Friday, January 30, 2015

Tim Hoefer: Corruption Cauldron: To fix Albany — Term Limits

Tim Hoefer


The corruption case against Speaker Sheldon Silver has prompted more calls for reform of the Legislature, which has seen two dozen-plus members (and counting) leave office under ethical or criminal clouds in the past 15 years.
With US Attorney Preet Bharara hinting that more state officials may be in hot water, the bandwagon is likely to gain even more momentum.
But what, exactly, would effective “reform” entail? Good-government groups such as Citizens Union have a standard checklist, including more thorough disclosure of outside incomes, greater transparency in state grant-making, a ban on the use of campaign funds for legal fees and other personal purposes and tougher penalties for violations of the public trust.
Taxpayer financing of political campaigns is another hobby-horse in some quarters, though campaign contributions had virtually nothing to do with the Silver allegations or with most of the other recent high-profile cases of state legislators who left office accused of some wrongdoing.
Far less attention is given to a reform already embraced by 15 other states: term limits for legislators.
First elected to the Assembly in 1976 and speaker since ’94, Silver owes much of his power to sheer longevity.
If New York had adopted a reasonable term-limits law back in the ’70s — say, limiting legislative service to no more than six terms in either house, or a total of 20 years combined — Silver’s legislative career would’ve ended decades ago.
Term limits would also strike at a problem more pervasive in Albany than corruption: legislative careerism. The longer they serve, the more many Assembly and Senate members naturally seek to preserve their positions.
This, combined with the power of legislative leaders, gives rise to an insular culture that makes individual lawmakers overly reluctant to advance new ideas, challenge entrenched special interests or demand higher ethical standards.
To combat careerism and empower rank-and-file members, term limits should be introduced, along with three other changes:
  • Close the taxpayer-guaranteed (and longevity-rewarding) defined-benefit public pension for legislators and other elected officials; instead, offer them a defined-contribution plan, such as the one sponsored by the State University of New York.
  •  Eliminate the leader-controlled pay stipends now received by three-quarters of legislators.
  •  Equalize members’ staff budgets.
Of course, there will never be a way to outlaw greed and dishonesty. Term limits alone certainly won’t do it; three term-limited, full-time state senators in California recently became faced criminal charges in the past two years.
But in seeking to minimize public corruption in New York, would-be reformers should remember the famous maxim of 19th-century Tammany pol George Washington Plunkitt: “I seen my opportunities and I took ’em.”
Plunkitt would’ve marveled at the vastly greater “opportunities” created by the huge and complex regulatory state New York lawmakers (and the governor) now control.
For example, some of the most damaging allegations against Silver stem from his power to shape or reshape rent control — a policy that doesn’t even exist in most of America.
Investigators also have focused on the granting of lucrative tax abatements for Manhattan luxury apartment buildings, whose developers promise to set aside a quota of units for “affordable housing.”
This kind of tax break only exists in places where government regulation — controlled, again, largely out of Albany — has distorted housing markets.
Silver is also charged with steering $500,000 in state research grants to an oncologist, who in turn allegedly became a source of lucrative asbestos-lawsuit referrals to Silver’s law firm.
The federal criminal complaint also alleges that the speaker directed a state grant to a nonprofit whose board members include the oncologist’s wife, and that he helpedfind a job for the doctor’s son at one of the countless other social-services groups that perennially benefit from the Legislature’s budgetary largesse.
The bottom line is that New York’s propensity for big-government overreach has helped create and sustain what Bharara has called a “cauldron of corruption” in the state Capitol.
Federal charges aside, Sheldon Silver undeniably had been the leading champion of New York’s worst tax-and-spend habits.
If his successor adopts similar positions — translating into a continuing proliferation of legislatively generated red tape, special preferences, carve-outs, subsidies and pork-barrel grant-making — the cauldron won’t stop simmering.

Sheldon Silver
If Sheldon Silver remains a rank-and-file legislator rather than retiring after stepping down as Assembly speaker, he will be losing money on the deal,according to the Empire Center’s pension calculator.
Based on his 38 years as a state assemblyman and the speaker’s salary of $121,000, Silver is now eligible for a pension of $87,120 — $7,620 more than the base pay he will collect as a mere Assembly member with no leadership title. As the calculator shows, Silver’s pension benefit has a net present value of $1.15 million, meaning a 70-year-old man in the private sector would need that much to purchase an annuity yielding the same annual income.
But Silver’s pensionable “service credits” may add to that amount. If he was enrolled as a full-time member of the New York City pension system when he began working as a Civil Court clerk in 1971, he could have Tier 2 Tier 1 status, boosting his benefit to as much as $98,010. TheTier 2 Tier 1 benefit would cost about $1.3 million to replicate as an annuity. (Further details on Silver’s employment status in Civil Court from 1971 to 1976 are not available from biographies posted online.)
Both of these figures assume Silver chooses the “single life option” and doesn’t owe the system money for loans against his pension.
Under current state law, Silver can continue to collect his pension even if he is convicted on the charges filed against him by federal prosecutors last week.



Thursday, January 29, 2015

Andrew Cuomo's Hyperbole and Gimmickry

Andrew Cuomo

Cuomo’s two fiscal faces


Gov. Cuomo’s combined State of the State message and Executive Budget rollout this week showcased the governor at his best — and worst.
At best, there was Cuomo the fiscal fundamentalist, whose proposed budget for fiscal 2016 would allow state operating funds spending to rise by just 1.7 percent. If he holds his ground, the inflation-adjusted budget trend will be close to flat across his first five years in office.
The governor also pledged to stand behind his signature accomplishment on behalf of local taxpayers — by seeking permanent enactment of the historic 2011 cap on property tax levies outside New York City.
The 2 percent tax-growth cap is due to sunset in June 2016 under a provision linked to the extension of New York City’s rent control laws, which expire this June.
That awkward arrangement reflects the baneful influence of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who was the main obstacle to Cuomo’s original proposal for a permanent property tax limit four years ago.
Silver’s arrest Thursday on federal corruption charges could strengthen the governor’s ability to leverage a truly enduring tax cap out of this legislative session.
On a different front, the governor was in fine rhetorical fettle when it came to challenging the notion that pumping more money into the nation’s best-funded public schools will automatically produce better results.
The state aid formula gives significantly more money to “high needs” districts, so the Buffalo system gets double the aid of the average district — yet remains a chronic failure, Cuomo noted.
“So don’t tell me that if we only had more money, it would change,” he added, calling for reform of teacher-evaluation and -tenure laws.
He followed that up by advocating other reforms: more charter schools and a new Education Tax Credit to promote contributions to nonprofit scholarship funds and public schools.
Yet, moments later, Cuomo proposed a further expansion — to cover children as young as 3 — of the state’s dubious and costly commitment to publicly-funded universal pre-kindergarten.
And in the area of tax policy, the governor’s proposed $1.7 billion in “property tax relief” wasn’t really a tax cut but a subsidy, in the form of a credit that would flow to less than half of homeowners.
Once again, he avoided proposing meaningful reforms of collective-bargaining laws and other state mandates that drive up local costs, and so push up local taxes.
This was Cuomo at his worst: pushing hyperbole and gimmickry over substance.
The cynical, political side of Cuomo’s approach to budgeting was exemplified by his plans for the $5.4 billion windfall from bank settlements.
Cuomo announced this month that he’d set aside $1.5 billion in windfall money for an upstate economic development competition.
This is premised on the notion that he can repeat the (as yet unproven) “model of success” of his “Buffalo Billion” package of subsidies to businesses willing to expand or locate in upstate’s largest city.
In reality, the Buffalo-Niagara Falls metro area has been adding jobs at less than half the national pace, and upstate as a whole is barely growing at all.
The governor said he’d deposit another $3 billion of windfall cash into a “new special infrastructure account.”
But barely half that amount — most of it targeted to the Thruway Authority — would be committed to transportation infrastructure, where capital needs are greatest. He’d scatter the rest in smaller pieces among lower-priority projects, including $500 million in matching funds for broadband Internet access.
Cuomo painted this as innovative, saying, “Infrastructure today is less about roads and bridges, in my opinion, and it is more about broadband.” Really? Try driving a car or truck down the information highway.
Speaker Silver’s legal troubles have shaken the state Capitol to its foundations, and this may well strengthen the governor’s hand in the coming budget negotiations. But Cuomo will produce better results if he ditches gimmickry and refocuses on fundamentals.
E.J. McMahon is president of the Empire Center and a Manhattan Institute senior fellow.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Sheldon Silver, Arrested For Corruption, Still Makes a Deal Assembly Democrats Cannot Refuse

Errol Louis

Sheldon Silver’s army of enablers 

Excuses and more excuses from Assembly Democrats

Monday, January 26, 2015, 6:53 PM


Far more alarming than the evidence of dedicated, long-term sneak-thievery by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is the haplessness of his liberal Democratic enablers — and their inability over many years to denounce shifty, unprincipled behavior even when a loud chorus of public voices has done just that.

Nearly all of state’s editorials boards are crystal clear: Strong calls for Silver’s resignation have been voiced by the News, along with the city’s other major dailies, the Staten Island Advance and papers in Buffalo, Syracuse and Rochester. In public opinion polls dating back to 2013, a majority of New Yorkers have said they’d like to see Silver gone.

And that was before his arrest.

But to their lasting shame, many of those who claim the mantle of political leadership have lost their political and ethical bearings, stumbling and grasping in every direction except the right and obvious one: not only deposing Silver as speaker but also swiftly enacting reforms to prevent any repeat of the shame that engulfs the capital.

I recently asked one longtime assemblyman what he thought of the 35-page criminal complaint filed against Silver, which is replete with detailed, credible allegations of extortion and bribery gathered and sworn to by the FBI. We all know that Silver is innocent until proven otherwise, I said; but don’t the accusations bother you?

“I'm not a legal expert,” said the pol, who has spent more than a decade writing laws for the rest of us to follow.

That sad cop-out was scarcely better than the comment from Assemblyman David Weprin of Queens — the son of former Speaker Saul Weprin — who might not have actually read the complaint before offering a novel theory. “In my opinion, it seems to be a financial disclosure mistake,” he told a newspaper.

Give Assemblyman Dick Gottfried of Manhattan credit for at least reading the charges before reaching an equally preposterous conclusion. “I’ve read the complaint,” Gottfried said to City and State newspaper. “To me, it’s distressing that in this country you can end up in handcuffs based on these kinds of flimsy, unsubstantiated allegations.”

Gottfried hinted that Silver is the victim of an unspecified conspiracy. “Many of us, based on decades of political observation, think not only Speaker Silver, but his predecessors, are often easy targets because they challenge entrenched power in New York, whether it’s entrenched economic power or political power,” he added.

Keep in mind that Gottfried and Weprin are concocting defenses that neither Silver nor his attorneys have offered. Silver never claimed to make a “financial disclosure mistake” in explaining why a law firm paid him $3.8 million in referral fees.

Whenever asked about it over the years, the speaker claimed he represented simple folk who needed legal help from time to time — which, according to the U.S. attorney, was a brazen lie; investigators combed a decade’s worth of cases and could find exactly one person represented by Silver.

As for challenging entrenched power: It hardly needs mentioning that Silver is only one year shy of becoming the longest-serving Assembly speaker in New York history, and that he has, from his lofty perch as one of the famed “three men in a room” who negotiate state budgets, personally overseen passage of well over $1 trillion in spending.

Gottfried’s insinuations echo the fanciful notion — put forth by statements of support from the Working Families Party and Mayor de Blasio — that Silver is so indispensable to the protection and advancement of liberal political causes that left-leaning New York simply cannot do without his leadership.

Nonsense. As the old saying goes: The graveyards are full of indispensable people.

More to the point, Silver’s liberal armor has some noteworthy dents. He appears to have worked to keep a 30-acre site, the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, undeveloped for half a century, after more than 1,000 low-income families, mostly Latino, had been removed.

As a New York Times investigation concluded, actually building long-promised affordable housing on the site “would have altered the demographics of the neighborhood and put Mr. Silver’s political base in question.” So he stalled it.

And there's the infamous deal in which Silver killed the commuter tax in pursuit of a minor political win upstate. Since the 1999 repeal, New York City has lost an estimated $10.6 billion — money that would come in handy to fund public schools and other programs cherished by his liberal supporters.

If ever there was a time to call your local Assembly member and sound off, this is it. They badly need to hear some voices outside the bubble of Albany, where cowardice and confusion reign.

Louis is political anchor at NY1 News.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

New Jersey RICO cases Will Name Chris Christie as a Defendant

 I hope this starts a radical overhaul of family courts around the country. I had a matter in the Manhattan Surrogate's Court which led to my heart almost failing on July 22, 2006. As I did not die (obviously), I decided I would help anyone fight the RICO in ALL the Courts.
Convicted Late Senator Guy Velella
RICO in the New York State Unified Court System: How the Courts Steal Your Property, Your Children, and Try To Destroy Your Life...And How You Can Stop Them

Betsy Combier

Chris Christie named in two lawsuits alleging violations by Family Courts

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie

Chris Christie has been named as a defendant in two cases that are part of series of lawsuits across the country where serious concerns about violations of citizens’  rights in family courts are under scrutiny.
An upcoming civil RICO lawsuit to be filed on behalf of the watchdog group Family Court Accountability Coalition (FCAC) will allege that a feeder system created by the Sacramento County Bar Association Family Law Division, in conjunction with several powerful judges, creates a racket which chooses favored divorce lawyers and makes sure those lawyers get favorable rulings in Sacramento County family court rooms.
In 1991, Judges Vance Raye and Peter McBrien, formed the Family Law Executive Committee (FLEC) to help deal with family law cases in Sacramento County family courts. This FLEC would be a group of lawyers, according to the upcoming suit, chosen by the Sacramento County Bar Association’s family law division which would act as judge pro temp on certain family law cases and in exchange, the suit will allege, the lawyers chosen for this task would be given favorable rulings, deserved or not, when they appeared in divorce court in their regular roles.
One of the most high profile case examples of this scheme which will be featured in the suit is that of Ulf Carlsson who appeared in front of Judge McBrien and whose story received significant media attention culminating with a lengthy feature in the documentary Divorce Corp.
Carlsson told RebelPundit his judge was McBrien and that not only did he lose every single motion and hearing in his divorce but the judge awarded his ex-wife all their marital assets.
About five years ago, an appeals court reversed the decision but only because during one hearing the judge simply left the court room while Carlsson’s side was presenting their case, a blatant violation of due process.
Carlsson said while everyone told him the decisions themselves were egregious, the appellate court didn’t have the power to overturn them and only overturned his case on due process violations.
Carlsson said he was forced to move back to Sweden, where he was born, after thirty years in the USA and receiving multiple “credible threats” on his life.
Carlsson said he’s developed PTSD as a result of the corrupt court process.
In New Jersey two concurrent RICO lawsuits will allege systemic bias against women in two counties of that state and Governor Chris Christie will be a named defendant in both cases.
First, in Bergen County a lawsuit led by Karin Wolf, including more than forty women, will allege that courts ignore abuse on a widespread basis–be it sexual, physical, verbal, or emotional–and instead label women making these allegations as parental alienators or as having a variety of mental illnesses or defects.
Wolf told RebelPundit that the purpose of these false diagnoses is to goad protective mothers like herself to fight false allegations in court, creating a perpetual legal process and a plethora of legal fees.
Wolf’s lawsuit will allege that Christie has culpability because he appointed a number of the judges implicated and because he’s been made aware of the widespread abuse but failed to act.
Kevin Roberts, Governor Christie’s Press Secretary, directed all calls to the state’s Attorney General’s (AG) office, which declined comment.
In nearby Monmouth County, another lawsuit, led by Rachel Alintoff will include seven women in total–five of whom spoke with RebelPundit. Alintoff was featured in a 2012 New York Post article in which nine women made allegations of gender bias against Monmouth County Family Court Judge, Paul Escandon. Judge Escandon will be a named defendant in the upcoming lawsuit and his office declined to comment when reached by phone.
In each case the women described a phenomenon psychologists refer to as Gaslighting, based on a 1944 film which won an Academy Award for Ingrid Bergman.
Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer
 Gaslighting is “a form of mental abuse where information is twisted/spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception and sanity.”
Karen Welch told RebelPundit that starting in 1997 and continuing until 2010, she was stalked by an individual associated with her ex-husband. The court, rather than accepting her allegations, said she was making it up because of a mental illness.
In Alintoff’s case, she was diagnosed by the court-appointed psychologist, Dr. Patricia Baszczuk, with “cyclical outbursts” disorder, a disorder which appears to have been coined by Basczcuk and has never been used widely. This so-called diagnosis was used to take custody Alintoff’s son away from her.
Alintoff said that Dr. Baszczuk will be a named defendant and she didn’t respond to an email for comment. Alintoff said she had a one-on-one meeting with Governor Christie about a year ago–about her case–in which Christie promised to examine her case personally; Christie’s Press Secretary Roberts didn’t respond for comment on this meeting.
Wolf and Alintoff told RebelPundit they have also both spoken with the FBI.
All of the women interviewed for both New Jersey lawsuits said they believe they suffered from PTSD as a result of their experience.
Susan Skipp, whose story was featured in a previous RebelPundit expose, is the only litigant not to file a RICO suit. She told RebelPundit that based on her research of precedent she didn’t believe it was feasible to prove RICO, and instead filed a civil suit, which alleges civil rights and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) violations and is seeking $300 million in damages.
Skipp, who has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which she developed as a result of the stress of the legal process, said rather than having those ailments be accepted and receive accommodations, the judge in her case, Lynda Munro, and the Guardian ad Litem, Mary Brigham, accused her in open court of having an unspecified and untreated mental illness.
“The defendant testified that she looked forward to this counseling. If the court takes her at her word then she cannot help herself in her conduct and this is an unaddressed mental health concern,” Judge Munro said of Skipp during one court hearing.
Rather than allowing her to continue treatment with her own therapist, Skipp said that Judge Munro told her that if she saw a psychologist of Munro’s choosing–at a cost of about $3,000 monthly–she’d be allowed to see her children for a few hours a month.
“This is a common scam,” Skipp told RebelPundit, “Order litigant to buddy, buddy gets 175 a week or more- can’t claim on insurance because no diagnosis.” Skipp said, “(It) goes on for years because it’s an order, and also violates ADA law because a person has a right to have a trusting relationship with her therapist.”
Skipp hasn’t seen her children since the end of 2012.
Judge Munro, who retired from the bench in 2014, didn’t respond to an email at her current employer, the Pullman and Comley Law Firm. Ms. Brigham also didn’t respond to an email for comment.
The allegations made by Alintoff and Wolf are similar to an expose in 2012 by Keith Harmon Snow, that included Susan Skipp’s case in which he alleged that Connecticut family courts painted mothers as crazy in an attempt to feed children into a pedophile ring; Snow believes his expose also uncovered a criminal enterprise:
The family court system in Connecticut, as around the country, involves multiple corrupt organizations where profit motives and personal connections dictate how and why decisions are made, and these are decisions that have altered and ruined the lives of many families, esp. many children in custody cases. A racket is ‘a service that is fraudulently offered to solve a problem, such as for a problem that does not actually exist, that will not be put into effect, or that would not otherwise exist if the racket were not to exist’ and this is exactly the case with court-related organizations such as Department of Children and Families; National Council of Children’s Rights; the court-sanctioned institution of Guardian Ad Litemand all its related training offices.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is Arrested For Corruption

Now it's time for Andrew Cuomo, too.
Sheldon Silver

Sheldon Silver, Speaker of New York Assembly, Is Arrested in Corruption Case
The powerful speaker of the New York State Assembly, Sheldon Silver, was arrested on federal corruption charges on Thursday, sending shock waves through the political establishment and upending the new legislative session.
Mr. Silver, a Democrat from the Lower East Side of Manhattan who has served as speaker for more than two decades, surrendered to F.B.I. agents early Thursday morning in Lower Manhattan.
Mr. Silver, before entering 26 Federal Plaza, said, “I hope I’ll be vindicated.”
The investigation of Mr. Silver began after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in March abruptly shut down an anticorruption commission he had created in 2013.
The federal inquiry, led by the United States Attorney for the Southern District, focused on payments that Mr. Silver received from a small law firm that specializes in seeking reductions of New York City real estate taxes.



Sheldon Silver to be arrested

Sheldon Silver, the longtime speaker of the New York state Assembly, is expected to be arrested on corruption charges by federal authorities on Thursday after prosecutors subpoenaed records in a probe of undocumented payments he received from a law firm, sources said.
Silver, a Manhattan Democrat who has served as speaker for more than 20 years, is expected to be charged following an investigation sparked when Gov. Cuomo abruptly shut down an anticorruption commission he had created in 2013, sources said.
The specific details of the charges were not clear, but sources said that it was related to money Silver received from a small real-estate tax law firm.
The firm, Goldberg & Iryami PC, made the payments over about a decade, but Silver failed to list the income on his financial-disclosure forms, sources told The Post.
As speaker, Silver controls which legislation can be voted on, and has broad powers over the state budget.
Silver, 70, has been criticized by opponents for wielding too much power, and has been ensnared in controversy.
The FBI and prosecutors from Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara’s office began an investigation into the undisclosed money in December.
The prosecutors were looking into exactly what Silver did to earn the money, sources told The Post in December.
The probe came after an investigation by Cuomo’s Moreland Commission panel, which was looking into corruption in Albany when the governor shut it down.
One of the issues that the panel was looking into was how state lawmakers earn income from their non-government jobs.
Silver is a personal-injury lawyer associated with the high-profile law firm Weitz and Luxenberg.
Goldberg & Iryami specializes in an arcane form of law known as “tax certiorari,’’according to the New York Times.
That involves challenging real-estate tax assessments and seeking reductions for developers who own residential or commercial property.
The firm appears to have only two lawyers, according to the Times.
The newspaper said, that since 2001, the firm and its principals have made six donations to Silver, totaling $7,600.
The most recent was in February, when it gave him $1,800, according to the report.
The Times added that the law firm has sought tax reductions for many properties on the Lower East Side, which is the area Silver represents.
In addition the financial controversies, Silver also became entangled in the Vito Lopez sex-harassment case when it became public that the speaker had hired two firms to defend the disgraced former assemblyman, spending nearly $700,000 in public funds.
Silver — who could not be reached for comment early Thursday — was nearly ousted as Assembly speaker by his fellow Democrats in 2000, when they unexpectedly challenged his leadership position. The coup failed.