Showing posts with label corruption. Show all posts
Showing posts with label corruption. Show all posts

07 October 2021

Pandora's Box


Who Let the Dogs Out?


Last week was our Governor's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week, as the following stories broke wide open:

(1) Governor Noem's daughter flunked her appraiser's test so our Governor met with her daughter and the supervisor of the state employee who oversaw her application in a closed meeting. The result was that the daughter got her license and the employee was "encouraged" to retire. Gov. Noem has been tapdancing as if she's in a house infested with cockroaches trying to explain that none of this had anything to do with political pressure, just an attempt to "streamline" the process of becoming an appraiser, and "eliminate barriers to licensure". At least for her daughter. (AP News) (Meanwhile, someone on the appraisal board has since leaked that the daughter flunked her test 4 times, not once.)

(2) Corey Lewandowski. Read it all here: (The Bulwark; The Daily Beast) BTW, Ian Fury, Noem's official spokesperson, said “Corey was always a volunteer, never paid a dime (campaign or official)." To which I instantly responded, "So, you are saying that he did it for love."

(3) AG Ravnsborg (the one who hit a deer with glasses, remember?) has referred Noem’s use of the state plane for various things (private trips, campaigning for Trump, fundraising, etc.) over to Government Accountability Board for review. (Dakota News) Considering that Noem's been calling for Ravnsborg's impeachment / resignation (to be fair, so have we all), this may end up being filed under Revenge Is A Dish Best Served Cold.

And

(4) The Pandora Papers:


By now, you'd have to be under a rock not to have heard about the Pandora Papers, leaked documents from a coordinated, global investigation of how the wealthy and powerful store millions of dollars in secretive trust funds, leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and reported on by the Washington Post and other partners. Naturally, the state which leads the list in housing these very dicey funds is South Dakota.

"South Dakota now rivals notoriously opaque jurisdictions in Europe and the Caribbean in financial secrecy. Tens of billions of dollars from outside the United States are now sheltered by trust companies in Sioux Falls, some of it tied to people and companies accused of human rights abuses and other wrongdoing." (Washington Post)

Now I am proud to say that in one way, I actually broke this story, on SleuthSayers, back on June 20, 2012. It's just that no one listened. As the once and [probably] future AG Marty Jackley once told me, "Call me when there's a crime." To quote myself:

And the latest hot businesses are shelf corporations. These are entities that are created by lawyers incorporating a bunch of corporations that exist in name only—no assets, no employees, and no board members except the agent filling out the paperwork. (It’s sort of like the residency corporations, who have an owner and a person doing the mailings, and that’s it.) Anyway, if you want to start a business, you pay a fee to the incorporator, and you’ve got a corporation. And you the purchaser get complete anonymity. And no taxes. And no accountability. The following is a pitch from Corp95.com: https://corp95.com/

“South Dakota is one of the best kept secrets in the corporate formation world. The state has NO corporate income or franchise taxes. Their annual fees are minimal ($50 per year) and they allow for the most privacy of ownership than in any other state. South Dakota is a low key environment and does not require that its businesses maintain any physical presence in the State. Formation is fast and requires a minimum of personal information. You will pay no more and sometimes less than some of those states that claim to offer privacy but do not actually do so. Why form your company in a state that claims to have no taxes, but then charges high fees to compensate for this. South Dakota truly does offer the most privacy at a very reasonable ongoing fee. Call us at 800-859-6696 and let us provide you with the details for formation of your business entity in this friendly state.” The Wild West Continues (my emphasis)

Corp95 is still making the same pitch, and has been joined by a host of other sharks looking for chum.

But the whole thing started with the late, great[ly interesting] multi-elected Governor "Wild Bill" Janklow, who changed South Dakota law to allow all kinds of things that just weren't allowed in other states. For example, in the 1970s Citibank, which had invested heavily in credit cards, was going bankrupt what with high national interest rates. South Dakota was in a major recession. Citibank promised 400 jobs RIGHT NOW if Janklow abolished the "anti-usury" laws that South Dakota (and all other states) had, so he did - in a single day.*

Seeing the success of that repeal, Janklow went on to deregulate trusts. Back in the 17th century, 'judges fought back against a permanent aristocracy by creating the “rule against perpetuities”, which limited the duration of trusts to around a century, and prevented aristocratic families turning their local areas into mini-kingdoms. In 1983, Janklow abolished the rule against perpetuities and, from that moment on, property placed in trust in South Dakota would stay there for ever.'

“It’s a clean industry, there are no smokestacks, we don’t have to mine anything out of the earth or anything, and they’re generally good paying jobs,” said Tom Simmons, an expert on trust law at the University of South Dakota, when we chatted over coffee in central Sioux Falls. Alongside his academic work, Simmons is a member of South Dakota’s trust taskforce, which exists to maintain the competitiveness of the state’s trust industry. “Janklow was truly a genius in seeing this would be economic development with a very low cost to the government,” he said. (By “the government”, he of course means that of South Dakota, not that of the nation, other states or indeed other countries, which all lose out on the taxes that South Dakota helps people avoid.) The Guardian

Anyway, the ICIJ's and Washington Post's reporting focuses on two Sioux-Falls based trusts: Trident Trust, an international company that opened its Sioux Falls office in 2014, and the South Dakota Trust Co., created by a founding member of Janklow's task force in 2002.

Details from the Washington Post and ICIJ investigations include:
  • The family of Ecuadorian brothers William and Roberto Isaias created trusts with South Dakota Trust Co. in 2012, soon after the brothers were convicted of embezzling government bailout money for their failed bank. Their conviction was later overturned.
  • Family members of Carlos Morales Troncoso, the former vice president of the Dominican Republican, opened several trusts with Trident in 2019 that contain $14 million in personal wealth and shares of a sugar company. The company is "accused of human rights and labor abuses, including illegally bulldozing houses of impoverished families to expand plantations."
  • Federico Kong Vielman, a powerful businessman from Guatemala, moved $13.5 million to Trident 2016. His family is linked to a former dictator and gifted free hotel stays to a former Guatemalan president, likely in exchange for "political favors." U.S. labor officials have accused his family's palm oil company of underpaying workers and exposing them to toxic chemicals. U.S. environmental authorities later found the company released pollutants into a river and the issue was resolved in an arbitration panel.
  • Guillermo Lasso, president of Ecuador, opened two new trusts with Trident in 2017 after his country made it illegal for public officials to store assets in tax havens and as media reports questioned his interests in a bank in Panama.
  • José “Pepe” Douer Ambar, a businessman from Colombia, had a trust with Trident. He settled a case with the U.S. government after an investigation found he was involved with "a vast enterprise to sell drugs in the United States and launder the proceeds."
  • Horst Happel, a business leader from Brazil, created a trust with Trident in 2018. Happel settled a case with the Brazilian government after allegedly colluding to underpay local farmers. He also settled a case with the U.S. government after he allegedly violated limits on futures trading.
  • Christopher Pallanck was formerly married to Cleopatra Cameron, an oil heiress from California who put millions in a Trident trust. Pallanck was granted full custody of their children and Cameron was ordered to pay child support. Trident successfully argued to the South Dakota Supreme Court in a 2017 case that it didn't need to pay out the child support, SDPB previously reported.

"Trident told the Post it complies with all regulations and cooperates with authorities. South Dakota Trust Co. declined to comment on its individual clients but told the Post it exceeds review standards by screening clients for criminal activity and legal or regulatory concerns. Bret Afdahl, director of the South Dakota Division of Banking, told the Post that the state audits trust companies and can penalize firms that do not meet standards, such as confirming the identities of all customers. He said foreign clients and assets receive extra scrutiny." (NPR) (my emphasis)

HA HA HA HA!!! Remember Paul Erickson (former Vermillion, SD Republican operative) and Maria Butina (the Russian spy who loved him and the NRA)? They founded two LLCs which were obviously shelf corporations. Bridges LLC was set up in 2016, and Medora Consulting LLC in 2018 - both "located" in an apartment complex in Sioux Falls, both without any stated purpose or partners. But may well have been laundering money from Aleksandr Torshin and an as-yet unidentified Russian oligarch with a net worth Forbes estimated to be about $1.2 billion. (Vox) Nobody, as far as I know, ever checked into them.

Still it's all harmless, right? Just a place to park money, and it's their money, and someday I might win the lottery, so we need this, right?

"Well, here is an example from one academic paper on South Dakotan trusts: after 200 years, $1m placed in trust and growing tax-free at an annual rate of 6% will have become $136bn. After 300 years, it will have grown to $50.4tn. That is more than twice the current size of the US economy, and this trust will last for ever, assuming that society doesn’t collapse altogether under the weight of this ever-swelling leech.

"If the richest members of society are able to pass on their wealth tax-free to their heirs, in perpetuity, then they will keep getting richer than those of us who can’t. In fact, the tax rate for everyone else will probably have to rise, to make up for the shortfall caused by the wealthiest members of societies opting out, which will just make the problem worse. Eric Kades, the law professor at William & Mary Law School, thinks that South Dakota’s decision to abolish the rule against perpetuities for the short term benefit of its economy will prove to have been a long-term catastrophe. “In 50 or 100 years, it will turn out to have been an absolute disaster,” said Kades. “Now we’re going to have a bunch of wealthy families, and no one will be able to piss away that wealth, it will stay in the family for ever. This just locks in advantage.” (The Guardian)

And every year "the legislature passes an annual bill supporting the industry, following updates by a task force that holds unadvertised meetings to discuss trust laws around the world." Nice. (Dakota News Now)

And, of course, some South Dakotans are making money off of it. USD Law Professor Tom Simmons says “A lot of my students are working in the trust industry, they’re great jobs, they enjoy them and they are raising families in South Dakota, where otherwise they may have left." (Kelo-TV) Really? according to Republican State Sen. Lee Schoenbeck, 500 people are employed in South Dakota's mysterious trust industry, which is 0.1% of total SD employment. (And I'll bet most of them are administrative assistants making $25-40K.) There are also "Help Wanted" signs everywhere you turn in Sioux Falls, so I think 500 people could find other work in South Dakota as we get going with "BUST THE TRUST" slogans, signs, legislation…

But, but, but…

  1. This is a nice state, full of nice people, who would never do anything wrong;
  2. This is a nice state, full of nice people, who would never be so impolite as to raise a ruckus no matter what. (Most South Dakotans avoid conflict as if it were an unsedated colonscopy)
  3. This is a nice state, full of nice people, which is why we can have basically a one-party government with no accountability, no transparency, and no public access, because what could possibly go wrong?
  4. This is a nice state, full of nice people, but we're freaking broke (again), because we don't have a big labor force, we don't have any taxes (other than sales and property tax), and all the big money we get seems to go in other people's pockets or just freaking vanishes (EB-5, Gear Up, and probably a few of these secret trusts), so we have to get money from somewhere, and we just won't look into it too deeply BECAUSE
  1. This is a nice state, full of nice people, who would never do anything wrong. (Repeat on an endless loop.)

$50.00 a year, folks, and this too can be your dream LLC in South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, but act like Goodfellas.




*The elimination of usury laws led to the meteoric rise of T. Denny Sanford, who founded First Premier Bank, which made its name and its money on being one of the major subprime credit card providers (high interest - try 79.9% on a $300 credit limit in some cases - to those with low credit ratings ). Mr. Sanford, currently [semi-]retired, is the patron of Sanford Health (formerly Sioux Valley Hospitals & Health Systems), and much, much, much more.

26 August 2021

One Dark Night


Vanity Fair has done a damn good job of summing up the situation with regard to South Dakota's Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg (pronounced Rounsberg), who on September 12, 2020, more or less at 10:22 PM, swerved over on the side of the road and hit what he is still claiming he thought was a deer.  Instead, it was a man:  Joseph Paul Boever.  Mr. Boever went flying into the air and into Ravnsborg's windshield, leaving his glasses in the front seat of Ravsnborg's car.  Which Ravnsborg never noticed until investigators told him about it. 

Hyde County Sheriff Mike Volek came out after Ravnsborg's 911 call that night, checked the area over, found nothing, and then gave Ravnsborg a ride to his home. There he loaned the AG one of his personal vehicles to drive to Pierre. At no time that night did the sheriff give our AG a sobriety test. The next day an alcohol test showed no alcohol in Ravnsborg's system, which is exactly what you'd expect from a test given 15 hours later.  



(Above:  The Highmore Road at night.  BTW, the victim was carrying a lit flashlight.
Vanity Fair)  

Five months later, Ravnsborg was finally charged with 3 misdemeanors: careless driving, driving out of his lane and operating a motor vehicle while on his phone. Maximum sentence $500 fine each and 30 days in jail, and we all knew that there was no way he would ever, ever, ever serve a day in jail. The obvious thing to do was plead guilty, pay the fine and go on his merry way.  

But he wouldn't. And nobody in South Dakota has been able to figure out why.  

Instead, his attorneys - as you may remember - tried to defend the AG by saying that the victim was attempting to commit suicide by throwing himself in front of Ravnsborg's car. A number of people quickly pointed out that this plotline literally came straight from the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful, where a man threw himself in front of one of the heros in order to send him to prison for murder.  (Soap)  

And his trial started tomorrow.  Except!  Ravnsborg is going to take a plea deal tomorrow, according to his attorney, and put an end to the whole show.  (News)  So why now?  Why not before?  Who knows?  

But:  The gag order ends after the plea deal. Back in February, Governor Noem had called on Ravnsborg to resign and then the investigators' interviews with Ravnsborg were released by the South Dakota Department of Public Safety (undoubtedly with Noem's permission).  Ravnsborg's attorneys, understandably enough, were furious at this tainting of the pool, and got a gag order on any further information, interviews, evidence, that might be in the record. After the plea deal, all of that can come out in a tsunami.

And:  In 2022, Governor Noem and AG Ravnsborg's are up for reelection.  Marty Jackley, the former AG, has already announced his plans to run against Ravnsborg.  And I'm willing to slap a five on the table right now saying Jackley will win.  

Because:  Let's just say Ravnsborg doesn't have that many friends in South Dakota. Each and every one of us knows that he got special treatment all the way:
  • The Sheriff himself came out, and gave him a ride home, loaned him a car, and gave no alcohol test on the night of the crash.  
  • The investigation took almost 5 months, during which Ravnsborg was never arrested, booked, or had to post bail.  
  • Three misdemeanors.  Three misdemeanors.  Three misdemeanors.  There are people sitting in prison for vehicular manslaughter.  
(Yes, there are people who say, "Well, he's innocent until he's proven guilty", but if you ask them what would have happened if they'd hit a person and left them for dead, almost all say, "Oh, I'd be in jail.  If I was Native American, I'd be in prison right now."  We know how the deck is stacked.)

Also:  Boever's widow has filed a civil wrongful death lawsuit against Ravnsborg.  (See above about the tsunami of evidence waiting for the end of the gag order.)  (Argus)

Also:  There was a significant cry in last year's legislature for Ravnsborg's impeachment. But the result was a 57-11 vote to suspend further impeachment action until the criminal case against him is resolved.  Well...  

Meanwhile:  Right before Ravnsborg hit Boever, he'd been reading an article on a right-wing website about Biden and corruption and China.  The cell phone data proved that.  Now last I heard, you're not supposed to read while driving even if it is a dark night on a lonely road where you really don't expect anything but deer to be.  And we all know that.  So, from the very beginning, if Ravnsborg would have been willing to admit that he had been driving distracted, and missed seeing Boever on shoulder and hit him.  Or if he'd at least given a press conference at any time saying "I cannot express my sorrow and my heartbreak at the death of Mr. Boever.  It was not deliberate, it was a horrible accident, and I will always regret that night," etc. - if he'd done that, he just might have kept his reputation and his career.  But I think it's shot.  He ran away.  He kept his mouth shut.   He admitted nothing.  

All it takes is one dark night to ruin everything.  And Mr. Boever is still dead.



(Memorial on Highway 14 for Joseph Boever.
Vanity Fair)

30 April 2021

Paging David Simon and Ed Burns...


 We all loved The Wire, the gritty, realistic crime series based in a Baltimore whose underside is all too familiar to anyone living in a city with over 50,000 people. What made it so real was that many of the writing staff and some of the actors were the same cops, criminals, and bystanders who inspired the characters. The show featured not one (rotund Homicide sergeant Jay Landsman), not two (Sgt./Lt. Mello, played by the real-life Jay Landsman), but THREE Landsmans. (Richard Belzer appears in the finale as Baltimore/NYPD Detective Munch from Homicide/Law & Order, a fictionalized version of Landsman in David Simon's book Homicide.)

While the show devoted its third season to the corruption in politics in Baltimore, that thread started in Episode 1 and keeps rolling along in the final season-ending montage.

What if I told you just by watching Fox 19 and WCPO News here in Cincinnati, I've been watching a reboot of The Wire playing out for the past several years?

In a city that had its riots over police shootings in 2001, the most drama coming from that corner in more recent times stemmed from the ouster of Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell over mismanagement and poor morale among the officers. He was the second of two "outside" chiefs, chiefs hired from outside the police department after a referendum broke the local FOP's hold on promotions to the highest ranks. However, current chief Elliot Isaac is a longtime veteran of the CPD. His approach to last summers protests that followed George Floyd's murder was to announce the curfew at 9 PM, ask everyone to get to their cars by 9:30, and the force would see everyone the next day. That's not to say we don't have our own problems between police and the black community here, but we seem to handle it better than most.

Then we have Cinicnnati City Council. Four members of council have been indicted on corruption charges since 2019. Three of them - PG Sittenfeld, Jeff Pastor, and Tamaya Dennard - were all suspended by the Ohio Attorney General and booted from Council in 2020 and early 2021. A fourth, Wendell Young, found himself in hot water in the past month. Cincinnati City Council has nine members, which means now, nearly half of Council has been appointed by either their party or a judge.

I grew up in Cleveland back when La Cosa Nostra and the Irish mob were a thing there. Granted, Cleveland has a bigger, ward-based council, so what Cincinnati currently calls a crisis in leadership, my old city used to call Tuesday. And yet I'm reminded of the shenanigans that went on in Mayor Royce's office on The Wire, the backroom deals made to move one corrupt police commander after another into the commissioner's office, of Tommy Carcetti selling his soul piece by piece over three seasons until he bore more than a passing resemblance to Aiden GIllen's next major role, that of Littlefinger on Game of Thrones. No wonder Martin O'Malley hates that show. (Though I think O'Malley might have made a decent run for president if he'd learn to stop taking himself so seriously.)

But to have nearly half the people entrusted with running the city indicted on bribery charges? Three of these people had already declared  for this year's mayoral campaign. One is still running and insisting his innocence. Not very credible when you realize how tone-deaf that makes one seem. See Weiner, Anthony; Gaetz, Mark. 

Throw into the mix a local judge who was accused of mismanagement of her officer, a scandal complete with political intrigue, racial overtones, and a main figure every bit as colorful as the fictional Clay Davis, and Simon and Burns could easily squeeze at least two seasons out of the Queen City.

Is it life imitates art? Or the other way around? Growing up, I knew some older characters claim to be in the bar mobster Danny Green left before he was blown all over Cuyahoga County, a hit that would land anyone involved on Homeland Security's counter-terrorism radar today. I chatted with a former county commissioner at a coffee shop as he dished dirt on a few notables in Cleveland and other local governments. I played little league with a future local police chief who lost his job after a rape conviction. And I've known local politicians who just wanted to do the right thing, including a mayor who was my den mother in Cub Scouts and son is now mayor of the suburb where we grew up. Here in Cincinnati, the mayor of my current suburb used to be my bartender while a coworker sits on another town's council. While there's not much dirt to dish on those four, as characters, they could give a fly-on-wall view of what does go on behind closed doors. Not all of it is pretty, or Cincinnati would have more than five elected council members right now.


18 April 2021

Florida News: Dirty Tricks


Further to the Matt Gaetz investigation…

Florida's gerrymandered 5th Congressional District
The ultra-thin district (at one time three discontiguous plots) stretches more than 200 miles (>320km).

Florida remains the seat of breathtaking corruption. I don’t even have room to discuss Florida’s legislature passing a bill requiring students to assess professors’ political beliefs and providing for teachers to be secretly recorded at any time. We’re uncertain of persistent rumors Tallahassee will be renaming our state capital the Kremlin.

We at SleuthSayers work to avoid politics, but when it’s unavoidable, we strive to be fair. Registered as an independent, I aspire to equal opportunity offensiveness, but I’m afraid America may lose a grand, old party, which even the opposition doesn’t wish to happen. To mitigate controversy, I’ll be referring to political parties as the Eloi and Morlock, and you can decide which is which.

Thanks to a halt in ballot counting of the infamous hanging chads, Florida never learned whether Bush or Gore won the 2000 election. Two years later, Sarasota County reportedly failed to record 20 000 votes. The county Supervisor of Elections explained it this way: Twenty-thousand people came in to vote, but chose not to.

On that foundation, let’s visit 2010’s gubernatorial election.

Fool You Once

Four main candidates emerged in 2010. The Eloi backed a woman, Alex Sink. The Morlocks had three. The Morlock Party was irritated at Charlie Crist (who was sidelined and forced to run as an independent Morlock) and officially backed Bill McCollum. One other candidate inserted himself into the Morlock primary, Rick Scott, who’d engineered the largest Medicare/Medicaid fraud in history, triggering a fine of $1.7-billion. That’s $1 700 000 000 for the fine alone. That should have ended his candidacy.

Naturally, Florida elected the fraudster. Millions of ill-gotten gains won the election.

That’s sealed history. What isn’t as well known is what happened to Alex Sink and her beautifully designed web site, SinkForCongress2014.com, which included a subdomain begging for donations, contribute.SinkForCongress2014.com. It had a problem. It wasn’t her web site, it belonged to the other party. Donations to her were diverted to the Morlock Party and used to fund Alex Sink’s defeat.

Turns out this isn’t illegal.

Fool You Twice

So what skullduggery might top that bit of cleverness? Fake candidates. No, I’m not talking fake voters or fake ballots, but sham candidates.

You can think of them as ghosts in the political machine. Morlock Party operatives ran sham Eloi candidates in an effort to split votes between the faux candidate and the real one. It worked in at least three elections. In one district, the true Eloi candidate would have won by 6000 votes but lost by 32, thanks to a fake candidate, Jestine Iannotti. She abruptly moved to Sweden where she can’t be extradited.

Again, these dirty tricks aren’t illegal, but dirty money is. Political manipulators have gone to great lengths to hide money, much which remains unaccounted for. When the false candidate stunt was pulled in 2012, donations were traced to lobbyists, consultants, attorneys, fake donors and secret donors.

Fool

A fourth Florida attempt ended in failure for Matt Gaetz. An extremely shady former legislator and lobbyist Chris Dorworth has separated from his Orlando firm, Ballard Partners, after his involvement was revealed.

Meanwhile, Gaetz seems to have left his girlfriend at home with her crayons and coloring book, and hopped a ganja flight to the Bahamas, courtesy of Orlando marijuana majordomo and hand surgeon Jason Pirozzolo. There they enjoyed presumably grown-up prostitutes.

Gaetz attempted to get his generous friend Pirozzolo nominated for Florida Surgeon General. When that fell through, Governor Ron DeSantis appointed Pirozzolo to another lucrative position on the board of the Greater Orlando Airport Authority.

Investigations continue. Please remember, all parties are considered innocent until the rotten miscreants are proven guilty.

Thanks to Darlene, Sharon, Cate, Eve, and Thrush for contributions to this series.)

04 April 2021

Florida News: Taxing Questions


Joel Greenberg
Joel Greenberg,
Tax Collector
© The Independent

You might be forgiven thinking Joel Greenberg a low-rent Jeffrey Epstein, possible purveyor of goods and services to the likes of his friend, Congressman Matt Gaetz. Greenberg was supposed to go on trial a couple of weeks ago, now rescheduled in two months (June). Long before he was arrested for numerous crimes, red flags arose.

Development of a Police State

More than county tax departments, Florida’s various Code Enforcement agencies may be the most despised bureaucracies in the Sunshine State. These are the people who fine homeowners $200 a day upon spotting a hole in a porch screen or charge $500 a day for painting one's house the wrong shade. These fines are as typical as they are capricious. Notice these penalties run ‘per day’. Code Enforcement has also charged citizens for hosting religious gatherings in their homes and flying American flags, both successfully challenged in the courts.

These ‘per day’ fines can easily exceed most criminal penalties, even mount beyond the value of the properties they target. One local man has racked up $1.9-million. But at least Code Enforcement can’t send violators to prison.

Whoops, wait. Yes, they can by criminalizing civil violations and misdemeanors. Seminole County resident Alan Davis believes Code Enforcement violates personal liberties, and he’s dedicated the better part of three decades hammering home his point… or hammering points into his home.

He’s mocked Code Enforcement, at one time planting a toilet in his yard and another time creating a giant buttocks sculpture. God love him. When ordered to remove junky items from his yard, he obliged and moved them to his roof.

Davis initially spent a year in Florida state prison where he became surprisingly popular. After serving that first term, he’s been back more than once, including a three year stretch for ‘felony littering’– on his own property.

So it’s understandable that as Code Enforcement flexed its muscles, the Florida Association of Code Enforcement (FACE) began to consider themselves junior police officers. They lobbied for the right to carry guns, wear badges, and be addressed like a professional cop. They won the right to be called ‘officer’ and they now wear heavy police-looking badges on their belts or on chains around their necks. However, they couldn’t explain why they needed sidearms whilst writing up unedged lawns and chipped paint.

Your Tax Dollars at Work

As police departments succumbed to increased militarization, local bureaucracies moved to become more police-like. In an attempt to make green eyeshades look cool, Seminole County’s newly elected tax collector purchased badges and guns for his department’s ‘officers’. The public hadn’t appreciated the enormous danger handing out driver, car, cat, and fishing licences, a high-risk job almost as hazardous as recording plat books.

After arming his tax collectors, Joel Greenburg considered his new position so ★policey★, he begged a traffic cop who pulled him over for ‘professional courtesy’ and to let him, a fellow officer off the hook.

But wait, there’s more. ‘Officer’ Greenburg stopped at least one woman in traffic by flashing his shiny, new gold badge, accusing her of speeding. Nothing came of her complaint once the lady realized Greenburg wasn’t the real deal. Professional courtesy, see.

Greenburg liked playing pretend in other ways. He directed his department to pay friends who pretended to work for him. He set up pretend companies to further syphon funds from taxpayers. He submitted false claims to receive pandemic relief. He pretended to be other people by stealing taxpayer identities and manufacturing IDs to facilitate trafficking young women.

You may have heard of Bit Coin and crypto-currency. Mr. Greenburg made arrangements to profit from it by setting up his own, money-making crypto-computer within Seminole County’s Tax Department. Crypto-coin is known for gobbling huge amounts of electricity, and he didn’t want that on his personal Duke Energy bill. Unfortunately Greenburg brought 15-watts of intelligence to a 20,000-watt problem. He miswired his server farm, causing it to set the tax office on fire, resulting in thousands of dollars in damage, which of course Mr. Greenburg didn’t pay for. Professional courtesy.

Despite mishaps, Mr. Greenburg liked computers or, more to the point, he liked certain, ah, web sites. One of his favorites was Seeking Arrangement, where “wealthy men and women find the odds in their favor.” Most of us would call that prostitution, but lest we misjudge, here are their words (punctuation added), and yes, that’s a trademark symbol in the first line:

Upgrade Your Relationships™ where beautiful, successful people fuel mutually beneficial relationships. Our Mission: Seeking Arrangement delivers a new way for relationships to form and grow. Sugar Babies and Sugar Daddies or Mommas both get what they want, when they want it. We provide Relationships on Your Terms. Where Sugar Babies enjoy a life of luxury by being pampered with fine dinners, exotic trips and allowances. In turn, Sugar Daddies or Mommas find beautiful members to accompany them at all times. We want relationships to be balanced. We give our members a place for this to happen. (Seeking) Arrangement is where people are direct with one another and stop wasting time. It allows people to immediately define what they need and want in a relationship. Our profiles allow members to effortlessly state their expectations. This is what we like to call Relationships on Your Terms. No Strings Attached– Redefine the expectations of a perfect relationship. Ideal Relationships– Upfront and honest arrangements with someone who will cater to your needs. Be Pampered– Indulge in shopping sprees, expensive dinners, and exotic travel vacations. Date Experienced Men– Date real gentlemen who don't play games. Find a Mentor– Established Sugar Daddies offer valuable guidance for long-term stability.

OMG, it’s so beautiful it makes me teary. Of course by ‘relationship’ they mean ƒ—… Well, you know the word. If you can’t achieve love, romance, and sex, you buy it. I can feel empathy for that, but please, don’t call it a relationship.

Joel Greenburg presently faces between fourteen counts and as many as thirty-three. Even after indictment and his release on bail, he continued committing crimes and violations.

Roger Stone, Matt Gaetz, Joel Greenburg

Congressman having Congress

About here Greenburg’s buddy Matt Gaetz enters the picture. The tax collector seems to have been one of Gaetz’s few friends, which may have gone beyond a penchant for underage girls.

Greenburg’s indictment is well-understood, but our sleazy congressman’s story is still developing. We’ll leave it and the involvement of Roger Stone for another time.

And remember, all parties are considered innocent until the rotten miscreants are proven guilty.

Thanks to Darlene, Sharon, Cate, and Eve for contributions to this article.)

28 September 2018

Social Issues in Crime Fiction, and a Farewell


I honestly believe—that the crime novel is where the social novel went. If you want to write about the underbelly of America, if you want to write about the second America that nobody wants to look at, you turn to the crime novel. That's the place to go. --Dennis Lehane, from an interview at Powells.com

 I agree with Mr Lehane and it is one of the reasons I chose crime fiction as the method to tell my stories. That and realizing that I wasn't finding stories about my family or the people I knew in "literary" fiction, except on rare occasions. I don't think you can write about crime without staking your position on many social issues. Even if you don't comment on them directly, you are affirming the status quo in one way or another--stating that "all is well" or "what ya gonna do, that's the way things are." Even the definition of crime is a social issue statement. At Bouchercon, I attended the criminals in fiction panel, and during the Q&A I asked, "How do you define a criminal?"

I asked the question because first of all, actual questions are rare at any writer panel. Most of the time they are manifestos or statements twisted into the form of a question, such as "the unpublished novel about my pet squirrel's ghost solving crimes would be bigger than The DaVinci Code, don't you agree?" So I wanted to give the writers something to chew on, but unfortunately I didn't get any good answers.

One writer used the legal definition, which means anyone never charged with a crime--either because they eluded police or their status and privilege acted as a Get Out of Jail Free card--isn't a "criminal." Which makes no sense at all. Jack the Ripper isn't a criminal, he was never caught. Is someone who is pardoned a criminal? Are you a criminal for life if you've done your time, but an upstanding citizen if you've been acquitted because your victims signed NDAs or disappeared? Our heroic protagonists often break dozens of laws, but they're okay. The most popular genre today, superheroes, act as vigilantes, above the law either by government sanction or their own moral code, and we cheer them on. They are criminals.



As for Get Out of Jail Free cards, police unions give out paper or gold cards to their members to give to friends and family for preferential treatment, and badges to put on windshields to avoid traffic stops, so I guess anyone who's good friends with an American police officer is unlikely to be a criminal by the legal definition, "just don't kill anybody," one recipient was told. We permit this and think it won't lead to abuse. I'm sure the strict moral codes of all involved come into play.

People from the "underbelly of society" as Lehane calls it don't get these too often, they are the hidden tax base that American municipalities leech for revenue, keeping them in a cycle of probation to give jobs to our bloated drug-war-fueled criminal injustice system, but whenever I read about corruption it's about a few "bad apples" like the guys in Don Winslow's The Force. We always forget the other half of that adage: they spoil the whole bunch. I know that's sacrilege these days, saying that our warrior caste of Heroes are complicit in a corrupt system and anyone who says "I hate bad cops! They make my job harder!" but can't produce a list of cops they got jailed for corruption is helping rot the barrel, but yes, that's what I'm saying. And when we write stories about police that ignore that unarmed black men are shot in their homes and turned into criminals, that prosecutors withhold evidence to make their cases, that judges take kickbacks to send kids to private prisons, we are the bad apples, too. Oh, that's unpleasant? That can't be entertainment? The fantasy section is over there.

Am I without sin? Hardly. I've been that cowardly guy who chuckled nervously when a man with power over me said something terrible about women and confessed to mistreating them. It's the same thing. We perpetuate it. It's our problem, not women's. I've tried to do better. I've helped train police to constrain violent people without having to shoot them, tase them, or choke them to death for selling cigarettes. I've tried to write that whether you wear blue uniforms or prison sweatpants, that you are human and have your reasons for what you do, whether those reasons are for the greater good or for personal gain, and make it entertaining in the process. They are not mutually exclusive. If you think they are, take it up with Lehane, Hammett, Hughes, Himes, Chandler, Paretsky, Mosley, and Block--who gave us openly corrupt cops in both Scudder and his cozy Burglar series.

The young bloods in crime fiction are not shoving "social issues" down your throat. It has been the crux since Hammett "took murder out of the Venetian vase and dropped it into the alley," as Chandler said. Even cozies today take on social issues. It is in crime fiction's DNA. Maybe we don't quote scripture, maybe we prefer Lil Wayne. He's sold 100 million albums, do you know who he is? Big as George Harrison (RIP, my favorite of the fab four). If you think "kids today" are stupid when they are the most active young generation in politics since the late '60s because you saw some edited crap on the Jay Leno show, my suggestion is to get out more. Take your head out of the Venetian vase and put it on the streets.

Thanks for listening to this rant. It will be my last for SleuthSayers. Thank you to Robert and Leigh for letting me speak here, and for all of you for reading and commenting. Fare well.

16 February 2017

They're baaaack.... or, Further Updates from South Dakota


Here in South Dakota, we never quite do things the easy way.  As you may or may not remember, last November, we South Dakota voters passed four voter initiatives:
  • Amendment R, which transfers control of tech schools from local school boards to a new... something
  • Initiated Measure 21, which caps payday loans at 36%
  • Amendment S, "Marsy's Law", "creating constitutionally protected rights for crime victims"
  • Initiated Measure 22, on campaign finance reform.

So far Amendment R and Amendment S have been left relatively untouched.  Except that crime victims have to opt-in for their rights under Marsy's Law (something nobody mentioned in the high-profile ads that were running non-stop before the vote), and names, addresses, etc., may continue to be given to news media, insurance companies, etc.

But IM 21 is under challenge, thanks to a House Bill 1090, which - while keeping 36% as the maximum interest a lender can charge, adds all sorts of new fees that a lender can charge, including "fees for optional maintenance agreements and extended service contracts, official fees and taxes, sales tax, title fees, lien registration fees, and dealer documentary fees. Late fees, return check fees, and attorneys' fees incurred upon a consumer default." No wiggle room there, eh?  (Why do I get the feeling that someone in the legislature was trying to text Chuck Brennan - "come back!  all is forgiven!")

Image result for 2017 south dakota legislative session
Governor Daugaard, chastising the voters
And IM 22 - well, we've made the national news with that one. Governor Daugaard, who offered to veto it as soon as it passed, is still in a snit. “They were hoodwinked by scam artists who grossly misrepresented these proposed measures." To be fair, he has some reason to be upset and in a hurry to veto it:  "Gov. Dennis Daugaard has more than a million dollars in his campaign account which, if this law is killed by his legislators, he will be able to put into his own bank account. If IM 22 is able to stand, he will not be able to touch the money." (Argus Leader)

Meanwhile, our legislature is shocked, appalled, and offended that we think so little of them to have passed IM 22.  Some of those ads depicted lobbyists handing out cash!  As if they'd ever do that! After all, there is no corruption in this state.  EB-5, Gear-Up!, and that little sex scandal have all been taken care of.
NOTE:  Under the "you can't make this stuff up" column, our legislature rejected a bill to ban legislators from having sex or sexual contact with interns.  (My favorite defending quote, not to mention defender:  "I'm hesitant to pass something when we get into itemizing every potential wrongdoing that a legislator could commit, lest this become a criminal code rather than a code of ethics," Rep. David Lust, R-Rapid City.)  Seven days later, SD Representative Matt Wollman admitted to sexual contact with two interns and a few days later, resigned. But that doesn't mean we need any laws against that kind of thing...  
Anyway, the SD Legislature would like you to know that there is no corruption, no problems, IM 22 is unconstitutional, that's all (but they won't wait for a ruling from the SD Supreme Court), we voters were hoodwinked by out of town money (not that that's a problem when it's our legislators going to ALEC conferences on ALEC's dime, or when ads starring Kelsey Grammer and paid for by California billionaire Henry Nicholas are pushing Marsy's Law), and so they are pushing their anti-IM 22 legislation "emergency legislation". What's the emergency?  Well, under our constitution, emergency legislation is exempt from any referendum of, by and for the people (Article 3, Section 1).  So...  our SD Legislature's message seems to be pretty much, "sit down, shut up, you had your vote, you were wrong, and we say to hell with you."

IMG_0058
In a strikingly tone-deaf picture, four of our legislators -
who'd just voted to kill a commission to enforce
campaign finance regulations - posing with
make-believe “gold” watches that contained candy.
You really can't make this stuff up.
I understand that attitude has become a trend.  As this GOVERNING  headline says, "Don't Like the Ballot Measure Voters Approved? Just Ignore It, Some Lawmakers Say."  And the article says that we South Dakotans are not alone...

Anyway, on February 1st, our legislature struck down IM 22, taking time to lash back at the IM-22 campaign that painted them as corrupt, self-dealing politicians.  "I've not known anybody to accept a bribe, I've not known anybody to offer a bribe. In South Dakota, while we're not infallible, that has never been a concern," said Sen. Brock Greenfield, R-Clark. "There are no gold watches, there are no bags of cash."  (ARGUS LEADER)

Really?  First of all take a look at the picture to the right, my friends.  Real classy, huh?

And, for Valentine's Day, South Dakota Senate killed a bill which would have set up a commission to enforce campaign finance law.

And then there are the idiots out there:  Rookie SD Rep. Neal Tapio (R-5/Watertown responded to a question about getting rid of Medicaid by saying (timestamp 54:35), “I want to kill it altogether.”
Three minutes and fifteen seconds later, in response to a follow-up question about how we proposes to take care of elderly, children, disabled, and other folks currently on Medicaid, Rep. Tapio said, “I’m not saying that we get rid of it.”

NOTE:  Rep. Neal Tapio was Presidential candidate Donald Trump's state campaign chairman...

Meanwhile, other times, other scandals...

joop.jpgAllow me to re-introduce you to Joop Bollen (a Dutch foreign national), who somehow was allowed by our own then-Governor Mike Rounds (currently our US Senator) and our current Attorney General Marty Jackley, to privatize EB-5 (cash for green cards, largely used by Chinese investors) and turn it over to himself via his own corporation (SDRC, Inc.).  Last April, AG Jackley finally indicted Bollen, for "misappropriating" funds - at the time counted at $1.2 million.  Yesterday, Mr. Bollen pleaded guilty to one felony count and got... 2 years probation.  ("Authorities" say he paid back most of the money, except for $167,000.)

This might not bother me so much if there still weren't $120 million missing from the EB-5 program, which had to have gone somewhere.

It also might not bother me if a woman in Sioux Falls wasn't facing 10 years for embezzling $57,000.00.  My bet is, she'll do time in prison, not probation.

Well, that's it for now.  More later, from South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, act like Goodfellas, and the crazy just keeps on coming.

 




14 April 2016

If Only We Had LAWS Against This Stuff...


"If only we had LAWS against this stuff..." and other crazy statements:
Okay, a few reminders just to catch everyone up.
    Joop Bollen and then-Governor,
    current SD Senator, Mike Rounds,
    in happier days
    • Back in 2009, Joop Bollen was appointed to run EB-5 – which was a federal program designed to trade green cards to foreign investors for $500,000 a whack - by our former governor, current Senator Mike Rounds, who, when questioned recently about all of this, said, "The state of South Dakota would use different federal programs on a regular basis and you always assume that if the federal program is in place that they have a control process in place. We’re finding in some cases that that is not the case " (Mike Rounds interview).  Like when you put Joop Bollen in charge of that federal program, allowed him to privatize it in SDRC Inc., and told everyone what a great job he was doing?  (I swear to God, you can't make this stuff up... Sadly...)  
    • There's still as much as $120 million missing from the EB-5 program. 
    • For two years, the only person held responsible for any missing funds was Richard Benda, who according to our fearless AG shot himself in the stomach with a shotgun in a field because he'd embezzled $500,000.  
    AND NOW FOR THE LATEST !!!  HEADLINE NEWS !!!

    Image result for eb-5 south dakotaFirst of all, our own Attorney General, Marty ("I'm going to be running for governor in 2018, so I need to get something on paper") Jackley has FINALLY indicted Joop Bollen on five felony counts of violating SDCL 44-1-2, “unauthorized disposal of personal property subject to security interest.” In other words, Bollen used EB-5 money, transferred to his own private corporation, SDRC Inc., for his own personal purchases.   $300,000 here, $96,000 there, to a total of about $1.2 million. He sent some to Pyush Patel of Griffin, Georgia (who owns gas stations and has been participating in Bollen's corporation creationism since 2005), some Bollen just pocketed, and some (and this is my favorite part) Bollen spent on Egyptian artifacts from Christie's and the Harer Family Trust.

    NOTE: Bollen, through his lawyers, claims he's being scapegoated.  Mr. Bollen is also free on an unsecured $2,500 bond. (That should make you spit your coffee out in shock:  let's face facts, you'd have to post a lot more money than that if you'd just robbed a casino and gotten only $200 bucks.)

    NOTE WITH FACEPALM:  Nor has the Dutch born and raised Bollen been asked to surrender his passport.  Jackley said that “at this point” he “did not have concern” about the passport, “as long as we’re made aware of certain travel,” since Bollen has “significant ties financially to this community.” (Bollen Initial Appearance - dakotafreepress.com - once again, thanks Cory Heidelberger for GREAT coverage!)  Again, you'd have a rougher time of it if you'd robbed a casino and gotten only $200 bucks...

    And here's the best part: Right now our fearless AG Jackley - who, as I said, for 2 years has blamed Richard Benda for any and all EB-5 problems - is now blaming the whole mess on (drum roll, please!) a lack of tough laws making conflict of interest a felony! Personally, I would have thought that our laws making embezzlement, fraud, etc., felonies would have been enough, but apparently not.  We need more.  So it's really all the South Dakota legislature's fault...

    Oh, and one quick note about the Gear Up! scandal (6 people dead and counting) and the missing Westerhuis safe (The Chinese Are Coming). “I don’t know where that safe is at,” Jackley said. “I don’t know if it burned in the fire or if Scott Westerhuis took it out and threw it in the Missouri River.” (Jackley Conspiracy Theories, Argus Leader)  Feel free to insert obvious questions here:

     __________________________________________________________________________

    US District Attorney Marty Jackley.png
    Marty Jackley
    Meanwhile, Mr. Jackley, having apparently solved everything about EB-5 and Gear Up! (except that pesky $118.5 million in EB-5 money, the pesky $4 million in Gear Up! money, and the pesky missing Westerhuis safe), is far more interested in investigating the destruction of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe's marijuana crop in November (some of the burning was shown on television) after the tribe suspended plans to legalize marijuana on its reservation.
    "I don’t think for a minute that they destroyed $1 million worth of marijuana. I don’t know where that went and it’s an open case. We never shut that case," Jackley said in an interview with Argus Leader Media. “We never got an opportunity to check what was destroyed." (Up in Smoke?)  

    Priorities, priorities...

    And now, repeat after me: "Life is always going to be stranger than fiction, because fiction has to be convincing, and life doesn't." Author Neil Gaiman.

    Will keep you posted, from South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, act like Goodfellas, and the crazy just keeps on coming.

     

    31 March 2016

    Barney Got a Gun


    by Eve Fisher

    I hope everyone had a Happy Easter, Good Passover, and other appropriate holiday.  Up here, one of our Easter Eggs held indictments - at last - for three in one of our South Dakota scandals - Gear Up!


    (Wouldn't you know it, the cheap one, only a few million missing, whereas EB-5, with $120 million missing taxpayer dollars, is still blamed on the guy who supposedly shot himself in the stomach in a field while hunting...)  
    But let us rejoice in small favors.  What happened was that our own Attorney General, Marty ("I'm going to be running for governor in 2018, so I need to get something on paper") Jackley held a press conference and announced that three, count 'em THREE people were responsible for aiding and abetting Scott and Nicole Westerhuis in their embezzlement and fraud.

    Quick reprise:  Early in the morning of September 17, 2015, a fire destroyed the home of Scott and Nicole Westerhuis and their four children in Platte, South Dakota.  It was later declared ed by AG Marty Jackley that Scott Westerhuis shot his entire family, torched the house, and then shot himself. There is still the ongoing mystery of who called Nicole's cell phone in the middle of the night, right before the fire, and what happened to the safe that apparently got up on its hind legs and trotted out of the house before the carnage.

    36705 279th Street, Platte, SD. screen cap from Google Maps, 2015.09.22.
    36705 279th Street, Platte, SD.
    screen cap from Google Maps,
    2015.09.22.
    Further reprise:  Scott Westerhuis was the business manager of MCEC, the Mid Central Educational Cooperative, which is, among other things, a hub for distributing federal grand monies to other non-profit organizations, including Gear Up.  Nicole also worked there.  Scott Westerhuis set up as many as 7 non-profit corporations related to Indian education, including - but not limited to! -  the American Indian Institute for Innovation, a/ka AIII.  Scott Westerhuis was incorporator of all of these, CFO of some, including AIII, and his wife Nicole was business manager of at least some of them.  And the Westerhuis family lived on a $1.3 million rural Platte property that included a 7,600 square foot house, a $900,000 gym complete with basketball court, weight-lifting area, and computers, and a loft with a meeting room, rooms for guests, and a kitchen.  This was on an official combined MCEC salary of $130,549.82.

    Okay, back to the news conference!  On March 16, 2016, Marty Jackley announced that he filed charges against and arrested: 

    Daniel Mark Guericke, MCEC Executive: 2 counts of falsification of evidence, class 6 felony, punishable by up to 2 years imprisonment in the state penitentiary and/or $4,000 fine, 4 counts of conspiracy to offer forged or fraudulent evidence, class 5 felony, punishable as a Class 6 felony, with a maximum sentence of 2 years imprisonment and/or $4,000 fine.  Full transcript of complaint here: (PDF of Complaint filed)

    Stephanie A. Hubers, Former MCEC interim business manager: 1 count of grand theft, class 4 felony, punishable by up to 10 years in the state penitentiary and/or $20,000 fine, 2 counts of grand theft by deception, class 4 felony, punishable by up to 10 years in the state penitentiary and/or $20,000 fine, 3 alternative counts of receiving stolen property, class 4 felony, punishable by up to 10 years in the state penitentiary and/or $20,000 fine.

    Stacy Lee Phelps, Former AIII (see above)/GEAR UP operator: 2 counts of falsification of evidence, class 6 felony, punishable by up to 2 years imprisonment and/or $4,000 fine, 2 counts of conspiracy to offer forged or fraudulent evidence, class 5 felony, punishable as a Class 6 felony, with a maximum sentence of 2 years imprisonment and/or $4,000 fine.
    NOTE:  Mr. Phelps' lawyer is mounting a vigorous defense, based on the idea that Mr. Phelps is a scapegoat.  Perhaps he is.  (If so, he should be thanking his lucky stars that he isn't lying in a field somewhere...)  

    Among other things, Guericke, Phelps, the Westerhuises and “other unknown co-conspirators" were all accused of falsifying and backdating contracts, including those of 
    • Dr. Rick Melmer, the Dean of Education of the University of South Dakota, who (memorably) couldn't remember nine $1,000 in payments live on South Dakota television, and 
    • Keith Moore, Governor Mike Rounds' director of Indian education. 
    So far, neither Dr. Melmer (who as Secretary of Education under Governor Mike Rounds, moved supervision of Gear Up from the DOE in Pierre to MCEC in Platte), nor Mr. Moore (who also received a good chunk of change), nor former Mid-Central board chairman Lloyd Persson (who actually signed the bogus contracts) have been indicted, and Jackley has indicated that they won't be.

    Nor has anyone asked Secretary of Education Melody Schopp to resign, even though she let MCEC continue their interesting approach to funding for three years after she noticed that something smelled a little funny.  Apparently, they are still looking into at least two other MCEC staffers who (according to Hubers) blackmailed some money out of Westerhuis.  Cory Heidelberger suggests that Mr. Jackley look into the board members of the American Indian Institute for Innovation, which was, apparently, the hub of moving stolen money around.  And no one has mentioned my favorite, Dr. Joseph Graves, Mitchell, SD School Superintendent, who received money from the MCEC for teaching "Teaching American History" in a state that has made it optional.  

    Also, we're down to only $1 million missing, instead of $14 million, but hey, it's still better than the EB-5 mess.  Right?  

    Angela Kennecke, KELO-TV
    Well, right now, we're all waiting for the other shoe to drop.

    "Sources who have first-hand knowledge within the Department of Education tell KELO-LAND News there were questionable expenses involving GEAR UP grant money as early as 2006 that were brought to the attention of department officials."  Angela Kennecke, 3/23/16

    What this means, in South Dakota speak, where no one ever admits anything is actually WRONG, is that there's something else coming.  Possibilities:

    (1) People ('sources') know that more hell is about to break loose and are getting ready to get out from under it.
    (2) It's possible that someone ('sources') in the higher-ups is authorizing a leak, which is the first step to a flood.
    (3) They found the safe.  

    Okay, the last one's HIGHLY unlikely.  And if they do find it, it'll probably just be full of pork.

    And there's the recent news that "There have been several million dollars diverted out of school funding at Lower Brule [reservation] and as a result they had to go into restructuring which is a federal requirement when you have really low school performance. And so they hired AIII Stacey Phelps, which at the time was the head of AIII, and Scott Westerhuis was the COO. So they (Lower Brule) brought in AIII to manage Lower Brule schools and that had been going on for about two years."  (Thanks again, Cory Heidelberger and the Dakota Free Press!)  And people wonder why the Reservations up here are still in a world of financial hurt...

    Anyway, that's the latest update from South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, act like Goodfellas, and the crazy just keeps on coming.

     


    03 March 2016

    A Sorry State of Affairs...


    All right, I admit it, I'm running late on this blog, but I've been spending the last two weeks e-mailing my state legislators and governor over a variety of bills that seem to come straight out of the minds of ALEC. (Look it up.  Also, here:  SD Legislators with ALEC ties.) You see, we only have a 2-month legislature, that only sits 38 working days, so if I don't express my opinions now, I won't have time later on. Seriously - the session is going to end March 11. (Veto Day is March 29.)

    First off, South Dakota is still officially missing $120 million dollars in EB-5 fees and investments, $14 million dollars spent (somewhere) of Gear Up! federal money, 7 people dead, cell phones wiped by the managing company the morning after an arson/murders/suicide (maybe), and a safe that had legs like a dog and walked out the door in the middle of the night. So, what's on our legislature's minds? Transgender potties and single women.



    There's also House Joint Resolution 1002, which wants a new Constitutional Convention to propose “amendments to the Constitution of the United States that impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials and members of Congress.” That'll fly.

    Meanwhile, we're last in the nation for teacher pay, and our legislature is trying desperately, DESPERATELY to not put into action Governor Daugaard's proposal to increase sales tax by 1/2 of a cent to pay for increases. My favorite excuses are (1) that they haven't had time to read the bill and (2) that they haven't had time to come up with an alternate funding proposal. They've known about this since December. This is called kicking the can so far down the road that maybe it will disappear. At one point the House rejected it. Finally, though, late yesterday, through sheer shaming by most of us citizenry, it passed. We will no longer be 50th.

    Wild Bill Janklow
    There was also HB 1161, which would preemptively render useless an intiative that we the people are planning on voting on in November to rein in payday loans. South Dakota is, in case you don't know it, the usury capital of the country, thanks to the 1978 SCOTUS ruling in Marquette Nat. Bank of Minneapolis v. First of Omaha Service Corp, which (summed up) says that your individual state anti-usury laws cannot be enforced against nationally chartered banks located out of state. Our then governor, "Wild Bill" Janklow, heard that and persuaded the legislature to pass a bill that repealed South Dakota's cap on interest rates. And so Citibank, Wells Fargo, and other institutions moved here and life is sweet.

    My favorite bill was HB 1107, which was "to ensure government nondiscrimination in matters of religious beliefs and moral convictions," as long as their religious beliefs and moral convictions were the following:
    The Compound, West River in Pringle, South Dakota
    1. Marriage is or should only be recognized as the union of one man and one woman;
    2. Sexual relations are properly reserved to marriage; or
    3. The terms male or man and female or woman refer to distinct and immutable biological sexes that are determined by anatomy and genetics by the time of birth.
    (I have yet to determine why we apparently have religious beliefs and moral convictions about sex: what about usury? war? violence? lying? greed?)

    Anyway, one of the great ironies of this bill is that at least one of the sponsors was an unmarried man who posted pictures of himself and his hot girlfriend all over social media. (It's a small state: you can find these things out.) I wrote many of my legislators about this bill, but my first question wasn't the obvious, "And were you a virgin on your wedding night?" Instead, it was, "Does this mean you guys are finally going to take on the polygamous sects living in compounds out West River?" (No one answered that question.) I also pointed out that birth anatomy and birth genetics can be entirely different (I used to work at Medical Genetics - see my blog post here (Medical Genetics). Everyone assured me that this was a non-discriminatory bill, to which I replied, politely, "Bull hockey." This bill has been - thankfully - tabled. Hopefully it will stay that way.
    NEWS FLASH: The feds have actually taken on the polygamous sect led by Warren Jeffs' brother Seth in Pringle, South Dakota over food stamp fraud! Huzzah! Federal Probe Shows Details of Polygamous Sect. BTW, to those who don't know, the way these polygamous sects get around the laws against polygamy is by having "spiritual" marriages, which are not registered anywhere. The women - usually child brides, with no power of refusal - are then registered for food stamps, etc., as single mothers. Sadly, most of their sons are booted out of the compound as soon as they get to puberty, because there aren't enough brides to go around, since the old men are marrying all the daughters as soon as they hit puberty. Now you know why I asked about that...
    But the one that's taken up most of my writing time is the transgender potty bill, which would would prohibit public school students from using a bathroom or locker room for a sex other than theirs at birth. (We really made the national news with that one. Sigh.) It passed the House, it passed the Senate, and now it's on Governor Daugaard's desk. I've been writing him almost every day, with at least one of the following arguments:
    1. Transgender people don't want to do anything but use the bathroom safely. A boy who is transgendering to a girl doesn't want to assault girls, he wants to become one. A girl who is transgendering to a boy doesn't want to assault boys, she wants to become one.
    2. Every student I've talked to doesn't understand what all the fuss is about. They all know some transgender students and have no problem with them using whichever bathroom they're comfortable in. (Bathrooms have stalls, with doors that lock.)
    3. Gender is something that is not obvious, and is not always determined at birth. (See my Medical Genetics article link above.)
    4. There is one bathroom which everyone uses - old and young, straight and gay, male and female, adults and children - and no one is worried about assault or trauma or shock: it's the one in your home. You go in, and shut the door.


    The latest one - and I'm about to start writing my legislators on as soon as I finish this blog - is SB 159, which gives insurance companies credits on their premium and annuity taxes for granting “scholarships” for private K-12 school tuition to low-income students. The fun part of this is that the legislator who sponsored this bill is married to (who'd a thunk it?) the founder and owner since 1972 of an insurance company, and was past president of the Sioux Falls Catholic Schools Foundation, and past chairman of Advanced Gifts for the O’Gorman High School Building Funding Drive. Great joy in the morning, who could possibly think there was any conflict of interest?

    What's especially irritating about all of this is that we're a relatively poor state; we are, as I said, ranked last in the nation for teacher pay. Governor Daugaard just refused to expand Medicaid again, after he said he would ONLY if the feds will move all Native American healthcare to their dime. Well, the feds did, and now Daugaard announced today that South Dakota still "can't afford" to expand Medicaid - keep kicking that can. Our infrastructure and roads are constantly crumbling (we have hard winters), and, as I said, we have over $120 million missing in taxpayer funds on scandals and corruption. But, rather than deal with any of these problems, our legislature keeps trying to pass bills that will only lead to lawsuits. Apparently, we have plenty of money for those. Not for investigating things that are really and truly affecting us right now.

    Anyway, that's the latest update from South Dakota, were we talk like Mayberry, act like Goodfellas, and the crazy just keeps on coming.



    NOTE: Huzzah! Daugaard vetoed the transgender potty bill!