Puerto Rico Bond Expert Ravitch Not So Independent

The following letter was sent today by NLPC Chairman Ken Boehm to Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee:

I am writing regarding the recent hearing the Judiciary Committee held on December 1, 2015, “Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Problems: Examining the Sources and Exploring the Solution.”

As you correctly noted in your opening statement, part of the confusion that reigns is because Puerto Rico has failed to provide audited financial statements for the past two years.

National Legal and Policy Center has been focusing on ethics and accountability issues associated with the Puerto Rican debt crisis.  As you probably know, just two days after your hearing, the U.S. Attorney for Puerto Rico and the F.B.I. jointly announced the indictment of ten individuals, including both businessmen and government officials, in a series of major corruption schemes to commit Federal programs bribery, honest services wire fraud and extortion.

With respect … Read More ➡ “Puerto Rico Bond Expert Ravitch Not So Independent”

Sheldon Silver Latest Domino to Fall in New York Political Scandals

Ex-New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who was convicted this week on corruption charges, is the latest domino to fall as New York’s culture of political corruption unravels. The next is likely to be Dean Skelos, the former Senate Majority Leader, who is on trial now.

NLPC was not the source of the evidence on which the charges against Republican Skelos and Democrat Silver were based, but the investigations would not have taken place if not for NLPC’s exposés of a slew of other corrupt officials.

Last year, Governor Andrew Cuomo disbanded the so-called “Moreland Commission,” an anti-corruption panel he named in 2013 to root out graft in response to all the headlines generated by NLPC. Cuomo shut down the Commission because it was apparently getting too close to his friends.

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, opened a criminal investigation of Cuomo … Read More ➡ “Sheldon Silver Latest Domino to Fall in New York Political Scandals”

Freedom House Challenged On Net Freedom Index; Google Influence Permeates Project

The National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC) is challenging the independence and objectivity of Freedom House in its recently-released Freedom on the Net Index.

Today, NLPC President Ken Boehm sent Freedom House President Mark Lagon a letter detailing the following points:

  • Google is a major funder of the Index
  • Authors of several country reports have financial ties to Google
  • The Index is annually released at Google headquarters
  • The criteria used to rate nations seem to reflect Google business priorities

Below is the full text of the Boehm letter:

As one of the premier independent watchdog organizations dedicated to the protection of freedom and democracy around the globe, Freedom House has a special responsibility to shine the light on examples of governments undermining the causes of freedom, human rights, and civil liberties.

At the same time, Freedom House has a special and indeed unique challenge to avoid even the appearance of conflicts of interest in … Read More ➡ “Freedom House Challenged On Net Freedom Index; Google Influence Permeates Project”

Boehm Disses ‘Democracy Voucher’ Election Funding Scheme

CNN reports today on the recently passed “democracy voucher” initiative in Seattle, and other proposals for taxpayer funding of election campaigns. From the story:

But Ken Boehm, chairman of the right-leaning National Legal and Policy Center, argues the reform movement has a basic flaw, as candidates who accept the vouchers are blown out of the water by bigger spenders.

"If the opponent signs up for this, they get their little vouchers and they can send out some posters and stuff, but in terms of voter contact, they're getting creamed," Boehm said. "I don't know how they address that and they can't, because constitutionally you can't put an overall cap on spending."

Of course, there are other reasons why taxpayer funding is a bad idea. First and foremost, citizens should not be forced to fund political   expression with which they may disagree.… Read More ➡ “Boehm Disses ‘Democracy Voucher’ Election Funding Scheme”

Ex-NY State Sen. Leader John Sampson Convicted

New York State Senator John Sampson, a Democrat of Brooklyn, was convicted yesterday on three counts, including obstruction of justice. He was acquitted on six others, but the conviction should result in significant prison time. No date has yet been set for sentencing.

Between 1998 and 2008, Sampson allegedly embezzled approximately $440,000 from the foreclosure sales of four Brooklyn properties on which he was a court- appointed referee. The embezzlement charges were thrown out because the state of limitations expired. The charges on which he was convicted relate to the cover-up.

Reportedly, the Sampson investigation was an extension of the investigation of U.S. Representative Gregory Meeks (D-NY), prompted by newspaper headlines based on information provided by the National Legal and Policy Center.

Beginning in 2010, we reviewed public documents connected to Meeks and his political network. Meeks was involved with a nonprofit called New Direction Local Development Corporation. Among other … Read More ➡ “Ex-NY State Sen. Leader John Sampson Convicted”

Azerbaijan Junket Broke House Rules

According to a report by the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) that was leaked to the Washington Post, ten House members broke House Rules when they took an all-expenses paid trip in 2013 to a conference in Baku, Azerbaijan, courtesy of an oil company known as SOCAR. Also enjoying free trips were 32 staff members.

Azerbaijan is a country in Central Asia ruled by strongman Ilham Aliyev. In 2012, the Organized Crime and Corruption Project named him its “Person of the Year” for doing “the most to promote organized criminal activity or advance corruption.”

OCE apparently acted in response to a July 2014 story in the Houston Chronicle by Lise Olsen and Will Tucker describing the trip. In addition to SOCAR, BP, ConocoPhillips and KBR also helped to pay the costs of the event, estimated at $1.5 million. Those costs included $100,000 for hotels, $75,000 for food and entertainment, and … Read More ➡ “Azerbaijan Junket Broke House Rules”

Menendez Donor Melgen Indicted for Medicare Fraud

As we have expected for some time, Dr. Salomon Melgen was indicted today for Medicare fraud. The dollar amounts of his alleged ripoff are staggering. From 2008 to 2013, Melgen billed Medicare $190 million and received $105 million.

Hopefully, this indictment will put an end to the fiction that Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) went to bat for him in a “billing dispute.” Menendez was trying to thwart a fraud investigation, and successfully enlisted the help of then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).

The indictment will also hopefully put to rest the allegation that Menendez is being pursued for political reasons. The Justice Department has certainly pulled its punches in recent years by failing to prosecute Reps. Charles Rangel (D-NY), Gregory Meeks (D-NY) and former Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV), but the level of Menendez/Melgen corruption is apparently too much even for this Justice Department.

While securing visas for Melgen’s “girlfriends” is pretty … Read More ➡ “Menendez Donor Melgen Indicted for Medicare Fraud”

Jeb Bush Relationship With Fraudster Claudio Osorio Gets New Scrutiny

CNN reporter Chris Frates has identified “plenty of red flags” that former Florida Governor Jeb Bush should have seen before he joined in a business relationship with a company called InnoVida, headed by Claudio Osorio, who is now serving a 12 ½-year prison sentence for defrauding investors. Osorio's mug shot is at right.

While Osorio’s efforts to cozy up to politicians in both parties have been previously reported, the CNN report includes important new facts. From the report:

"It's hard to imagine any due diligence investigation that would have missed lawsuit after lawsuit against Osorio alleging fraud, misrepresentation and ethics violations," said Ken Boehm, the chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center, an ethics watchdog group that reviewed public records with CNN. "Even if they were doing due-diligence lite, they would have found the lawsuits. These lawsuits weren't hidden. They were in his home county."

 

 … Read More ➡ “Jeb Bush Relationship With Fraudster Claudio Osorio Gets New Scrutiny”

Fox & Friends Interview Kicks Off Publication of ‘Sharpton: A Demagogue’s Rise’

NLPC’s Carl Horowitz talked about Al Sharpton’s access to the White House, and his new book Al Sharpton: A Demagogue’s Rise, on “Fox & Friends” this morning. Here’s the video:

Read More ➡ “Fox & Friends Interview Kicks Off Publication of ‘Sharpton: A Demagogue’s Rise’”

Watchdog Criticizes Harry Wilson GM Buyback Plan as Favor to UAW

NLPC Associate Fellow Mark Modica was a guest on Closing Bell today on CNBC. He was joined by Kevin O'Leary of Shark Tank.

Here is a transcript:

Sara Eisen:  At first it seemed like it was just another activist investors at work but our next guest says something else is in play here. We're talking about Harry Wilson, the restructuring expert who served on President Obama's auto industry task force during the financial crisis and was instrumental in bringing GM out of bankruptcy. Now Wilson is a GM activist investor and represents hedge funds holding a total of 34 million shares asking General Motors' CEO Mary Barra for a seat on the board and is pressing for a stock buyback, Simon.

Simon Hobbs: Our next guest is a former GM bondholder who says the company isn't so financially healthy, that it shouldn't burn through its reserves with buybacks … Read More ➡ “Watchdog Criticizes Harry Wilson GM Buyback Plan as Favor to UAW”