Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Tales Of Political Corruption In Connecticut And Throughout The USA
Vol. 2, No. 2

How Good Politicians Go Bad
The Seduction Is Subtle At First

The Cool Justice Report
Sept. 20, 2006

EDITOR'S NOTE: This column, excerpted from "Payoff: Tales Of Political Corruption In Connecticut And Throughout The USA," is available for reprint courtesy of The Cool Justice Report,

The FBI recently revealed that in the post 9/11 era it has engaged in 2,000 investigations of public corruption, leading to more than 1,000 convictions of public officials.

The fact that corruption exists at every level of government is sadly apparent from Connecticut's recent troubles to the Jack Abramoff scandal that still echoes throughout the capitol. That it exists is not the real issue. Apparently finding evidence of it is readily obtainable since greedy pols are all too happy to bite on fed sting operations or take from characters like Abramoff who eventually get caught and flip. The "why" is the puzzlement?

Is public corruption the ultimate seduction or a revelation of some innate, basic human personality flaw?

As a brand new lawyer I was offered the opportunity to run for office as a city councilman. My entrée into politics was at the invitation of a lawyer named Richie Pinto, who shared office space with me and my dad.

Richie was a powerful figure in local democratic politics, and an honest man. He was a gregarious figure who loved to be viewed as a kingmaker. Decades later I would spend over five days in a federal courtroom cross examining his son, Paul, the government's star witness in the corruption trial of former Mayor Joe Ganim.

Even at this small time level I found the lure of politics to be a very heady drug. What amazed me most, however, was the number of people who were willing to fight sometimes vicious battles to advance the party. I have to confess to a large amount of naiveté in those four years that I served. Bridgeport was several years removed from its first major political corruption investigation. In the early 80's, after my ignominious defeat at the polls, 17 people surrounding the City administration were prosecuted and convicted. As a member of the defense team that represented a major target of that investigation -- who was never prosecuted -- I soon lost that naiveté and began to see the sordid underpinnings of local politics.

Intriguingly I have found from personal experiences that there are essentially two types of pols who ultimately go sour. The first is the greedy individual who sees politics as a means of gaining or peddling influence. From petty ward healers to national figures, these people see public service as the public serving their own selfish interests. These schemers rise to all levels. What amazes me about this type is the sense of invulnerability that accompanies them. You can't line your pockets at the public expense without casting a wide net and letting it be known that you are for sale.

The second class of offender is the altruistic person who enters public service with a genuine desire to serve the public good. Many stay focused on that goal and often accomplish much to the benefit of their constituency. When this type of pol turns it is generally the result of a series of events, some accidents of fate, others the product of concerted acts of seduction.

I am no sociologist but would wager that if a study were conducted focusing on the good pol that turns bad one constant would probably emerge: long tenure and lopsided political victories. The sense of political invincibility must be a powerful agent in the fermenting of the good pol gone bad.

The seduction is subtle at first. Millions of dollars in public contracts create a battleground among corporations vying for influence and the inside track to a bid award. Wining and dining pols was a long acknowledged practice. After all, in corporate America lavish dinners, limos to major sporting events, and gratuities have not, until recently, been viewed as inappropriate or unethical. Even the IRS recognizes that wining and dining for the promotion of business is a legitimate tax deduction.

Look at the new sports venues being constructed throughout the country and what you will find is an increase in the number and cost of luxury boxes or suites. Major corporations don't spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on such extravagances to simply benefit their own employees. They are perks doled out to prospective or current clients to encourage continued business.

So the seduction starts innocently enough with the acceptance of some minor gifts, a dinner, tickets to the Yankees, limo rides to New York; nothing that isn't done everyday in the private sector. Nothing is asked for in exchange. It is the development of "good will."

The politician who is paid a moderate salary is expected to move gracefully among the moneyed icons of business. Temptation starts to develop. Now add to it a corporate attitude that influence is a necessity in dealing with the public sector.
What has not received major focus in the national explosion of corruption prosecution is that there would be no corruption without the corruptors! Take time to study the expenses of companies seeking public contract bids and among those are the costs of "consultants" and lobbyists. Lobbyists have been receiving increased attention by law enforcement. Legislative bodies at all levels are regulating lobbying activities.

"Consultants," on the other hand, are a different breed. These are generally people of significant political influence who are paid big front money to help quietly acquire face time or exposure with the public decision makers. Many if not most of these consultancy agreements include large "success fees," usually a percentage of the value of the contract.

A typical scenario is the engagement of a "consultant" to work the political landscape as an independent contractor. The hiring company insulates itself and is in a position to disavow any later wrongful acts. The consultant has inner circle access, maybe not to the ultimate decision maker but to influential insiders who advise that decision maker. Small gifts become larger gifts. Like feeding an addiction, the artful corruptor senses when the heretofore honest person is now ripe for the suggestion of some form of bribe.

Bridgeport attorney Richard Meehan Jr. was the lead defense counsel for former Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim's corruption trial. Meehan has also obtained multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements in complex medical and dental malpractice and personal injury litigation. He is a past president of the Greater Bridgeport Bar Association and appears regularly on Court TV. Andy Thibault, author of Law & Justice In Everyday Life and a private investigator, is an adjunct lecturer of English and a mentor in the MFA writing program at Western Connecticut State University. Website, and Blog,

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