views on gay marriage, and also attempted to block the construction of a Wal-Mart because it wasn't "a perfect fit for the area." Said Boehm: The rule of law requires that government officials have their authority held in check, specifically to prevent abuses like the ones that Chicago's civic system seems to encourage. Moreno is free to believe that Chick-fil-A's executives are wrong about gay marriage, and he's free to dislike shopping at Wal-Ma[...]



Nearly 300 Baltimore Criminal Cases Dropped Over Police Misconduct

Fri, 29 Sep 2017 12:35:00 -0400

(image) Baltimore prosecutors are dropping hundreds of cases due to several separate claims of misconduct by police there.

There are two separate misconduct and corruption issues at play. In one case, eight police officers are being indicted of federal racketeering and fraud charges. They're accused of detaining and robbing Baltimore residents and filing for false overtime. As a result of those charges, prosecutors have dropped 109 cases.

The second crop involves officers being caught faking body camera footage, either planting evidence of crimes or at least "reenacting" the discovery of evidence and getting caught. The revelation that Baltimore police were abusing their body cameras became a national story, and no wonder: The notion that the cameras can be used to fabricate evidence turns on its head the idea that they would protect against police misconduct.

Baltimore has uncovered three cases of police staging evidence discoveries, and this led to the dismissal of 169 other cases involving those officers.

Hundreds more cases may be dropped by the end of all this, according to CNN. Prosecutors say these two types of misconduct have impacted in some way more than 850 cases. A leading public defender in Baltimore thinks those numbers may be too low.

Complicating matters is some additional body camera footage released in August connected to one of the evidence complaints. The additional footage, released by police, does appear to show that the officer ultimately did not plant evidence on the scene. Rather, he found the evidence, realized his body camera wasn't on, turned his body camera on, then sort of recreated discovering the evidence. This was all captured by another officer's body camera.

Nevertheless, police, prosecutors, and the public should see this behavior as a problem. Body cameras have been promoted as a tool of transparency, a way of making sure that police are behaving professionally and of determining whether incidents involving the use of force were appropriate.

It's bad enough that police across the country are attempting to conceal body camera footage from public view. If the footage itself is not considered trustworthy by the public, that's certainly not going to help police departments build better ties with their communities.




Fake Scandal: 'DeVos Uses Private Jet for Work-Related Travel'

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 15:17:00 -0400

Today The Hill published a story about Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and then tweeted it out. Here's the tweet: DeVos uses private jet for work-related travel https://t.co/xvdnGmDo2c pic.twitter.com/f5kDumORJR — The Hill (@thehill) September 21, 2017 I get it; stories about government officials abusing the public funds for travel are hot right now. After all, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was just caught trying to snag a military jet for his European honeymoon. And Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price is in trouble for chartering five flights last week alone. Rightly so. But wait! Clicking on the Hill story yields some highly relevant info: Education Department Press Secretary Liz Hill told the Associated Press on Thursday that DeVos travels completely on her own dime, accepting no government reimbursement for flights or other expenses. Of course government officials have special needs, but they are too often used to justify status-oriented extravagance. In Mnuchin's case, the request for a government jet was initially claimed as a necessity for a member of the National Security Council. But as The New York Times dryly explained: "Treasury officials withdrew the request after finding an alternative way to communicate about government matters securely." As for Price, an HHS spokesman said "when commercial aircraft cannot reasonably accommodate travel requirements, charter aircraft can be used for official travel." Which sounds sort of OK-ish until you realize one of those flights was from D.C. to Philadelphia. As Politico noted when it broke the story: On one leg of the trip—a sprint from Dulles International Airport to Philadelphia International Airport, a distance of 135 miles—there was a commercial flight that departed at roughly the same time: Price's charter left Dulles at 8:27 a.m., and a United Airlines flight departed for Philadelphia at 8:22 a.m., according to airport records.... In addition, Amtrak ran four trains starting at 7 a.m. that left Washington's Union Station and arrived at Philadelphia's 30th Street Station no later than 9:58 a.m. The least-expensive ticket, on the 7:25 a.m. train, costs $72 when booked in advance. It is just a 125-mile drive from HHS headquarters in downtown Washington to the Mirmont Treatment Center outside of Philadelphia, where Price spoke. Google Maps estimates the drive as about 2½ hours. A one-way trip was estimated by travel planners to be about $30 in gasoline per SUV plus no more than $16 in tolls. DeVos is lucky enough to be a very rich woman. But you needn't be wealthy to be a good steward of taxpayer money—luckily, domestic and international commercial flights are numerous, reliable, and relatively cheap (though not as numerous, reliable, and relatively cheap as they could be—read all about it in the next issue of Reason). Chartered jets from D.C. Philly are absurd, but so is trying to lump DeVos in with Price and Mnuchin. After all, as The Hill reported: During her time in office...DeVos has charged travel expenses to the government just once: $184 to the Department of Education for round-trip Amtrak ticket between D.C. and Philadelphia. [...]



Brickbat: It Takes a Thief

Mon, 18 Sep 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) Former LaSalle County, Illinois, state attorney Brian Towne has been charged with perjury and official misconduct. The charges include having investigators from his office stop cars on Interstate 80, seizing cash and vehicles from alleged drug dealers in those cars and spending at least some of those proceeds for his personal use.