Sunday, April 16, 2017

CITY FOR SALE: Pay to Play is Now Legal After City Hall Investigation Ends strangely

The decision also gives a green light to politicians who are willing to abuse the power of incumbency to stay in office. Let’s face it — that includes just about every pol on the planet.  In plain English, the statement by prosecutors boils down to this: You can avoid the law, you can evade the law and you can do your big donors’ bidding.  To be clear, there was nothing ethical or admirable about what de Blasio did. The favorable government actions he gave to donors are open and notorious, as are the benefits he got from the millions of dollars the donors gave to his slush funds outside the campaign finance laws.  There were plenty of reports that his team singled out wealthy individuals and firms who had business pending before City Hall, knowing they would be more likely to fork over mountains of money to help their businesses or protect them from punishment.   It was a two-way street. The money they gave helped de Blasio build his reputation nationally and hire private consultants to deliver his city agenda. Those consultants, his “agents of the city,” made millions without him having to use his own funds to pay them.   Most important, the slush funds enabled the mayor to establish a shadow government and wage a permanent campaign for re-election.  And now prosecutors have given the sordid scheme their blessing all because they didn’t catch the mayor taking a brown paper bag filled with cash.

Even the NY Times Is Concerned That Pay to Play is Legal Now
Questioning Whether de Blasio Will Learn From a Teachable Moment (NYT)  The mayor says the decision by prosecutors not to charge him means he can continue his fund-raising practices as before. Some onlookers in and outside of government aren’t so sure.

New York New York It is Now Legal to Steal Elections More PACS, Lobbyists Both Pay to Play and Dumping PAC Money Into County Committees to Get Aound the Election Law are Now Legal  

No Charges, but Harsh Criticism for Mayor de Blasio(NYT) The federal inquiry found a pattern in which the mayor or his associates solicited contributions from donors seeking favors from the city and then contacted city agencies on their behalf, according to a statement from the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York. But the decision not to bring charges, the statement said, came after weighing among other things, “the high burden of proof, the clarity of existing law, any recent changes in the law and the particular difficulty in proving criminal intent in corruption schemes where there is no evidence of personal profit.”   State prosecutors, who examined Mr. de Blasio’s unsuccessful 2014 effort to help Democrats regain control of the State Senate, concluded that they could not prove each element of the crimes that they considered charging beyond a reasonable doubt, according to a letter outlining their findings. The letter said this was because the mayor and those involved in the fund-raising effort had relied on the advice of their lawyers, a valid defense in a criminal case and because of ambiguities in the way the election law statutes were written. In his statement, Mr. Kim said investigators had examined several instances in which the mayor and “others acting on his behalf” solicited donations from people who were seeking “official favors from the city, after which the mayor made or directed inquiries to relevant city agencies on behalf of those donors.” In his letter, Mr. Vance said the office’s conclusion was “not an endorsement of the conduct at issue.”  “The transactions appear contrary to the intent and spirit of the laws that impose candidate contribution limits, laws which are meant to prevent ‘corruption and the appearance of corruption’ in the campaign financing process,” he wrote.* Vance Has Ties To Several in the de Blasio Probe

Making County Committee PACs Legal 
Mayor de Blasio dodges state, criminal charges infund-raising probe (NYDN) The mayor quickly claimed vindication, even though neither prosecutor declared that de Blasio or his aides followed the letter of the law in the 2013 campaign or the next year’s State Senate race. Vance, in a 10-page letter explaining his decision, acknowledged “the conduct here may have violated the Election Law ... (but) the parties involved cannot be appropriately prosecuted, given their reliance on the advice of counsel.” Essentially, those who participated were led to believe by election lawyer Lawrence Laufer that their fund-raising efforts were legal. The district attorney added that his decision “is not an endorsement of the conduct at issue; indeed, the transactions appear contrary to the intent and spirit of the laws.” The behavior of the mayor and his staff “creates an end run around the direct candidate contribution limits,” wrote Vance. Under fired U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, federal prosecutors in Manhattan thoroughly investigated incidents where “Mayor de Blasio and others acting on his behalf solicited donations from individuals who sought official favors,” Kim said.  Afterward, “the mayor made or directed inquiries to relevant city agencies on behalf of these donors,” the prosecutor added. * Reformers Laud Bharara As a Difference-Maker (The Chief)
Sal Albanese‏ @SalAlbaneseNYC   .@errollouis there is a solution 2 ending DEB et al unethical pay 2 play. I look forward to discussing it on your program

The Prosecutors Have Legalized Pay to Play and Corrupt Election PACS Run By Lobbyists to Control Elections
De Blasio Proves That Some Laws Are Made to Be Unbreakable (NYT) Prosecutors said the mayor and his aides had not violated election laws by funneling money to candidates. That may be the real crime.

The decision by federal and state prosecutors not to file criminal charges against de Blasio is a huge victory for him – and for corrupt officials everywhere – and gives a green light to politicians who are willing to abuse the power of incumbency to stay in office, Michael Goodwin writes in the Post.

Daily News Says Lasting Taint True News Says Pay to Play Has Been Legalized by the Prosecutors
Slime, not crime: Prosecutors spare Bill de Blasio buthis dealings with donors leave lasting taint (NYDN Ed) Mayor de Blasio escaped legal jeopardy on Thursday. He did not, and must not, escape ethical or political jeopardy for putting a For Sale sign on City Hall.  On Thursday morning, Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon Kim and Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance simultaneously announced that, following investigations of more than a year, they do not intend to prosecute de Blasio or his political aides involved in trading favors for donation  Their decisions are the begrudging result of an exceedingly high bar set for proving public corruption crimes, especially since a recent Supreme Court ruling.  This does not change the fact that de Blasio will be forever tainted by cynical self-advancement at the expense of government integrity. An operation created as an adjunct to the mayoralty, the Campaign for One New York, raised more than $4 million — including many exorbitant contributions — to advance de Blasio and his agenda, most of it from firms and groups doing business with city government.    

A second mayoral effort funneled nearly $1 million into upstate county political committees in futile hopes of winning state Senate seats for Democrats and thus majority control of the entire Legislature — again, with big financial backing from city contractors.  They were both strategic, carefully lawyered end-runs around the city’s public campaign financing system, which strictly limits contributions by donors enmeshed in city business deals — to head off the obvious temptation to bribe elected officials.    De Blasio said: Give here. Even if, in fact especially if, you have business before the city. Then, he and his staff proceeded to ensure that donors got the attention and access they desired. Kim’s statement of exoneration left no doubt de Blasio left a trail of troubling evidence, stating without condition that federal investigators found “several circumstances in which Mayor de Blasio and others acting on his behalf solicited donations from individuals who sought official favors from the city, after which the mayor made or directed inquiries to relevant city agencies on behalf of those donors.”  All that was not sufficient to prove corruption, for lack of evidence that the mayor or aides personally profited, or that the mayor did more than arrange for meetingDe Blasio thus escaped charges — but not his record. Those heaps of money in resulted in case after case of public policy clumsily bent to satisfy big-money donors:  Frantic and fumblingly failed efforts to save a Lower East Side nursing home and Brooklyn hospital, on behalf of 1199SEIU, the Campaign for One New York’s biggest contributor.  Tens of millions of dollars in subsidies to a Dallas school bus company that took such sudden interest in Putnam County Democratic Party politics it donated $100,000.  A risible attempt to ban carriage horses, backed by generous donors but ultimately thwarted by the City Council.Municipal labor contracts that booked billions of dollars in phantom health care savings, with the teacher’s union the first to accept — not long after a $350,000 donation.  De Blasio cannot rewrite the sordid history here: In a condemnable but not criminal scheme, he plotted to sell off chunks of his city for his own political advancement. And got away with it.

Prosecutors Cleaning Up de Blasio Pieces Seabrook Next to Plea? No Trials That Could Expose the Prosecutors Cover-Up?

Brooklyn NYPD Bribery Scheme Said to Be Even More Widespread (NYT)

Brooklyn man gets 32 months in prison for bribing copsto snag quick gun permits (NYDN) The man who copped to bribing NYPD officers for quick gun permits will spend 32 months in a federal lockup and two years on supervised release, a judge decided on Thursday.  Alex Lichtenstein, 45, pleaded guilty on Nov. 10 to charges of offering a bribe and bribery for participating in a corruption scheme spanning from 2013 to 2016.   While Lichtenstein and his lawyer had brokered a plea deal with prosecutors, the feds recently pushed for the Brooklyn bizman to get the max under their agreement - six years.  Prosecutors argued that Lichtenstein - who submitted photos of himself alongside cops in his bid for sentencing leniency - didn't understand the gravity of his crime.* Judge goes easy on Shomrim leader who bribed cops forgun permits (NYP) The Shomrim patrol leader who bribed NYPD cops to “expedite” gun permits got a lighter jail sentence than federal prosecutors wanted Thursday — because he has a history of community service.   Judge Sidney Stein sentenced Alex “Shaya” Lichtenstein to 32 months in jail and ordered him to pay a $20,000 fine and undergo alcohol addiction treatment as penance for bribing cops.  Prosecutors wanted him to go away for 4 to 6 years, but the judge cited Lichtenstein’s charitable works in giving him a lower-than-expected sentence.   “Mr. Lichtenstein has led a life of great deeds,” Stein said. “He has also committed a great crime.”  “You participated in corrupting the New York City police department,” he told Lichtenstein, who cried when he did not receive the probation sentence he was hoping for.   Lichtenstein was found guilty in April of paying favors to officers in the Licensing Division for quick pistol permits that he he then sold to members of the Borough Park ultra-orthodox community for as much as $18,000 a pop.  He also admitted to offering a whistle-blowing cop $6,000 per permit to keep his mouth shut and help with the scheme. Investigators recovered a trove of audio tapes Lichtenstein made while he cut deals with cops — recordings meant to ensure the oft-drunk Lichtenstein could recall specific details in the deals, sources say.  Prosecutors say the recordings connect Lichtenstein to a separate investigation into a high-ranking NYPD official who allegedly traded favors with two of Mayor de Blasio’s financial backers.   According to tapes, Lichtenstein met with NYPD Deputy Inspector James Grant, who stands accused of accepting bribes from big-time de Blasio donors Jeremy Reichberg and Jona Rechnitz in exchange for preferential treatment.  City and federal prosecutors declined on Thursday to charge de Blasio or his aides in the scandal.    Lichtenstein, who admitted to two counts of bribery during a November plea deal, said he will not be cooperate with investigators.* A member of a neighborhood watch group in Brooklyn admitted to bribing NYPD officers and handing out cash and gifts to others, suggesting that a major federal investigation into corruption within the police department is still turning up new evidence of misconduct, the Times reports.

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