Oklahoma legislator wants key evidence suppressed in bribery case

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An Oklahoma state lawmaker has asked a judge overseeing his bribery proceedings to suppress evidence based on a 1979 Supreme Court decision and a passage from the state’s constitution.

Rep. Randy Terrill is accused of offering a bribe to another lawmaker, former state Sen. Debbe Leftwich. The politicians were charged under a 1974 law that says offering a candidate a job, to induce them to drop out of a race, is bribery.

Prosecutors claim that Terrill and Leftwich worked together to attempt to create an $80,000 position in the medical examiner’s office, specifically intended for Leftwich, providing she agreed to not to run for re-election.  They allege Terrill used “political influence and intimidation” to try to force the appointment.

Terrill is asking Special Judge Stephen Alcorn to have the evidence suppressed before the preliminary hearings.

Terrill’s lawyer, Stephen Jones, wrote in a brief that the case was similar to one in 1979 involving former U. S. Henry Helstoski, a New Jersey Democrat, who was accused of taking $8,000 for introducing legislation helping Chileans immigrate into the U.S.  In that case, the Supreme Court ruled in Helstoski’s favor based on legislative protection in the U.S. Constitution.

Jones also joined a motion filed by Leftwich asking the judge dismiss the case based on an interpretation of the Oklahoma Constitution that says: “Senators and representatives … for any speech or debate in either House shall not be questioned in any other place.”

Prosecutors say the defense position is simplistic, overbroad and inaccurate.

The Oklahoman

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Mayor of Tamarac, Florida indicted on bribery charges

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The mayor of Tamarac, Florida has become the latest Broward County public official to be charged with corruption.

Prosecutors say 57-year-old Beth Flansbaum-Talabisco accepted $21,000 in campaign contributions from developers in exchange for support for their housing projects. She is charged with bribery, official misconduct, conspiracy and unlawful compensation.

Flansbaum-Talabisco surrendered Wednesday at the Broward County jail and will be released on $9,000 bail. Court records did not indicate if she had a lawyer.

The two developers involved previously pleaded guilty to unlawful compensation charges. Their dealings have also resulted in corruption charges against two other Tamarac officials and two Broward County officials.

Tamarac is a community of 60,000, just a few miles west of Ft. Lauderdale.

The Associated Press

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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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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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Pa. judge convicted in juvenile court kickback scheme

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A former juvenile court judge defiantly insisted he never accepted money for sending large numbers of children to detention centers even after he was convicted of racketeering for taking a $1 million kickback from the builder of the for-profit lockups.

Former Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella was allowed to remain free pending sentencing following his conviction Friday in what prosecutors said was a “kids for cash” scheme that ranks among the biggest courtroom frauds in U.S. history.

Ciavarella, 61, left the bench in disgrace two years ago after he and a second judge, Michael Conahan, were accused of using juvenile delinquents as pawns in a plot to get rich. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has dismissed 4,000 juvenile convictions issued by Ciavarella, saying he sentenced young offenders without regard for their constitutional rights.

Ciavarella maintained the payments were legal and denied that he incarcerated youths for money.

“Never took a dime to send a kid anywhere. … Never happened. Never, ever happened. This case was about extortions and kickbacks, not about ‘kids for cash,'” said Ciavarella, who plans to appeal.

Federal prosecutors accused Ciavarella and Conahan of taking more than $2 million in bribes from the builder of the PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care detention centers and extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from the facilities’ co-owner.

A federal jury in Scranton convicted Ciavarella of 12 counts, including racketeering, money laundering and conspiracy, but acquitted him of 27 counts, including extortion. He is likely to get a prison sentence of more than 12 years, according to prosecutors — who revealed after the verdicts that a reputed mob boss turned informant helped them make their case.

Parents of juveniles who appeared before Ciavarella were outraged that he was released after the verdicts. Ciavarella often ordered youths he had found delinquent to be immediately shackled, handcuffed and taken away without giving them a chance to say goodbye to their families. Some of the children he ordered locked up were as young as 10.

Sandy Fonzo, whose son was jailed by Ciavarella — and committed suicide last year at age 23 — screamed obscenities at the judge and even poked him as he and his attorneys held a news conference on the courthouse steps.

“My kid’s not here anymore!” yelled Fonzo. “He’s dead! Because of him! He ruined my … life! I’d like him to go to hell and rot there forever!”

Ciavarella glanced at Fonzo, then turned his back.

Fonzo’s son, Edward Kenzakowski, was a 17-year-old all-star wrestler with no prior record when he landed in Ciavarella’s courtroom for possession of drug paraphernalia. She said her son never recovered from the months he served at the detention centers and a wilderness camp.

Tears streaming down her face, Fonzo said she couldn’t believe Ciavarella was allowed to walk out of the courthouse.

“There’s no justice, there’s not. He’s never going to get what he deserves,” she said. “I just wanted to see him handcuffed and taken out. But when I saw him just being released with that stupid smirk on his face …”

The jury found Ciavarella guilty of taking a $997,600 kickback from Robert Mericle, the builder of the juvenile facilities — money he was ordered to forfeit to the federal government after the verdicts were announced. He was also convicted of failing to report the payments on his state-mandated financial disclosure forms and failing to pay taxes on the income. Jurors acquitted him of extorting Robert Powell, the facilities’ developer and co-owner.

The defense declared victory. “We’re amazed. The jury rejected 95 percent of the government’s case,” said attorney Al Flora.

“I find it interesting,” U.S. Attorney Peter Smith said in response, “that a man just convicted of racketeering is claiming any sort of a victory out there today. I wonder what he would consider a defeat.”

Prosecutors alleged that Conahan, who pleaded guilty to racketeering last year, and Ciavarella plotted to shut down the dilapidated county-run juvenile detention center in 2002 and arrange for the construction of the PA Child Care facility outside Wilkes-Barre.

Ciavarella, who presided over juvenile court, sent youths to the center and later to its sister facility in western Pennsylvania while he was taking payments from Mericle, a prominent builder and close friend of Ciavarella, and Powell, a high-powered attorney.

Luzerne County paid Powell’s company more than $30 million between 2003 and 2007 to house juveniles at PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care. The county could have built its own juvenile center for about $9 million, according to testimony.

In dismissing thousands of Ciavarella’s convictions, the state high court said he ran his courtroom with “complete disregard for the constitutional rights of the juveniles,” including the right to legal counsel and the right to intelligently enter a plea.

Hundreds of youths and their families are suing Ciavarella and Conahan in federal court, but Smith said the judges’ handling of juvenile cases did not figure into the federal prosecution for legal and evidentiary reasons.

“We’re very sympathetic to the pain to the community that was caused here … and we’re fully aware of the deep anguish that many parents and many juveniles feel. But the federal criminal courts are not the appropriate venue to resolve that issue fully,” he said.

Ciavarella, who took the stand in his own defense, acknowledged to jurors that he failed to report the payments on his tax returns and hid them from the public, but he denied any plot to take kickbacks or extort money.

Ciavarella told jurors that he thought he was legally entitled to Mericle’s money, calling it a “finder’s fee” for introducing Mericle to Powell.

Ciavarella also denied that he extorted Powell, who had testified for the prosecution that he was forced to pay the judges nearly $600,000 after they agreed to send juvenile delinquents to his new lockup. The payments were disguised as rent on a Florida condominium owned by the judges’ wives.

It was Conahan who made the arrangements with Powell, Ciavarella insisted. He said Conahan told him that Powell had agreed to pay them $15,000 a month for 60 months to lease the waterfront Florida property. Prosecutors scoffed at that explanation, questioning why Powell would pay nearly $1 million in rent on a condo he could have purchased outright for less than $800,000.

Officials disclosed for the first time Friday that they were led to the judges by the reputed boss of a northeastern Pennsylvania Mafia family. William D’Elia — who regularly met for breakfast with Conahan — became a government informant after his 2006 arrest on charges of witness tampering and conspiracy to launder drug money.

“D’Elia led us to Judge Conahan,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Zubrod. “From there we began to focus on them, the financial dealings between Judge Conahan, Judge Ciavarella, Mericle, Powell.”

D’Elia won a sentence reduction last year based on his cooperation in another criminal case and could be released as early as next year.

Ciavarella and Conahan initially pleaded guilty in February 2009 to honest services fraud and tax evasion in a deal that called for a sentence of more than seven years in prison. But their plea deals were rejected by Senior U.S. District Judge Edward M. Kosik, who ruled they had failed to accept responsibility for their actions.

A federal grand jury in Harrisburg subsequently indicted the judges on charges of racketeering, fraud, money laundering, bribery, extortion and tax offenses. Conahan pleaded guilty to a single racketeering charge last year and awaits sentencing. Mericle and Powell pleaded guilty to lesser offenses and testified against Ciavarella; both await sentencing.

Ciavarella faces a maximum of 157 years in prison at sentencing, but will more likely receive 12½ years to about 15½ years under federal sentencing guidelines, prosecutors said.

PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care remain open and continue to accept juveniles from many Pennsylvania counties, though Luzerne County no longer sends delinquents to them.

The Associated Press

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Florida grand jury says Broward County school board corrupt, should be abolished

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In a report released Friday, a special grand jury investigating the School Board of the nation’s sixth largest school district, accused it of rampant corruption and  reckless spending of taxpayer monies.

The Florida grand jury said that things are so bad, that if it had the power, it would abolish the Broward County School Board.

“We cannot imagine any level of incompetence that would explain what we have seen,’’ reads a report compiled by the grand jury. “Therefore we are reluctantly compelled to conclude that at least some of this behavior can best be explained by corruption of our officials by contractors, vendors and their lobbyists.

The report also said that the district superintendent Jim Notter, was not strong enough to run the school system.

The 51-page report provides details of Board members of taking political donations from contractors and vendors doing business with the district, and handing out millions of dollars of contracts for goods and services to those supporters.

The report concludes:

“The corruptive influence here is most often campaign contributions from individuals with a financial stake in how Board members vote. Long ago the Board should have recognized the risk that putting themselves in the center of handing out hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars would inevitably drawn attention and undue influence from moneyed interests…Only now, years later and with pressure from all sides, have they begun to take steps to resolve this and other issues.

“Unfortunately based on the history of this Board as an institution, we have no confidence in their ability to make meaningful changes and to adhere to them. The solutions we see, at least short term, are to remove as much power and influence from the Board as possible and to have an independent outside authority monitor their dealings closely.’’

According to The Miami Herald, the recommendations included:

Refuse campaign contributions from contractors, vendors and others doing business with the Board.

Require mandatory ethics training and testing by an outside agency.

All late additions to the Board’s agenda must be discussed at a public meeting.

Add more detail to agenda items or provide a link to where more information concerning the item can be found.

Reduce the threshold on spending items on the consent agenda.

Remove retainer reductions from consent agenda.

Require recommendation of the Superintendent or the Deputy Superintendent for reduction in retainer to be in writing and under their signature.

End the influence of the Board over the Building department by turning over inspections to local building departments.

Reduce number of school board members to 5.

Place before the voters the issue of electing the Superintendent.

Create independent office of Inspector General to monitor the Board and District

Prohibit board members from being involved in the selection of contractors, vendors, or financial institutions.

No official business should be conducted between school board members and staff

All bids should be opened in public, with Auditor there to certify bids met minimums.

No decisions should be made anywhere other than a regularly scheduled board meeting.

No discussions should be had other than at Board meetings or workshops as per Sunshine Law requirements.

Prohibit gifts of any value to any Board member or District employee from anyone doing business with the District or lobbying the Board

Empower Department of Education to penalize districts that don’t file require paperwork by withholding any state funds until certificates of occupancy, inspections and other project documents are filed.

The report also recommended that an outside monitor be appointed to review every action of the current Board.

The Miami Herald

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