Archive for the ‘Accountability’ Category

William Jefferson Gets 13 Years

Friday, November 13th, 2009

The former Democratic Congressman was convicted back in August of 11 counts of bribery, racketeering and money laundering.  He was acquitted on other charges of obstruction of justice and violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.  Today he was sentenced to 13 years in federal prison.

Jefferson, a Democrat, was convicted on 11 counts related to a scheme in which he used influence to win contracts for businesses in Africa, while accepting millions of dollars in payments and stock to family-owned businesses. During a raid, the FBI famously found $90,000 in his freezer.

Now, I know there’s no consistency in federal sentencing, but 13 years seems a bit high when contrasted with the 8 years and 4 months Randy “Duke” Cunningham received in 2006 for taking $2.4 million in exchange for military contracts.  According to Vanity Fair, it was at the time “the harshest sentence ever received by an ex-congressman for corruption.” I guess that’s the difference in taking a plea and going to trial.  Or maybe getting caught with cash in your freezer is considered tackier than demanding expensive antiques in return for favors.

Rep. Patricia Todd Calls for Public Hearing on JeffCo Occupational Tax Bills

Monday, August 10th, 2009

This is as it should be.  The Legislature has a process that must be followed regarding the introduction and disposition of bills (see here for House and here for Senate; they are basically identical).  Hearings are an important part of that process, and in circumstances like these, the public should have input.

Follow Rep. Todd’s tweets on the special session @reptodd.

Special Session Starts at 6 PM

Monday, August 10th, 2009

Gov. Riley has called a special session of the Legislature to address the Jefferson County occupational tax and accountability for County government.  The session will run a minimum of five days.  Rep. Patricia Todd will be tweeting the session — follow reptodd on Twitter.

Meanwhile, back in Jefferson County, where former employees are trying to figure out how they’ll pay the bills with no income, a source tells me that the County is sitting on around $40 million in various special accounts that could possibly be used to fund day-to-day operations.  The Bridge and Public Building Fund, which is apparently a slush fund for the Commissioners, has budgeted revenue for fiscal year 2008-2009 of $43 million — and no budgeted operating expenses.

If you’re interested in digging through lots and lots of numbers, the budget is here (large PDF file).

Jefferson Convicted

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

Former Democratic Congressman William Jefferson was convicted yesterday of 11 counts of bribery, racketeering, and money laundering.  He was acquitted on 5 bribery counts and also acquitted of obstruction of justice and violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.  He faces more than 20 years in federal prison.

In a six-week trial, prosecutors said that from 2000 to 2005, Mr. Jefferson sought hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from a dozen companies involved in oil, communications, sugar and other businesses, often for projects in Africa.

In return, prosecutors said, Mr. Jefferson used his position as a member of the House Ways and Means trade subcommittee to promote the companies’ ventures without disclosing his own financial stakes in the deals.

Mr. Jefferson led official delegations to Africa, wrote letters to American and foreign officials and had members of his staff promote ventures in Nigeria, Ghana and Equatorial Guinea in which he had a financial interest, prosecutors said. While he sought millions of dollars in bribes, Mr. Jefferson may have actually received less than $400,000, the prosecutors said.

You may remember Mr. Jefferson as the incredibly inept criminal who kept bribe money in his freezer.  His attorney says he’ll appeal.  I’m stunned.

As it unfolded over several years, the Jefferson case set off a government battle of constitutional proportions. It also had hints of international intrigue and elements of near-comedy, as when the Federal Bureau of Investigation found $90,000 neatly wrapped in aluminum foil and placed in Mr. Jefferson’s home freezer.

The constitutional clash unfolded after F.B.I. agents raided Mr. Jefferson’s Congressional office in May 2006, the first time the bureau had searched a Congressional office. The raid was denounced by lawmakers in both parties who said that the Justice Department, through the F.B.I., had committed an unconstitutional intrusion on Congressional independence.

A federal judge upheld the raid, but an appeals court ruled that it was constitutionally flawed and that some documents should be returned to Mr. Jefferson. The Supreme Court let that ruling stand.

I’m so glad he’s a former Congressman.

Bishop Looking for a Fight

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

(Again.)  Sen. Charles Bishop (R-Jasper) couldn’t be bothered to show up for Tuesday’s meeting to work on a (partial, short-term) solution to Jefferson County’s financial woes, but he’s ready to shut down a special session with a filibuster.

Rep. Ken Guin (D-Carbon Hill), the House Majority Leader, and Sen. Zeb Little (D-Cullman), the Senate Majority Leader, don’t sound hopeful that a special session will produce results.  None of this bodes well for future efforts to address the much larger problem of the sewer debt.

Catch-22. JeffCo doesn’t have home rule, so decisions have to go through the legislature.  JeffCo leaders’ abysmal mismanagement has pretty much torpedoed any chance of home rule for the foreseeable future.  The county’s precarious financial situation is damaging the state’s economic development, but its own legislative delegation can’t get its collective act together.  Six of the 24 legislators missed Tuesday’s meeting.  An ABC 33/40 story on a June 26 meeting indicates only 18 legislators showed up for that one (it doesn’t list the attendees, so I don’t know if the no-shows were the same).  A couple of Tuesday’s no-shows, Bishop and Rep. Jack Williams (R-Vestavia Hills), got paragraphs of press today, but apparently the reporter didn’t ask them why they couldn’t participate in the actual decision-making process.  Sen. Coleman told us yesterday that the County Commission has been less than cooperative when dealing with the legislative delegation.

And then there’s this:

A special session could last a minimum of five straight meeting days to a maximum of 12 meeting days scheduled over a 30-day period. It could cost from $110,000 to $430,000, the Legislative Fiscal Office has estimated.

If Charles Bishop decides to show his ass filibuster and tanks an agreement, can we demand that he reimburse the taxpayers?

And if our county leaders and legislators can’t come together and craft a workable solution (legislative and administrative), can we give them layoff notices?

Follow-Up on Occupational Tax Proposal

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

Sorry this has taken so long — today has been crazy busy thus far.

I attended the CAC Roundtable this morning.  Sens. Jabo Waggoner and Linda Coleman and Rep. Merika Coleman were scheduled to speak; Sen. Coleman was the only one who showed.  [ETA: Rep. Coleman had a work conflict.]

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JeffCo Legislative Delegation Backs New Occupational Tax Bill

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

UPDATE: Birmingham News coverage with much more detail here.This is far from a done deal. More later. (Sorry for the weird formatting; blogging by Blackberry is new to me. :) Formatting fixed.  Wow, this has been a crazy day!)

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A shame they couldn’t come to a consensus before the layoffs.

The delegation voted for a plan proposed by Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, that would enact a new occupational tax at a rate of 0.45 percent, instead of the current 0.5 percent, and require all workers to pay the tax, including professionals who are now exempt because they buy business licenses.

It also would require a vote of county residents in June 2012 on whether to keep the tax. If they rejected it, the tax would be phased out over five years beginning in October 2012.

The vote was 13-4-1, with seven absent.  The article doesn’t have a list of individual legislators and their votes; I’ll try to find it and post it ASAP.  I’m very curious to know which ones couldn’t be bothered to attend the meeting.  (Yes, I know some of them probably had legitimate conflicts, but this is a big, fat honkin’ deal.)

Of course, this doesn’t resolve JeffCo’s problems.  We’re still on the verge of bankruptcy until and unless another solution can be found to restructure the sewer debt.  So this is just a baby step back from the precipice.

I’m off to do some family stuff.  I plan to attend the Race Relations Roundtable tomorrow morning (7:30 AM at Alabama Power), where Sens. Jabo Waggoner and Linda Coleman and Rep. Merika Coleman are scheduled to discuss the occupational tax.  Summary after.

Collins, Smoot Off Attending to Other Business as 900 Face Layoffs

Friday, July 31st, 2009

Jefferson County Commissioners Bettye Fine Collins and Shelia Smoot chose to leave the state this week “tending to other groups they represent”, even as 900+ county employees got the news that they would lose their paychecks effective today.

Both commissioners’ staff members refused to disclose their whereabouts.  What is it with that?  They’re public officials, accountable to the public.  They have no business instructing their staff people to withhold that information.

Not to be deterred, Birmingham News reporters tracked down Collins in San Diego, registered under her maiden name, where she was attending a Republican National Committee meeting.  When contacted, her first question was, “How did you find me?”

Smoot was in Nashville to attend a National Association of Counties convention.  I sure hope other attendees were able to give her some pointers on good governance.  She returned to town on Wednesday, and, according to a very persistent commenter at al.com, intercepted the layoff letters that were to be delivered to the Information and Technology Department, one of her fiefdoms.  No idea why; perhaps she hopes to keep all of the staff to maintain the county’s new website.

Both Smoot and Collins are being excoriated in comments at al.com (not a place you want to visit unless you’re planning to shower immediately thereafter).  Me?  I don’t  care that they left town to attend events that were planned months ago, although the appearance is terrible.  [ETA:  Yeah, I do care, based on Bill's comment below.  It's just shitty for the bosses to go out of town and leave everyone else to deal with the fallout.  Smoot got back in town on Wednesday, so she's at least in the county.]  I do care very much that they told their staffs to withhold that information from the press and public.

And I’m still waiting to hear that they and their fellow commissioners will take steep pay cuts in solidarity with the employees who are losing their jobs and livelihoods.  Any suggestions on how long I should hold my breath?

Jury: Katopodis Guilty on All 97 Counts

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

A jury found former Birmingham City Councilor and Jefferson County Commissioner John Katopodis guilty of 97 charges of mail and wire fraud today.  Can Larry Langford and Bettye Fine Collins be far behind?

Jurors heard testimony in the week-long trial that tied Katopodis and his charities to Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford, County Commission President Bettye Fine Collins and current and former Birmingham City Council members. They began to deliberate Tuesday afternoon, after being told to consider each of the 97 counts individually. They returned a verdict about noon today.

Prosecutors, led by assistant U.S. Attorney George Martin, said Katopodis used the charity Computer Help for Kids, “as his own personal piggy bank.”

The charity, meant to give computers to needy children, was formed in 2000 by Katopodis, former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy and Langford.

The city of Birmingham contributed $200,000 to the charity, and Jefferson County between 2001 and 2007 gave $800,000, plus discretionary money from Langford, even though Computer Help for Kids failed during several of those years even to file the forms required of non-profits by the Internal Revenue Service.

The government claimed Katopodis used his connections with Langford and other politicians to steer taxpayer dollars to Computer Help for Kids. When he spent the charity’s money, he violated the public trust, Martin said.

Good grief!  Can we finally get busy cleaning the stables, or are we just going to wait around for the federal courts to do it for us?

Bye-Bye, Blago

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

The Illinois Senate voted unanimously today to oust Gov. Rod Blagojevich from office and forbid him from ever holding public office in Illinois again.  Blagojevich still faces federal corruption charges.

I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of him; he’ll either write a book, get himself a TV show, or move to another state and run for office again.  Or maybe all three — assuming he’s not in the federal pen.

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