Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Will Cuomo Join the Feds to Wield The RICO Laws to Go After the Pensiongate Mob?

Organized Crime Politics & Finance

Could AG Cuomo team up with Federal prosecutors to invoke the RICO Act and bring down the Pensiongate mob?

As prosecutors across the country continue to put the pieces together of the Pensiongate scandal, it is becoming increasingly apparent that pay-for-play is not just a few isolated incidents in New York, but a vast multi-state criminal conspiracy carefully orchestrated by corrupt powerbrokers. Only in this case it isn’t a don or The Five Families running the con, it’s top elected officials across the country and their politically connected cronies.

The comparison between the Pensiongate co-conspirators and the mafia isn’t far-fetched. But whereas Jimmy Hoffa opened the Teamsters’ pension fund to the mob in exchange for political influence, in this case, Hank Morris and Company allegedly used their insiders’ influence to enrich themselves and their politician friends upon state and city pension funds in New York, California, Texas, New Mexico – and likely more to come.

Despite the geographic distance between the states, there seems to have been little division among the Pensiongate perps when it came to pocketing the hard-earned money of union workers. With Attorney General Cuomo’s announcement yesterday that an associate of Hank Morris’s, Julio Ramirez, has pled guilty to securities fraud – likely in exchange for his testimony against Morris – we’re almost certain to learn more about Morris’s involvement in Pensiongate in the near future. What is clear, according to the Daily News, is that “Morris, the indicted top political aide to former state Controller [sic] Alan Hevesi, had his tentacles in public pension funds from sea to shining sea.”

Ramirez was the middleman between the company he worked for, Dan Weinstein’s Los Angeles-based Wetherly Capital, and Morris’s company Searle & Co. In exchange for securing Wetherly $50 million to invest from New York State’s $122 billion pension fund, Morris and Ramirez pocked $630,000 in fees.

But Morris got more than just a one-time fee for opening New York State’s pension coffers to Weinstein and Wetherly. According to ProPublica, Wetherly also shared fees with Morris’s company for helping a private equity firm seal three multimillion dollar deals with California funds. The funds were the California Public Employees’ Retirement System – the nation’s biggest pension fund – the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, and the Los Angeles Fire and Police Pensions.

ProPublica also reports that Wetherly, founded by Dan Weinstein, a prominent Democratic fundraiser in California and former union political operative there, has made $230,000 in political contributions since the firm opened in 2001. While at least $56,000 of this money went to board members of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) or “candidates for positions such as state controller or treasurer with a seat on the board”, Wetherly also made sure to give generously to the overseers of New York’s pension funds. Since 2005, Wetherly and its clients have given $50,000 in contributions to New York City Comptroller William Thompson, who sits on the boards of the five New York City pension funds, and largely controls how these funds are administered.

Since Alan Hevesi resigned at the end of 2006 as State Comptroller as part of a guilty plea involving (amazingly) a different scandal than Pensiongate, Wetherly sought to maintain strong ties to New York State’s pension fund by donating $2,500 to Hevesi’s successor, current State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. “The donation came seven months after a Wetherly client, Levine Leichtman Capital Partners of Los Angeles, won a $50 million commitment from the fund, records show. A DiNapoli spokesman said the donation has since been returned because it violated the comptroller’s personal ethics standards and that DiNapoli’s office was not aware of Wetherly’s connection to the corruption scandal “until their name showed up” in the indictment [of Hank Morris].”

The Morris-Weinstein alliance is just a single strand of the tangled web of corruption and criminality that has ensnared so many of the nation’s largest pension funds. In a statement yesterday, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo hinted at the tremendous scope of his probe, “This investigation has uncovered a matrix of corruption, which grows more expansive and interconnected by the day.”

So entwined are the cast of characters behind Pensiongate that you need one of those pyramidal charts the F.B.I. uses in movies to rank its ‘most wanted’ to keep track of all their connections. It is the sheer magnitude of Cuomo’s investigation that makes RICO a natural fit to prosecute Pensiongate. While invoking the RICO Act would mean that Cuomo would have to partner with Federal authorities and in so doing likely cede overall control of the investigation, it is appearing increasingly necessary for him to do so in order to bring so many perpetrators across so many states to justice.

While the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (or RICO) is best known as the government’s most powerful weapon against the mob, the law has a much wider scope and has been used in such wide-ranging prosecutions as the 1984 criminal corruption case against the Key West Police Department and the insider trading case that sent financier Michael Milken to prison. By definition, RICO applies not to a specific criminal act, but a pattern of criminal activity relating to “any enterprise affecting interstate or foreign commerce.”
Julio Ramirez’s guilty plea is an important missing link in proving just how organized the interstate criminal enterprise of the Pensiongate perps really was (and perhaps continues to be). Another long strand connecting Morris to some of the other principals in the Pensiongate scandal began with Ramirez. According to Cuomo’s office, Ramirez also introduced Morris to Saul Meyer, the founder of Dallas-based Aldus Equity, a private equity advisor to public pension funds in New York State, New York City, California, and New Mexico.

According to SEC securities fraud charges filed on April 30th by Attorney General Cuomo against Aldus Equity, Meyer’s company paid Morris $320,000 in exchange for Aldus bring picked to manage $175 million of New York State’s pension fund. As the Daily News reported, “Cuomo and the SEC said Aldus was picked after another firm wouldn't pay Morris… "Aldus was chosen by the pension plan because of Aldus' willingess to illegally line the pockets of others," said James Clarkson, acting director of the SEC's New York regional office.”

After securing the initial $175 million investment from the New York State pension fund, Aldus returned to Comptroller Alan Hevesi’s office in 2006, this time walking away with an additional $200 million, or $375 million in total. On this occasion, alleges Cuomo’s suit against Aldus, Alan Hevesi’s son, former State Senator Dan Hevesi was the beneficiary of the quid pro quo. In exchange for continued access to the New York State pension fund, Aldus recommended that a $25 million deal for Catterson Partners be approved in New Mexico, netting Dan Hevesi a $250,000 fee.

With so many rich and powerful players embroiled in this massive scandal, who then is the “boss of all bosses” among the Pensiongate family? Hank Morris? Alan Hevesi? Steven Rattner? Bill Richardson? Bill Thompson? That’s still not clear. In this case, it seems more than likely that rather than a godfather, there were several captains working in tandem on their respective turfs, similar to the arrangement the mafia brokered in 1957 at the infamous Apalachian Meeting. Regardless, as the investigation continues to unfold, we’ll have a clearer portrait of who among the alleged co-conspirators was taking orders and who was giving them.

True News Pensiongate Coverage to This Point Organized Crime Politics: Comptroller Office for Sale $$$ *** OUT OF COMPTROL, AS SCANDAL SPREADS, CITY COMPTROLLER CANDIDATES LOOK FOR BIGGER ROCK TO HIDE UNDER *** Steve Rattner the Untouchable *** Cuomo: The New Sheriff of Wall Street *** NY PensionGate Explodes in New Mexico *** The Silence of the Lions: What the Comptroller Candidates Don't Want You to Know *** The Wolf at Thompson's Door *** Will the Cuomo Pension Investigation Take on the Establishment? *** Organized Crime Politics *** Organized Crime Politics Part 1

Pensiongate HEDGE BIG ADMITS NY BRIBE ROLE A former state pension fund "placement agent" secretly pleaded guilty two months ago to kicking back fees to Hank Morris, former state Comptroller Alan Hevesi's political and guru, and is cooperating in the far-reaching probe *** California Pulled Into New York Pension Inquiry *** Julio Ramirez, a middleman with ties to Hank Morris, pleads guilty to securities fraud *** Cuomo says Morris associate pleads guilty to fraud *** US pension funds need curbs on campaign donations: NY *** The public pension bomb *** NYC asks SEC to bar pension advisers' campaign gifts
*** Ex-Blackstone Pension Agent Pleads Guilty to Fraud (Update3)

Nobody Asked Me, But . . . NYP Hillary says disgraced Democratic fund-raiser Norman Hsu would "single-handedly" help her win the presidency, but does not say how he got around campaign finance regulations to pump so much money into her campaigns. Were others involved? Also left out of the NYP story are any comments by local pols awash in Hsu money - AG Andrew Cuomo: $50,100, Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau: $2,000, - Council Speaker, Christine Quinn: $4,950, State Democratic Party: $45,000, Comptroller Bill Thompson: $4,950, State Senate Democratic Campaign Committee $5,000, Councilman John Liu: $4,950, Rep. Anthony Weiner: $4,250. Is the media afraid of the backlash from Asian American Pols? "The best we can hope for from the Hsu affair is that it doesn’t lead to a witch hunt as happened in the Huang case," comptroller candidate John Liu. . . . NYP pushes Albany to go with mayoral control KEY POLS' DISTRICTS GOT MAYORAL-CONTROL BOOST and for good reason Albany bill would weaken Bloomberg's grip on schools; 5 pols on board . . . The Odd Couple or threesome NYP, the Voice Wayne Barrett and Bloomberg Bloomberg and the Teachers' Union - May 13, 2009 It's (almost) summertime, and the Mayor's campaigning is easy. So easy, he can roll over the union this time—and should. . . Is Judge Sullivan trying to get crooked ex-pol Brian McLaughlin to rat on more of his Friends, by warning him he may get hammered harder than he expected? EX-POL FACES HARDER SLAP . . . As the MTA leadership melts down Sander gets pushed out the door, and New Yorkers are hit with another fare hike. The NYT as usual, adds a happy story Is This Your Stop? Pull the Cord, Like Old Times . . . Since when is it bias for a newspaper to oppose Albany? How would you like it if the Buffalo News attacked The Albany Project for having a Conflict of Interest because one its top reporters now works for the senate democrats? The Buffalo News Bias Against The New York State Senate Majority . . . I can just smell the pay to play contributions coming on this one: Residential Real Estate Developers seek gov’t-backed loans . . . NYT news 24/7 news ticker looks a lot like twitter: NYTimes launches new Web feature . . . Who else knew? Records Show Billions Withdrawn Before Madoff Arrest, Madoff pals hit with lawsuit . . . How the hell does this guy expect to get away with this pay to play crap? True News was first to expose mayoral candidate Thompson for helping out his former employees and friends with pension dollars The Wolf at Thompson's Door , now the voice Robbins has done it for the second time in three weeks: Another Thompson Supporter Rings Up a Big Pension Fund Score *** Bill Thompson Has His Own Pension Pals . . . It is clear why Katz does not want to talk about Pensiongate Katz in the Cradle. Katz’s connections to Hevesi’s horde are far from ancient history. Her campaign spokesperson is none other than Marc Guma, Hank Morris’s former partner in the consulting company Morris, Carrick, and Guma. As partners, Morris and Guma contributed $52,972 to the New Mexico Democratic Party in February 2001. Not surprisingly, Steven Rattner’s Quadrangle Group later hired Morris as a third-party broker in New Mexico to secure a $20 million commitment to one of its private equity funds, allegedly kicking back millions to his bag man Morris according to the AG’s indictment. Guma has also been paid hundreds of thousands from the state senate democrat committee over the years, is there a connection to lack of oversight of morris and company? . . . Is this the best your consultants can do to help you? Kirsten Gillibrand insists she's not a flip-flopper.

Pay to Play HILL THRILLED BY CAMPAIGN 'CHEAT' CLINTON'S 'FAWN' CALLS AIRED AT $$-RAISER TRIAL *** 'HEVESI' RAP ON TOP DOC *** Ex-NY health commish pleads innocence *** DN Editorial: Toxic waste dump Not since the demise of Boss Tweed has the muck in Albany flowed so thick and heavy. Yesterday's indictment of ex-Health Commissioner Antonia Novello as a taxpayer-abusing shopaholic was merely icing on the mire *** Jury hears Hillary's call to swindler Norman Hsu *** Novello charged with defrauding gov't *** Is It Time For Ethics Reform In Albany? *** IG: Fire Public Integrity Head Over Troopergate *** The New Public Integrity Commission's First Test *** Report: State Official Leaked "Choppergate" Info *** Spitzer's 'Trooopergate': The fallout never ends *** Paterson cleans house at the Commission on Public Integrity *** Teitelbaum: IG’s report permeated with ‘unjust, inaccurate aspersions’


The Stick they use: 4 firehouses doomed; Scoppetta warns 12 are on life support
Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta

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