Guatemala President Resigns Amid Corruption Scandal

Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina resigns amid corruption scandal

The corruption scandal, uncovered by prosecutors and a U.N. commission probing criminal networks in Guatemala, involved a scheme known as “La Linea,” or “The Line,” in which businesspeople paid bribes to avoid import duties through the customs agency. The ring is believed to have defrauded the state of millions of dollars.

The scandal has already claimed the job of former Vice President Roxana Baldetti, whose ex-personal secretary is accused of being the ringleader. Baldetti resigned May 8 and is currently in jail awaiting trial on accusations she took millions of dollars in bribes.

Protesters fill the streets almost daily over the scandal, demanding not only that Perez Molina step down but that next Sunday’s presidential elections be postponed. He says delaying the vote would be against the law.

Perez Molina is constitutionally barred from seeking reelection, and whoever becomes his successor would take office in January.

Those voting against Perez Molina in congress included members of his own ruling party.

Read more here >>
http://www.latimes.com/world/mexico-americas/la-fg-guatemala-president-judge-order-20150902-story.html

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De Blasio’s 2013 campaign committee under investigation | New York Post

Looks like my colleagues at City and State dogged reporting snagged another pol (see Laura Nahmias reporting on ex-assemblyman William Boyland) playing games with campaign finance rules. The de Blasio campaign deny that they did any illegal coordination with 1199SEIU in 2013.

The NY Post reported today:

The Campaign Finance Board has been looking into possible violations by Mayor de Blasio’s 2013 campaign committee for coordinating operations with powerful Local 1199 SEIU — his most important supporter.

Board officials asked the de Blasio campaign to account for a host of “coordinated” activities described in an Oct. 10, 2013, City & State magazine interview of Local 1199 political director Kevin Finnegan, documents obtained by The Post show.

The interview raised red flags at the board because the campaign had paid the union only about $19,000 at that point. Unpaid coordinated campaigning violates regulations because it circumvents spending limits.

A de Blasio lawyer wrote to the board 15 days later, claiming the article contained “significant” errors.

Read more here >> http://nypost.com/2015/09/02/de-blasios-2013-campaign-committee-under-investigation/

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New campaign leisure spending ruling leaves ‘gray area’ | New York Post

Yes, the partisan and gridlocked NYS Board of Elections ruled that spending campaign cash on junkets is permissible as long as the campaign funds only pay a portion (50%, 75%,  99%?) of the related expenses and pols document receipts. It was a pipe dream, if goo-goos thought the BOE would establish a ban.

The NY Post reported:

“Political candidates can use campaign funds to pay for trips that mix business and pleasure, the state Board of Elections has ruled.

In contentious voting Tuesday, board members voted to allow funds to be used on such mixed junkets, providing that expenses are broken down and campaign funds pay only for a portion of the trip.

Although it wasn’t immediately clear how the costs would be divided, critics predicted the worst.

“They’re going to use that [ruling] for airfare and lodging,” one detractor at the meeting griped.

Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters said the board’s actions “leave a very gray area for personal use of campaign funds.”

“We ought to ban it,” she said. “Ban it! If you’re going on a junket, use your own money.”

Read more here >> http://nypost.com/2015/09/02/new-campaign-leisure-spending-ruling-leaves-gray-area/

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Editorial: Right on the money – NY Daily News

Key paragraphs in NY Daily News editorial re State Bd of Elections new enforcement counsel tackling LLC donations (controlled by a single donor) given an unsuccessful Brooklyn Assembly candidate:

“[Risa] Sugarman — who was appointed not by the board, but by Gov. Cuomo — contends that Patterson’s LLC donations were illegal. In effect, she says, Maloney had violated the $4,100 cap on contributions to an Assembly candidate, and Patterson’s campaign had failed to identify her contributor by his true name, as required.

“These arguments cut to the heart of why the LLC loophole is so corrosive to honest politics.

“They also apply equally well to an awful lot of other money sloshing around Albany’s campaign accounts.

“Cuomo himself is the No. 1 recipient of LLC cash — including $4.3 million during his reelection campaign and another $1.4 million this year.

“And the single largest LLC donor is Glenwood Management, a major New York City landlord and developer implicated (but not accused of wrongdoing) in the federal corruption indictments against both ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and ex-Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.

“That Sugarman bypassed these big fish to go after small fry like Patterson and Maloney is eye-browing raising, to be sure.”

Via http://m.nydailynews.com/opinion/editorial-money-article-1.2341119

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Queens lawmaker warns staff to clean up any ‘baby-mama drama’ | New York Post

Spooked by federal prosecutor Preet Bharara’s crackdown on Albany, a Queens lawmaker warned his staffers to keep their noses clean in case any investigator tried to turn them against him.

State Sen. James Sanders told employees late last year that the feds were investigating him and that anyone with “baby-mama drama” or a “white powder issue” should resolve it immediately, said a source close to Sanders.

“He said, ‘The Department of Justice has launched an investigation, and they will turn over every rock to try to get to me,’ ” the source recalled.

“And he told the staff, ‘Anyone in here who has baby-mama drama, who has a little white-powder issue, and I’m telling you to clean up your acts, because they are coming, and they are coming strong, and they will come after y’all to get to me.’ ”

The Democrat allegedly said the inquiry concerned his campaign activities and spanned his time in the City Council but revealed little else at a staff briefing after a forum at the Omega Psi Phi Day Care Center in South Ozone Park.

He assured staff, “You’re not going to find anything on me,” the source said.

“He would say all the time, ‘I’m a chess player. I’m very strategic. I’m an analytical thinker.’ ”

Asked about the claims, Sanders said, “The story is too silly to comment on.”

A spokesman for Bharara, the US attorney, also declined to comment.

Sanders served in the City Council from 2002 to 2012 and has been a state senator since January 2013.

He doled out nearly $3 million in council slush funds to Queens groups between 2008 and 2013, city records show. But he has had funding troubles.

He raised only $293,962 — and spent $324,941 — in his council run, city campaign-finance records say. In his Senate bids, he collected $221,020 and spent $324,941, state records say.

Sanders said he earned $75,000 to $100,000 in 2013 but owed $30,000 to the city Campaign Finance Board, state records show.

He acknowledged his house went into foreclosure as a result of predatory lending in 2011.

“His finance are a shamble. He has no assets; he hasn’t raised money. It’s frustrating,” said a former aide who declined to be identified.

Feds contacted two Sanders aides — Mike Duvalle and Tajuana Hamm — after the lawmaker told staff about the probe, one Sanders source said.

Investigators opened the inquiry into Sanders about two years ago, an FBI agent told another source.

Via http://nypost.com/2015/08/30/queens-lawmaker-warns-staff-to-clean-up-any-baby-mama-drama/

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Straight Outta Ethics

Photo editorial by Brian Alapatt

image

One wag tweeted, “The LWA (Legislators With Attitude) follow up album was “Get Rich Or Die Trying.”

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Pal of De Blasio Aide Gets $150K Gig

Mayor de Blasio created a $150,000-a-year job to boost his national immigration agenda — and then the cushy position was handed to the live-in girlfriend of one of his most trusted aides, The Post has learned.

Stephanie Yazgi, 38, the longtime partner of senior mayoral aide Emma Wolfe, 35, was hired in May for the unadvertised position of “campaign director” in the mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.

[…]

[Stephanie] Yazgi has worked at the liberal-leaning Center for Popular Democracy — where she was also hired by Agarwal — and served as the secretary of UPKNYC, the nonprofit “grass-roots campaign” that pushed de Blasio’s universal pre-K plan.

To take the new job, she left a community-organizer post at Hilltop Public Solutions, the consulting firm that handled de Blasio’s mayoral campaign.

Yazgi shares a Brooklyn apartment with Wolfe.

Read the full story here:

http://nypost.com/2015/08/13/gal-pal-of-top-de-blasio-aide-hired-for-cushy-150k-a-year-gig/?utm_campaign=SocialFlow&utm_source=NYPTwitter&utm_medium=SocialFlow

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De Blasio’s campaign committee still paying firm over a year later — NYPost.com

The NY Post is reporting that records show “Mayor de Blasio’s 2013 campaign committee has continued to pay big bucks for services from a prominent public-relations firm more than a year after the mayoral race ended.”

According to the NY Post story:

“Campaign experts who reviewed the payments at The Post’s request said they were puzzled by the need for those types of services and expenses so long after the election.

The New Yorkers for de Blasio committee earmarked $45,000 for the Brooklyn arm of DC-based Hilltop Public Solutions between January and July 2015 — including four months each of $10,000 in billings, according to state campaign filings.

During the first six months immediately after the campaign ended — the busiest part of the wind-down — Hilltop was paid a lesser $37,500 for its role.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” said one campaign- finance expert who insisted on anonymity out of concern about speaking out against the mayor. “It definitely doesn’t look like they should be paying that kind of money.” [Read more here.]

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Nemesis Drops Discrimination Suit Against Bronx BP Diaz

Sources say that Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz’s former staffer and long time ally Camella_Pinkney-Price_FacebookCamella Pinkney-Price has quietly dropped the racial discrimination lawsuit she filed after she was dismissed from her $82,000-a-year job as deputy chief of staff to Diaz in 2013. Insiders knew the lawsuit to be baseless and expected today’s outcome.

“As public servants, we have an obligation to fight meritless lawsuits. This case has been withdrawn, discontinued and dismissed with prejudice.  We are pleased with the outcome and that public monies were not squandered in an unwarranted settlement,” said John DeSio, communications director for Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., in  a statement.

In a telephone interview, Ms. Pinkney-Price said she withdrew her lawsuit after seeing documents showing that Diaz did not act in a discriminatory manner when he fired her. “When I saw additional documents I learned that my dismissal was not based solely on (racial) discrimination, I decided to withdraw,” said Pinkney-Price. She acknowledged that certain information is privileged and she can not discuss that.

Bx BP Ruben DiazThe news that Pinkney-Price has dropped her lawsuit comes at a time when Diaz’s name is being raised a future citywide, ie, mayoral, candidate in 2021, if not sooner. Last year, Diaz co-chaired Governor Andrew Cuomo’s re-election campaign. Diaz has crisscrossed the city in recent months in an effort to build his name-recognition and base of support. And as Bronx President, he has been pro-growth advocate and has benefited from the borough’s improving economic and housing fortunes. And it can’t hurt that his best bud, is freshman Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie. 

Sources say that the case was withdrawn with prejudice and therefore Ms. Price is precluded from refiling it at a later date.

Since her dismissal, Pinkney-Price has been a thorn in the side of her former ally. Last year, She supported insurgent challengers against Senator Rev. Ruben Diaz, Sr. and Assemblyman Marcos Crespo.

She has filed with the NYC Campaign Finance Board as a 2017 candidate for Bronx Borough President. To-date, Pinkney-Price has raised a meager total of $4540 in campaign donations to Diaz’s heftier $434,775. She only raised $1800 in the past six months. Most of the donations have come from family and friends. Pinkney-Price says that she will step up her fundraising next year.

If Camella wants to be a serious contender, she is going to have to put her fundraising on “steroids.”

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Bound By Laws Forged In Corruption

Albany Capitol Bldg

[A version of the column appeared in CityandStateNY.com]

In the Olympics and pro cycling, athletes suspected of cheating, i.e., using performance enhancing drugs, are investigated and, if found guilty, are stripped of their medals and championship titles. In New York, however, convicted corrupt lawmakers keep their pensions and the laws they enacted, while the public is left holding the bag.

This year’s stunning arrests of former top two legislative leaders Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos seem to indicate something insidious and corrosive was afoot. The scope of the indictments have caused me to seriously question allowing the laws they championed, negotiated and steered into enactment to remain legally binding on the people of New York.

In June, Mickey Carroll, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll said, “Four out of five voters think the leadership domination helps lead to corruption.” In the same Q-poll, more than two-thirds of respondents faulted Three Men in a Room as a cause of corruption in Albany.

state_of_state_2015_three_amigos_slide

As it stands, polls indicate that overwhelming numbers of New Yorkers say government corruption is a serious problem. But pollsters don’t ask voters if they should be governed by laws emerging from a corrupt process.

One published report noted that the criminal charges against former Speaker Sheldon Silver contain “vague references to how he sold out tenants the last time the protections expired in 2011 as part of a corrupt deal with a developer.”

When asked about the renewal of rent laws every few years, former Majority Leader Dean Skelos responded that “[sunsets] add excitement.” In other words, opponents and proponents spend money and make donations to political campaigns to gain access and to be heard. Extortion or corruption, some might say.

Albany_Madness_handcuffs_imagesDisgraced former Assemblyman Eric Stevenson was convicted of taking $20,000 to sponsor legislation giving his confederates a monopoly in adult day care services. He effectively rented his lawmaking ability to Russian criminals. Stevenson’s bill never saw the light of day.

Whether or not Stevenson could have gotten his adult day care moratorium enacted is debatable. One Albany veteran pointed out that even if the moratorium were enacted, it required the vote of Legislature and therefore it could not be invalidated because the entire Legislature wasn’t bribed.

It’s strikingly that there has been no talk of reviewing the legislation, tax breaks and funds negotiated and allocated by the two indicted leaders. Perhaps, even the most ardent of reformers are reluctant to embrace this idea because it would create a crisis of governance.

When I posed this question to Zephyr Teachout, whose book, Corruption In Americalooks at the history of legislative and judicial responses to corruption in government, I realized it created a conundrum. In her book Professor Teachout discusses U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall’s decision to enforce the Yazoo land grant which was passed by a bribed legislature. She concludes that Marshall “had no clear way to tell the difference between a bribed legislature and an unbribed one.”  Apparently, the same conclusion would pertain in Albany, today.

Professor Gerald Benjamin says that narrowly defined parameters must be established in order to allocate identifiable behavior or outcome due to the influence of a particular legislator, corrupt or not. Otherwise, like many others with whom I have spoken, Professor Benjamin believes every bill would be subject to the threat of invalidation.

Hunter College professor emeritus Kenneth Sherrill suggests that the Legislature must hold robust public hearing on matters of substance and controversy. Important matters determined by the give and take of the closed door budget negotiations carries with it the taint of something underhanded. The confluence of money, backdoor dealing and secret behind closed door deals allows the abuse of power which harms our civic and legislative culture.

Brian Kolb, minority leader in the Assembly agrees with Prof. Sherrill’s call for robust public hearings and debates on important and controversial matters, such as changing rent laws, 421a, the SAFE Act, and education tax credits. Kolb also wants to democratize the legislative process and for leaders to quit hiding behind closed doors.

In my five years out of office, the scales have fallen from my eyes. I now believe that chambers must democratize, hold more public hearings on major legislation and use joint conference committees to hammer out agreed upon legislation, instead of relying upon closed door meetings between their leaders and the governor.

And lastly, laws found to be the product of corrupt conspiracies should be reviewed by a joint legislative panel for repeal or amendment. If victories and milestones achieved by athletes who cheat are investigated and then stripped why should we be bound by laws forged by corruption?

Perhaps, Professor Sherrill is right when he told me that “severe punishment may be the only way to cure the [Legislature].”

Twitter: @SquarePegDem

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