Corruption and greed1/15/2014
As Des Moines’ only alternative news weekly, we make sure we keep our focus local when reporting on the good, bad and ugly of current events, people and issues. But sometimes it’s prudent, enlightening and even entertaining to see what’s going on elsewhere in the country. So with the help of our friends at Watchdog.org we bring you a top-10 list of some of 2013 most depraved, mischievous and down right unscrupulous people in the political arena across the country.
Watchdog reporters dug up some dirty dogs to compile a list of 30 in all. We narrowed the focus to the 10 biggest A-holes on the list. We suspect our readers will be as outraged by these reports as we are.
No. 10 – Obama’s loyal liar
GEORGIA — In the days after the federal health insurance exchange went live on Oct. 1, the national media was scrambling to find somebody, anybody who had been able to navigate the glitch-ridden, error-filled website and purchase a health insurance plan. They found one guy: Chad Henderson. Henderson bragged on his Facebook page that he was interviewed by “The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Chattanooga Times Free Press, The Huffington Post, Enroll America, and Politico,” along with several local TV affiliates. His story supposedly was proof that for all their glitches and problems — and the ambivalence of young people — the new health insurance exchanges were working as intended.
Except it was all a lie. Henderson was a former Barack Obama presidential campaign volunteer and a member of the president’s Organizing for America, a nonprofit created after Obama’s re-election to push for his policy objectives. After he was caught by Reason Magazine’s Peter Suderman, Henderson said he told his fake story about signing up for health insurance because he wanted to see the Affordable Care Act succeed. After all, what’s more important: telling the truth, or public opinion about the president’s signature legislative accomplishment? – Eric Boehm
No. 9 – The big fat faker
NEW JERSEY — Former Hamilton Township police officer Joe Derrico is the poster child for a New Jersey public pension system that faces a $41 billion shortfall. While collecting disability retirement checks for a leg injury he said he received on the job, Derrico starred on “Bear Swamp Recovery,” a truTV cable network reality show on vehicle repossessions by the “baddest towing team in Jersey,” where Derrico is seen running after a truck, pulling a man down from the driver’s seat and throwing him to the ground among other actions of the like. Following a New Jersey Watchdog investigation, a state board stripped Derrico of his $69,703 a year tax-free pension. – Mark Lagerkvist
No. 8 – Viking pillage
MINNESOTA — The 2012 New York Observer headline said it all: “Zygi Wilf Becomes Most-Hated Man in Minnesota After Buying Park Avenue Penthouse.” The principal owner of the Minnesota Vikings football team, Wilf provoked outrage when it emerged that he’d purchased a $19 million Manhattan penthouse — even as his lobbyists gave Minnesota legislators the hard-sell for a half-billion-dollar subsidy on a new $975 million stadium. The lobbying effort and the backlash produced a wonderful Twitter hash tag: #Wilfare.
The warfare over Wilfare came before a New Jersey court ruled in August that Wilf, his brother and cousin committed fraud, breach of contract and violated state civil racketeering laws in a 21-year-old civil court dispute. “The bad faith and evil motive were demonstrated in the testimony of Zygi Wilf himself,” said Judge Deanne Wilson in assessing the Wilfs $84.5 million in damages — a major penalty even by National Football League standards. When the team crossed the legislative goal line, taxpayers were on the hook for $500 million, while the team’s portion was $475 million. Or was it?
An instant replay showed $100 million might come from the Wilfs’ pockets with the NFL kicking in a $200 million loan and grant, $100 million from fans paying up to $10,000 for seat licenses and $135 million from stadium naming rights. A recent hurry-up state audit of the team’s books cleared the way for Wilf and Gov. Mark Dayton to break ground on the new stadium, digging a deeper hole for Minnesota taxpayers. – Tom Steward
No. 7 – Paid for by drug money
VIRGINIA — In 2012, the political rumor mill had Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. Just a few months later, the limelight turned into a hot interrogation bulb when McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, became targets of federal and state investigations into a scandal Virginians know as “Gift-gate.” The media attention began when news broke that Jonnie Williams, CEO of the pharmaceutical company Star Scientific, paid $15,000 for wedding catering costs for one of McDonnell’s daughters in 2011. And then the bad news came fast: the first lady’s $15,000 Manhattan shopping spree, paid for by Williams; the $6,500 Rolex that appeared on the governor’s wrist (which McDonnell later admitted was a gift from Williams); the McDonnells’ stay at the Williams’ vacation home near Roanoke, Va., which involves a drive back to Richmond in Williams’ $190,000 Ferrari; the $120,000 Williams loaned to the McDonnells.
In the midst of all those gifts, the governor held a special event at the Executive Mansion, a presentation featuring Star Scientific’s anti-inflammatory Anatabloc. He suggested meetings between Williams and state officials. Three days before her daughter’s wedding, Maureen McDonnell flew to Florida to speak about Anatabloc.
After months, McDonnell apologized and returned the gifts, but it was too late. No one’s talking about a McDonnell presidential run, and some say his collapse helped derail fellow Republican Ken Cuccinelli’s gubernatorial bid in November. – Kathryn Watson
No. 6 – Not on Grassley’s watch
VIRGINIA — Before 2013, Tony Rodham was best known as Hillary Clinton’s youngest brother who generated one gaffe after another. In one instance, he took cash from families of felons to push pardons during the Bill Clinton administration. In another, he prompted an assault on the Rodham family compound when he was caught having sex with another man’s girlfriend. We could go on, but it’s unlikely there’s anything to match what was next: trying to get a visa for an officer of a Chinese company the U.S. has called a spy network.
In 2010, Rodham surfaced as president and CEO of Gulf Coast Funds Management, a company founded solely to promote the cash-for-visas EB-5 proponent of fledgling GreenTech Automotive Co. Logging a gazillion frequent flyer miles between the Deep South and Asia, Rodham and pals company founder Terry (now Virginia governor-elect) McAuliffe and CEO Charles Wang courted wealthy investors for an electric-car venture.
All this blew up when U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, publicly slammed him for attempting to bypass a security check and going straight to the directors of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service to approve the application of Huawei Technologies’ vice president. The USCIS Threat Assessment Branch sounded the alarm that Huawei was the same company decried a year earlier as a spy network during extensive hearings by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. – Tori Richards
No. 5 – Tax toilet of the Midwest
ILLINOIS — If voters don’t like the president, a state lawmaker, a mayor or even a town councilman, they can vote that person out of office. Not so with unelected bureaucrats. And that’s what makes David Hales Illinois’ most despicable person of 2013. Hales is the city manager of Bloomington, but he acts as the city’s Chief Nanny.
Under his supervision, Bloomington has banned people from mowing their lawns before 7 a.m. The city has spent $70,000 to study where to put park benches in the city’s downtown. (Free advice: Put them where people will sit.) Thanks to Hales, the city spent $1 million on trash cans citizens are required to use. Hales OK-ed the construction of a new water feature for Bloomington’s City Hall while pushing the City Council to raise taxes to pay for police and fire pensions. – Benjamin Yount
No. 4 – Pension-funded fire power
NEW JERSEY — Christopher Onesti collects a police disability pension for life because he stapled the ring finger of his non-shooting hand. State authorities ruled he was “totally and permanently disabled” — no longer able to handle a gun or perform duties as a New Jersey Transit cop. Yet as a retiree, Onesti now visits firing ranges to shoot a high-powered rifle for fun between trips to the bank to cash nearly $46,000 a year in tax-free pension checks.
New Jersey Watchdog obtained a recent video of Onesti — who retired at age 29 — showing off with a SSG 69 favored by Austrian army snipers. After shooting five rounds, he turned to the camera to flash a big smile. “Austrians really know how to make awesome firearms,” Onesti bragged in his Facebook post.
It can also be said New Jersey really knows how to give awesome disability benefits to police retirees, especially those with relatively minor injuries. Nearly 5,500 retired officers pocket more than $200 million a year in disability pay from the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System. Such generosity adds to the woes of state pension funds that face a $47 billion shortfall. – Mark Lagerkvist
No. 3 – Not getting lei-ed anytime soon
OHIO — Once upon a time, three members of the School Employees Retirement System — Catherine Moss, Barbra Phillips and MaryAnn Howell — decided to attend a pension conference in Hawaii. Critics, who called the trip extravagant, demanded they cancel. When Moss, Phillips and Howell insisted they would go, they were summoned before the panel that oversees the state’s retirement funds to explain themselves. They refused.
At the next two SERS meetings, Moss urged her travel companions to stand firm; this was no vacation, she said, but real, serious, legitimate work. Howell subsequently decided to cancel, but only (she was careful to point out) because her doctor felt she couldn’t withstand the rigors of a stay in paradise, and not because of public outrage. When the Ohio Legislature threatened to step in, Moss and Phillips relented… Sort of. They asked a union to pay for their trip, and then learned that that was illegal, that state law prohibits pension board members from accepting reimbursement for travel related to their service from anyone but the pension board. – Maggie Thurber
No. 2 – Vapor Action League, yes, that’s a thing
OKLAHOMA — Fighting local bans on e-cigarettes, the Oklahoma Vapor Action League smoked out the truth in the Cherokee County city of Tahlequah. Testimony there revealed the state Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) is pushing the bans in exchange for cash. In return for a “healthy community” grant, it turns out, TSET requires towns “to add e-cigarettes, or electronic smoking devices, to our ordinances that have to do with tobacco.” Tahlequah backed off, but the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs raised alarm bells over “use of taxpayer dollars to influence citizens and local communities into banning safe and effective alternatives to traditional smoking products” and opposed “actions demonizing and profiling e-cigarettes.”
So-called “vape” activists say Tracey Strader, TSET’s executive director since its start a decade ago, is no ogre. That’s nice. But her office’s bid to limit e-cigs is evidence of classic government mission government — expanding limited powers granted them in a voter-approved constitutional amendment, despite evidence that indicates e-cigs are much less harmful than real cigs. – Pat McGuigan
No. 1 – Bend over and spread ’em
NEW MEXICO — OK, we’re cheating a little bit. For our final entry, we’re using an entire police department instead of a single person. You’ll realize why upon reading.
Along with this final entry, we’ll offer a word or two of advice. If you’re on the streets tonight, please be careful. If you choose to drink, don’t drive. If you do, you may end up like the victim of Watchdog.org’s “scariest person” of 2013.
A trip to Wal-Mart on Jan. 2 turned into a nightmare for David Eckert, a 63-year-old Deming, N.M. man. According to his lawsuit, Eckhart was pulled over for allegedly failing to make a complete stop while leaving the store’s parking lot. After telling Eckert to step out of his vehicle, police say he appeared to be clenching his buttocks. Believing he was ferrying narcotics in his anal cavity, police took Eckert to an emergency room to perform a cavity search. A doctor there refused, calling it “unethical.” Undeterred, police drove Eckert to another county. There, he was forced to undergo X-rays, two digital rectal exams and three enemas; police compelled Eckert to defecate in front of them and the doctors. No drugs turned up. So police ordered a colonoscopy. Doctors sedated Eckert and performed the procedure. Still no drugs. In fact, no drugs were ever found. But the assault was incomplete until Eckert received a bill for $6,000 for the colonoscopy. He has filed a lawsuit seeking $1 million in punitive damages from the law enforcement and medical personnel involved. – Rob Nikolewski CV