November 6, 2015

Fraudulent Steering

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: , — Bill @ 8:50 am

barbara-byrd-bennett copy“Fraudulent steering” has nothing to do with automobile recalls.

It has everything to do with a dishonest Chicago Public Schools (CPS) official, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who was the putative decision-maker in deciding which two education consulting companies would get a $23 million no-bid contract to provide consulting services to CPS.

One of Babs’ criteria for fraudulently steering the contract to the companies was evidently how much they would be willing to kick back to her in return.   The kickback netted her a cool $2.3 million.

And now the FBI is looking closely at what Babs did as the Chief Accountability Officer in the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) before she went CPS.  The allegation filed in federal court is that she fraudulently steered a DPS textbook contract worth $40 million to a publishing house, Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt, where she had formerly worked.

For an interesting take on Babs’ bribery, see the article headlined Blaming Byrd-Bennett won’t end CPS corruption in The Depaulia, the student newspaper of DePaul University.

Contracts do get steered to preferred vendors and suppliers.  A red flag the size of a large empty hole in the ground  should start waving when a contract is worth a lot of money and is awarded to a sole-source without honest competitive bidding.   It’s a form of bid-rigging.

Fortunately, it only happens in Chicago or Detroit or Atlanta or …  But it could never happen in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

September 24, 2015

Will Port of Hope Move to Post Falls?

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: , , — Bill @ 7:20 am

portofhomeOpenCdA has received word that northern Idaho’s Port of Hope, Inc., currently in Coeur d’Alene, has applied for a special use permit to establish a federal residential re-entry center in Post Falls.  We believe this will result in the closure of the Coeur d’Alene facility which has been in operation since 1998.

OpenCdA fully understands the Port of Hope’s apparent desire to leave Coeur d’Alene.  The shameful efforts by members of the City of Coeur d’Alene Planning Commission with help from employees of School District 271 to run Port of Hope out of town in 2013 were documented in this series of OpenCdA posts.   Thankfully, the Coeur d’Alene City Council resoundingly rejected those efforts in its meeting on October 1, 2013.

We hope that the members of the Post Falls Planning & Zoning Commission will look at our posts linked above.   These posts revealed how hysteria and deception can drive a completely unsupported decision in a planning commission hearing.  Our hope is that however the Post Falls Planning & Zoning Commission rules on Port of Hope’s application, the Commissioners’ votes will be based entirely on their objective evaluation of the relevant evidence presented during the hearing.

September 13, 2015

Otter’s Veto: Intentionally Illegal?

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: , , — Bill @ 7:51 pm

gambling-games1For the reasons we’ve beaten to death in our earlier posts concerning historic horse racing machines in Idaho, OpenCdA agreed with Governor Otter’s decision to veto S 1011 passed during the 2015 legislative session.  That bill repealed Idaho Code § 54-2512A.  His decision to veto the repeal effort was the right one.

However, we also agree with the Idaho Supreme Court’s decision released September 10, 2015, to overturn Otter’s veto.  Otter bungled the veto.  It is impossible for us to believe that an honest, competent, and experienced governor could accidentally or even carelessly mess up the state’s clearly defined veto process.

To OpenCdA it looks as if Governor Clement L. Otter intended for his veto to be unable to withstand the inevitable and ultimately successful legal challenge that was mounted against it. (more…)

September 5, 2015

What’s in a Name?

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: , , — Bill @ 7:32 am

diversionignitecdaIn her online newsletter dated September 3, 2015, State Senator Mary Souza offered some advice to the Coeur d’Alene Urban Renewal Agency.

Sen. Souza advised, “Ditch the new name and logo, cancel the PR contract, return to the original name of Coeur d’Alene Urban Renewal Agency. Get rid of the paid consultants, lobbyists and the overpaid executive director position. Hire a manager and a clerical assistant and let’s have the board members stand for public election. We can even pay them a small fee for their time, which would place them under a higher level of the Idaho Ethics law.”

OpenCdA agrees with Senator Souza. (more…)

September 3, 2015

Corruption Investigation — Palm Springs Mayor

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: — Bill @ 7:09 am

PSLogo copyImagine that!  In southern California the Inland Empire Public Corruption Task Force that includes the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service, the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office,  and the San Bernardino District Attorney’s Office has served a search warrant at the Palm Springs, CA, city hall.

It has been alleged that Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet may have taken a walk on the shady side when he received about $200,000 from a local developer, Richard Meany.  Seems Meany was going to need to purchase some Palm Springs city property for the project, so he hired the Palm Springs mayor to consult with him on the project.   The mayor and council subsequently voted to approve the sale of the property to the developer at a questionable price .

Palm Springs is a resort city with a population of about 46,300 residents in the Coachella Valley.

Fortunately for us in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, nothing like that could ever happen here.  Mayor Steve Widmyer would never have any close ties with any local developer and then be involved in a deal for city land with that developer’s company, right?

February 22, 2015

“… you are commanded to provide to the Office of Attorney General…”

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: , , — Bill @ 8:56 am

slippery slopeOpenCdA’s post on February 20, 2015, entitled Now Just a Minute was based on the proposal attributed to Kootenai County Clerk Jim Brannon but considered by other county elected officials including Commissioners, the Prosecutor, and the Sheriff.   As reported in Friday’s Coeur d’Alene Press, Brannon suggested hiring a county public information officer to handle both public records requests and the dissemination of public information.

OpenCdA thinks this is a bad idea.   The suggestion is a convenient way to add another filter, a gatekeeper, between public records and citizens’ access to them.  It is appalling that our elected public officials do not distinguish between public records which speak for themselves and public information which uses a spokesflack to select and deliver the County’s fluff du jour in its most favorable light.

We find this suggestion particularly galling because it is appears to be directed at shutting down legitimate inquiries primarily from one person:  Kootenai County government watchdog Frank Davis.

That elected officials in Kootenai County believe a new position for one of their hand-picked cronies needs to be created just to field legitimate inquiries from one or even a few people suggests something else to us:  The community watchdogs like Frank Davis are on the right track, and they are making some past and present elected officials (and those locally who control them)  very nervous about what the Idaho Attorney General may uncover.  (more…)

February 3, 2015

How Investigations Get Started

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: — Bill @ 8:29 am

Bribery-BCA-2011Occasionally a television news story provides the station’s watchers, listeners, and online readers with a concise but fairly complete picture of how a city councilman’s official actions can prompt a federal criminal investigation.  That was the case when Hampton Roads, Virginia, television station WVEC ran its February 2, 2015, news story entitled FBI investigating Beach councilman’s vote on Cavalier project.

Not counting the attachment to the federal grand jury subpoena detailing the records which the city of Virginia Beach, Virgina, Custodian of Records is required to bring before the grand jury, the news story is only about 575 words.

WVEC’s news story suggests someone credibly alleged that Virginia Beach Councilman John Uhrin may have accepted a bribe or gratuity in return for his favorable vote on a project providing a developer millions of dollars in taxpayer incentives to renovate a hotel and allow a permit for a luxury housing community.  It appears that the bribe or gratuity alleged took the form of Uhrin’s wife being hired to market the homes in the project in return for Councilman Uhrin’s favorable vote.  (Generally, a bribe is a payoff for future official action, whereas a gratuity is a payoff for a prior official action.)

Note that at this point, the FBI is only conducting an investigation.  The function of the investigation is to gather verifiable, relevant facts which would allow the federal grand jury to decide if there is sufficient admissible evidence to warrant indicting anyone with a crime.

January 28, 2015

Don’t Ask Questions!!

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: — Bill @ 3:18 pm

RedFlagSuppose you’re an honest and diligent elected or appointed official in northern Idaho.

Or maybe you’re a planning commissioner or a city councilman in Coeur d’Alene.  Or maybe you’re a newly-elected county clerk with a competent and honest chief deputy.  Or maybe you’re a trustee in the local school district or community college.  Or maybe you’re a city councilman in Athol.

Or maybe you’re among the many honest citizens who have seen and experienced dishonesty, deception, and signs of criminal exploitation among a distressing number of elected and appointed officials so you have turned to your local or county or state government and tried to report what you have observed.

If you’re one of the people among the aforementioned groups who want responsive, honest government, you all have one thing in common:  You’ve very likely been told in one way or another to sit down, shut up, and don’t ask questions.  “It’s not your responsibility.”  Except you know it is. (more…)

January 21, 2015

You’re Fired!

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: , — Bill @ 7:54 am

embezzlementOpenCdA’s post on January 16, 2015, told readers how easily an employee of the city of Pasadena, CA, was able to allegedly embezzle about $5 million from the city.  We commented that a public entity’s supervisor(s) have a duty to competently and diligently administer their departments and supervise their subordinates so that kind of criminal activity can not occur.

In its article headlined Pasadena fires two ranking administrators amid embezzlement case, today’s Los Angeles Times is reporting that as a result of the arrest of former Pasadena employee Danny Wooten for allegedly masterminding the embezzlement, the city has fired Pasadena Finance Department Director Andrew Green and Public Works Department Director Siobhan Foster.  The city’s spokesflack confirmed the firings were related to the alleged embezzlement.

It’s apparent that the city of Pasadena, CA, understands that when an employee has allegedly been able to carry on an embezzlement over a period of several years, the employer must look at the diligence and quality of supervision of the employee and administration and auditing of financial programs.

OpenCdA wishes  Coeur d’Alene’s mayor and council had responded similarly after city Finance Department employee Sheryl Carroll was convicted of embezzlement and sentenced to 40 months in federal prison in 2013.  But as we’ve noticed in Coeur d’Alene, looking the other way is often easier and more politically expedient that acting responsibly and appropriately.

January 6, 2015

Corrupt Governor Sentenced to Prison

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: — Bill @ 3:54 pm

mcdonnellFormer Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell was sentenced to two years in federal prison today after being convicted by a jury on one count of conspiracy to commit honest-services wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to obtain property under color of official right.  Those are public corruption charges which include bribery.

McDonnell isn’t the first prominent politician to be sent to prison for corruption in recent history.  

The crimes McDonnell committed are fairly well explained in the press release put out by Dana Boente, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

A substantial part of McDonnell’s defense for his actions was based on his erroneous and arrogant belief that accepting bribes and gratuities in return for promoting a Virginia business is acceptable because it is “politics as usual.”

Commenting on McDonnell’s corruption, Assistant Attorney General (Criminal Division) Leslie Caldwell said, “Robert McDonnell corrupted the most powerful office in Virginia and fractured the public’s trust.   Taking bribes in exchange for official actions is not politics as usual—it is an insidious crime that strikes at the heart of public service and will not be tolerated.”

Well, maybe it won’t be tolerated in the Eastern District of Virginia and most other federal judicial districts.

But here we have Idaho.

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