Florida politician arrested on corruption charges for aiding developer

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The former vice mayor of Fort Lauderdale, Cindi Hutchinson, 53, was arrested on Friday and charged with corruption in trading political favors for over $14,000 of gifts from a real estate developer seeking zoning changes.

Broward County prosecutors charged Hutchinson with three counts of unlawful compensation, four counts of official misconduct, and one count each of grand theft, petty theft, conspiracy to commit unlawful compensation, and perjury.

The charges center on Hutchinson’s involvement in the rezoning of land owned by controversial developer Glenn Wright, in 2003 and 2004. At the time, Wright was seeking a zoning change on land that would enable him to build large luxury-style homes in an area that was near much smaller homes.

While Hutchinson was serving on the city commission that was responsible for granting the approvals, prosecutors say that Wright’s business partner, Steve Goldstrom, ordered subcontractors to make improvements at the Edgewood home shared by Hutchinson and her mother.

Goldstrom, 54, a former manager of exotic car business, The Toy Store, was also arrested on Friday and charged with one count of perjury.

Authorities say that subcontractors installed a new toilet, a surround sound system, special pool lighting, fencing, pavers and performed air conditioning repair work.  The improvements were done after Hutchinson voted to grant Wright the zoning changes on his La Preserve and Georgian Oaks developments.

Prosecutors said that when investigators asked about the work done at her home, she lied about it and denied knowing any of Wright’s business associates.

Bruce Udolf, Hutchinson’s lawyer, said she will fight the charges. “Any work that was done was a personal favor between friends and there was absolutely no quid pro quo. Any favors that were done for her by her friends were not given in exchange for an official act.”

Hutchinson, a registered Democrat, was on the city commission for nine years until she termed out in March 2009. While on the commission, critics said that she used her elected position to solicit monies for charity from people that had business with the city. Because of her actions, the city passed a law in 2007 prohibiting elected officials from the practice.

more at The Miami Herald

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Dallas politician blocks release of police record of disturbance at his home

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City hall lawyers in Dallas have blocked a public records request, from The Dallas Morning News, for records and documents relating to the police department’s visit to the home of Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway, saying that they might be “highly intimate or embarrassing” and are “no interest to the public.”

City attorneys instead ordered the police department to refrain from releasing the files, and asked the Texas Attorney General’s office for an opinion on whether they should comply with the request.

The newspaper earlier requested and received a copy of basic police report that provided little in the way of details about why the police were called on Jan. 2 to a disturbance at the home of Caraway and his wife, state Rep. Barbara Mallory Caraway, although the report said it was a “marital disturbance.”

Later, Caraway said that the incident had nothing to do with him and his wife, but instead was caused by a disagreement between two friends, identified as “Arthur and Archie,” who were arguing over the Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles game.

Caraway briefly addressed the issue once again at a city council meeting, saying that police responded to a marital dispute, contradicting his earlier statement.

City lawyers, in seeking to withhold release of the records are citing common law rights of privacy, contending the information could be withheld if it contains “highly intimate or embarrassing facts” and is “no legitimate concern to the public.”

The DMN, in a letter to the state’s attorney general, argued that the matter is of legitimate concern to the general public, because Caraway is in line for the mayor’s office, if current Mayor Tom Leppert decides to step down and run for the U.S. Senate. Should Caraway become mayor, the public would have the right to expect that a person in that position would act with honesty and integrity.

The letter points out that Caraway did not handle the matter as a private citizen, but as an official of city hall. Instead of placing a call to the police department like any ordinary citizen, he made a direct call to the Chief of Police. And instead of patrol officers responding, a team of elite special investigators were sent.

Later, when a public records request was made for the police documents, instead of acting on his own as a private citizen, Caraway ordered city lawyers to intercede. He also used time at a city council meeting to attempt to dismiss the matter.

For all these reasons, the incident is no longer a personal one, but one in which he involved the city from the very beginning, according to Joel White, a First Amendment attorney for the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.

“Either this is a public matter or it’s an entirely personal matter, and he’s trying to make it both,” White said. “No. 1, you lied about it. That clearly reflects on his qualifications to hold public office. And second, if he didn’t think that, then why is he making it an issue at a City Council meeting?”

The Dallas Morning News

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Boston politician Chuck Turner sentenced to 3 years behind bars for bribery

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Former Boston Councilor Chuck Turner, who was convicted in October for taking a $1,000 bribe from an undercover FBI agent in 2008, was sentenced today to three years in prison by U.S. District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock.

Turner, 70, could have received a sentence for as much as 35 years, although his defense team asked for no-prison sentence, pointing to his more than 40 years of community service.

Boston Councilor Chuck Turner was sentenced today to 3 years in prison for taking a $1,000 bribe to help secure a liquor license. (photo The Boston Herald)

Turner was caught in an FBI sting, during which he was recorded on video taking a $1,000 bribe from businessman-turned-FBI informant Ronald Wilburn. During his trial, Turner said he didn’t remember if he looked at the cash changing hands and referred to it as a “preacher’s handshake.”

Around the same time, another prominent African American politician was also taken down by Wilburn and the FBI. Former State Senator Diane Wilkerson took $23,500 in bribes for agreeing to help Wilburn obtain a liquor license for a nightclub he was purportedly planning, and for her influence on a property development deal.

Wilkerson pleaded guilty to eight counts of attempted extortion and was sentenced two weeks ago to 3 ½ years in prison.

The Harvard-educated Turner began his career in politics as a community activist in Boston’s South End, fighting for better housing conditions for poor residents. He was first elected to the Boston City Council in 1999 running on the Green-Rainbow ticket, and representing District 7.

Even though he was under indictment for bribery when he ran for re-election in 2009, his popularity with voters helped him easily retain his seat.

After a jury convicted him of bribery, the city council voted him out of his seat earlier this month, but Turner refused to go quietly. Turner filed a civil lawsuit against the city claiming it had no authority to remove him from office.

U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said of the sentencing, “Mr. Turner was sentenced to prison today because of the choices he made and the actions he took during the course of this case. It is the obligation of every elected official to be ethical and honest, and in this case, Mr. Turner was neither. Public corruption is more than a violation of the law, it erodes the public’s trust in the very system that was designed to protect us.”

In addition to the prison sentence, the Judge Woodlock ordered Turner to return the $1,000 bribe monies.

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Florida mayor purchases official badges with no decent explanation

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The same mayor who in the last year forgot who gave him a $100,000 sports sedan to drive, and who forgot to turn over relief monies to Haitian earthquake victims, now says he can’t remember why he ordered dozens of expensive official looking police-style badges.

North Miami Mayor Andre Pierre claims he purchased the badges for his staff. One of the badges was inscribed “City Clerk” while another 43 badges have the words “Mayor’s Staff” and feature the Florida state seal.

The issue critics say, is that the mayor shares a staff of only three people, with city council. Police chief Stephen Johnson said that he ordered the badges at the mayor’s request.

Invoices show that 20 badges and cases were delivered to police headquarters on Aug. 16, and another 24 on Nov. 5. According to the invoices, the total cost amounted to $4,151.

When reached for a comment by the Miami Herald, Pierre said, “My staff uses them as credentials at official events. I don’t know if the city-issued IDs are really official credentials.”

Pierre said he doesn’t remember how many he handed out, but he says that the remaining ones are in a box in his office. He also claims that he only asked for and received 20 badges.

Johnson said that it’s possible that the second set of badges is somewhere at police headquarters, and that he may possibly have ordered them by mistake. “I don’t know where they are. I don’t know why they need badges. I’m the new chief. If someone asks me to order badges, I order badges,” he said.

Pierre claims that even though he talked to Johnson about getting official badges, he didn’t actually order him to purchase them. “I had a conversation with the chief. It wasn’t an order I gave to the chief,” Pierre said. “The chief didn’t have to order them if he didn’t want to.”

Meanwhile the city manager, Russell Benford has scheduled a meeting with Johnson to determine why the badges were ordered in the first place, and where they are.

Upon learning of the badges, city council members expressed concern that so many badges that look just like police badges, were ordered for no good reason.

`There’s no reason for us to have it,” said Councilman Scott Galvin who stopped accepting his city-issued badge in 2001. “This opens up all sorts of Pandora’s boxes for abuse and misuse.”

Miami Herald

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Former NJ city councilman sentenced to 18 months in prison

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Former Hoboken councilman and commissioner on the North Hudson Utilities Authority, Michael Schaffer, was sentenced Tuesday to 18 months in prison for funneling illegal cash contributions into the election campaign of former Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano.

Former Hoboken councilman, Michael Schaffer, took $25,000 in cash from an FBI undercover informant, as an advance against future favorable votes from the city's mayor.

Schaffer was arrested in July 2009 as part of a three year corruption investigation that targeted local public officials and the religious community. He was charged with taking $25,000 in illegal campaign contributions from a crooked developer-turned-FBI informant, Solomon Dwek.

Schaffer was caught on surveillance tapes taking cash from Dwek in exchange for future votes and zoning approvals, on real estate development projects that Dwek claimed to be planning. Much of the cash was handed over in $5,000 stacks of $100 bills, in FedEx mailing envelopes.

Schaffer took $15,000 from Dwek when Cammarano was running for mayor, and another $10,000 after Cammarano was elected. Cammarano was arrested less than 30 days after taking office and later pleaded guilty to receiving the illicit contributions. He is now serving a 24-month sentence in a federal prison.

The developer, Solomon Dwek, agreed to be an FBI undercover witness after he was taken into custody for a $50 million bank fraud involving PNC Bank. Dwek helped federal authorities conduct a wide-ranging public corruption and money laundering probe that ultimately resulted in charges against 44 politicians and rabbis in New Jersey and New York.

more coverage at The Jersey Journal

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Houston’s new ethics rules criticized as too lenient, easy on politicians

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New ethics rules enacted last week by Houston’s city council are being criticized as pointless, claiming that blatant violations to the laws are still possible under many circumstances.

The new ordinance seems to be directed more at lobbyists and city employees who decide to take jobs in the private sector, instead of tightening up regulations directed at politicians.

As an example, politicians are still able to go on expensive trips paid for by lobbyists or contractors, as long as the person paying goes along with them. Such trips are exactly the kind that Congress banned after the scandal involving Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who frequently took lawmakers on far-away trips such as golf-outings in Scotland.

The city’s new rules on gifts exempt any gift under $50, and those that come from a relative or a person with whom the lawmaker has a social relationship.

Craig Homan, himself a lobbyist for the Washington D.C. watchdog organization Public Citizen said “Instead of enforcing ethics standards, all of these things seem to license unethical behavior.” The city’s gift exemptions “license unlimited gifts and unlimited travel, and that is exactly what codes like this are supposed to prevent. This is very weak. There are some states that have no gift rules, and this pretty much rivals that type of standard.”

Another watchdog group, Texans for Public Justice, a non-partisan outfit in Austin, said through its spokesman, Craig McDonald, “The state standard, when it comes to gifts, is much too lenient. An ethics policy that allows an individual or a business to give an extravagant gift of travel or entertainment, kind of defeats the whole purpose of having an ethical wall.”

Houston city attorney David Feldman defended the new law saying there were provisions that made unethical dealings of the past, criminal offenses in the future. He pointed out that politicians and local officials are still required by the Texas Ethics Commission to report all gifts received on an annual basis, and that the local law is similar to state ethics laws.

“We had no intention to prosecute someone for an offense under the ordinance that would not be an offense under state law,” he said.

The new law includes stricter registration requirements for lobbyists. It requires that anyone representing entities or business interests disclose such relationship to city officials when discussing issues on behalf of a client.  An unnamed City Hall lobbyist called the rules “toothless”, saying that anyone who violated the rules will get a letter requiring them to register with the city.

The new ordinance also provides rules for city employees to prevent them from leaving to take private sector jobs that would allow them to use inside information of influence in a manner not in the best interests of the city.

See more at the Houston Chronicle

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Proposed Chicago law would enable city to fire convicted felons on payroll

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Chicago alderman Joe Moreno made a proposal at Thursday’s  city council meeting that would require the firing of city workers convicted on corruption charges.

Mayor Richard M. Daley didn't have much of an opinion about the proposal.

“Right now, we are spending Chicago taxpayer dollars on convicted felons until sentencing, and that time frame can be a year, two years, three years — and we’re continuing to pay,” Moreno said.

The process can also be drawn out through a lengthy appeal process.

Moreno said he came up with the idea after the city’s Inspector General Joseph Ferguson pointed out the practice in a quarterly report.

When asked about the plan at a news conference following the city council meeting, Mayor Richard M. Daley said, “I don’t know. It doesn’t bother me.”

Chicago Tribune

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