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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Mass. House leader singled out in pay-for-play jobs investigation

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In the wake of the resignation by two top officials in the Massachusetts Probation Department, following a report that the department regularly handed out jobs as political favors, a story in the Boston Globe on Sunday says that one of the most active politicians in the pay-for-play scheme was Speaker of the House, Rep. Robert A. DeLeo.

Mass. House speaker Robert A. DeLeo harshly criticized the corrupt hiring practices in the state's probation department, but his relatives and political supporters were among its beneficiaries.

A report issued on Nov. 18 by special counsel Paul F. Ware, following an investigation into the department’s hiring practices, said that the probation department was riddled with fraud and “systemic corruption.”

The Ware report said that important jobs were handed out as rewards to campaign donors, after politicians sent letters of recommendation to Probation Commissioner John J. O’Brien asking him to intercede on the applicant’s behalf. Thousands of phony job interviews were held to create the illusion of an open hiring process, even though jobs had been already committed to the politically connected.

O’Brien abruptly quit on Dec. 30 in advance of a disciplinary hearing that would have likely terminated his employment. On Jan. 19, the department’s second in command, Elizabeth V. Tavares quit a day before she was scheduled for a disciplinary hearing. Two other top officials, deputy commissioner Francis M. Wall and legal counsel Christopher J. Bulger, are currently on paid administrative leave, pending hearings on their involvement in the hiring practices.

Recent comments by Speaker DeLeo suggest that he was unaware of the hiring practices, and once he learned of them from the Ware report, he became a vocal critic of the practice. “We will make clear that all public servants must not only be qualified for their jobs; they must be the most qualified people for their jobs,’’ DeLeo said earlier in January in his speech to the House after being elected to a second term as speaker. He promised to sponsor reform legislation within weeks.

Although the Ware report mostly detailed alleged improprieties of probation department officials, it mentions DeLeo by name 41 times.

Despite his current stance against using jobs as political favors, DeLeo’s record shows that he was one of the most notable offenders, according to the Globe.

A job candidate that DeLeo recommended in 2005, for the position of assistant chief probation officer at the Malden District Court, was one of the least experienced, and the only one of 39 applicants that did not have any basic training, including a mandatory two-week training program or even an employee manual.

After she was awarded the promotion, another department employee filed a grievance questioning her qualifications for the position, which led an arbitrator to order the department to re-open the search for the position or provide additional training for her.

Marisa Gogliandro-Vaughan openly told friends that she had a close relationship with DeLeo and once referred to him as her “godfather.” She also made donations to his election campaign as early as 2002.

DeLeo claims he doesn’t recall recommending Gogliandro-Vaughn, although he said he may have. He claims that she was simply a former resident of his district and “if she received a recommendation, and if that recommendation allowed someone who was less qualified to skip over a candidate who was more qualified, that was certainly not his intent.”

Some of the other questionable hirings reported by the Globe include:

  • DeLeo helped his longtime girlfriend get hired at the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, where she is a secretary.
  • DeLeo helped his cousin, Ralph DeLeo, get a job at the state’s Executive Office of Administration and Finance after Ralph and his father each contributed $500 to DeLeo’s election campaign.
  • At the Probation Department, at least 15 people who either donated at least $850 to his campaign or were recommended by his office were given jobs or promotions since 2005. One of those recommended was DeLeo’s godson, now the state’s youngest chief probation officer.

DeLeo had plenty of contact with probation department officials as head of the House’s Ways and Means Committee beginning in 2005, and was responsible for recommending funding expenditures for the department. His influence over the department’s annual budget gave administrators such as O’Brien and Tavares plenty of reasons to keep him happy.

Critics say that the way that O’Brien repaid DeLeo’s generosity with his departmental budget requests, was by fulfilling all of DeLeo’s job recommendations.

DeLeo also brushed off the charges that his former deputy, Rep. Thomas M. Petrolati, reportedly helped over 100 campaign workers get jobs in the probation department. DeLeo claims he didn’t look at it as an ethics issue, rather “What I looked at it was an issue wherein a representative, again in terms of trying to help a constituent, you know, made a recommendation for a job . . . I’m not sure if that falls under any of our ethical rules as being not proper.’’

The Boston Globe

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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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Lame-duck lawmaker who provided crucial vote on Illinois tax bill given state job by Governor

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Within days of leaving office, having supplied the swing vote to pass Gov. Pat Quinn’s controversial income tax bill, former state Rep. Careen Gordon was appointed to the Illinois Prisoner Review Board.

The 67 percent income tax increase, sponsored by Quinn and pushed through the Democrat-controlled legislature, passed the House with 60 votes, the bare minimum needed. The bill was passed at 1:00 a.m. the morning that Gordon’s replacement was sworn in.

Commenting to the Chicago Tribune, Quinn’s spokesperson Annie Thompson said, “It doesn’t have anything to do with what she did at the end of her term in the General Assembly.”

She added that the appointment was a coincidence and she was selected because she is a lawyer and has previous experience as an assistant county prosecutor and state assistant attorney general.

Gordon claims that she approached the governor about the position, after losing the Nov. election to Republican Sue Rezin.  She said they talked about the tax bill, but she did not feel pressured to vote for it.

She also spoke with him again about the bill in December, at a meeting with other Democrats at the governor’s mansion.

Gordon said she didn’t think about whether her crucial vote might affect her chances of getting the $86,000 part-time appointment. “I don’t think that way,” she said. “I never allowed anyone to hold anything over my head like this.”

Chicago Tribune

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Mass. politician convicted of extortion was also tax dodger

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Newly unsealed court documents show that former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson had far more issues than just the extortion conviction she earned for taking $23,500 in bribes from a Boston businessman-turned-FBI informant.

Following her arrest on public corruption charges, Wilkerson resigned from the Massachusetts Senate in November 2008, after serving 16 years as one of its most high-profile members.

The court documents made public this week show that Wilkerson had also failed to report “gifts” she solicited in 2004 to help settle an old tax bill.

After agreeing to pay the IRS over $80,000 for unpaid income taxes dating back to 1991 through 1994, Wilkerson solicited a number of benefactors to help bail her out, having cleared the plan with the state’s ethics commission.

Under the pretense of paying off the IRS, Wilkerson quickly raised $115,750 in the first half of 2004. After paying the IRS $80,000, Wilkerson spent at least $20,000 of the money on furniture, paying down credit cards, making mortgage payments and handing out checks to her children.

Among those who gave her $10,000 each were developer Arthur M. Winn, Senate Majority Leader William “Biff” MacLean Jr., Partners HealthCare Chairman John “Jack” Connors and lawyer Thomas R. Kiley.

“It is unclear whether her solicited ‘donors’ knew that she ended up with a net profit from this solicitation, or whether they were defrauded by her claims that the funds would be used to pay the outstanding tax debt,” the records state.

Although gifts are considered taxable income, Wilkerson neglected to report any of the monies to the IRS. The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined comment on whether she would face new charges on tax evasion, according to The Boston Herald.

Wilkerson was sentenced last week to 3 ½ years in prison.

After her sentencing, Wilkerson told the press that the government’s action against her was “the most corrupt and outrageous abuse of the justice system.” Although she said she accepted her sentence, she added “My acceptance can’t negate the despicable actions of the government and its collaborators.”

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