N.J. county Democrat Party Chairman resigns following bribery and corruption charges

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Joseph Spicuzzo, a 30-year veteran of the county sheriff’s office and head of the Middlesex County Democratic Organization, turned himself in to law enforcement officials on Monday on charges of bribery and official misconduct.

While serving as County Sheriff, Spicuzzo, 65, allegedly demanded payments from individuals seeking appointments as sheriff’s investigators or for promotions within the department. Prosecutors said that Spicuzzo charged up to $25,000 per person and received at least $50,000 in total between 2007 and 2009. Those who refused to pay his demands were reportedly passed over for promotion.

Attorney General Paula Dow said that at least three investigators paid a “cash tribute” to Spicuzzo for their jobs. All are still employed, and prosecutors said they are not being targeted in the investigation.

In Dec. 2009, Gov. Chris Christie singled out Spicuzzo, a former Gov. John Corzine appointee to the Sports and Exposition Authority as “probably the most unqualified candidate for the Sports Authority you can find.”

The state Democratic Party Chairman, John Wisniewski, said “While Joe is entitled, under our constitution, to the presumption of innocence, for the good of his family, our system of government and the Democratic party, he ought to consider stepping aside from his roles as a Commissioner of the Sports & Exposition Authority and chairman of the Middlesex County Democratic Organization.”

If convicted, Spicuzzo faces up to ten years in prison, and could lose his pension.

Star-Ledger

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Former D.C. mayoral candidate says was paid off by Mayor Vincent Gray

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A former candidate in last year’s Washington D.C. mayoral race is claiming that winner Vincent C. Gray paid him to disparage incumbent mayor Adrian M. Fenty, who was defeated in the November election.

Sulaimon Brown said that he had a deal last summer with the campaign staff of Gray to continually attack Fenty during the race, and in exchange, was paid cash and promised a city job if Gray won. Brown claims that he was paid by Lorraine Green, one of Gray’s closest friends and campaign chairwoman, and by Howard Brooks, a campaign consultant.

The Washington Post reported on Sunday that Gray claims he only agreed to get Brown an interview, but not as a reward for attacking Fenty.  At a press conference, Gray called the story “surprising, shocking and appalling” and asked the D.C. Office of the Attorney General to investigate the allegations.

“If somebody did that, then they ought to be subject to whatever justice is required,” Gray said of the allegations. “I would never condone anything like that, period, point blank.”

Brown backed up his allegations by releasing cell phone records between Brown, Gray and the two campaign workers dating back to last June. The records show dozens of calls and text messages that Brown says where conversations about the job commitment.

Brown claims that he received cash from Gray’s campaign between June 24 and Sept. 14, the date of the Democratic primary.

Brown was hired in January as a $110,000 per-year special assistant at the district’s Department of Health Care Finance to be the administrations eyes and ears there, according to his own account. He was fired two weeks ago after press accounts surfaced of a restraining order in 2007 involving allegations that he was stalking a 13-year old girl.

In related news, the department’s chief of staff, Talib Karim, resigned on Sunday saying that a protective order filed by his wife three years ago had become a distraction.

Information from The Washington Post

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Ohio prosecutor big on hiring family for government jobs

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Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason doesn’t seem to have a good sense of what the term nepotism means, if his record on hiring relatives is any indication. At last count, at least 13 members of his extended family work in local government, including four in his own office.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that by Mason’s own account, he has 119 family members, owing in large part to his 15 brothers and sisters. The Plain Dealer examined public records for their story and found that Mason’s relatives earned more than $2.2 million thus far.

Not included in the total are the monies paid to Mason’s wife Carol, who has billed Parma $36,000 for process-service work since 2007. Mason’s connection with Cleveland suburb dates back to 1991, when he won a city council seat there.

“These people in Cuyahoga County,” said government watchdog Henry Eckhart of Common Cause Ohio, “seem to have a habit of taking in each other’s relatives and getting them jobs.”

Some other details provided by the Plain Dealer:

• The county engineer hired brother Edward Mason in 2006 as a sewer maintenance worker, a $34,000-a-year job that officials have no record of advertising to the public. Months later, Edward Mason tested for and won a slightly higher-paying job in the office. And in 2009, he resigned, then was rehired a week later for a $68,000-a-year job as a carpenter.

• Niece Melinda Kowalski got her first public job in Parma in 1996. She was a summer intern for O’Malley from 2000 to 2003 before her uncle hired her, first as a law clerk, then as an assistant prosecutor. After several raises that brought her pay to $52,000 a year, she resigned in 2008. Then-Attorney General Richard Cordray, a Democrat, hired her in 2009. She remains on the payroll as an assistant attorney general under new Republican boss Mike DeWine.

• Former Parma Treasurer Jack Krise Jr., who made Mason’s brother Michael his deputy in 1991, was hired in 2005 as an administrative assistant in the prosecutor’s office.

• Shannon DiBacco Bodach, hired in 2010, makes $28,000 a year as a full-time Mason paralegal despite listing no legal education or training when applying. Bodach, who was engaged to Mason’s nephew at the time, listed two retail jobs and an associate’s degree in massotherapy.

Despite many of the positions filled by Mason relatives were never publicly advertised, Mason said in a statement, “I, of course, take full responsibility for all those who work for me. I do not hire people because of who they are nor do I discriminate against them for those reasons.

“I ensure that the people who work for me are of the highest ethical caliber, qualified, and hardworking and motivated. The composition of my staff reflects this principle.”

The Plain Dealer

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California mayor indicted on bribery and extortion charges

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The former mayor of Upland, California, a community of 76,000 just east of downtown Los Angeles, was indicted on Wednesday by a Riverside County grand jury on bribery and extortion charges, alleging he demanded money from locals businesses seeking city approvals and permits.

John Pomierski, 56, who resigned from office last week, was accused of demanding $70,000 from a nightclub owner and $20,000 from a medical marijuana cooperative in 2007, in exchange for his help in getting permits and other services for the businesses.


Pomierski was charged in an 11-count indictment, which alleges he “would demand money from the owners of businesses located in the city of Upland in exchange for the performance of official acts in connection with Upland city government business and transactions.”

Also charged in the indictment was a business associate of the former mayor, Edward Hennes, who allegedly acted as an intermediary between Pomierski and businesses looking for favorable municipal treatment. Hennes, 54, is a member of the city’s building appeals board and owner of a local construction firm.

Two other men- Jason Crebs and Anthony Sanchez- acted as middlemen in the extortion operation, communicating demands to businesses and collecting payments. Crebs and Sanchez have reportedly reached plea agreements with prosecutors.

The court documents claim Hennes and others entered into consulting agreements and contracts with businesses to “disguise and conceal” the true nature of the illegal payments. Pomierski’s company, JP Construction Co., received at least $90,000 from Hennes’ company since 2000, the year Pomierski was elected mayor.

Aaron  Sandusky, the owner of the marijuana cooperative, cooperated with the FBI in its investigation of Pomierski and Hennes.

Sandusky said that one of Pomierski’s representatives demanded $20,000 to stop an effort by the city to shut down the cooperative. He said he paid $10,000 to Hennes.

“It’s hard enough to run a business, let along this kind of business,” Sandusky said. “When this happens, where do I go? The police? The FBI? I’m in the medical marijuana business. I’m an easy target.”

If convicted, Pomierski faces a maximum of 145 years behind bars and Hennes faces 50 years.

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L.A. charter school group gets hall pass after cheating scandal

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A group of charter schools in Los Angeles is about to have its license renewed, despite findings by the Los Angeles Board of Education that it promoted cheating on the standardized state exam by which schools’ performance is measured.

A positive staff recommendation was issued for the Crescendo charter schools, a group of six schools south of downtown L.A., which was found to have shown students the questions and answers of the actual state test prior to taking it. The school’s founder and chief executive, John Allen, is said to have authorized and orchestrated the scandal.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the school’s gains on test results were 10 times what other schools would be considered strong results.

Allen ordered principals at the schools to break the seals on the tests and allow students to practice with the actual test questions. Principals at all six schools complied with the order, although during the subsequent investigation, some of the principals claimed they asked Allen if it was OK to do so.

Several teachers contacted the district school board to report the breach, while also expressing concern of retaliation from Crescendo executives.

When confronted by the district about his actions, Allen denied any wrongdoing, and when later questioned by the school’s board of directors, he initially denied it as well.

“I understand the pressure regarding test results,” said Joan Herman, director of the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards & Student Testing at UCLA. “But to advise your entire enterprise to cheat, that would be a serious, serious ethical breach.”

Allen received a six-month unpaid suspension and was demoted to director of facilities for the schools. The principals were each suspended for 10 days.

The L.A. Unified School District threatened to revoke the schools’ charters immediately, but backed down when the group’s board promised to undertake a series of measures including staff reorganization and ethics training, and additional review of board governance, conflicts of interest and the public records and open meetings act.

Los Angeles Times

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17 Baltimore police officers arrested in extortion scheme

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On Wednesday morning, 15 Baltimore police officers were ordered to report to its training academy for a routine equipment check. After they arrived, they were confronted by police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld and FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard McFeely, who took their badges before arresting them.


The 15 officers, and two others who were on vacation, were charged in an extortion scheme in which they were paid a $300 kickback each for vehicles involved in accidents, that the police officers arranged to have towed to an Rosedale repair shop. One of the officers received a total of $14,400 over a two-year period.

The towing company and repair shop, Majjestic Auto Repair, owned by brothers Edwin Javier Mejia, 27, and Hernan Alexis Moreno Mejia, 30, recruited police officers beginning in January 2009 who would call the shop from an accident scene to arrange towing, repairs and car rentals.

Some of the cars towed by the shop were not disabled, but police officers convinced owners that Majestic should tow the cars, presumably to collect additional monies from insurance companies.

“The criminal complaint alleges that the officers were secretly working for a private auto repair business when they were supposed to be working for the police department and the citizens of Baltimore,” said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein in a statement. “Police officers cross a bright line when they take payments from private citizens in connection with their official duties.”

The police officers charged in the scheme included Eddy Arias, age 39, of Catonsville; Eric Ivan Ayala Olivera, age 35, of Edgewood; Rodney Cintron, age 31, of Middle River; Jhonn S. Corona, age 32, of Rosedale; Michael Lee Cross, age 28, of Reisterstown; Jerry Edward Diggs, Jr., age 24, of Baltimore; Rafael Concepcion Feliciano Jr., age 30, of Baltimore; Jaime Luis Lugo Rivera, age 35, of Aberdeen; Kelvin Quade Manrich, age 41, of Gwynn Oak; Luis Nunez, age 33, of Baltimore; Samuel Ocasio, age 35, of Edgewood; David Reeping, age 41, of Baltimore; Jermaine Rice, age 28, of Owings Mills; Leonel Rodriguez Torres, age 31, of Edgewood; Marcos Fernando Urena, age 33, of Baltimore; Osvaldo Valentine, age 38, of Edgewood; and Henry Yambo, age 28, of Reisterstown.

The FBI said the investigation began within the police department and involved the use of wiretaps and electronic surveillance.

All the officers were suspended without pay, and could face up to 20 years behind bars.

Baltimore’s mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake released a statement which read “I expect all City employees to serve the public with the highest level of integrity, and I will not tolerate criminal or unethical activity by any city employee. I appreciate the efforts of Commissioner Bealefeld and our federal partners for working closely together to investigate, arrest, and prosecute these individuals. Any criminal activity by a Baltimore police officer dishonors our city and the 3,000 men and women of the Baltimore Police Department who serve with great professionalism and integrity.”

Read the court documents here.

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Seattle Public School agency under criminal investigation for fraud, exec is missing

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A small-business program administered within the Seattle public school district is under investigation for fraud and its chief executive has gone missing, even though independent consultants warned school officials of potential misconduct over two years ago.

The agency at the center of an investigation by county prosecutors, the Regional Small Business Development Program, was formerly run by Silas Potter Jr., who resigned in June, but has since disappeared. The program was intended to award smaller-value construction and service contracts to minority and women-owned companies that had under $1 million in annual revenues.


The outside consultant, The Suttor Group, warned the Seattle School Board in Jan. 2009 that program officials did not follow proper procedures, gave favored treatment to some contractors, and that its files were “incomplete and unorganized.” Sources said that some of the construction firms that received contracts weren’t licensed by the state, and didn’t do background checks on employees, including some that worked near children.

Potter was reprimanded in April 2009 by his then-supervisor, Fred Stephens, who stripped Potter of his authority to award construction contracts, while allowing him to continue to award other types of contracts.

The consultants also criticized Stephens for not properly supervising Potter. Stephens left the district in July to take a job with U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, a former Washington governor.

Last summer, an audit was ordered by school district officials after they discovered that Potter was soliciting work from nearby communities, using a company he owned, but with a name that made it appear to be part of the school district’s program.  A $35,000 check sent to the district by the Tacoma Public Schools tipped officials of the bogus billing scheme.

After a report was filed with the Seattle Police Department, the money was returned by Potter.

The subsequent audit revealed that the district spent $280,000 for work that wasn’t done or was not for the district’s benefit, and flagged another $1.5 million for questionable services, including consultants and lobbyists who did little or nothing to earn the fees paid them.

Most of the monies were paid to the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, local non-profit organizations and firms owned by a former Democratic state chairman and prominent leaders in Seattle’s minority communities.

In December, district officials called in King County prosecutors to take over the investigation. Seattle police and county prosecutors are conducting the investigation under a secretive process by which records and witnessed will be subpoenaed.

The Seattle School Board is also looking into allegations that Superintendent Marie Goodloe-Johnson and other top officials may have been aware, or should have been aware of the fraudulent transactions.

Some evidence suggests that district employees expressed concern of irregularities within the program, but school officials didn’t follow through on them. Other employees who had concerns remained silent, citing their fear of reprisal, according to the audit.

In the meantime, school officials have shut down the small business program until it can be more professionally managed with proper oversight.

Information from: The Seattle Times

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