What this country needs is a Congress and a President who will investigate the corruption that Americans feel is rampant. The Occupy Wall Street crew, unfocused and inarticulate, unwashed and motley, nevertheless has captured support because of the uneasiness of Americans, conservative and liberal, that our lawmakers at every level of government have been compromised, if not purchased and that money not only talks, money rules, and the average American feels used and powerless.
We look around us and see corporate America – particularly the banks and Wall Street securities firms – that were responsible for bringing us to our knees as a result of the Great Recession which they brought on, now richer, bigger and more powerful than ever. This, while 15 million Americans remain unemployed and many in their 60s and 70s knowing they will never work again. Many more know they will never again attain the wages they once commanded and their former lifestyles are gone forever. Among the greatest victims are those who graduated from college and still have found no jobs available.
In this past Sunday’s New York Times column, Tom Friedman commented on the power of the corporations, writing, “Our Congress today is a forum for legalized bribery. One consumer group using information from Opensecrets.org calculates that the financial services industry, including real estate, spent $2.3 billion on federal campaign contributions from 1990 to 2010 which was more than the health care, energy, defense, agriculture and transportation industries combined.”
Friedman goes on to ask, “Why are there 61 members on the House Committee on Financial Services? So many congressmen want to be in a position to sell votes to Wall Street.”
Two major Wall Street corporations responsible in part for the Great Recession were fined by the S.E.C. One, Goldman Sachs, paid a fine of $550 million; the other, CitiGroup paid a fine of $285 million. Both companies were charged with civil frauds involving their taking advantage of clients in the sale of securities that they knew were near worthless.
In imposing the civil fines, the S.E.C. did not require the companies to admit guilt. Is there any doubt in anyone’s mind but that the companies considered the fines simply the additional cost of doing business and their profits quickly covered those civil fines? Friedman quoted in his column Senator Richard Durbin, Democrat from Illinois and number two in the Democratic Senate leadership hierarchy who said in 2009, referring to the financial industry, these firms “are still the most powerful lobby on Capital Hill. And they frankly own the place.” Many of us think they still do.
A description of the House of Representatives by Alexander Hamilton may at one time have applied but clearly no longer, “Here, sir, the people rule.” No, they don’t.
I said at the opening of my commentary, corruption is taking place at every level of government. Here in New York City, we see the beginning of a police scandal, which I sense will rival that of 1972 when the Knapp Commission investigated the Police Department and the two detectives, Frank Serpico and David Durk, became household names, having revealed the corruption that had taken over almost the whole police department, so that in order to have a police department continue, the City of New York had to give amnesty to many cops and brass.
Now we see revealed in the Borough of The Bronx charges against 16 cops for ticket fixing. The Daily News of October 30 reported, “Some of the roughly 160 cops whose names surfaced in the ticket fixing scandal will be asked to testify against their fellow officers, sources said.” The News reporter, Kevin Deutsch, wrote, “Prosecutors could have charged the 160 cops – either individually or as part of a enterprise-corruption case against the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association [the police union], sources said. Instead, they gave the cops immunity for testifying against their colleagues.”
The New York Times of October 29 describes the corrupt activities of the police officers, “the indictments suggest that union (P.B.A.) trustees and delegates were often busy tracking down and intercepting tickets to make them disappear for friends and relatives of other officers…In all, Robert T. Johnson, the Bronx district attorney said, the ticket fixing scandal had bled between $1 million and $2 million in revenue from the city’s coffers and tainted the police force.”
The Daily News editorial of October 29, was even more explicit and damning: “According to the indictment, a drug-dealer friend sold narcotics out of a barber shop Ramos owned – and Ramos offered use of his police car as transport. He also allegedly boasted that he could hide a body in his trunk, sold bootleg videos and fenced stolen electronics, ripping off an undercover detective of $30,000 in the process. No proud cop should defend this man, particularly before hearing all the evidence. Then there was Lt. Jennara Cobb, assigned to the Internal Affairs Division, charged with leaking wiretap information to fellow cops. Also shameful conduct: a professional watchdog’s job is not to pass information to alleged wrongdoers. Then there were four others charged with falsifying a report to help a friend of one officer in an assault case. Meddling in a criminal investigation is dirty business. As for the rest, they stand accused of fixing tickets for friends and family members – with one cop facing no fewer than 150 counts. This is not about cops, here and there, using a little discretion to let their cousin’s wife go about her way rather than giving her a speeding ticket. The allegations run deeper: they entail creating official documents, then altering or destroying them.”
When the 16 police officers were indicted, the P.B.A. had hundreds of police officers present in the court building with their president, Patrick Lynch, carrying signs reading, “It’s a courtesy, not a crime,” and “It’s been going on since the days of the Egyptians.” Yes, corruption has been going on since the Egyptians, but that doesn’t mean the public has to tolerate it. Further, corruption within law enforcement agencies is particularly heinous and must be rooted out and severely punished. There are other cases pending alleging cops planted drugs on innocent people. Where this will all end up is mind boggling. The police in attendance and their union leaders disgraced themselves by their conduct and presence supporting the indicted police officers and denouncing Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who is one of the greatest police commissioners to have ever served this city.
Interestingly, we have not seen the district attorneys of the other four boroughs doing what Bronx D.A. Rob Johnson has done to his enormous credit. It is impossible that the widespread ticket fixing done with the cooperation of P.B.A. officials was limited to Bronx County.
What this situation calls out for is a new Knapp Commission to once again examine the integrity and practices of the police officers and their union, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. They may think they are above the law, but they are not.
The Honorable Edward Irving Koch served New York City as its 105th Mayor from 1978 to 1989.