Wednesday, March 25, 2020

To Address Corruption, Pennsylvania Must Change Laws That Enable It

Philly mag archive: Photo: Matt Rourke/AP; Illustration: Gluekit
By A. Benjamin Mannes
for BigTrial.net

When most Americans think of corruption, images of the Daley machine in Chicago, Tammany Hall in New York and New Orleans’ timeline from Huey Long to Ray Nagin come to mind.

Pennsylvania, however – more specifically Philadelphia, are topping national statistics on corruption. 

In looking at the last decade alone, the City of Brotherly Love has seen both its congressman marred in ethics scandals, one imprisoned and the other “retired” following the revelation of a scandal in where his rival (a Judge) was bribed to bow out of the race against him. 

Currently, two sitting City Council members are still collecting taxpayer salaries while under federal indictment. The former District Attorney is in prison and new scandals arise each week surrounding his radically-progressive successor, Larry Krasner.

Krasner has reportedly hired credentialed unit chiefs and supervisors at the city’s top law enforcement agency who had recent criminal histories, appointed one of his personal debtors and fired a myriad of seasoned professionals to appoint prosecutors with no experience who failed the bar exam. 

One such questionable appointee of DA Larry Krasner was Movita Johnson-Harrell. She defrauded her charity to donate to the Krasner campaign, securing her job there, then, she took more of that money to run for the State Representative seat in West Philly. 

Her conviction and subsequent removal from that seat was embarrassingly the third elected representative in a row that had been removed from that seat due to a criminal conviction. 

Add these recent scandals to the famed “sting case” in where former PA Attorney General Kathleen Kane tried to shut down a corruption case that caught four Philadelphia-area State Representatives and two Judges accepting bribes. 

All the defendants caught on tape are now convicted. Also convicted and imprisoned was Kane, for leaking grand jury information about the former head of the Philadelphia NAACP.

So why the rampant waste, fraud and abuse that impacts the lives of Philadelphians each day so accepted? Look no further than the city’s political infrastructure, and the laws on the books; some of which were enacted in the city’s home rule charter under the guise of “reform."

You see, unlike many American states, Pennsylvania lacks a hierarchy in where state officials can step in and remove locally elected or appointed leaders for gross mismanagement, incompetence or worse – an allegation of corruption short of an actual conviction.

For the many who were left scratching their heads when Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski and Congressman Chaka Fattah were allowed to stay in office for upwards of two years while under federal indictment for their respective public corruption and pay-to-play politics cases, it’s because Pennsylvania’s laws come up short when it comes to a state, county or city’s ability to oust elected officials from office.

Even worse, Philadelphia’s home rule charter, which was written in 1952 in a reform measure against the then-Republican machine that ran the city; makes it the only “City of the First Class” in Pennsylvania.

The home rule charter codified less state oversight for the Commonwealth’s largest city, which is why there’s laws against election-day security, elected constables and enforced performance for elected leaders. Furthermore, the charter enacted the city’s campaign finance laws. 

While these laws are great in theory, in Philadelphia they guarantee that candidates outside the political machine here will never have the resources to buy expensive media or get out the vote campaigns; unless they have an angel donor willing to fund their campaign to the tune of $1.45M dollars, like George Soros.

As a former member and student of the Association of Inspectors General, I can attest to the fact that nothing breeds corruption worse than “machine” and “identity” politics. This means that politicians get elected because they are placed on the ballot and/or pushed to voters by a connected group of stakeholders that have run their political party for generations (the machine). Or worse, politicians run and win based on their “identity”, which places characteristics like race, gender, religion or political platform over the candidate’s actual ability to do the job they’re running for. 

If you don’t believe me, consider these questions:

1. If you personally needed a lawyer, doctor or accountant – would you hire the most learned, studious scholar in the field with a track record in that role, or someone you identified with because of their race, gender, religion or political affiliation?

2. Would you select that professional to possibly save your life, freedom and/or finances because they traded favors with your union, clergy or political party?

3. In Philadelphia, do we elect the most educated, experienced and qualified people to lead our city?

Of course we don’t.…and this is how corruption breeds so rampantly.

First, let’s consider the machine. Currently, both John Dougherty, the business manager of Electrician’s Local 98, which is quite possibly the city’s largest political patron, and Bobby Henon, the former political director of Local 98 and a current Philadelphia city councilman, are under federal indictment alleging egregious examples of corruption, such as allegedly extorting the Children’s Hospital. [Both Dougherty and Henon have pleaded innocent to the charges.]

Despite being under an indictment that literally brings hours of wiretap recordings to the table, Henon was reelected to his Council seat. He joins fellow-federal defendant Kenyatta Johnson, who was also elected to his council seat despite his indictment and record of anti-Semitic behavior

While union participation in the political process is in no way, tantamount to corrupt behavior, it is important to understand that almost every incumbent politician reelected in Philadelphia was aided in money, manpower, and endorsement by local 98.

Examining identity politics, consider the current wave of “woke” politicians coming into local elected office as a backlash to the aforementioned machine that has run the city since the 1950s. The most glaring examples are the recent elections of Sheriff Rochelle Bilal and District Attorney Larry Krasner.

Starting with the Sheriff, it should be noted that the office has been scandal ridden since the administration of now-imprisoned Sheriff John Green, who was elected in 1987. That tradition continued on to Bilal’s predecessor, Jewell Williams, who spent a short time as a Temple University police officer before becoming a State Representative for the 197th District from 2001-2012. 

This is the same district that’s had three elected predecessors since have all resigned amid corruption scandals and/or felony convictions. Williams himself ran for reelection in a recent primary against Bilal, despite a slew of sexual harassment and race discrimination lawsuits and lost. That was largely because Bilal won the support of both the #MeToo movement and Black Lives Matter, a group not normally sought after in an election to a law enforcement office.

In examining the issue at hand, look at the Sheriff’s official bio – which in the first paragraph highlights Bilal as “the first elected African American woman sheriff, in the 181-year history of the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office. In fact, Sheriff Bilal is the department’s first-ever elected woman.”

Her bio also highlights the fact that she served on the Philadelphia Police Department for 27 years as well as being the public safety director for Colwyn Boro, but it doesn’t highlight her absence of graduate education or command experience. 

While this may sound like I’m picking on the sheriff, it should be stated that the Philadelphia sheriff does less than its counterparts in the three bigger and three smaller cities in population. In a city with one of the lowest delinquent tax collection rates; and highest poverty rate of any large city in America, one would think we would elect a sheriff with management acumen, who is a proven policy innovator who can reform the highest elected civil law enforcement agency in the city.

More important than ever, the city needs a sheriff proven to reform the office from generations of corruption. And that's a difficult task for Bilal, who left her positions in both Colwyn and Philadelphia under a cloud of disciplinary scandal. Then, her first acts as the elected sheriff is to host a fundraiser for Sheriff Green upon his departure for federal prison and to fire the official charged with financial accountability there. 

Then there’s the election of DA Larry Krasner, who was elected not on racial, sexual or religious identity - but because of his progressive political agenda. While Krasner was an attorney for 30 years, he had spent his whole career in defense, and had never worked as a prosecutor. 

Upon his election to the District Attorney’s office, he himself characterized himself as a “Public Defender with Power." His election has led to a myriad of declined and/or downgraded prosecutions, so much so that his office has blocked legally-filed public records requests as to the reasons so many cases were declined. 

While crime continues to surge despite the COVID-19 outbreak, Krasner’s own tweets haven’t condemned the criminals who prey on society amid a public health crisis. Instead, he has called for the release of prisoners in a manner that can only be described as “tone deaf” to the law abiding taxpayers who pay his salary.

Just because Krasner was elected on a wave of progressive identity politics that differs from the Philadelphia Democratic Machine, doesn’t mean he's immune to his share of corruption scandals. He immediately fired 31 seasoned prosecutors in his first week, later replacing them with progressive high-minded college graduates who couldn’t pass the bar exam

Kranser was being sued over his termination of Victim’s Services Chief Tami Levin to make room for the hiring of campaign donor and now-incarcerated politician Movita Johnson-Harrel. There's also the scandal of his $160K-a-year appointment of a former creditor that he owed money to.

More corruption problems: a lawsuit for the D.A.’s harassment & civil rights violation of veteran Police Detective Derrick "Jake" Jacobs, and Krasner's senior staff appointment of a disbarred lawyer

In even more chilling revelations, the Krasner DA’s Office has a record of plea bargaining or even dismissing violent crime charges in politically contentious cases without consulting witnesses, for crimes ranging from domestic assault to homicide

The question presented in both the elections of Bilal and Krasner is, do elected offices filled by candidates backed by machine or identity politics breed corruption? In looking at national case studies like Buddy Cianci in Providence, Kwame Kilpatrick in Detroit or even the myriad of cases here in Philadelphia – the answer is an unequivocal YES.

So how are other states curbing their corruption while Pennsylvania’s continues to grow?

States and cities have tackled their corruption problems head on in two ways, by instituting independent inspector general’s offices with law enforcement powers and though robust state oversight of not only state agencies, but the local jurisdictions that benefit from state funding.

Former Mayor John Street, in an effort to appear more transparent following his reelection amid the discovery of an FBI corruption investigation into his administration, created the Philadelphia Office of the Inspector General. Street subsequently appointed future D.A. and federal inmate Seth Williams as his Inspector General. 

The agency has limited authority, only has the power to investigate executive-branch agencies, and has to send criminal referrals to the District Attorney’s Office. This is in sharp contrast to its counterparts in former corruption-havens like New York, New Orleans or Florida, where inspectors general can investigate any agency or contractors receiving public funds as well as having the authority to arrest and charge corrupt officials when probable cause exists to do so.

This means that the Philadelphia OIG can write reports pointing out the serious management issues at the Department of Human Services, work with other law enforcement agencies on cases targeting city employees or go after the likes of corrupt L&I inspectors and streets workers. But the Philly OIG has little to no authority to address any corruption in elected offices like City Council, the Sheriff’s Office, Registrar of Wills, Commissioner’s Office, Parking Authority or School District

Was this merely an oversight in design? No. Nutter-appointed Inspector General Amy Kurland regularly asked Council (which included now-Mayor Jim Kenney) to amend the home rule charter to give the office the permanence, authority and independence it needs – and has been turned down every time. 

In looking at recent history, such an entrenched unethical culture is reformed when change is forced upon the city from outside its tainted electorate. In New Orleans, known for its culture of corruption, Hurricane Katrina brought millions in federal aid dollars into locally managed agencies, forcing oversight from numerous federal inspectors general and watchdog agencies. This served to highlight a case in where former Mayor Ray Nagin was federally convicted of corruption, but forced the powerful political machine there to accept the oversight of an independent Inspector General.

In looking at state oversight, consider the fact that Pennsylvania law has no mechanism for the removal of a public official for alleged misconduct or pure mismanagement, which enables people like Fattah, Henon, Johnson or Pawlowski to stay in office for years while their offices remained marred under a cloud of corruption.

In contrast, the Florida Governor upon a vote from the state house can remove a locally elected official for mismanagement of misconduct. Such as:

-- suspending Broward County Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes, who was in office during two of the nation’s most prominent election scandals;


-- the removal of Mayors in Hallandale Beach and Port Richey upon their criminal indictments, instead of leaving them in potentially dangerous positions of power pending convictions. 

To get control over the culture of corruption in its state, the Pennsylvania State House must employ these real legislative reforms.

Despite Philadelphia’s mayorally-appointed “ethics czar”, an Ethics Board, Office of the Inspector General, and City Controller; the silos set up in the Home Rule Charter and lack of state oversight make fighting political corruption a feckless enterprise here. 

For example, the Ethics Board routinely cites campaign finance and conflict of interest violations, but their fines are normally negligible with no criminal referrals. So the elected officials who violate them time and again simply pay fines and get re-elected. Likewise, the City Controller has conducted numerous audits exposing waste, fraud and abuse in city government; but with no personal accountability levied to affect change and create a deterrent against misusing public funds.

In order for meaningful local reform to occur, Pennsylvania should follow national best practices and pass a bill that enables the state house to remove elected state and local officials for egregious acts of mismanagement, or worse, criminal charges. 

In addition, state legislation should give state and municipal inspectors general independent authority and the budget and staff it needs to create an omnipresence and limit the opportunity for corruption. Pennsylvanians from throughout the Commonwealth should be calling on their representatives to start cracking down on the corruption that has given the Keystone State and the birthplace of America a black eye.

A. Benjamin Mannes, MA, CPP, CESP, is a Subject Matter Expert in Security & Criminal Justice Reform based on his own experiences on both sides the criminal justice system. He has served as the former Director, Office of Investigations, for North America’s largest medical board and previously as both a federal and municipal law enforcement officer.

10 comments:

  1. A. Benjamin Mannes writes this article much like a prosecutor, a federal agent, or an Inky reporter. This piece could have been cut and pasted from the pages of the Inky, what new have we learned from this piece? Regardless of this man's credentials, he screams a prosecutor who believes all politicians are crooks.
    I am sick of the reference to "the machine" it's outdated and overused, give it a break unless identity politics is the new catchphrase. Every company or organization could be labeled a "machine" what is it supposed to mean, following orders, agreeing with hierarchy, following company policy? Show me one company that does not make employees follow a corporate mantra, in some way or another, we all follow orders.
    As for this coming from a federal agent is laughable, who follows the line more than a federal agent, have there been more than a handful in all of the United States that have spoken differently than their superiors mandated. It would be suicide if an FBI agent disagreed with his commanders.

    How many times does this article express outrage that an indicted person should be removed from office, as of course everyone that is indicted HAS to be guilty, if the feds say you are guilty you MUST be, there is no other option. Identity politicians, really, what about identity indictments. If one gets elected by his association with "the machine" then the feds use the same methods for indictments, if you are indicted again, you have to be guilty. Identity indictments, your association with an indictment is enough for people to believe you are guilty.




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  2. i would suggest that A. Benjamin Nammes runs for office then once elected he purchases something from a nationwide chain store that uses in its branding a bulls-eye or more accurately a Target, cut the logo out and affix it to the back of your jacket, now you know what it's like to be a politician anywhere in America.

    And when you do get indicted and you need someone to save your life and your liberty, you don't look for the best and the brightest you look at our bank account and see who you can afford. Unless you have half a million or more to defend yourself your best bet is to plead guilty. With medical insurance, you can see a specialist or the best and brightest in that field and pay your co-pay. It does not work that way with lawyers.

    As for elected officials, who in their right mind would volunteer for these jobs, the best and the brightest know better. We elect who we are offered. Most politicians got to their positions by first doing service to their communities, this article just gives us lip service.

    As for political financiers like Soros, let's talk Mike Bloomberg,who has done more than him? He is the single most important donor to politicians on both sides of the aisle. I will tell you EXACTLY why I voted for Krasner,because I watched three federal prosecutors a one FBI agent lie through their teeth. I thought that anyone had to be better than a lying prosecutor and an FBI agent who does not know right from wrong. I am all for fighting corruption as long as we can point the finger at prosecutors as well.

    As for an OIG office, where do we go to report that prosecutors lie and invent crimes, its there an office for that anywhere in the United States? If so point me in that direction, the media does not care.If we can list all the crimes politicians have plead guilty to I would like to have a list of the percentage of those who plead guilty because they could not fight anymore or were bankrupted by the feds. What independent agency exists to give those accused of crimes that never occurred their reputations back?

    Other than bringing to light Krasners inadequacy this article was a rerun of anything I can read in the Inky. Our country is already divided, this was more of the same. As for a machine, do we need to look any further than Washington D. C. talk about power brokers it makes Philly pale in comparison. This was written by a federal agent that believes that only politicians are criminals, that no other walk to life comes close to or has caused more harm. I am not buying it, not in a country that cares more about the stock market than its citizens.





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    1. I understand your argument, but let's take it to another level

      The Media and Political Machine have indicated that Hahnemann Hospital should be seized by the Kenney Fascist Administration during this Health Crisis.

      Why isn't Kenney and Rendell held criminally liable for supporting free injection sites at the former St. Agnes Hospital and not have made that site available for treatment and hospitalization during this epidemic.

      Those Bastards would rather spread a Pandemic by supporting drug addiction rather than eliminating it.

      Why hasn't the Billionaire Boyz Club stepped up to support and underwrite Hahnemann University and Hospital like they did to invest in building and using Public Funds like the new Stadiums and Arenas and the Sports Franchises under their umbrellas.

      Does Society benefit from these Machine Distractions while the disintegration of Cities and the Population is poisoned and left addicted because the Essential Lifesaving Infrastructure has been allowed to be destroyed.

      Comcast should be indicted for spending money on their Pyramids of Self Adulation and not putting their wealth behind Hahnemann. Their name on that Building would further their reputation and Kenney and the Machine should be squeezing them, not the Investor who holds title to this vital and important Asset.

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    2. No lets not, I have no interest really.

      Delete
  3. Anonymous... Jane Roh is that you or Ben Waxman???? Lol. Hater!! The truth is a bitch!!!!

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    1. Why would Jane Roh or Ben Waxman respond to this site anonymously?What truth are you talking about ? Hater, I think not.

      I am a former federally indicted person who is sick of listening to a federal agent speak about anyone, when they need to police themselves. Before you get excited and wet yourself, I did not spend one day in federal prison but I could have, for decades.

      Let me make this entirely clear to you, a federal prosecutor invented a crime to get to his intended target, he did not want me but he thought so little of my life that he was willing do what ever he had to do to get at this person.

      So you nor anyone else is telling me my truth and or changing my history. To both of you, we could all have been separated at birth, I too would have been on this site defending my country and prosecutors and bashing all who the Inquirer despises, until it happened to me.

      I believed what I read, I thought that the truth mattered, I thought that if a prosecutor said someone was guilty they had to be, now I know the truth.

      Here is news we should be reading in the Inquirer: Prosecutors and FBI agents lie. The feds want to bankrupt a defendant and have them suffer for the rest of their lives. I was told it all a joke to the feds, I did not believe it when I first heard it but now I do, nothing matters to the feds. Only their truth is the one that sees the light of day. Talk about a machine, the feds are the a fine tuned machine. Try defending yourself against your own government and the media who does not care to hear the truth.

      Maybe we need categories, those who have lived though the criminal justice system horrors and those that read about it in the Inquirer. Two ever different view points.

      I wrote because I do not want any more rehashing from a person who very well may have sent innocents to prison. This site is a place were we are able to tell our truths, the Inquirer who is part of the prosecution does not want any information that differs from what they have already printed. Nothing deters them from promoting the prosecutions case.

      To recap, this prosecutor lied to a grand jury, lied to a federal judge and ruined my life. There was no crime and is no one to tell.

      As for the hours and hours of wiretap he is talking about, I can tell you of tapes and 302's that went missing that could have helped me imagine that tapes missing, 302's missing. Bank records missing and a bank president too frightened by the feds to give a straight answer. FOIA requests denied.

      Never in my life have I felt such discrimination than at the hands of my own government and the media.

      Hater? Well you could be right, I do hate people who turn a blind eye to the injustice that is happening and those that do not want to listen. So spare me if this was all too much to listen to again, watching one federal agent lie was quite enough for me.

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  4. To take your well expressed position further, we can look at the prosecution of General Michael Flynn, and the filings made by the second Attorney to represent him, the skilled Former US Attorney Sidney Powell. His first Attorney, was a pawn of the FBI and Corrupt DOJ and should be sued for criminal malpractice.

    It is my researched opinion, that the National Security Advisors who have succeeded General Flynn, have all been rogue Co-Conspirators with the Deep State Machine to destroy Trump/ His Presidency and would hope that the Pandemic will serve their treasonous ambitions.

    All of the transgressions that you describe in your case, have continued in the ongoing prosecution in his case, based on an effort to have President Trump's former National Security Advisor, not being given his rights and protections, in an attempt to bring down Trump.

    When that stage of the Coup failed, it went from Mueller to Impeachment.

    While these vengeful lying subversives failed in those efforts, they and their Media Partners, who Trump has identified as the "Roberts Concast
    Crime Family" have continued to promote COVID-19 as the next Great Effort to destroy Trump and if the Country and We The People are brought down in this Conspiracy of Lies MisInformation and Hate, then it will serve their end and their Billions and their U. of P. Perelman Hospital Protectors will insulate them if they are infected in their posh Mansions and Penthouse Office Suites.

    They are pushing for Martial Law through their Policy of Hate Lies and Media Academic Bias.

    The U. of P. Biden Center for Leadership is a prime example of how demented and depraved Academia continues to exist.

    Now the World is at the precipice of destruction and the Machine believes in their cause because in the final analysis IT IS ALL OR NOTHING.

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  5. I had the great fortune to meet Sidney Powell at a booking signing for Licensed to Lie, I told her a bit about my ordeal, my watching an FBI agent lie. She straightened up and said in what I thought was a Southern accent,"I know all about FBI agents". At the time I had not known the full story of the case of Senator Ted Stevens.

    Her article for the National Review titled: Time to Tame Prosecutors Gone Wild. It list media outlets that are trying to wake American up to the gravity of the problem. She lists the Wall St Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, New York Observer and the National Review.

    The Philadelphia Inquirer has been running articles from The Innocence Project or the D.A's Conviction Review Unit of innocents freed after decades in prison wrongfully convicted. Its too little to late. The Inquirer has to stop condemning defendants solely on the word of a prosecutor.

    The singular most damaging blow dealt to a defendant is to be condemned by the media, there is no way back from the devastation to your reputation or your probability of being convicted by a jury that reads or listens to any radio. This damage seals a defendants fate.

    The Inquirer or any media outlet should not be in the business to deprive a fellow citizen of their dignity and their ability at future earnings.

    Regardless of party affiliation we all want the truth.Maybe the Inquirer can treat criminal justice the way they are handling the Coronavirus with just the facts. People can handle the facts.

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  6. The prisons are being emptied of convicted murderers on down the criminal food chain.

    A slime bucket Social Warrior like DA Krasner feels it is his moral and legal obligation to reverse the system of jurisprudence and the Public be dammed.

    The Media cannot be accused of intentionally misleading every jury pool but the Prosecution has a moral and legal responsibility to fairly and honestly present their case.

    This is why someone like DA Larry Krasner, a flaming Hebrew Quaker, feels the indignation and obligation to turn the System upside down and reverse the discriminatory course of the Justice System.

    But my proposal is that for every criminal released from prison they should be replaced by a Prosecutor or FBI Agent who intentionally lied and fixed a case, buried exculpatory evidence and altered 302s, to be fully prosecuted and serve the maximum sentence.

    Pieces of Shit like Mark Felt," Deep Throat, " who collaborated with Woodward and Bernstein, at the Washington Post, and set up the Nixon Administration, was a serial leaker who was a dupe for the media who are guilty of orchestrating treasonous and seditious plots, serve as a historic example of what Comey McCabe Brennan, et al, under Obama were trying to accomplish in an attempt to forestall Trump's Presidency and the current Administration.

    We'll soon see if US Attorney John Durham is for real and finally some real justice will be served as these corrupt National Security Officials fill the empty slots in our Prison System that DemonRats like Kenney Krasner and Outlaw wish to purge.

    Let's see if DA Krasner has the balls to retry Mumia Jamal and give him the platform of the Inquirer and the so-called Innocence Project to challenge his conviction for the proven assasination of a Hero Police Officer Daniel Faulkner and reverse Justice.

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  7. To answer your comment that the media can not be accused of intentionally misleading the jury pool.

    My position is and will remain that the media is a powerful tool used by the prosecution to condemn a defendant. How can printing one side of a case and not the other be fair? It puts the media in a compromising position, they are affirming to the public that the defendant is indeed guilty

    A potential juror reads damaging or invented facts about a case in our paper of record, who uses as their slogan the TRUTH MATTERS NOW MORE THAN EVER, the readers believe they are reading the truth. Why would they doubt the very paper that is proclaiming that what they print is the truth. They have told us so.

    Regardless if the media is intentionally misleading a jury or not the damage is irreparable. I do believe that most journalist still think that the feds are a reliable source of information and never give it a second thought that someone could be innocent and the feds could be lying.

    You mentioned a prosecutor has a moral obligation to fairly and honestly present their case, I agree, in a courtroom, not to the media.

    Nothing care prepare you to read your NAME VS. THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. No one piece of documentation can strip you of your allegiance to your beloved country more than an indictment. No single piece of paper can make you feel more alienated.

    No government agency or media outlet should be able to strip you of your dignity. Years ago when I heard people who spoke derogatorily of the feds, I thought for sure they had to be guilty of something,now I know better. They were angry and outraged like me.


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