Indiana Secretary of State faces new charges following voter fraud indictment

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The newly-elected Indiana Secretary of State, Charlie White, is facing new charges only one week after he was indicted on seven felony counts, including voter fraud, perjury, theft and financial fraud – all stemming from allegations that he lied about his address on government and loan documents.

The theft charge stems from allegations that he took a paycheck from a local town council after the date he claimed to have moved.

Two special prosecutors have asked the Indiana inspector general to investigate whether White improperly accessed a file prepared by former Secretary of State Todd Rokita detailing evidence against him, after he took over the office in January.

The file contained a special report which was prepared for the Indiana Recount Commission, which in December, decided 2-1 that White was eligible to run for office even though he wasn’t properly registered at the time.

The report was given to the prosecutors, John Dowd and Dan Sigler, who presented the information to the Hamilton County grand jury. The grand jury indicted White based on the evidence.

Only last week, White was indicted on charges that he voted in Hamilton County in the May 2010 primary using the address of his ex-wife. He claims that it was an honest mistake and blamed it on his busy schedule.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels called for White to step down but White said in a statement “I believe the evidence will prove that I did not intentionally break any laws. But more importantly, I will continue to do the job I was elected to do and carry on serving the needs of Hoosier taxpayers.”

White won by a large margin in the November election. If convicted, he will be required to step down from office.

Indystar.com

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N.Y. Congressman Christopher Lee resigns for misbehavior

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A New York congressman abruptly resigned his seat Wednesday, saying he was quitting because he regretted actions that have hurt his family and others.

New York Rep. Christopher Lee resigned immediately after he was caught trolling for dates on the Internet.

The gossip website Gawker reported Wednesday that Rep. Christopher Lee, a married two-term Republican lawmaker, had sent a shirtless photo of himself to a woman he met on Craigslist.

Lee said in an e-mailed statement that his resignation was effective immediately. The statement offered no confirmation or details of a Craigslist posting.

“I regret the harm that my actions have caused my family, my staff and my constituents,” Lee said. “I deeply and sincerely apologize to them all. I have made profound mistakes and I promise to work as hard as I can to seek their forgiveness.”

Added Lee: “The challenges we face in Western New York and across the country are too serious for me to allow this distraction to continue, so I am announcing that I have resigned my seat in Congress effective immediately.”

An anonymous woman described as a 34-year-old Maryland resident and government employee provided Gawker with e-mails she said were an exchange between her and Lee in response to an ad she placed in the “Women Seeking Men” section of Craigslist.

Gawker reported that Lee identified himself as a divorced lobbyist and sent a photo of himself posing shirtless. The woman eventually broke off the contact with Lee after becoming suspicious that he had misrepresented himself, according to Gawker.

Lee served on the House Ways and Means Committee and was active on economic revitalization issues.

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Former House GOP leader Tom DeLay sentenced to 3 years in prison

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Former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, once one of the most powerful Republicans in Congress, was sentenced on Monday to three years in prison for his conviction on corruption charges.

DeLay waived his right to have the jury decide his fate, and instead chose to have state district judge Pat Priest determine his punishment in an Austin, Texas courtroom.

DeLay was found guilty of a money swap, which prosecutors said was used to funnel campaign contributions to other Texas politicians.

Priest sentenced him to three years on a conspiracy charge and five years on a money laundering charge. In lieu of the sentence on the money laundering charge, the judge will allow DeLay to serve 10 years of probation with community service, and for the sentences to run concurrently.

Prosecutors presented only one witness at the hearing, Peter Cloeren, a businessman who pleaded guilty to campaign finance rules violations.  Cloeren claimed that DeLay had encouraged him to make the illegal donations in 1996, while the defense noted that DeLay wasn’t charged with any wrongdoing in the case.

The judge cut the prosecution testimony short, ruling that Cloeren’s testimony couldn’t be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert appeared on DeLay’s behalf, although earlier, defense lawyers said they would present as many as nine character witnesses.  Defense lawyers also submitted more than 30 letters attesting to DeLay’s character, including former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and 8 current U.S. congressmen.

The former Houston-area congressman, nicknamed “The Hammer”, was convicted Nov. 24 on charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering, in what prosecutors described as a money swap intended to illegally funnel campaign contributions to fellow Texas politicians in 2002.

At the center of the charges was whether DeLay violated campaign contribution laws for his part in a single transaction involving the alleged money swap. A political action committee he founded, Texans for a Republican Majority, sent a $190,000 contribution to the Republican National Committee, which in turn, according to prosecutors, used the monies to help fund the 2002 campaigns of seven Texas Republican candidates supported by DeLay.

Under Texas state rules, corporate political donations to candidates are prohibited. Prosecutors said that corporate donations to the PAC were “laundered” by virtue of a special arrangement with the RNC in Washington. They claimed that the monies from the PAC were corporate funds, but funneled through the RNC to skirt campaign finance laws.

Travis County prosecutor Beverly Mathews charged that the exchange of monies ultimately had a much larger role in state and national politics. The monies helped get more Republicans elected to the Texas House, which allowed the GOP to push through a redistricting plan so that more Republicans could get elected to Congress, further cementing DeLay’s leadership position.

DeLay had been under investigation for years, and his political career had been badly damaged by his association with Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, causing him to resign in 2006.  The lobbyist, a close friend of DeLay’s, was convicted on charges of tax evasion, mail fraud and conspiracy.

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House lawmakers create a mess by skipping swearing-in ceremony

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A number of votes cast by two Republicans who skipped Wednesday’s swearing-in ceremony were nullified on Friday, helping to straighten out a procedural mess caused by their absence. Reps. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Pete Sessions (R-Texas) were at a reception on late-Wednesday during the administration of the oath by Speaker John Boehner on the House floor.

The men took the oath watching the House ceremony on TV at the Capital Visitor Center, while attending a reception for several hundred of Fitzpatrick supporters. The Constitution requires that all members swear to the oath before taking office.

When House leaders learned that the two men had skipped the swearing-in ceremony to attend a reception organized by Fitzpatrick supporters elsewhere in the Capital, they were uncertain whether the motions the men voted on were invalid. House rules require the oath be administered in person by the Speaker.

A cleanup resolution was passed on Friday, 257-159, largely along party lines. It acknowledges the men were not sworn in according to the Constitution and House rules and nullifies their first five votes. Session’s work in a meeting of the Rules Committee, where he is the second highest member, was ratified.

On Friday, Fitzpatrick and Sessions sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, expressing their regret over the incident.

“We are deeply committed to fulfilling our role in our constitutional democracy by maintaining the integrity of the People’s House. Our absence on the House floor during the oath-of-office ceremony for the 112th Congress – while not intentional – fell short of this standard by creating uncertainty regarding our standing in this body,” said the letter.

One group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said they would ask the Office of Congressional Ethics to look into the reception organized by Fitzpatrick, saying that it was a fundraiser, and violated laws against campaign fundraising on federal property.

Participants at the reception paid $30 for a round-trip bus ride from Pennsylvania to D.C., and the form which they filled out listed the amount as a “contribution.” The form asks that checks be made out to Fitzpatrick’s campaign committee.

Fitzpatrick spokesman Darren Smith said the reception was free, and open to everyone, including those who drown down from Pennsylvania on their own. “The $30 was for the cost of the bus, that’s it,” he wrote in an email.

Others in Washington are taking it far more seriously. Meredith McGehee, policy director for the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center said she believes that Fitzpatrick seems to have broken campaign finance laws. She said the House ethics committee should look at the reception and determine what type of events lawmakers are permitted on federal property.

“I don’t look at this and say, ‘My God, how venal,'” she said. “I say, ‘Here’s a guy who misses his own swearing-in and then goes and reads the Constitution.’ How ironic. It does show how much the money system has become wrapped up in being a member of Congress.”

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New U.S. congressman scrambles to cover trail on unreported loans and criminal investigations

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Freshman congressman, David Rivera, from Florida’s 25th district, was sworn in this week amid an unfolding controversy regarding previously undisclosed loans from a company controlled by his mother and godmother, which is under investigation by the state attorney’s office, the Miami-Dade Police Department and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Rivera’s troubles are connected to a consulting contract that he secured in 2006 while a  member of Florida’s House of Representatives. The company, Millennium Marketing, owned by his mother, Daisy Magarino, and godmother, Ileana Medina, is at the center of the criminal investigation. Authorities are trying to determine if Rivera illegally received monies from the company.

Rivera orchestrated a marketing campaign to help the Flagler Dog Track and other pari-mutuel venues in Miami-Dade County win voter approval for Las Vegas-style slot machines. Rivera allegedly convinced Flagler to enter into a contract with Millennium Marketing, a company then-owned by Medina, and formed just weeks before the contract was executed in October 2006.

The contract between Flagler and Millennium required that Rivera render substantial services, as outlined in detail in the agreement.

Rivera repeatedly denied receiving any compensation from the deal, which ultimately yielded $510,000 for Millennium Marketing. Rivera’s state-required financial disclosure forms filed during the period showed no compensation other than the $30,000 received as a member of the state House.

On Dec. 16, Rivera filed new financial disclosure forms with the U.S. House of Representatives showing that he received loans totaling $132,000 from Millennium between 2007 and 2010. The filing of the forms, he says, were made “out of an abundance of caution” and just became public earlier this week.

Prior to the Nov. 1 congressional election, Rivera amended his financial disclosure forms for the previous seven years, to remove the listing of the U.S. Agency for International Development as an employer, after the agency told media that Rivera never worked there.

On Monday, Rivera filed amended disclosure forms again, this time with the Florida Commission on Ethics, showing the Millennium loans for the first time.

Although both federal and state election laws required financial disclosure of loans and liabilities, Rivera claimed that he didn’t feel that he was required to disclosure the loans on his earlier financial disclosure filings.

Rivera claimed that the loans were were exempt from standard disclosure requirements, because they were contingent on him going to work for Millennium after he left the state legislature.  Once he decided to run for Congress, the loans became due, he said.

Rivera claims that the loans were paid in full on Nov. 2, but refused to provide documentation or details of the repayment.

On Wednesday, the Miami Herald reported the latest development in the matter, saying that around the time that Rivera claimed to have paid off the loans with Millennium, he sold his Miami condominium to Millennium. The deed for the sale was recorded on December 22 and did not not indicate whether any money changed hands in the transaction. According to tax rolls, the condo was assessed at $89,000 last year. The documentary transfer tax stamp on the transaction indicated the value of the sale as $100.

The condominium is in the same building where Rivera’s mother and godmother reside.

While all the amended filings may bring Rivera in compliance with election and public office disclosure requirements, questions still remain about the flow of monies that Rivera might have received from Millennium. Rivera has refused to answer direct questions about the transaction.

“He was able to achieve the objective of concealing the loan and where it came from during the election, when it matters most to the voters and the press,” said Craig Holman, with the Washington-based Public Citizen watchdog group. “At least he declared it, but it’s something that should have been declared right away.”

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Congressman asks for citizens help in identifying wasteful and inappropriate science grants

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Rep. Adrian Smith has posted this video on YouTube, asking for help from ordinary citizens in eliminating government programs or grants that are not in the best interests of taxpayers.

According to Smith (R-Neb.), a member of the House Committee on Science and Technology, some of the over 10,000 annual grants made by the National Science Foundation are questionable.

One such grant of $750,000 was awarded to University Academics to study the on-field contribution of soccer players. Another grant, for $1.2 million, was given to a group of scientists to model sound effects used in Hollywood’s video game and motion picture industries.

Perhaps this is a good opportunity to rat out your neighbor who’s getting that big government science grant to study the mating habits sowbugs.

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Incoming House Oversight head announces corruption investigations

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Incoming Republican leaders of the House announced Monday, their intentions to launch a series of six major investigations into waste and fraud in the first three months of the year. On Sunday, the head of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), promised to closely examine actions of the White House and Democratic-controlled Congress and expose bloated bureaucracy and waste.

Included on the list is the “impact on government hyperregulation on job creation,” the release of classified cables by WikiLeaks, recalls at the Food and Drug Administration, the failure of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission to identify the catalyst of the economic crisis, the role of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the mortgage meltdown crisis, and business regulations and corruption in Afghanistan.

“I’ve always been fond of the saying that when it comes to oversight and reform, the federal government does two things well: nothing and overreact,” Issa said Monday. “Too often, a problem is allowed to fester until it reaches a crisis point. . ..and the American people are left asking the question: what went wrong and why?”

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is expected to be yet another distraction for the Obama administration, because of its ability to subpoena records it feels are needed to investigate wrongdoing. Most of its initial actions are directed at economic issues, although some committee members have said they plan to investigate the radicalization of Muslims in the U.S., and homeland security issues at airports, shipping container ports and chemical plants.

Issa’s Democrat counterpart on the committee, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), said he was concerned that Issa has already jumped to conclusions about the administration, even before having any facts to back up his claims. Cummings will be the chief person on the committee to defend the Obama administration from attacks by the GOP.

Cummings also singled out a statement made a few months ago by Issa, saying that the Obama administration was “one of the most corrupt in modern history.”

“Corruption basically says people are criminals, and I think that’s a pretty strong statement having not one scintilla of evidence, having not heard one hearing or had one testimony,” said Cummings. “I think that if we have concerns, then what we should do is in a bipartisan way bring witnesses before our committee, depose them and hear what they have to say, and then draw conclusions.”

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