Thursday, June 1, 2023

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Civic Skinny

The FBI is asking about Marty Tirrell as he keeps scamming. Reynolds likes some millionaires — if they’re Republicans.


The FBI is asking questions about Marty Tirrell. An agent has contacted several people and is asking about “anything and everything,” according to one person who was questioned.

The FBI regional office in Omaha wouldn’t comment, but generally when the agency starts asking about someone it’s not good news for that someone.

The once-popular sports-talk radio shouter has been sued at least 20 times in state and federal court by people alleging they were scammed by him — that he failed to pay for blocks of sports tickets he bought, that he failed to pay back borrowed money, that he failed to pay for air time he bought, or that he failed to make alimony payments, among other things. He owes back taxes to the federal government, has garnishments against his earnings, and the state of Massachusetts has issued a warrant for his arrest.

The suers include ticket-brokers in New York and Chicago, a broadcaster in Texas, an ex-wife in Massachusetts and a score or so of local businesses and former friends. At one point, he was sued by his own lawyer. He sought protection from his debts under the federal bankruptcy act, but his petition was so full of holes that the judge rejected it.

The judgments against him total well over $2 million. Others, including some prominent Des Moines businessmen, are owed hundreds of thousands of dollars by him but haven’t bothered to sue, either because they are embarrassed by their gullibility or because they know he has few assets.

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Often, the 58-year-old Tirrell hasn’t deigned to reply or to show up in court when he is sued. The latest no-show was in a suit filed in Polk County District Court in March by Joseph Ferin and Justin Loutsch of Des Moines. In court papers, they said he owes them $11,238 for advertising that never aired because his radio show was canceled. But they said he told them he would credit that money as a down-payment for a dozen seats he could get them in a suite at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis for Super Bowl 52 between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots on Feb. 4 of this year. He said they would have to come up with another $9,000 to flesh out the down-payment, so they did.

According to the lawsuit, he also told them that for $12,000 they could buy as souvenirs 12 barstools used in that suite. They agreed to that deal and paid him the $12,000. Later, he told them he could resell those stools to someone for $22,800, if they’d take a credit card. Again, they agreed. They took the credit card, and they paid Tirrell the $5,000 he asked for as his share of the profits.

They also then paid him the $8,456 remaining for the tickets, the lawsuit says.

And then:

The credit-card company rejected the charge. And Tirrell never delivered the Super Bowl tickets.

The two men sued for breach of contract, fraud and negligent misrepresentation.

In June, Senior Polk County District Judge Donna Paulsen entered a default judgment against Tirrell and awarded Ferin and Loutsch damages of $45,694 and attorney’s fees of $1,435.00.

Earlier this year, Polk County District Judge Eliza Ovrom entered a $1,071,327.43 default judgment against Tirrell, which has not previously been reported. This time, Tirrell actually went to court — he showed up late and without a lawyer — and testified, admitting that he owed most of the money claimed by plaintiff Jason Whitinger of Waterloo.

Whitinger testified that over several years he and his business “advanced large sums to defendants, which were never repaid,” according to the judgment. Some of the money was to be used to purchase blocks of tickets to sporting events, which Tirrell said would be resold so he could pay Whitinger back. In addition, some of the money was to be used to invest in radio and television stations, according to the lawsuit. But, again, Tirrell apparently used the money for other purposes.

In her ruling, Ovrom noted that “Tirrell was not a credible witness based on demeanor and inconsistencies within his testimony.”

Meantime, Tirrell is without a commercial outlet for his daily sports-talk show. For years, he and broadcast partner Ken Miller had bounced from station to station, but that partnership finally broke up last year, and Miller continues alone. Terrell then had a one-man show on a local Mediacom channel, but that, too, is gone now. His lone outlet now appears to be the Internet.

A Mediacom spokesperson says it was a joint decision by Tirrell and Mediacom to “suspend” the show. In the past when Tirrell has left a station it usually was because he wasn’t paying the money he owed the station. (Tirrell buys a block of time on a station — for $30,000 to $40,000 a month — and then recoups that by selling advertising.) At least one broadcast group sued him, but, like all the other folks who have sued him, it won a judgment but collected nothing. …

The first thing Gov. Kim Reynolds said after Fred Hubbell won the democratic nomination to oppose her was that “he has no idea what it’s like not to be rich.”

But apparently it’s only certain millionaires she disdains. A check with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board shows she has taken donations from at least 38 millionaires from around the country.

Her Iowa contributors include:

John Pappajohn, $10,000; Nixon Lauridsen, $25,000 (and another $10,000 from his son Walter); Denny Elwell, $100,000; Michael Gerdin, $10,000; Gage Kent, $35,000; Dan Rupprecht, $55,000; Dale Andringa, $30,000; Denny Albaugh, $35,000; John Gleason, $25,000; Ron Holden, $25,000; Roger Underwood, $10,000, and Bruce Rastetter, $25,000.

John Catsimatidis, a billionaire who owns a large grocery chain in New York as well as a real-estate and aviation company (and who was a large donor to Bill Clinton), contributed $45,000, and Henry Tippie, the Austin, Texas, businessman for whom the University of Iowa business school is named, added $25,000. Rex Sinquefield, a Missouri investor and foe of the income tax, gave Reynolds $50,000.

It’s unclear whether before accepting the money Reynolds asked if the giver was born rich. …

Statistician Nate Silver once again has rated America’s pollsters. He looked at hundreds of polling operations and ranked them based on historical accuracy and methodology. Seven of the pollsters received an A+. One of those — as usual — was Selzer & Co., the Des Moines firm that is owned by Ann Selzer and that runs the Iowa Poll, among others. Silver analyzed 43 Selzer polls.

The Iowa State University polling operation received a B for three polls it conducted, Loras College a B-minus for its 18 polls and the University of Iowa a C-plus for its three polls. ♦


From “Fascism, a Warning,” a new book by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright:
“Mussolini demanded and was given authority to do just about whatever he wanted….He knew that citizens were fed up with a bureaucracy that seemed to grow bigger and less efficient each year….He initiated a campaign to drenare la palude (‘drain the swamp’).…” ♦

Public Servants

For most folks, a public servant is the woman making $45,000 a year at the desk in city hall. Or the legislator earning $25,000 at the Iowa Capitol. Or maybe the teacher making $50,000 a year while dealing with a roomful of seventh-graders.

But to Iowa State Athletic Director Jamie Pollard, a public servant is also an athletic director making several hundred thousand dollars a year. Or so it seems.

When Kansas University fired its athletic director, Sheahon Zenger, earlier this year, it distressed Pollard. “I feel for Sheahon — he’s a colleague,” Pollard told The Des Moines Register. “It reinforces how tough it is to be a public servant.”

Indeed. Zenger was making $700,000 a year. He received a payout of $1.4 million when he was fired. Pollard makes a bit over $700,000 a year, making him the 25th highest-paid public servant in the state. He also gets a car and $165,000 a year in deferred compensation. ♦

John Mauro

A Des Moines Register reporter wrote the other day that Polk County Supervisor John Mauro’s “brand of politics” is “politics for your pals.”

Well, yes.

If your pals are the hungry or the homeless or the helpless.

Or if your pal is a woman whose son just got out of prison and needs a job sweeping floors. Or if your pal is a family living in their car and needs a roof over their heads. Or if your pal is a dad whose little girl doesn’t have the clothes she needs to go to school.

Those are his pals. And he takes care of them.

He doesn’t have much use for the downtown business crowd lining up for city handouts when they move their businesses six blocks — though one of his close friends is the very rich Bill Knapp (and no two people could live more different lifestyles) — and he’s not crazy about sitting through meetings, even if he is running them. He doesn’t like microphones and television cameras, and he’s not particularly charming when he’s in front of them. He doesn’t toot his own horn.

He’s not the kind of proud politician who takes his grandsons to watch him at a ribbon-cutting; instead, he takes them over to the Bidwell Riverside Food Pantry so they can understand how lucky they are and how unlucky others are — and how they have a responsibility to help as they grow up.

After 24 years as a Polk County Supervisor, he was wiped out in the June Democratic primary by State Senator Matt McCoy. They both knew it was coming — McCoy understands the new politics, Mauro the old. That’s not a bad thing for Mauro — at 77 he deserves more time watching his grandsons play sports or helping his three sons in their successful insurance and finance and senior-housing businesses. He’ll be just fine.

But it’s a bad thing for the county. It’s not bad that McCoy won, but it’s bad that Mauro lost. Mauro made the two best deals for taxpayers that ever have been made in Polk County. He was instrumental in saving Prairie Meadows racetrack and casino and in negotiating the contract that now provides the county with about $26 million a year.
And after seeing the bad deal that others at the county made in accepting Vision Iowa funds to help build the arena and convention complex, he asked to renegotiate the deal. The new deal freed up state money that was in escrow to ensure that no property-tax money would be used for the project, but it still guaranteed that no property-tax money would be used. (The original deal was made when he was out of office.) Then, he negotiated with Global Spectrum the management deal that now brings the county more than $2 million a year. He did that after some local business leaders tried to convince the county that they could manage the place if the county would simply give them $5 million a year to do it.

And it’s a bad thing for the county’s hungry. Appalled at what he was seeing and hearing, three years ago Mauro decided Polk County should be “hunger-free.” He set out to raise $10 million, to find ways to keep food pantries open during hours when the hungry were off work, to relocate some onto bus routes so the hungry could travel there, and to make sure the pantries and pantry trucks (which he launched) were well-stocked. He has raised about $6 million so far — it’s surprising to see who has turned him down — but it’s unclear who will carry on.

Talk to Mauro about the hungry, and it’s clear he wears his heart on his sleeve (a sleeve that might clash with his sport coat because he’s colorblind). And that heart beats — first and foremost — for his family and his South Side constituents, for the Italian immigrants and their families who settled there, for the Catholic Church (though he has no problem with gay marriage and a lot of other issues the church struggles with), and for the taxpayers of Polk County.

He sees nothing wrong with the deal the five supervisors made in 2012 and 2013 to funnel $844,000 in county money to a front corporation that gave it to the Catholic schools so they could invest it in technology — a deal that is just now, before the coming elections, being noticed though it was done openly and unanimously at the time. The money was part of the annual distribution the county gets from Prairie Meadows, and the deal was approved by the county’s lawyer and by the county attorney.

The Register and Herb Strentz and others think the deal smells, that it jumped the Constitutional wall that separates church from state. At the very least, it raises questions. But those are questions for the lawyers — and perhaps the Bishop — not for the supervisors. Mauro thinks it’s the duty of government to help kids — he notes repeatedly that it was blessed by the lawyers — and he’s dismayed by the criticism for what he views as a caring and legal vote done in a public meeting.

But Mauro knows how to deal with controversies. In 1998, fellow south-sider Gene Phillips defeated incumbent Mauro by 88 votes for the seat he now holds — he won it back from Phillips in 2002. The election was riddled with accusations, and ultimately both candidates were called before a federal grand jury. The issue revolved around absentee ballots, whether Phillips’ operatives forged signatures and whether Mauro’s workers illegally gathered the ballots.

Mauro was questioned vigorously in the jury room. At the end, he asked if he could say something to the jury. The prosecutor agreed.

“Look,” Mauro told the jurors, “you don’t cheat to lose. When you cheat, you win.”

No charges were brought. ♦

— Michael Gartner


  1. John J.Merriam says:

    Hey there. I knew there were others but never thought to this degree. Marty scammed me out of $15000.00. For super bowl 49 tickets in Arizona. We were at the stadium with several other people trying to get our tickets at the will call window. They were never there. Then it was the ticket company that ripped us off according to Marty. He even had a couple that won a trip from Shottenkirk Chevrolet that were there. He gave them some cash & apologized for the
    inconvenience I am still holding a $8837.00 checked that would never clear from his company account 62 & even.

  2. Kathy says:

    Trust your guts against persuasive, smooth talkers who spin something that does not “fit” typical business transactions. We were acquaintances of us because we grew up with his first wife-who, by the way-we helped by paying for her divorce from Marty as we knew she had to detach herself from such toxicity, stress and legal nightmares. He also owes US for paying for her legal fees, but also knew the “kitty” was empty. (Thankfully, the lawyer was empathetic to our generosity and was gentle with fees.). His wife continues to hold him responsible for cost-to no avail.
    He was “spinning” investment opportunities to us during a dinner out together with his first wife. Something about other investors also contributing, perhaps to convince us this was a valid opportunity as others see it as such. Didn’t persuade me and I told my husband after that evening that he (Marty) is a bag of wind and he doesn’t deal like most reputable businesses OR business people! I said, “Don’t give him one red cent.” My husband worked for a local company and knew what I was saying. We never took the rotten bait and were spared.
    I am SO sorry for those that have lost so much money. He was convincing, persuasive and spoke with certainty. He was a cheat who preyed on people’s’ trust with zero regard for devastating monetary losses of those he used for his own interests. He was the Bernie Madoff of Des Moines.

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