Friday, July 30, 2010

Is That How You Act With Integrity?

So my Congresswoman is Representative Nancy Pelosi. Aside from sharing a name with a math teacher who struck fear in the hearts of many who went to my school, there was very little that I have agreed on with this woman in the past four years. However, the one thing I did like to think she was serious about was dealing with corruption in the House of Representatives.

Today, however, it has become clear that she clearly is not. Otherwise, how did she allow the Rangel mess to happen?

Yes. She did allow an investigation to forward. She did all charges to be heard by the House Committee on Ethics. But where was the leadership to call for more than just a reprimand if he is found guilty?

In case you have not been following this story, Charles B. Rangel is the Democrat who has been the Representative for what is now known as the 15th Congressional District in New York. Essentially, it is the borough of Harlem. He has been the Representative of that district since 1971.

Beginning in 2008, there were rumblings that something un-kosher was happening with Rangel. Oddly enough, it seemed to begin when he was questioned for his use of Congressional letterhead when he was soliciting donors for the Charles B Rangel Center for Public Service was improper. When that became public, the media started to question some other things that Congressman Rangel was doing. This included four apartments that he rented for substantially below market rent, the failure to report income on his taxes for property (sometimes described as a villa) in the Dominican Republic which he leases out, as well as other non-reporting and under-reporting of income to the IRS.

And this is the man who is the chairman of the committee which oversees the Federal Tax code.

In fact, he had so grossly underreported his income and holdings, that when he was finally forced to revising his reporting statements in 2007, his network went up by $500,000. That's a half a million dollars.

For some reason, the IRS, although Rangel did pay his back taxes, did not require the payment of any of the fees and penalties. A sweetheart deal is the kindest thing that can be said about that. Although he paid the federal taxes, it appears that he still could not get around to doing what everyone else in this country is supposed to do: pay all their owed taxes. Apparently, he has not been paying some of his property taxes as well as some other taxes. Its hard to tell really when pinning down his assets is like trying to catch a money launderer.

However, there's still more to the story.

Not content to ... hell let's be charitable and call it "fudge" .... his tax returns and required financial disclosures, he also seemed to have been hitting up donors in improper ways and accepting improper gifts from industries and interests which are directly overseen by his committee. By the way, that would be Ways and Means (which he chairs). He is also a member of the Joint Committee on Taxation.

One of these ways was Diageo Rum Bailout. Essentially, Rangel is alleged to have arranged a quid pro quo with Diageo Plc. Diageo, maker of Captain Morgan rum, wanted to qualify for federal funds out of the TARP which was being put together at that time. As reported, at first Representative Rangel met with them but did not give them the support they needed. However, for some reason, this support suddenly materialized. At about the same time, a hefty campaign contribution materialized in Representative Rangel's campaign coffers.

Lets be clear about something. At this point, 2009, the Democrats were firmly in control of the House of Representatives. Yet Speaker Pelosi was content to sit back and not push this forward.

Is it too much to expect a leader of one of the branches of our government to root out corruption, even within their own party? Judging by Speaker Pelosi's lackadaisical handling of the situation, it appears so.

Finally, almost two years since the first, allegations were made, charges were finally brought before the House Ethics Committee. The June 17 charging document lists out the following charges:

  • Violating Solicitation and Gift Ban (5 USC 7353)
  • Violating Code of Ethics for Government Services (72 Stat., Part 2, B12, H. Re. 175, 85th Cong. (1958)).
  • Violation of House Gift Rule (House of Representative Rule XXIII)
  • Violation of Postal Service Laws and Franking Commission Regulation (39 USC 3215)
  • Violation of Franking Statute (18 USC 1719)
  • Violation of House Office Building Commission's Regulations (House Office Building Commission's Regulation, cl. 4)
  • Conduct in Violation of the Purpose Law and Member's Congressional Handbook (31 USC 1301; 2 USC 57, Member's Congressional Handbook, p. 6)
  • Conduct in Violation of Letterhead Rule (House Rule XXIII, cl 11)
  • Conduct in Violation of Ethics in Government Act and House Rule XXVI (5 USC 101 et seq.; House Rule XXVI)
  • Conduct in Violation of Code of Ethics for Government Service, cl. 5 (72 Stat., Part 2, B12, H. Res. 175, 85th Cong. (1958)
  • Conduct in Violation of Code of Ethics of Government Service, cl. 2
  • Conduct in Violation of Code of Conduct: Letter and Spirit of House Rules
  • Conduct in Violation of the Code of Conduct: Conduct Reflecting Discreditably on the House

Basically, what these charges boil down to is that Representative Rangel has stolen from the tax-payer, failed to pay his taxes, and treated some constituents better than others because of favors they have given him (where I come from, we call it bribery), and that because he was caught with his hand in the till, his actions reflect badly on the House of Representatives.

After hemming and hawing about this issue for more than a month, it was announced today that House Committee was approving these charges and forwarding it to a sub-committee for trial. All well and good. However, they did not stop there. Although there will be a trial, the committee announced that it was only allowing a maximum punishment of a reprimand.

Let's see, he gets to not pay taxes for years and avoid any punishment. Then he follows it up with a litany of ethics violations where his punishment is capped at the second lowest possible punishment the House can give. As the New York Post reports,

"The House ethics investigatory subcommittee recommended that Rep. Charlie Rangel be reprimanded, which is the least severe punishment, according to a new report".
Here's my question Madame Speaker: Why are you allowing this happen? If it is your intention to actually drain the "swamp" of corruption on Capitol Hill, why are you allowing someone to flagrantly violate multiple laws and House rules without evening slapping him on the wrist.

To allow this is to make a mockery of justice. Its just a chance to look good without achieving any real difference. If Congressman and Senators know that they will not have to worry about being penalized, what is to stop them essentially accepting bribes.

We try and enact laws to prevent money from corrupting the system. Yet, when the people are corrupted by it, we allow them to skate on by. In this case, based on the supporting documents which have been presented to the house Committee, Representative Rangel was accepting campaign contributions in return for his help. Essentially, he was taking a bribe. Yet, rather than prosecute this man, the House of Representatives wants to hush it under the table.

The media is saying that Speaker Pelosi is only giving him a "tepid" defense. Why should he even rate that much? The evidence shows that this man is a crook. If not for the protection offered by his position as an elected official, he would be facing a real trial not the cozy watered down version that seems to be promised.

The money, the trips, the temptation is always going to be there. Rather than trying to restrict free speech, we need to punish those who give in to temptation.

But Madame Speaker seems content to sit back. She is content to allow a back room deal to be struck so that business can go on as usual.

And that, is not acting with integrity.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Do People Not See That We Have A Problem?

I have to admit upfront. I do subscribe to the broken window theory on policing. Either you treat all crimes as important or no crime is important.

That's why I am troubled with the attitude that San Francisco is taking to crime. First, it was announced earlier this summer that, because of perceived racism, Muni was ending its program to crack down on fare jumpers. And before you start to protest, getting on any Muni vehicle and not paying is a crime. You are stealing. It really is that simple.

Then today, there was the announcement by the SFPD that they wanted to embark on a new program. Basically, they have decided that property crimes really are not to be prioritized by the police department. In fact, they will be so de-prioritized that they will no longer be responded to by sworn peace officers (i.e. police with badges). Instead, reports, and investigations apparently, will be done by a civilian investigator.

The idea behind this is that there are cases that happened too long ago, or for property that was taken a while. Also, its to improve "customer service".

Here I thought the goal of policing was the prevention of crime or arresting those who commit it.

The message this sends is that there are crimes which matter, and rate a police officer, and there are crimes which do not matter, so you get a civilian. Now, this is not the first time this program has been tried. In fact, they use it in the United Kingdom. There the program was sold originally as a way of freeing up sworn officers for "important" cases. This was five years ago. As with most things when a government program starts, it did not stop there. Seen as a way to balance their books, the civilian investigators are being used more and more on serious crimes, such as rape and murder.

Try and convince me that in a town like San Francisco, where our elected officials are desperate for ways to cut on essential services in order to keep their own pet projects afloat, that there will not be pressure to use the cheaper civilian investigators more and more. Go on. I dare you. Because, its just never happened before, right?

Now Chief Gascón argues that there is nothing to worry about. For these types of crimes he is promising to use them, there is little danger that anyone will notice any difference. In fact, he opined, when questioned about this, that people would be better served because they would a more certain (and possibly quicker) response time.

Intrestingly, Chief Gascon made the state that, "There's nothing magic about having a police officer testify in court." I beg to differ, but there is. Police officers go through a lot of training. They typically have a college degree, followed by the police academy. Then they serve two years as probationary officers. In order to testify about certain topics, they need to have certain, specialized training. And lets face it, a sworn officer impresses a jury in most cases. They know how to testify. They do it regularly as part of their job. They do the rest of things required for successful prosecutions as part of their job.

It is promised that these civilian investigators will have the same training. But somehow, they're going to cost less. Now, how is this going to happen?

This just does not make any sense. Somehow, we are going to have better policing, at a lower price, with no downside by using unsworn civilians. This seems like fiscal dreams.

But back to my initial point, how is this going to be seen by the people it affects the most? If you know that the crime you intend to commit is not going to get a police response, would that make you more or less likely to take the risk?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Note To Potential Criminal Clients

Don't brag that you can do a short stint in jail like its a yoga class.

Because that is what Lynne Stewart, the aider of terrorists, did when she was initially sentenced on a litany of charges that included perjury. The trial judge sentenced her to 28 months, which Ms. Stewart proclaimed she could do, "standing on her head."

Apparently, the DOJ did not take too kindly to the sentence, or her statement I guess. So they took the case up on appeal to the 2nd Circuit. The 2nd Circuit agreed, finding that the sentence was miscalculated.

When the trial judge applied all the enhancements that he did not apply the first time, the new sentence went up. In fact, it quintupled. A little over two years of head standing is not 10 years.

I wonder if she at all regrets helping the terrorist now? Unfortunately, the judge recommended she do her time at the Federal jail at Danbury, also known as Club Fed.

So remember... don't taunt the judge or the prosecutor while there is still a chance that the sentence may get changed.

San Francisco Housing Authority - The Other San Francisco Disaster

Alright. Maybe that's a little unfair. In that it implies that there are only two San Francisco disasters going on. Our Board of Supervisors and Mayor, when he is not campaigning (and by the way, when was the last time he wasn't?), seem to create a new one with each meeting.

But anyway....

San Francisco Housing Authority are the mandarins who are charged with providing and maintaining public housing in the city and county. Only, they are not very good at it. However, they're not quite as good as Muni is at running up a deficit. They've only managed to run up a $ 2.2 million one. That's chump change to SFMTA.*

Small favors I guess.

Why is this? A large part of it has to do with the fact that SFHA, apparently, simply does not collect the rent. Because, apparently, the SFHA thinks it has something else to do on the first of the month when it comes time to collect the rent. According to today's SFGate, SFHA has failed to collect at least $1.1 million in rent. There are, at least, 1,100 tenants who are behind in their rent. Basically, that means that 1 in 6 tenants of SFHA are simply not paying their rent. There is one person who owed $28,000 according to a report from last year. No word yet on whether they have collected.

Does anyone out there know what happens when people don't pay their rent? In case you don't, I do. There are two options. First is an unlawful detainer. An unlawful detainer is fancy lawyer talk for an eviction. The second option is sue for the rent, but not evict.

If I am being honest, there is a third option. It is apparently the SFHA's preferred one: ignore the situation. I suppose that is the easiest for the SFHA. In my experience, the people who work for SFHA are one step above slumlords. Its not they are trying to gouge the tenants in order to profit. Rather, the people who work there are trying to do as little as possible to earn their city salary. If the SFHA actually depended on being efficient to meet their budget, then they might actually have taken steps to get ahead of this problem years ago. However, since the head of the SFHA, as well as the rest of his staff, gets paid no matter how bad a job they do, then its real easy not to be proactive.

Yeah, I know. SFHA won the prestigious "Most Improved" Award from HUD. If the agency wasn't so horribly mismanaged, it wouldn't need to win the award. And the fact that it has decreased the uncollected rent by $1.9 million should not be taken as a measure of success. It should be taken as a measure of failure because three years later, they still haven't gotten the rest of the problem under control. Either you are doing your job, or you are not. And there is no reason that SFHA cannot be doing its job. The people who manage and operate it allow it to underperform. And not just when it comes to collecting the rent either.

So back the question of what will they do? More than likely, they are going to unleash the landlord attorneys that the SFHA contracts with to begin eviction proceedings. The problem is, the people that they are going after the poor. Its not like they are going to get a whole lot of blood out of those stones. Losing their SFHA housing, a lot of them are suddenly going to find themselves.... well homeless.

And as we all know, San Francisco has been doing such a bang up job with homelessness. So of course, SFHA wants to contribute more to that project.

My suggestion? SFHA should just forgive all unpaid rent under $5,000.00. The likelihood of recovering it from their tenants is really, really low. The only thing that it will do is just flood the San Francisco courts with a boatload of unlawful detainer cases. The SFHA will spend a dollar to recover a nickel, and a whole lot of people will end up homeless. However, the flip side of the forgiveness program is that starting, say August 1, SFHA will rigorously collect the rent which is owed. If the rent is late, because SFHA has allowed its tenants to get out of the habit, they will be immediately brought in for counselling to see what is going on. If its late a second month, the three day notice goes out and unlawful detainer to follow.

Would you guess this proposal comes from someone who spends a large part of their practice representing tenants? Well, it does.

The final part of the plan? Fire the head of the SFHA and his staff. Hire new people who are given strict metrics by which to judge their performance. The fact that City and County of San Francisco has allowed this to go on for this long is ridiculous.

People need an affordable place to live, even when they are poor. But conversely, being poor should never be an excuse for people not honoring their end of the bargain. Too often, we here in San Francisco only subscribe to the first sentence.

* Of course, I would be remiss by not stating that SFMTA hasn't gone bankrupt yet. SFHA was all but bankrupt a few years ago because it had managed to perform so poorly that it lost a series of employment sexual harassment suits and a negligence suit because the maintenance of one of the buildings was so bad that a grandmother and her grandchildren died.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Worst Landlords Ever Just Hit A New Low (Kip and Nicole Macy Case)

So I have been super busy lately, which goes to explaining the dearth of posts lately. But as I was finishing up a case yesterday, some news floated across my path, and I finally have time to talk about it.

You may or may not remember Kip Macy and his wife. Two years ago, they got themselves into trouble. They were so troublesome, that the City and County of San Francisco had to step in and charge them criminally instead of letting the civil courts handle the problem. This lead to the saga of the Macys' bail. After the Macys' attempt to have the charges thrown out failed, they finally made bail.

Well, Kip Macy made bail and let his wife stay in jail while he was trying to raise the money. Eventually, he got her out too. How did he do this? Apparently, Mr. Macy convinced his parents to put their home up as collateral for their bond. Along with turning over their passports, the Macy's were granted bail and released from county jail.

Now, in case you don't know, the purpose of bail to ensure that someone shows up for court. If you fail to show, the court can forfeit the bond. Meaning, that if the Macy's did not show up for court, the judge could forfeit the bond. Which means that the bail bondsman would go after the Kip Macy's parent's home.

This was last year. Since that time, the Macy's have been negotiating with the District Attorney's office to cut a deal. (Incidentally, does Kamala Harris' office ever actually prosecute someone vigorously?) The deal according to the SF Chronicle's people, that was offered was a year in county and five year's probation. When you consider that the three burglary charges alone could have resulted in 8 to 24 years, in addition to $30,000 in fines, and this is a pretty good deal. Its an even better deal when you consider that the Kip and Nicole Macy already have heft time served credits for the months that they were in jail awaiting trial, and it would have been much less than a year they would have spent in jail.

Well, they rejected that deal.

So what happened next? What do you think would have happened, given the track record of these two? Think they showed up in court ready to proceed with clearing their names? Which is, coincidentally, something you would expect innocent people to do. Especially since they had convinced Kip's parents to put their own home up as collateral for the bail.

Well on June 4, there was a scheduled hearing in the case. And the Macy's did not show up. And, the ever vigilent people working at the S.F. D.A.'s office failed to notice something about the Macys' passports when they were surrendered as part of the bail. They did not notice that the passports were about to expire. Which means, according to the story, that the Macys' may have new passports and be fugitives abroad.

And they said that those to two wacky kids were going to break up. I guess when they faced the decision of divorce or throwing Kip Macy's parents under the bus, it was an easy decision to make.

So now, the Macy's are fugitives. The judge has issued a no bail bench warrant for them. And I am betting that the bail bondsman is very keen to get them back, so he isn't out money.

Like I said at the top, the worst landlords ever just managed to find a new low. Not only are they despicable landlords, but apparently cowards as well.