Friday, February 19, 2016

Former Playboy Playmate Hope Smith, Wife of Vista Equity Partners CEO Robert Smith, Gave Eric Schneiderman $65,000

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman
I-Team: Why Did Former Playboy Playmate Donate $65K to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman?

So far in 2016, the biggest single campaign contribution to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman comes from a Texas model who holds the title of 2010 Playboy Playmate of the Year.
Hope Dworaczyk
Hope Smith, formerly Hope Dworaczyk, donated $65,100 to Schneiderman's re-election campaign on Jan. 13, according to campaign finance records.
Why is a model from Texas interested in the re-election of New York's top law enforcement officer?
Calls and emails to Smith were not immediately returned, but the former Playboy model recently married a billionaire who has donated heavily to Schneiderman's political campaign in the past.
Robert Smith
Her husband, Robert Smith, is the founder of Vista Equity Partners, a private equity fund that has attracted nearly $1 billion in investments from the New York Common Retirement Fund, a public pension, over the last seven years.
During that same time, Robert Smith donated more than $150,000 to the attorney general’s war chest. Most of the donations came after 2012, when Schneiderman launched an investigation into the fees that private equity funds charge clients.
To date, there have been no charges or settlements related to the private equity probe, and there is no evidence Robert Smith’s private equity fund was ever subpoenaed.
Robert Smith did not respond to the I-Team’s request for comment about his donations.
Schneiderman’s office said political donations have had no influence on the private equity investigation or any other probe launched by the state’s top prosecutor. Damien LaVera, a spokesman for Schneiderman said the state’s top prosecutor has a record of pursuing investigations regardless of whether he has taken donations from companies or industries under investigation.
“Attorney General Schneiderman has fought throughout his career to combat fraud and provide New Yorkers the open and honest government they deserve, which is why he has prosecuted more than 70 corrupt officials and their cronies, proposed the most comprehensive set of ethics and campaign finance reforms the state has ever seen, and taken on some of the worst offenders on Wall Street," LaVera wrote in an email to the I-Team.
As a policy, he said the attorney general requires political donors “to certify they and the entities they own or control have no matters currently pending before or recently resolved by his office.” LaVera did not say whether there were any policies on returning donations to companies or individuals that may not know they are under investigation.
James Tierney, a former Maine attorney general who now directs Columbia University's National State Attorneys General Program, said he believes Schneiderman and other elected prosecutors make ethical decisions without regard to campaign contributions.
But he also said there are real concerns about the appearance of conflicts of interest when hedge fund and private equity donors could benefit greatly by attorney general investigations into their competitors.
“This poses a very difficult public policy problem and does create the kind of perception of inappropriate behavior that we all have to live with in an increasingly cynical world,” Tierney said. “It’s a matter of great concern for the attorneys general.”
Compounding the problem, Tierney said, hedge funds and private equity firms are not transparent about their investments. That means the funds can allege some sort of wrongdoing about another company - and it is impossible for prosecutors to know if a resulting investigation could be seen as posing a conflict of interest.
“They will attempt to spin an investigation to a law enforcement official,” Tierney said. “You don’t know whether they’ve bought long or short” and may stand to benefit from any probe. 
Despite accepting campaign donations from wealthy financiers, Schneiderman has been a champion of campaign finance reform. Last year, he proposed sweeping legislation that would lower contribution limits and create public financing for candidates running for state office in New York.
Still, the I-Team found other examples where Schneiderman has taken campaign cash from the very people and industries affected by his investigations.
The attorney general’s investigation into Airbnb could benefit the hotel industry. Hotel owners and hospitality companies have donated nearly $100,000 to Schneiderman since 2010. His investigation into online sports betting sites DraftKings and FanDuel could benefit traditional casinos. The I-Team found the casino industry has donated more than $48,000 to Schneiderman since 2010.
The attorney general’s office said both of those investigations were launched because of clear wrong-doing by the companies.
NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC New York, owns a stake in FanDuel. NBCUniversal also donated $10,000 to Schneiderman.
In one of Schneiderman’s most recent announcements, he touted a cash settlement with Barclays and Credit Suisse after his office investigated high frequency trading platforms owned by the banks. After the investigation was launched, Barclays and Credit Suisse lost market share, while IEX – another trading platform – gained market share.
Two Schneiderman donors, activist hedge fund investors David Einhorn and William Ackman, benefited from the investigation because their hedge funds own stakes in IEX. Einhorn and Ackman have donated more than $177,000 to Schneiderman since he first ran for office.
There is no evidence the decision to investigate competitors of IEX had anything to do with political donations from IEX investors. A representative of Einhorn said he would not comment. Ackman has not responded to the I-Team’s request for comment.
Schneiderman's office said the high frequency trading case began with a whistleblower tip within the investment bank.
His office also pointed to a recent probe into cable internet speeds as an example of Schneiderman investigating the very companies that have donated to his campaign. Targets of the cable internet investigation have donated more than $100,000 to Schneiderman.
“The examples provided for this story paint a clear picture of an attorney general who will go after anyone who tries to take advantage of New Yorkers no matter how rich or powerful they are, or to whom they have given political contributions,” LaVera said.
Though Schneiderman’s plan for campaign finance reform has been well received by good government watchdog groups, some have expressed unease about his acceptance of political donations from Wall Street, when the New York Attorney General’s Office is often thought of as a “sheriff of Wall Street.”
“That what he is doing is not illegal shows why we need to reform our campaign finance system and take the questionable gifts and conflicted money out of the system,” said Dick Dadey, Executive Director of Citizens Union.
“Almost every state elected official has such conflicts when raising campaign money, but it doesn’t make it any more right.”
Published at 6:10 PM EST on Feb 18, 2016

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. Recuses Himself From The Investigation Into Eliot Spitzer

Manhattan Prosecutor Asks to Be Recused From Spitzer Inquiry

Cyrus R. Vance Jr.

The Manhattan district attorney has moved to recuse himself from the criminal investigation into an allegation that former Gov. Eliot Spitzer assaulted a 26-year-old woman at the Plaza Hotel, saying the close ties between his office and Mr. Spitzer had created an apparent conflict of interest.

The district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., made a formal request on Wednesday to the deputy administrative judge for New York City courts to have the case transferred to the district attorney’s office in another borough, Mr. Vance’s aides and court officials said. The request was expected to be granted, but the judge, Fern A. Fisher, had not taken action by Wednesday night.

Mr. Vance’s request comes as the investigation has hit a wall, law enforcement officials said. The woman, who initially said she had been choked by Mr. Spitzer, declined to press charges and has since left the country, these officials said on Wednesday.
Eliot Spitzer

“We are at a standstill now, absent a complainant,” said Stephen P. Davis, the deputy commissioner of public information for the New York Police Department. “If she would change her mind we would have to reconsider, but what we would have to have is her telling us what happened and saying she wants to press charges.”

Mr. Spitzer resigned as governor of New York in 2008 after it came to light that he had patronized prostitutes.
Travis divorced her husband, Michael, in 2013, but kept his last name.

The investigation into the alleged assault began on Saturday about 8:05 p.m., when the woman, Svetlana Zakharova Travis, called the police from a hotel room and said she had cut her wrist, the authorities said. When the officers arrived, they found Mr. Spitzer in her room. There were bloodstains and broken glass on the floor.

Mr. Spitzer’s lawyer said he had a previous relationship with Ms. Travis. At her request, he had booked the room for her and had visited her on Saturday afternoon, talking with her about her plans to return to her native Russia, the lawyer, Adam Kaufmann, said.

Because she was bleeding from her arm, Ms. Travis was taken to Mount Sinai West, formerly St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, where she told nurses and doctors that Mr. Spitzer had attacked her, officials said. Hours later, at the Midtown North Precinct station house, she told detectives that Mr. Spitzer had pushed her down on a bed and choked her, but then said she did not want to press charges, law enforcement officials said. She departed on a flight to Russia on Sunday.

Ms. Travis’s decision not to press charges has not ended the inquiry, police officials and prosecutors said. Having executed search warrants, detectives are still reviewing telephone and computer records related to the case, one law enforcement official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case.

Through his lawyer, Mr. Spitzer has denied he assaulted Ms. Travis. He maintains Ms. Travis even sent him an email on Monday, stating that her report to the police was “all fake,” and swearing, on the contrary, that Mr. Spitzer had tried to save her from a suicide attempt.

“Ms. Travis has recanted any claim of an assault, and made it clear, in fact, that Eliot tried to assist her,” Lisa Linden, a spokeswoman for Eliot Spitzer, said. “We are confident that whoever looks at the facts will reach the same conclusion.”

Officials in Mr. Vance’s office said the ties between the former governor and the office were too close to erase doubts about impartiality. Some of Mr. Vance’s top aides, including his deputy chief of staff and his executive assistant, were top aides to Mr. Spitzer when he was governor. Mr. Spitzer’s daughter also worked for the office as a paralegal.

Beyond those connections, Mr. Spitzer has had a long relationship with the office itself, having started his career there as a prosecutor in 1986. The former governor was also a political ally of Mr. Vance, both Democrats. In 2007, for instance, he appointed Mr. Vance to the New York State Commission on Sentencing Reform.

Joan Vollero, a spokesman for Mr. Vance, said the district attorney did not believe there is a direct conflict of interest that would make it impossible for his assistants to do their jobs. “However, due to Mr. Spitzer’s personal and professional connections to this office, we have decided to seek recusal to avoid any appearance of impropriety,” she said.

Correction: February 18, 2016 
An earlier version of this article misstated the year that former Gov. Eliot Spitzer appointed Cyrus R. Vance Jr. to the New York State Commission on Sentencing Reform. It was 2007, not 2009.

Spitzer’s work was as reckless as his private life

One of the more effective, albeit disingenuous, narratives of the American left goes something like this: The business community is evil and must be punished for the sins it has committed or may yet commit.
Its popularity on the left is growing, egged on by President Obama, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and radical Sen. Elizabeth Warren — even at times by Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.

 But they weren’t the ones who mainstreamed it. No, I’m afraid, the modern equivalent of this demagoguery comes from a darker, more ambitious and more volatile place: the mind of Eliot Spitzer.
Yes, the former New York governor and state attorney general — when he was known as the “Sheriff of Wall Street” — has been in the news a lot the last couple of days afterpolice responded to a complaint that he allegedly choked Svetlana Travis, 25, at the Plaza Hotel over the weekend. Spitzer denied the choking incident, and Travis has left the country for her native Russia without filing charges.
Whatever you make of this episode (the woman is less than half his age with an apparently spotty employment record), it’s fair to say it isn’t Spitzer’s lone lapse of judgment. Aside from his crazy behavior as governor (remember how he was accused of using state police to spy on a political opponent?), who can forget the reason he was ultimately forced out of office: a federal sting operation that caught him having sex with a hooker in Washington, DC.
This rendezvous, as I pointed out in this paper back in 2013, was paid for in part by New York’s taxpayers because the ex-gov muscled his way into a congressional subcommittee meeting and used state resources to cover his travel expenses.
(Spitzer paid for the hooker himself.)
But these are mere symptoms of Spitzer’s larger disorder: recklessness that manifests itself not just in his personal life, but in his professional one as well, where he continually pursued political prosecutions against all reasonable evidence.
This is something voters should consider whenever they hear Warren or Sanders parrot their Spitzer-inspired bile on the campaign trail, or when another ambitious prosecutor looks to make his political bones on the backs of the business community with nebulous evidence.
Or if Spitzer, as he did just a couple of years ago, attempts to return to public life.
Of course, Spitzer didn’t invent the idea of using Wall Street prosecutions as a springboard to higher office. Indeed, the great Mayor Rudy Giuliani used that playbook as US attorney and we were lucky to have him.
But Spitzer did reach new heights in his self-aggrandizement and new lows in basing many of his prosecutions as attorney general on nebulous evidence that resulted in failed cases — something that has become a benchmark for the left ever since.
On his watch there were lots of press conferences and left-wing media adulation as he threw mud at his targets — but none of his top white-collar bad guys went to jail. Those who fought back often had success.
Maybe the most blatant example came in 2005 when Spitzer accused Hank Greenberg of using shady accounting to gin up profits at the insurer he ran, AIG. Forget for a moment that Greenberg denied the charges and the numbers involved were picayune; the hoopla eventually forced Greenberg to resign and sent the company into management disarray.
Spitzer didn’t seem to care. He used the AIG case to propel himself into the governor’s mansion in 2007 while taking to the airwaves to label Greenberg a “fraud” even before filing any charges.
Eventually, a far worse financial calamity would hit AIG. The new, Greenberg-less management ramped up so much risk at AIG, the company’s insolvency became one of the triggers for the 2008 financial crisis.
And as for the case against Greenberg: It exists as a shell of what Spitzer initially brought with nearly all the charges having been dropped. The 90-year-old Greenberg maintains his innocence and has sued Spitzer for libel, for good measure.
As far as I’m concerned, the tribulations of Spitzer’s personal life are a mere symptom of a broader dysfunction of reckless, ends-justify-the-means politicking that, I’m afraid, is here to stay.
Thank you, Eliot.
Charles Gasparino is a Fox Business Network senior correspondent.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Supreme Court Justice Scalia's Death Raises Questions

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

Nobody Seems to Know How Exactly Antonin Scalia Ended Up Dead Underneath a Pillow

On the morning of February 13, the owner of Cibolo Creek Ranch, in the west Texas town of Shafter, discovered the cold body of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in one of the ranch’s hotel rooms. The owner, John Poindexter, later told the San Antonio Express-News, “We discovered the judge in bed, a pillow over his head. His bed clothes were unwrinkled. He was lying very restfully. It looked like he had not quite awakened from a nap.”
In quick, confusing succession, local news outlets declared three different causes of death. First it was unspecified “natural causes.” Then it was a heart attack (or a “myocardial infarction”), which is considered a natural cause of death. Then, finally, it reverted to “natural causes” again—not a heart attack—with one additional detail: According to a local judge chosen to assess the circumstances of Scalia’s death, his heart had simply stopped beating. The confusion apparently arose from a quirk in Texas law that allows judges to officially attribute deaths to natural causes without personally inspecting the deceased person’s body. As a triple-bylined Washington Post report explained last night:
It [took] hours for authorities in remote West Texas to find a justice of the peace, officials said Sunday. When they did, Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara pronounced Scalia dead of natural causes without seeing the body — which is permissible under Texas law — and without ordering an autopsy.
One of two other officials who were called but couldn’t get to Scalia’s body in time said that she would have made a different decision on the autopsy. “If it had been me . . . I would want to know,” Juanita Bishop, a justice of the peace in Presidio, Tex., said in an interview Sunday[.]
In her interview with the Post, Guevera insisted that she issued her evaluation of Scalia’s death after consulting with on-scene law enforcement officers, who detected no signs of foul play, and Scalia’s doctor in Virginia, who disclosed that his patient had been dealing with unspecified health issues in recent weeks.
The judge did not elaborate on why she declined to have Scalia’s body undergo an autopsy. That decision is particularly notable given the fact that members of Scalia’s family apparently told employees of the El Paso funeral home where his service was held on Sunday that they did not want the state to perform an autopsy. The same decision seems even more conspicuous in light of unconfirmed reports that Scalia requested the cremation of his remains in his written will. A cremation would, after all, likely destroy any evidence of foul play.
(If the reports about Scalia’s requested cremation are true—and, as of now, there’s nothing beyond a few joking tweets to suggest they are—then his understanding of religious doctrine was slightly more flexible than he let on. You may recall that the justice was a devout Catholic who disputed the validity of the Second Vatican Council, a sweeping set of changes enacted by Church officials in the 1960s. One of those changes consisted of lifting the Church’s centuries-long ban on cremation. Considering the show he made of rejecting Vatican II’s legitimacy, the idea that he would ask to be cremated in his will is, if not unbelievable, at least fairly odd.)
As of Monday morning, it’s still unclear whether authorities will perform an autopsy on Scalia’s body, a state of limbo that has already inspired more than a few conspiracy-minded conservatives to demand more information about Scalia’s demise. According to CBS News, officials are still debating the next steps to take. The justice’s remains are scheduled to be transported on a Monday flight from El Paso to an undisclosed location in Virginia, near the home where Scalia lived with his wife, Maureen, and their nine children.