Swamp Rules: Cui Bono?

Old swamps are the best swamps. Cui bono? famously asked the Roman consul Lucius Cassius, who benefits? Cassius knew a few things about swamps. He cleaned up Rome, instituted election reform, and even served as a special prosecutor. Cui bono has been a touchstone of criminal investigations for two thousand years.

Today, as in Cassius’s time, swamp benefits are matters of money and power. The stakes are enormous. The Treasury Department estimates that $300 billion in illegal cash washes through the U.S. financial system every year. Dirty money is hidden behind legal corporate structures such as shell companies, shelf companies, and limited liability entities. Congress has been trying to fix the problem for years.

There’s an “increasing flow of illegal money through our financial system,” Senator Chuck Grassley warned Congress earlier this year. “The lifeblood of criminal enterprises all over the world is their revenue. Money fuels terrorists, transnational criminal organizations, narco-terrorists and kleptocrats to grow, increase their power, and gain more influence.”

Read More

Amazon HQ2: Magnet for Corruption, Creative Destruction

The Amazon HQ2 sweepstakes is over and the winner is Queens, New York. And some place in Virginia called National Landing. And Nashville, Tennessee.

New York and Virginia will split Amazon’s second headquarters, while Nashville gets a consolation prize operations center. The Amazon move cements Queens’ status as an icon of the new New York — dynamic, diverse, economically upward, technologically savvy, and largely low-crime. Forget about Brooklyn. The future is Queens.

But that future is about to get a massive stress test.

Deals like HQ2 are a magnet for corruption. Amazon claims the new Long Island City site will create 25,000 jobs with an average wage of more than $150,000 per year. Ditto Virginia. In exchange for this fairy tale, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio ponied up more than $1.5 billion in tax breaks and grants to be overseen by Albany’s famously corrupt political culture. The state will seize control of the land. Amazon’s construction costs will be reimbursed. Jeff Bezos gets federal tax breaks for “distressed” property, a helipad, and a partridge in a pear tree. Instead of property taxes paid to the city, Amazon says it will contribute to an “Infrastructure Fund” for local improvements “developed through input from residents during the planning process.”  Watch for Amazon-aligned groups to magically appear to game this process. Watch for Albany-aligned special interests to start putting their hands in the pie.

Read More

The Murder Curtain

Are Veterans Administration hospitals the perfect hunting ground for serial killers? That’s one of the provocative suggestions in former VA special investigator Bruce Sackman’s new book, “Behind the Murder Curtain.”

Sackman was the special agent in charge of the VA’s Criminal Investigation Division’s Northeast Field Office, chasing crime from West Virginia to Maine. A maverick, he bucked the system and brought two prolific serial killers—Michael Swango and Kristen Gilbert—to justice. Both murdered veterans at VA hospitals.

“There have been plenty of hospital serial killers in the private sector throughout history,” Sackman writes. “But it sticks in my mind that a VA medical center is a perfect hunting ground. The VA facilities are filled with long-term care patients with serious debilitating illnesses,” making them easy marks for medical serial killers. Often, patients are isolated and vulnerable, with visits from family members few and far between.

“Behind the Murder Curtain,” co-authored with Michael Vecchione and Jerry Schmetterer, unfolds like a police procedural, taking us through the Swango and Gilbert cases. The authors make quick stops at other cases and offer a smart program for spotting trouble.
Read More

Voting on Three Important Ballot Proposals in New York City Tomorrow

New York City has three important ballot measures before the voters tomorrow. Flip your ballot over: the proposals are on the back. Essentially, the three proposals are all about the same thing: the fight against corruption through further democratization of the system. Here are my recommendations. (These are my personal endorsements and have no relation to my employer, Judicial Watch.)

Ballot Proposal 1: Vote Yes.

These revisions to New York’s campaign finance system would weaken the power of large donors and special interests and help deter corrupt practices. The proposal boosts the power of small donors, increases matching funds, and creates better chances for a more diverse slate of candidates. For more information: https://flipyourballot.nyc/ballot-proposals/#prop1

Ballot Proposal 2: Vote No

The proposed Civic Engagement Commission would give City Hall more influence over discretionary funds and community organizations, cutting into the influence of the City Council. It’s a naked power grab by the mayor and should be rejected. More information: https://flipyourballot.nyc/ballot-proposals/#prop2

Ballot Proposal 3: Vote Yes

The proposal would impose term limits on community board members. Members would be limited to four consecutive two-year terms. This important measure further democratizes New York’s community boards, which often are dominated by members beholden to local power brokers. As de Tocqueville noted, the spirit of association is the mother science of American democracy. Proposal 3 breathes new life into community associations. More information: https://flipyourballot.nyc/ballot-proposals/#prop3

Judicial Watch & the Fight Against Corruption in New York

Judicial Watch & the Fight Against Corruption in New York

On October 4, I had the pleasure of speaking to the Queens Village Republican Club about Judicial Watch’s fight against corruption in New York. We’ve been fielding requests for copies of the speech ever since, so we’re reprinting an edited version here:

Judicial Watch takes a lot of heat in the public arena, but in fact we are not a partisan group. Our mission is public education. We educate through investigations, litigation, journalism and public outreach. Increasingly, our public education efforts include the rapidly expanding world of social media.

We use national and state transparency laws to fight corruption and malfeasance in public office. Our weapon of choice is the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA. We lead the nation—including all the major news organizations—in filing and litigating freedom of information actions. These are powerful tools for holding public officials accountable.

New York is the financial and media capital of the world and deserves special attention in the fight against corruption. New Yorkers take corruption seriously. Poll after poll shows that corruption ranks among the top concerns of New Yorkers.

For instance, in a July 2018 Zogby poll, New Yorkers ranked corruption concerns second, after high taxes.

That same month, a Quinnipiac poll showed that 45% percent of New Yorkers ranked corruption as a “very serious” concern.

In 2015, in a Sienna College poll, 92% of New Yorkers ranked corruption as a “serious issue.”

Corruption has a long history in New York. It includes the notorious Tammany Hall, a corrupt political machine that dominated city politics for more than a century. Judicial Watch has raised questions about whether the city has entered an era of a new, more sophisticated Tammany Hall, with sketchy financing from international players, power brokers in Albany ruling with an iron fist, and influential non-profit entities like the Clinton Foundation making an end run around the law.

With a new generation of corrupt enterprises, new challengers have begun to emerge as well.

But who are the corruption fighters of tomorrow and how will they do?

Read More

A Plan to Keep Schools Safe

It’s September and New York City’s 1.1 million school kids are back to class and Randy Jurgensen is back to worrying about them getting killed.

A Korean War veteran and former New York City homicide detective, Jurgensen has seen a lot of shooting deaths. He investigated over 200 murders during his twenty years as a detective, including the killings of children, police officers and civilians. After that, he was a consultant to national and international police organizations. Jurgensen is a famous figure in law-enforcement. Investigative Bulletin has written about his pursuit of justice in the murder of NYPD Patrolman Phillip Cardillo—the so-called “Harlem Mosque Incident.”

A grandfather many times over, Jurgensen is obsessed with school shootings. He says that experience has taught him that “two things matter most in preventing shootings: training and information.”

He’s had a plan to make schools safer. In the aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School cataclysm, he wrote Vice President Joe Biden with the plan. Biden had been appointed by the president to lead a gun-violence task force. Jurgensen pointed out that across the country, dozens of law-enforcement personnel retire every day. These highly-trained professionals have been vetted their entire careers, retire with pensions and health insurance, and are licensed to carry firearms. He recommended that retired law-enforcement professionals be hired to help protect school kids.

Read More

The EB-5 Swamp, Con’t

Congress gets another shot at killing that swampiest of swamp creatures, the EB-5 visa program, at the end of September. EB-5 is a cash-for-visas program beloved of Democrats and Republicans, real estate developers, and a not insignificant number of crooks and hustlers. Cause of Action has been documenting mounting EB-5 scams at a new website. It’s an eye-opener.

Under EB-5, foreigners—mainly Chinese citizens—get a green card and a path to citizenship by paying $500,000 into the program, the money designated for job creation in economically distressed “targeted unemployment areas” in the U.S. The payments are brokered by politically connected EB-5 Regional Centers, which often rake off hefty fees.

As for those targeted unemployment areas? Critics charge that they are often nothing more than elaborately gerrymandered maps drawn from census tracts to create fictional qualifying districts.

The program is a magnet for fraud. Estimates vary, but the best guess is that around $15 billion in EB-5 cash has come into the country in the last decade. Part of the problem is that EB-5 is so loosely regulated, it’s difficult to follow the money. Real estate developers love EB-5’s lax guidelines and easy financing opportunities.

Read More

Guyana & the Resource Curse

A hurricane is about to descend on the tiny nation of Guyana—a hurricane of money.

Guyana is a country of about 750,000 tucked between Suriname and Venezuela on the Atlantic Coast, with a vast interior and unspoiled rain forests. Another 500,000 Guyanese live abroad, many having fled the country’s endemic violence and corruption. The CIA says Guyana is a transshipment point for narcotics and a center of money laundering, sex trafficking and forced labor. Intelligence sources tell me that for decades, it was a clandestine battleground of the Cold War, and later, the War on Terror. A former British colony, it gained independence in 1966. But Britain did Guyana no favors on the way out by installing strongman Forbes Burnham to run the country. Burnham unleashed far-reaching waves of strife between his largely Afro-Guyanese followers and the other major demographic group, the Indo-Guyanese. Britain and the U.S. backed the authoritarian Burnham, fearing a communist-controlled government from his opponent, Indo-Guyanese leader Cheddi Jagan. Burnham and Jagan are long gone, but rivalry and tensions between Afro-Guyanese and Indo-Guyanese persist to this day, including in the National Assembly.

Guyana is a poor country. Skilled workers and much of the educated class emigrated in the Burnham years and after. The country went into steep economic decline. Now, the average per capita income in Guyana is about $4,000, making it one of the poorest countries in the region. The unemployment rate is about 12%. Youth unemployment is around 25%. About 30% of the Guyanese population live below the poverty line. Infrastructure development, health care and education struggle for limited government funds.

All this may be about to change. In 2015, ExxonMobil discovered huge oil reserves off the Guyanese coast. The numbers are staggering. ExxonMobil estimatesat least four billion barrels of recoverable oil are at stake. The New York Times reported that the oil may generate “enough bounty to lift the lives of almost every Guyanese.” Energy analysts calculate Guyana could be taking in between $5 billion and $6 billion per year in oil revenues by the end of the next decade. For perspective, the current annual government budget is around $1.2 billion.

The big money is set to start flowing by 2020. For Guyana, it seems like a dream come true. What could go wrong?

Read More

Violent Crime Rises in New York: Blame the Bronx or de Blasio?

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD held a press conference July 10th to announce that crime in the city has gone down. “New York City achieved a reduction of 853 crime reports, or -1.8% year-to-date, compared to the same period in 2017,” the NYPD said, citing the latest figures from its CompStat crime-fighting program.

Crime in general in New York City is at historic lows. That’s the good news. The bad news? Violent crimes—murder and rape—are trending upward.

147 murders were committed in New York from January 1 to June 30, 2018, according to NYPD statistics. Last year in the same period, it was 136. That’s an 8% rise.

NYPD officials blamed the Bronx. “The Bronx is driving the murder year to-date,” said NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan. He said much of the bloodshed in the Bronx was “gang-related.” The borough had 51 murders to June 30, a 64% increase from last year.

Blame the Bronx? Wait a New York minute. Northern Queens saw a 33% rise in murders; in southern Queens, the increase was 23%.

Read More

Questions About FBI Surround Case of Murdered Police Chief

Greg Adams

On a December day in a small Pennsylvania town in 1980, a fugitive jewel thief murdered the police chief and vanished. The thief was a New England career criminal named Donald Eugene Webb. The chief was Gregory Patrick Adams, a former Marine and city cop who took the Pennsylvania job in search of quieter times. Webb went on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” list and a thirty-seven-year manhunt of sorts ensued.

Last year, it ended. Webb’s remains were dug up in his wife’s back yard.

Her name is Lillian Webb. According to the FBI, her husband died around 1999 and Lillian buried him behind her home in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, out by an old shed.

He remained there until 2017, when mysterious developments suddenly breathed new life into the case. But the biggest mystery of all is how Donald Webb eluded capture for nineteen years.

Documents reviewed by Judicial Watch suggest that most of the time—perhaps all of the time—he was living with Lillian. The documents raise new questions about Webb, the FBI, and the murder of Chief Adams. How did one of America’s most-wanted fugitives hide out for nearly two decades in his own home, right under the FBI’s nose?

FALL RIVER GANG

By the time of the Adams murder, Webb had a rap sheet going back twenty-five years. Law enforcement sources say he was an associate of the Fall River Gang, a loose confederation of criminals based in southeastern Massachusetts and specializing in burglaries of high-end homes and jewelry stores. The stolen goods allegedly were fenced through New England’s dominant Mafia group, the Patriarca crime family. But much remains murky about the true shape of the Fall River Gang and Webb’s Patriarca connection.

Investigators believe Webb was in tiny Saxonburg, Pennsylvania, casing a jewelry store when something caught Chief Adams’s attention. The chief, in his patrol car, pulled up to Webb’s rented white Mercury Cougar in an Agway parking lot. Webb had done prison time and was wanted in New York for burglary. He had told associates he wasn’t going back to jail.

Read More