In Texas and New York, People in Power Make Sure That Their Friends Don't Get in Trouble
In Austin Texas, Congressional Republicans change the rules so that if Mr. Tom DeLay is indicted in the future, he can still keep his post; in New York, State Supreme Court Judges Marilyn Shafer and Lottie Wilkins, already under investigation for allowing a church to withhold ashes from the next of kin to protect an insurance company, protects Guy Velella and his political escape from Rikers Island.
November 23, 2004
A Moral Indictment
By RONNIE EARLE, NY TIMES
Austin, Tex. - It is a rare day when members of the United States Congress try to read the minds of the members of a grand jury in Travis County, Tex. Apparently Tom DeLay's colleagues expect him to be indicted.
Last week Congressional Republicans voted to change their rule that required an indicted leader to relinquish his post. They were responding to an investigation by the Travis County grand jury into political contributions by corporations that has already resulted in the indictments of three associates of Mr. DeLay, the House majority leader.
Yet no member of Congress has been indicted in the investigation, and none is a target unless he or she has committed a crime. The grand jury will continue its work, abiding by the rule of law. That law requires a grand jury of citizens, not the prosecutor, to determine whether probable cause exists to hold an accused person to answer for the accusation against him or her.
Politicians in Congress are responsible for the leaders they choose. Their choices reflect their moral values.
Every law enforcement officer depends on the moral values and integrity of society for backup; they are like body armor. The cynical destruction of moral values at the top makes it hard for law enforcement to do its job.
In terms of moral values, this is where the rubber meets the road. The rules you apply to yourself are the true test of your moral values.
The thinly veiled personal attacks on me by Mr. DeLay's supporters in this case are no different from those in the cases of any of the 15 elected officials this office has prosecuted in my 27-year tenure. Most of these officials - 12 Democrats and three Republicans - have accused me of having political motives. What else are they going to say?
For most of my tenure the Democrats held the power in state government. Now Republicans do. Most crimes by elected officials involve the abuse of power; you have to have power before you can abuse it.
There is no limit to what you can do if you have the power to change the rules. Congress may make its own rules, but the public makes the rule of law, and depends for its peace on the enforcement of the law. Hypocrisy at the highest levels of government is toxic to the moral fiber that holds our communities together.
The open contempt for moral values by our elected officials has a corrosive effect. It is a sad day for law enforcement when Congress offers such poor leadership on moral values and ethical behavior. We are a moral people, and the first lesson of democracy is not to hold the public in contempt.
Ronnie Earle is the district attorney for Travis County, Tex.
In my next life, the men I'd most want to be ...
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, Houston Chronicle, November 24, 2004
In my next life, I want to be Tom DeLay, the House majority leader.
Yes, I want to get almost the entire Republican side of the House of Representatives to bend its ethics rules just for me. I want to be able to twist the arms of House Republicans to repeal a rule that automatically requires party leaders to step down if they are indicted on a felony charge - something a Texas prosecutor is considering doing to DeLay because of corruption allegations.
But most of all, I want to have the gall to sully American democracy at a time when young American soldiers are fighting in Iraq so we can enjoy a law-based society here and, maybe, extend it to others. Yes, I want to be Tom DeLay. I want to wear a little American flag on my lapel in solidarity with the troops, while I besmirch every value they are dying for.
If I can't be Tom DeLay, then I want to be one of the gutless Republican House members who voted to twist the rules for DeLay out of fear that "the Hammer," as they call him, might retaliate by taking away a coveted committee position or maybe a parking place.
Yes, I want to be a Republican House member. At a time when 180 of the 211 members of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Iraq who have been wounded in combat have insisted on returning to duty, I want to look my constituents and my kids in the eye and tell them that I voted to empty the House ethics rules because I was afraid of Tom DeLay.
If I can't be a Republican House member, I want to be Latrell Sprewell, the guard for the Minnesota Timberwolves. I want to say with a straight face that if my owner will only give me a three-year contract extension for a meager $21 million, then he's not worth working for, because "I've got my family to feed."
Yes, I want to be Latrell Sprewell. At a time when NBA games are priced beyond the reach of most American families, when half the country can't afford health care, when some reservists in Iraq are separated from their families for a year, including this Thanksgiving, I want to be like Latrell. I want to make sure everyone knows that I'm looking out for my family - and no one else's.
If I can't be Latrell Sprewell, I want to be any American college or professional athlete. For a mere dunk of the basketball or first-down run, I want to be able to dance a jig, as if I'd just broken every record by Michael Jordan or Johnny Unitas. For the smallest, most routine bit of success in my sport, I want to be able to get in your face - I want to know who's your daddy, I want to be able to high-five, low-five, thump my chest and dance on your grave. You talkin' to me?
I want to be able to fight on the court, off the court, in the stands and on the sidelines. I want to respect no boundaries and no norms. And when I make your kids cry, I want to be able to tell you to just "chill" - that my coach says "stuff happens" and that my union rep is appealing my punishment in the name of the Bill of Rights and the Magna Carta. Yes, in my next life, I want to be The Man.
If I can't be The Man, then I at least want to be the owner of a Hummer - with American flag decals all over the back bumper, because Hummer owners are, on average, a little more patriotic than you and me.
Yes, I want to drive the mother of all gas-guzzlers that gets so little mileage you have to drive from gas station to gas station. Yes, I want to drive my Hummer and never have to think that by consuming so much oil, I am making transfer payments to the worst Arab regimes that transfer money to Islamic charities that transfer money to madrassas that teach children intolerance, anti-pluralism and how to hate the infidels.
And when one day one of those madrassa graduates goes off and joins the jihad in Fallujah and kills my neighbor's son, who is in the U.S. Army Rangers, I want to drive to his funeral in my Hummer. Yes, I want to curse his killers in front of his mother and wail aloud, "If there was only something I could do." And then I want to drive home in my Hummer, stopping at two gas stations along the way.
If I can't be any of these, then I want to be just a simple blue-state red-state American. I want to take time on this Thanksgiving to thank God I live in a country where, despite so much rampant selfishness, the public schools still manage to produce young men and women ready to voluntarily risk their lives in places like Iraq and Afghanistan to spread the opportunity of freedom and to protect my own. And I want to thank them for doing this, even though on so many days in so many ways we really don't deserve them.
Friedman is a columnist for The New York Times and a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner.
GUY'S JAILHOUSE RETURN DELAYED
By DAREH GREGORIAN and STEPHANIE GASKELL
November 23, 2004 -- Guy Velella won a last-minute reprieve yesterday when a state judge delayed for one week the order that would have sent the once-powerful state senator back to jail.
"This will be a nice Thanksgiving in the Velella household," said his lawyer, Charles Stillman.
Stillman said he spoke with his client, who was "relieved" by the ruling, which came two hours before Velella was scheduled to surrender to authorities.
State Supreme Court Justice Lottie Wilkins issued a temporary restraining order that blocked the surrender and said she would rule by next Monday on the complex legal issue concerning the release of Velella and four other former convicts by a controversial commission.
Lawyers for both the city and the defendants were pleased by the delay.
Velella was set free Sept. 28 after serving just three months of a one-year sentence for bribery.
But amid a firestorm of criticism of the body that sprang him, the Local Conditional Release Commission, Mayor Bloomberg reconstituted the panel. A city probe found the commission had acted illegally when it let Velella and his cronies go free. On Friday, the new panel ordered Velella, his two co-conspirators, Hector Del Toro and Manny Gonzalez, and two others unconnected to the case who had also been released early by the old panel to surrender by 5 p.m. yesterday and be returned to Rikers Island.
At a hearing yesterday, Stillman appealed to Wilkins, saying there were "serious issues in our favor" that should be heard before anyone is ordered back to jail.
He said Velella "was released by a legally constituted board" that then "got fired."
Stillman said that if Velella and his co-conspirators are ordered back - and a court later finds in their favor on the legal issue - "How do we make that up to them?"
But the city argued that the clock on the defendants' sentences is running.
If it takes a month to resolve the thorny legal issue - while the former prisoners remain free - that would be one month they never have to serve, the city said.
"Every day they remain at liberty will count against their sentence," city attorney Paula Van Meter argued.
Stillman said the defendants would agree to stop the clock on their sentences while the underlying legal issues are resolved, but the city said the agreement would not be valid.
THE VELELLA CONSPIRACY
NY POST, Nov 26, 2004, OP-ED
Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau must feel like a chump after the big fish he reeled in - former Bronx GOP boss Guy Velella - wiggled out of his 1-year sentence for bribe-taking after just 100 days.
The DA is probing the immediate circumstances of Velella's release (a move later ruled illegal), but the investigation can't stop there.
Velella - a close ally of state Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno - wielded great influence in Albany. Morgenthau had charged him, essentially, with stealing taxpayer monies - paid in the form of bribes to win state contracts.
Velella had been hooked.
But the DA then allowed the pol to plead to a lesser charge - "conspiracy to accept bribes" - resulting in a lighter sentence: 12 short months at Rikers. He also let Velella's father skirt similar charges.
Plus, Morgenthau promised not to block an early release for the pol.
"I hope this sends a message that if you're a public official who takes money on state contracts, somebody is going to catch up with you," Morgenthau said at the time.
The actual message?
Even if you're a public official - someone expected to meet the highest standards - Manhattan's DA will cut you a break if you get caught.
Velella then further perpetuated the charade, pretending he was ready to serve his sentence. "I have a debt to society that must be paid," the convicted pol said at the time. "I am prepared to accept [my] sentence, serve it and begin my new life."
He must have been biting his tongue to keep from laughing: Only weeks later, Velella applied for early release.
And on Sept. 28, the jail doors swung open. Illegally.
Now that he's been ordered back to jail, he's fighting that, too.
How did all this happen?
That's what the DA needs to find out.
Did someone pull strings for the Bronx pol?
Why did the panel that OK'd his release - the obscure Local Conditional Release Commission - rush Velella's application through in less than the required time, without a quorum and practically, it seems, on the say-so of one man: its chairman, Raul Russi?
Was anyone in the Pataki administration involved?
As Post State Editor Fredric Dicker reported last week, Russi's brother, Eugenio, works for Team Pataki at the Department of Parole and was promoted - and given a 10 percent pay hike - just three days before Velella landed in the clink. The promotion came after another parole officer was offered the job - an offer later rescinded.
A longtime Parole Division official told Dicker that the promotion of Russi's brother "was widely seen as an effort to help Velella with the early release panel" that Russi chaired. It served as "a message to Raul Russi," the source said.
Morgenthau must get to the bottom of this. Anyone who in any way pressured the panel inappropriately needs to be identified.
And, if laws were broken, prosecuted - this time, to the full extent of the law.
And while Morgenthau is at it, he might also probe whether anyone else got special treatment - as a result of inappropriate political pressure, bribery or other forms of corruption.
A city report made public this month made it clear that the release board routinely flouted rules on springing inmates.
This may have been the result, as some suggest, of simple incompetence.
Or it may be worse than that.
If Morgenthau isn't going to demand that Velella make good on the debt he acknowledged and return to jail, then the least the DA must do is provide some answers about how things got to this point.
Perhaps when he does, he'll then have some really big fish to reel in.
And if Velella deserves company on Rikers Island - or even upstate - so be it.