Archives for category: Corruption

Legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin writes in The New Yorker that Trump’s pardon of convicted felon Roger Stone proves that Trump is worse than Nixon. Nixon worries about appearances. Trump never does. Trump is shameless. He flaunts his lack of ethics and his complete indifference to norms.

On March 21, 1973, President Richard Nixon and John Dean, the White House counsel, conferred in the Oval Office about ways to keep the Watergate scandal from consuming the Administration. The two men weighed the possibility of a pardon or commutation for E. Howard Hunt, one of the Watergate burglars. “Hunt’s now demanding clemency or he’s going to blow,” Dean said. “And, politically, it’d be impossible for, you know, you to do it.” Nixon agreed: “That’s right.” Dean continued, “I’m not sure that you’ll ever be able to deliver on clemency. It may be just too hot.” Neither Nixon nor Dean had especially refined senses of morality or legal ethics, but even they seemed to understand that a President could not use his pardon power to erase charges against someone who might offer testimony implicating Nixon himself in a crime. To do so, they recognized, would be too unseemly, too transparent, too egregiously corrupt. And, in fact, Nixon never gave a pardon, or commuted a sentence, of anyone implicated in the Watergate scandal.

But, on Friday night, Donald Trump commuted the prison sentence of Roger Stone, his associate and political mentor of more than three decades. Last year, Stone was convicted of obstruction of justice, lying to Congress, and witness tampering in a case brought by Robert Mueller, the special counsel. William Barr, the Attorney General, had already overridden the sentencing recommendation of the prosecutors who tried the case—a nearly unprecedented act—and Stone was ultimately sentenced to forty months in prison. But Barr’s unseemly interference in the case was somehow not enough for the President, so Trump made sure that Stone would serve no time at all. The only trace of shame in Trump’s announcement was that he delivered it on a Friday night—supposedly when the public is least attentive.

This just in from federal officials:

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Central District of California
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, July 17, 2020
Former Head of Community Preparatory Academy Admits Stealing Over $3 Million and Spending $220,000 on Disney Expenses

LOS ANGELES – Federal prosecutors today filed criminal theft and tax fraud charges against the former executive director of a charter school outfit who stole more than $3.1 million that should have been spent on school operations, but instead financed a lifestyle that included extravagant spending on Disney cruises and theme park admissions.

Janis Bucknor, 52, a resident of Baldwin Hills, who ran the for-profit Community Preparatory Academy (CPA) charter school and controlled several related entities, agreed to plead guilty to two felony offenses in a plea agreement also filed today in United States District Court. CPA operated two schools, one in Carson and one in South Los Angeles.

The case charges Bucknor with one count of theft, embezzlement and intentional misapplication of funds from an organization receiving federal funds, and one count of tax evasion for the tax year 2016. The court has yet to schedule any hearings in this matter.

Over the course of approximately 5½ years – from early 2014 through November 2019 – Bucknor stole a total of $3,168,346 from CPA, according to the most recent estimate of losses in the case. The amount of stolen funds is nearly one-third of all federal and state funding that went to CPA during the time.

In her plea agreement, Bucknor admitted using the stolen funds to pay for, among other things, personal travel, restaurants, Amazon and Etsy purchases, and private school tuition for her children. She also admitted spending about $220,614 on Disney cruise line vacations, theme park admissions and other Disney-related expenses.

The scheme began to unravel in February 2018, when “LAUSD-Charter School Division’s routine audit of CPA revealed that defendant used the CPA accounts for personal expenses, including unauthorized payments directly from some of the CPA accounts to Disney, Louis Vuitton, Girl Scouts, Ticketmaster, Uber, Baby Teeth Children’s Dentistry, Williams Sonoma, National American Miss pageants, and Forest Lawn Mortuaries, all of which were for defendant’s own personal and unauthorized use and benefit,” according to the plea agreement.

In relation to the tax evasion offense, Bucknor agreed to plead guilty to her 2016 taxes, but she admitted failing to pay the Internal Revenue Service $299,639 in taxes when she failed to report $1,322,254 in income for the tax years 2015 through 2018.

When she pleads guilty, Bucknor will face a statutory maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison.

As part of the plea agreement, Bucknor has agreed to forfeit to the government her interest in three residential properties in South Los Angeles that were paid for with funds stolen from the charter school.

This case was investigated by the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Office of the Inspector General, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General, IRS Criminal Investigation, the United States Secret Service, and the United States Postal Inspection Service.

The criminal case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Katherine A. Rykken and Alexander C.K. Wyman of the Major Frauds Section. Assistant United States Attorneys Jonathan Galatzan and Katharine Schonbachler are handling the asset forfeiture part of the matter.

Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York—the most prestigious federal prosecutor in the nation other than the U.S. Attorney General—has announced that he refuses to step aside until the Senate confirms his replacement.

CNN reported:

Washington (CNN)Geoffrey Berman, the powerful US attorney for the Southern District of New York who has investigated a number of associates with ties to President Donald Trump, said he will not leave his post shortly after the Department of Justice announced late Friday night he was stepping down.

Berman issued a statement saying that he learned of his exit from a press release.

“I have not resigned, and have no intention of resigning, my position, to which I was appointed by the Judges of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. I will step down when a presidentially appointed nominee is confirmed by the Senate,” Berman said in an extraordinary statement. “Until then, our investigations will move forward without delay or interruption.”

Berman’s rebuttal came about an hour after the Department of Justice announced Trump intends to nominate Jay Clayton, the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, who has never been a prosecutor.

A Justice Department official told CNN that Berman was offered other positions at Justice, including the head of the civil division, where assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt abruptly announced his departure this week. Berman declined. Barr asked Berman to resign in an in-person meeting in New York on Friday, the source said.
A second source with knowledge of the matter said Berman was asked to resign and refused.

Berman’s unexpected exit is likely to draw scrutiny inside the US attorney’s office and among career prosecutors. He had been the US attorney for Manhattan since 2018, and under his leadership, his office prosecuted Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen, is investigating top Trump confidante Rudy Giuliani and indicted the former New York mayor’s associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.

Tensions between the New York and Washington offices have grown with Berman and Barr butting heads over the handling of some cases, including the indictment of Turkish bank Halkbank.

Last fall, Justice Department officials discussed replacing Berman with Ed O’Callaghan, a senior official, but then prosecutors indicted the Giuliani associates, a move that appeared to extend Berman’s tenure.
The timing of the move, announced shortly before 10 p.m. ET, immediately raised questions about the circumstances regarding Berman’s departure.

Preet Bharara, a CNN senior legal analyst who was fired by Trump as US attorney for the Southern District shortly after Trump took office in 2017, told CNN’s Don Lemon that the late-night announcement was a “highly irregular thing to do … when there are all sorts of investigations swirling around.”

If confirmed, Clayton would be the first person to hold the position who had no experience as a prosecutor.

Perhaps this is Barr’s or a Trump’s attempt to shut down ongoing prosecutions.

Late on Friday, Attorney General William Barr fired Geoffrey Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, whose aggressive investigations into the Trump orbit had annoyed Trump. When politicians want to do dirty deeds, they do it late on Friday, when the press is not watching closely. Trump usually fires independent Inspectors General late on Fridays.

The New York Times reports:

The Justice Department on Friday abruptly ousted the United States attorney in Manhattan, Geoffrey S. Berman, the powerful federal prosecutor whose office sent President Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, to prison and who has been investigating Mr. Trump’s current personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani.

The announcement that Mr. Berman would be replaced was made with no notice by Attorney General William P. Barr, who said the president intended to nominate as Mr. Berman’s successor Jay Clayton, current chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Mr. Barr asked Mr. Berman to resign but he refused so Mr. Barr fired him, according to a person familiar with the matter. Mr. Trump had been discussing removing Mr. Berman for some time with a small group of advisers, the person said.

Mr. Berman has taken an aggressive approach in a number of cases that have vexed the Trump administration, from the prosecution and guilty pleas obtained from Mr. Cohen to a broader investigation, growing out of that inquiry, which focused on Mr. Trump’s private company and others close to him.

Over the last year, Mr. Berman’s office brought indictments against two close associates of the president’s current lawyer, Mr. Giuliani, and began an investigation into Mr. Giuliani himself, focusing on whether his efforts to dig up dirt in Ukraine on the president’s political rivals violated laws on lobbying for foreign entities.

Mr. Berman’s office also conducted an investigation into Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee, subpoenaing financial and other records as part of a broad inquiry into possible illegal contributions from foreigners.

Mr. Berman’s abrupt removal came just days after Mr. Trump’s former National Security adviser, John Bolton, alleged in his new book that Mr. Trump sought to interfere in an investigation by Mr. Berman’s office into a Turkish bank, in a bid to cut deals with the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Mr. Trump has been upset with Mr. Berman ever since the Manhattan prosecutor’s office pursued a case against Mr. Cohen, according to a person familiar with their relationship.

Mr. Berman declined to comment on the move to replace him. The announcement came late on a Friday night, a time of day when government officials sometimes release information so that it does not attract widespread attention.

The United States Attorney’s Office in Manhattan is perhaps the most prestigious federal prosecutor’s post in the country.

In 2016, John Oliver presented a shocking episode about charter schools.

It has been viewed by 12 million people.

Oliver was the first and possibly the only major media figure to discover that charter schools had some serious problems.

Some close in the middle of the year.

Watch his clip with John Kasich comparing education to getting more pepperoni on a slice of pizza.

Watch his clip of a charter operator quoting Scripture to excuse her criminal behavior.

Watch the clip of the owner of the for-profit White Hat charter chain, who says that “education is first, last, and always a business.”

Give John Oliver credit for being first to expose waste, fraud, and abuse in a new and very profitable industry.

I just finished the four-part series streaming on Netflix titled “Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich.”

It is an engrossing program, and it rightly focuses on the voices of the survivors (the women who speak out clearly prefer to be known as “survivors,” not “victims.”)

The indictment of Epstein is powerful. He lured scores of young, underage girls to his mansion in Palm Beach for his sexual pleasure. Some say that he engaged hundreds of girls, some as young as 14.

Epstein lived a life of splendor. In addition to his home in Palm Beach, he owned a mansion in Manhattan, a beautiful spread in New Mexico, an apartment in Paris, but he claimed that his home was an island that he owned called Little St. James, also referred to as Pedophile Island or Orgy Island. He also owned two jets.

You will see some celebrities, including Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew, and Alan Dershowitz. They appear in photographs with Epstein, but their memory of any relationship with him has faded. Jeffrey who?

Nothing is said about his relationship with Harvard, although he is seen wearing a a Harvard sweatshirt.

The fact that he taught at the private Dalton School in New York City is noted, which was curious since he never earned a college degree. Not mentioned is that he was hired by the Uber-conservative Headmaster Donald Barr, father of the current Attorney General William Barr.

The chief villain of the series Obviously is Epstein, as is his chief enabler Ghislaine Maxwell, daughter of the conservative British media mogul Robert Maxwell.

Another major villain is Alexander Acosta, who was the U.S. Attorney in Florida, who should have prosecuted Epstein years ago for sex trafficking of minors but instead made a secret sweetheart deal that allowed Epstein to get a short sentence that permitted him to leave jail six days a week, twelve hours a day to do as he wished. Trump named Acosta as Secretary of Labor, but when his velvet glove treatment of Epstein was revealed, he was forced to resign.

The survivors of Jeffrey Epstein were persistent in demanding accountability. For years, they thought that he would always be protected by his wealth and powerful connections. They were scarred for life by this monster.

The last episode raises questions about whether he committed suicide or was murdered. When you see his cell, it is hard to imagine that he hanged himself.

The advocacy group called Public Funds a Public Schools gathered a useful archive of research studies of vouchers.

The studies were conducted by nonpartisan academic and federal researchers.

The findings are broadly congruent.

Voucher schools are academically inferior to public schools.

Voucher schools divert funding from public schools, which enroll most children.

Voucher programs lack accountability.

The absence of oversight promotes fraud and corruption.

Voucher programs do not help students with disabilities.

Voucher schools are allowed to discriminate against certain groups of students and families.

Voucher programs exacerbate segregation.

Voucher programs don’t work, don’t improve education, and have multiple negative effects.

Robert Shepherd writes comments on the blog frequently, and he also writes his own blog. He is a recently retired teacher in Florida who spent decades as a writer, editor, and developer of curriculum and assessments in the education publishing industry.

Since he has often expresssed his views of the current occupant of the White House, I invited him to assemble a Trump glossary.

He did.

Some people respond to crises with focused, quiet intensity. Not our 73-year-old President in the orange clown makeup. He can’t stop tweeting and blabbering randomly and profusely. And what does he tweet and blab about? Well, he suggests holding events at his resorts, he attacks perceived enemies, and he praises himself. And then on Memorial Day, while others are laying a wreath on the grave of Uncle Javier who died in Vietnam, Trump accuses a journalist of murder and goes golfing.

This demonstrated lack of concern for others (for victims and survivors of natural disasters and war and disease, for example) shows that Donald Trump doesn’t give a microbe on a nit on a rat’s tushy about anything but Donald Trump. Obviously, he cares only about money (sorry, Evangelicals, his only God is Mammon) and about himself.

But hey, Trump’s a romantic figure, a man in love. This must be his appeal. And when he speaks, in his toddler English, about the love of his life, Donald Trump, you can be certain that he will use terms like “a winner,” “the greatest,” “the best,” and so on. He will tell you about his “great genes” and his uncle who was “a super genius [which is a lot better than an ordinary genius] at MIT.”

OK, over the years, I’ve had my disagreements with the man to whom I variously refer as Moscow’s Asset Governing America (MAGA); Don the Con; IQ 45; The Don, Cheeto “Little Fingers” Trumpbalone; Vlad’s Agent Orange; the Iota; our Child-Man in the Promised Land; our Vandal in Chief; Dog-Whistle Don; The Man with No Plan and the Tan in the Can; President Pinocchio; Trump on the Stump with His Chumps; Jabba the Trump; Don the Demented; King Con; Donnie DoLittle; the Stabul Jenius; Scrotus Potus; The Mornavirus trumpinski orangii; Ethelorange the Unready; our First Part-time President, now become, in his nonresponse to the pandemic, Donnie Death. However, I do agree with him that in descriptions of Trump, SUPERLATIVES ARE IN ORDER.

The British writer Nate White wisely observed, in a post that Diane Ravitch shared on her indispensable blog, that Donald Trump’s “faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws.” Trump is a one-person compendium of human vices and failings. In this respect, truly, HE HAS NO EQUAL. And so I offer here an ABECEDARIUM of adjectives, each of which demonstrably describes the occupant of the now Offal Office in the now Whiter House, the fellow who has shamed us before the world, made us a laughing stock, and led the now Repugnican Party in an unprecedented Limbo Dance (“how low, how low, how low can we go?).

Trump is. . . .

abhorrent, amoral, anti-democratic, arrogant, authoritarian, autocratic, avaricious, backward, base, benighted, bloated, blubbering, blundering, bogus, bombastic, boorish, bullying, bungling, cheap, childish, clownish, clueless, common, confused, conniving, corrupt, cowardly, crass, creepy, cretinous, criminal, crowing, crude, cruel, dangerous, delusional, demagogic, depraved, devious, dim, disgraceful, dishonest, disloyal, disreputable, dissembling, dog-whistling, doltish, dull, elitist, embarrassing, erratic, fascist, foolish, gauche, gluttonous, greedy, grudging, hate-filled, hateful, haughty, heedless, homophobic, humorless, hypocritical, idiotic, ignoble, ignominious, ignorant, immature, inarticulate, indolent, inept, inferior, insane, intemperate, irresponsible, kakistocratic, kleptocratic, laughable, loathsome, loud-mouthed, low-life, lying, mendacious, meretricious, monstrous, moronic, narcissistic, needy, oafish, odious, orange, outrageous, pampered, pandering, perverse, petty, predatory, puffed-up, racist, repulsive, rude, sanctimonious, semi-literate, senile, senseless, sexist, shady, shameless, sheltered, slimy, sluglike, sniveling, squeamish, stupid, swaggering, tacky, thick, thin-skinned, thuggish, toadying, transphobic, trashy, treasonous, twisted, ugly, unappealing, uncultured, uninformed, unprincipled, unread, unrefined, vain, venal, vicious, vile, and vulgar.

Aside from those peccadilloes (we all have our faults, don’t we?), I have no problem with the guy.

Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren wrote this opinion piece, which appeared in McClatchy newspapers across the country, including the Miami Herald.

Please open the link and read it in full.

Biden and Warren write:

Relief legislation passed by Congress provides critical support for hospitals, families, small businesses and local governments — efforts that will save lives and help cushion the economic blows of this pandemic.

As the price of their support for these measures, Trump and the Republicans insisted on a $500 billion slush fund for big businesses with minimal conditions — a fund Trump could use to reward his political friends and punish his political enemies. They also jammed in a tax cut that overwhelmingly benefits millionaires. This tax break will be particularly helpful to hedge funds and real estate investors like the president’s friends and family — on top of the $1 trillion in giveaways to the wealthy and big corporations Trump previously pushed through Congress. The administration has even allowed a fund meant for America’s small businesses to be used by wealthy, well-connected investors. The cost is more than simply tax dollars — Americans’ faith in government is undermined when the price of helping everyone else is more giveaways for those at the top.

The coronavirus rescue package imposed some oversight of these programs, but when he signed it, Trump said he’d ignore the law and prevent a new inspector general from communicating with Congress. He then appointed a White House loyalist to serve in that role. And just to be sure there was no real accountability, he fired another inspector general independently designated to oversee the bailout…

Trump seems to think he can direct funding for the response to this crisis based on which politicians are nice to him, which states he’s trying to win in November and which businesses he wants to enrich — all without any accountability. We have a different view.

Taxpayer relief should go to those most in need. Hospitals, essential workers, small businesses, and state and local governments should get the help they need immediately. If large corporations want help, they should agree not to turn around and fire all their workers. The relief bill’s unconscionable tax giveaway that overwhelmingly benefits millionaires should be repealed. But that is not enough.

They go on to write about barring conflicts of interest, noting that neither of them owns individual stocks as a matter of policy.

They warn about the power of lobbyists and the need for public disclosure of lobbying for special favors by big corporations.

And they call for strict oversight of the massive spending bills, including protection for Inspectors General and whistleblowers.

The corruption built into the coronavirus relief funds is appalling, and it is heartening to see Biden and Warren–both experienced pros on matters of oversight–insisting on transparency and regulation of this vast spending. It gives me hope that we might be able to get our country back, come November 2020.

Read more here: https://www.miamiherald.com/article242350451.html#storylink=cpy

Three whistleblowers in the U.S. Department of Education filed complaints that Betsy DeVos overruled internal reviews to award $72 million to the IDEA charter chain.

This is not the way federal grants are supposed to work. Funds are supposed to be awarded based on peer reviews and staff reviews, not awarded as plums by political appointees. This is political interference at the highest level. This award should be revoked.

I have often referred to the $440 million federal Charter Schools Program as DeVos’s private slush fund, and this grant proves that my hunch was right.

Valerie Strauss writes in the Washington Post:

A U.S. congressman is demanding answers from the U.S. Education Department, alleging department employees complained to his office about political interference in the awarding of a multimillion-dollar federal grant to the controversial IDEA charter school network.


Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) sent a letter to the department Monday asking for details and records related to the awarding of the grant.

In an interview, Pocan said “three whistleblowers” told his office that professional staff evaluating applications for 2020 grants from the federal Charter School Program had rejected IDEA for new funding, deeming the network “high risk” because of how IDEA leaders previously spent federal funds.


But according to these whistleblowers, Pocan said, professional staff was overruled by political appointees who ordered the funding be awarded to IDEA. The identities of the whistleblowers were not revealed to The Post, nor were the names of the political appointees.


The Education Department did not respond to a request for comment.


IDEA, a Texas-based charter school network with nearly 100 campuses in Texas and Louisiana serving nearly 53,000 students, said in a statement:
”Peer reviewers from education and other fields evaluate grant applications independently from Department of Education staff. In three of the last four Charter Schools Program competitions, spanning two administrations and including the most recent round of grants, the independent reviewers who evaluated applications gave IDEA Public Schools the highest scores of any applicant in the country. (In 2017, IDEA received the second-highest score.) All of the outside reviewers’ scores and comments are public on the Department’s website, and we encourage anyone doubting the strength of IDEA’s applications and our 20-year track record with students to read those reviews.”


Earlier this month, the Education Department announced it was awarding millions of dollars in new grants to charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated. IDEA was the top recipient, receiving $72 million over five years.

IDEA had previously received more than $200 million in funding over the past decade through the program.



But the network has been dogged by controversy. This month, IDEA chief executive Tom Torkelson resigned after publicly apologizing for “really dumb and unhelpful” plans that included leasing a private jet for millions of dollars and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on San Antonio Spurs tickets.

The Texas Monitor reported last month that Torkelson had flown on a private jet to Tampa to meet with DeVos to discuss “education philanthropy,” records show. The Monitor reported he was the only passenger on a jet that can hold nine people.


Last November, the Education Department’s inspector general criticized IDEA in an audit of data IDEA included in annual performance reviews it submitted to the federal government, required as part of the grants received from the federal Charter Schools Program.
The inspector general concluded that IDEA Public Schools “did not provide complete and accurate information” for all performance measures on annual performance reports over three years and did not report any information for 84 percent of the performance measures on which it was required to report over two years.

Still, IDEA had certified its annual performance reports were “true, complete and accurate.”
The audit also found IDEA “did not always spend grant funds in accordance with federal cost principles and its approved grant applications.”
IDEA acknowledged some of the findings, took issue with others, and agreed with all the recommendations from the inspector general to improve internal procedures.


That inspector general report, together with the suggestion that political appointees pushed through more grant money, should spark an even deeper inspection of IDEA, Pocan said in an interview.
“There needs to be an investigation,” Pocan said. “This would be completely improper to take a program that has to have inspector general reports and a lot of media attention about bad decisions they’ve made, and then to get a grant that wasn’t approved by the professional staff and instead given for political reasons.”