This Month in Corruption: Bilking of Disabled Veterans a Notable Low

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Ex-Cop Guilty of Misusing Funds for Disabled Veterans.  On May 16, Glenn P. Pearson, a former sergeant in the Whitman Police Department, pleaded guilty in connection with the misappropriation of funds from accounts owned by disabled veterans, the Office of Acting U.S. Attorney William D. Weinreb announced. 

According to Weinreb, Pearson crossed the line while serving as a fiduciary of the accounts.  From 2007 to 2012, he was a federally authorized fiduciary for eight disabled veterans.
A press release from Weinreb says that Pearson, age 60, admitted guilt to wire fraud, misappropriation by a federal fiduciary, preparation of fraudulent tax returns, and obstruction of the Internal Revenue Services.  He’s scheduled for sentencing on September 19, at which time he faces up to 20 years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

 “Mr. Pearson abused his position as a fiduciary and took advantage of vulnerable members of our society,” Weinreb said.
Acting Deputy U.S. Assistant Attorney General Stuart Goldberg commented, “Glenn Pearson took advantage of disabled military veterans who could not manage their own financial affairs by diverting hundreds of thousands of dollars in VA (Veterans Administration) payments to his personal benefit.  He then used his tax preparation business to generate more than $1.5 million in bogus refunds and obstructed IRS audits looking into the fraudulent returns he prepared.”

“Mr. Pearson,” said Harold H. Shaw, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston field division, “now finds himself on the opposite end of the very laws he was once sworn to uphold,”
Former Police Officer Accused of False Statements on Gun Buys.  Adarbaad Karani, a former Boston police officer, was arrested on May 1 and charged in connection with illegally purchasing two firearms on behalf of acquaintances.

Karani, who is 37 and resides in West Roxbury, was charged in an indictment with two counts of making a false statement during the purchase of firearms and two counts of making a false statement in a record, according to a press release from the Office of the Acting U.S. Attorney, William D. Weinreb.

The indictment in the case states that, in November 2014 and September 2015, Karani acted as the “straw purchaser” of two firearms, acquiring them on behalf of acquaintances while falsely claiming the guns were for his official police use and not for re-sale.  One of the weapons, however, was found in the possession of an alleged member of the Columbia Point Dawgs when that person was arrested in November 2015, Weinreb’s office said.
If convicted of the charges, Karani faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

Companies Cited for Underpaying Workers on Public Projects.  Three Massachusetts construction companies have, collectively, been cited more than $600,000 in restitution and penalties for failing to pay the proper prevailing wage rates to employees for work performed on public projects, as well as other violations of state wage laws, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced on May 15. 
The parties cited by Healey’s office in the case are: Ronan Jarvis, former owner of MC Starr Companies, Inc.; DANCO Management, Inc., and its owner, Daniel Tremblay; and R&A Drywall and its owner, Allan S. Vitale.

The restitution and penalties in each case were: Ronan Jarvis, $325,053; DANCO Management and Daniel Tremblay, $293,812; and R&A Drywall and Allan S. Vitale, $62,359.
“Our prevailing wage laws ensure a level playing field for contractors who perform work for public entities, including municipalities, schools, libraries and housing authorities,” said Healey.  “When contractors skirt these laws, they not only cheat employees out of their wages, they undermine the competitive business environment of Massachusetts.”

With Eye on Legislative Purse Strings, Public University Board Promotes Former Rep

The board of trustees of Salem State University voted 7-3 on May 24 to elevate John Keenan, a lifelong resident of Salem, former state rep and former House chair of a powerful legislative committee, to the presidency of the university.  The job pays around a quarter-of-a-million dollars a year. Since leaving the legislature in 2014, Keenan has been serving as the university’s general counsel and vice president for administration. 

Before Keenan can assume the presidency, the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education must vote to confirm his election, a vote that may take place at the board’s next monthly meeting.
Keenan served in the legislature for 10 years and was a force to be reckoned with.  He was a smart, strategic and at times audacious lawmaker.  Friendly, direct, and never tricky or pompous, he was an easy person to like and get along with on Beacon Hill.   

I admire Keenan for the political vision and touch he displayed as House chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications and Energy on a number of issues -- and never more so than when he engineered the legislative approvals for a legal mechanism by which the City of Salem is receiving millions of dollars in state funding over a multi-year period to cushion the loss of property tax revenue occasioned by the closing of an ancient coal-burning power plant.  I shamelessly suggest that you read a post I wrote on how that arrangement came to be in the summer of 2012:

Keenan, age 52, has been blessed with considerable brainpower.  He’s an honor’s graduate of Harvard and Suffolk University Law School, where he served on the law review.  What Keenan is not is a professional scholar or a career college administrator.  Salem State is the first and only university he’s worked at.  
In choosing Keenan, the school’s trustees acknowledged the institution’s ultimately defining and inescapable dependence upon the Massachusetts legislature for the dollars it needs to stay afloat and to make continuous improvements.  Here’s what they must have been thinking when they bypassed female and minority presidential finalists with deeper and wider experience in higher ed:

No money, no mission.
The pro-Keenan vote of May 24 pointed to an unspoken board consensus that he’s the best available person to bring the bacon home from Boston. Public university trustees are practical souls.

The trustees were breaking no new ground when they prioritized political heft in their presidential search.   Think David Bartley, the former House speaker who became president of Holyoke Community College.  Think Senate President William Bulger and Congressman Marty Meehan who became presidents of the UMass system. 
The Boston Globe’s Michael Levenson reported yesterday that, of the 29 public higher education institutions in Massachusetts, only eight are headed by women, and that only seven of the 29 are minorities, [“Salem St. selection sparks debate. White male tapped to be president,” 5-30-17]. 

Sadly, the Globe article stated that the 10 Salem trustees voting on the new president were divided along racial lines: the seven Caucasian trustees voted for Keenan; the three trustees of color voted for Anny Morrobel-Sosa, a native of the Dominican Republic who’s worked in the top administrative tier at several prominent universities.   In the world of higher education or anywhere else, this is always disturbing.

The odds favor Keenan when the Board of Higher Education votes on confirming him.   Over time, I think the controversy in Salem surrounding his election will fade as he works sincerely and open-heartedly and indefatigably to be a champion of every student, faculty and staff member.  But it will take years – decades! -- to address and put to rest the justifiable concerns expressed about the gender and racial make-up of the state university presidents’ group.
Equality with a capital “E” is the great unfinished task of this state and nation. 

The energy evoked by the pursuit of Equality has the potential to renew Massachusetts and the United States.  There will be no new lease on the life of America if that pursuit is unsuccessful.
ADDENDUM:  The leadership of Salem State University must have anticipated at least some of the opposition and controversy generated by the selection of Keenan as the institution’s 14th president.  The university press release on the selection (dated May 24) included a lengthy section at its end under the subheading “About John D. Keenan, JD.”  Seeing it as both a legitimate tribute to the man and an exemplary product of public relations, I am reprinting that section in its entirety:

“A lifelong resident of Salem and former Massachusetts state representative, John Keenan was one of the lead proponents in gaining ‘university’ status for Salem State in 2010.  John was also the lead sponsor of the bill providing sabbatical parity for all state university faculty.  A proud product of Salem Public Schools and first-generation-to-college, John is a cum laude graduate of Harvard College (Economics) and Suffolk University Law School where he served as Lead Articles Editor on the Law Review.  Suffolk faculty recognized John with the prestigious Leo J. Memorial Award as the student who most advanced the civic and professional responsibilities of a lawyer.  In 2015, John attended the Harvard Graduate School of Education Institute for Educational Management.
“As state representative John developed extensive expertise in public construction projects helping to deliver $290 million in capital funding for Salem projects, including the SSU Frederick E. Berry Library and Learning Commons, J. Michael Ruane Judicial Center, Salem MBTA Station and the Thaddeus Buczko Probate Court.  He was also the leading proponent of the billion dollar Footprint Power redevelopment of Salem Harbor Station, the largest project in Salem’s almost 400-year history.  At Salem State, John utilized this expertise to help fund and recently complete the magnificent Sophia Gordon Center for the Creative and Performing Arts.

“Prior to his election as state representative, John served as an assistant district attorney in Essex County and was a member of that office’s first Domestic Violence Unit.  John served in the administration of Mayor Neil Harrington and Mayor Stanley Usovicz as Salem city solicitor.  John joined Salem State in 2014, and as the university’s inaugural General Counsel, he is responsible for oversight of all legal matters.  With his background in domestic violence, John helps lead SSU’s Title IX team that deals with both the prevention and investigation of sexual assaults on campus.  As a result of John’s efforts, in January 2017, Salem State hosted the National Center for Campus Public Safety’s Training on Trauma-Informed Sexual Assault Investigation and Adjudication.  Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey also participated to bring attention to this national problem.
“At SSU, John is responsible for the university’s day-to-day operations in support of its academic mission.  He has oversight of capital planning and facilities, human resources and equal opportunity, information technology, risk and asset management, and university police.  Under John’s leadership the university just completed the North Campus Precinct Study, which provides a blueprint for SSU’s next decade of capital projects.  Lastly, he oversees the maintenance of appropriate internal controls consistent with the rules and regulations of the state and the board of trustees.  John is an active participant on campus, being a panelist on issues such as climate change and freedom of speech.  John welcomes the opportunity to advise aspiring public servants and students interested in pursuing law school.  John is also a member and active participant in both the New England Council of Counsel and the National Association of College and University Attorneys.

“John resides in Salem with his wife, Kara McLaughlin, and their two children, Aidan and Erin.  John’s community service includes being past president of the Salem Education Foundation.  He presently serves both on the Salem Award Foundation and on the advisory board of the Anti-Defamation League.  An avid bike rider in the summer, John has participated in the Pan Mass Challenge for the last quarter century, raising over $160,000 for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.”

ADDENDUM: The Board of Higher Education voted unanimously on Tuesday, June 20, to approve John Keenan's appointment as president of Salem State.

War Hero Moulton's Authenticity Will Keep Fueling Hope about a Presidential Run

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

It’s outlandish of course that people were talking not so long ago about Seth Moulton, a two-term member of the Congress from Massachusetts, as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States, and yet another sign how poorly we select presidential candidates since the emasculation of political parties half a century ago.  In any case, Moulton has repeatedly stated that he will not run for president; however, one must still acknowledge that speculation regarding a Moulton White House run is not at all unreasonable or delusional, and that, were he to run and be nominated by his party in the summer of 2020, and were he to face President Trump in the final, assuming Trump stays in office for four years and is able to obtain the Republican nomination a second time, Trump could well have a hard time beating Moulton.

In a blog post of February 1, Lauren Johnson of the Washington, D.C. firm Speak Strategic, laid out the reasonable case for Moulton as Democratic presidential nominee thusly:  “Though somewhat new to politics, Moulton found great success in his first term.  In his first two years, he introduced 10 bills – 3 of which passed the House, 2 which were signed into law – including the Essex River Dredging and Faster Care for Veterans bills which drew bipartisan support.  In this time he also co-sponsored 270 bills.  After retaining his seat in the 2016 election, in which he ran unopposed, he has expressed opinions of Democrats changing the ‘status quo’ in order to win back seats in 2018 and 2020, pledging to ‘continue to work with both Republicans and Democrats to ensure Massachusetts remains at the forefront of progress and opportunity.’ ”

Johnson continued, “In looking to 2020 and no clear frontrunner on the Democratic side, a young, charismatic Marine Corps veteran with the ability to reach across the aisle who is willing to stand up to President Trump may be just what Democrats are looking for. So, why not Seth Moulton?”

Moulton, Johnson was saying, is at least as good as any other prominent Democrat now being mentioned as a possible candidate.  She was right.  You have not heard anyone say, for example, that Moulton would have a terrible time in a match-up against former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.  Nor have you heard anyone say this or that incumbent Democrat governor would be an obviously stronger candidate.  (Only 16 governorships are currently held by Democrats.  Those governors are, in alphabetical order: John Bel Edwards, Louisiana; Jerry Brown, California; Kate Brown, Oregon; Steve Bullock, Montana; John Carney, Delaware; Roy Cooper, North Carolina; Andrew Cuomo, New York; Mark Dayton, Minnesota; David Ige, Hawaii; Jay Inslee, Washington; Jim Justice, West Virginia; Dan Malloy, Connecticut; Terry McAuliffe, Virginia Gina Raimondo, Rhode Island; Tom Wolf, Pennsylvania.)  In recent decades, governors seem to do better than U.S. senators in presidential elections. 

What you have heard people say about Moulton is they like that he had the gumption to call for Nancy Pelosi to step aside as the House minority leader and for the minority party to give new, younger leaders more chances.  If Moulton did run for president, and if Moulton wedded this JFK-like call for new leadership to a Sandersesque populism, he could become a powerhouse.

There is no instance in modern times of a U.S. representative, like Moulton, even winning his party’s nomination for president, and you have to go back to the election of 1880 to find the last time a House member, James Garfield, went from the House to the White House.  Notably, Garfield was like Moulton in that Garfield served with distinction during war, the Civil War, although not as distinctively as Moulton, an active duty Marine officer for five years who fought on the front lines in both Iraq and Afghanistan and was awarded a Bronze Star for valor and the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation medal for valor.  According to citations accompanying the medals, Lieutenant Moulton “fearlessly exposed himself to enemy fire” while leading his platoon during several pitched battles.

That war record immunizes Moulton permanently against reflexive Republican assertions that lefty Democrats are weak on national defense and cannot be entrusted with the presidency at a time when terrorists want to destroy America.  Such claims would have seriously hurt Bernie Sanders had he been the Democrat nominee last year.  Similarly, strength on national defense is a glaring weakness for Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat whose star power and money-raising ability outshine Moulton’s, at this point in the game at least.

It would be amazing if someone who grew up in Salem, MA and earned three degrees from Harvard (a bachelor’s, a master’s in business, and a master’s in public administration) became the first member of the House to be elected president in 140 years.  The unique historical chance to become that person is certainly reason enough to encourage Moulton to run compared to why Trump was initially encouraged, i.e., he was good at kicking butt on reality TV, ergo, he would straighten things out in D.C. in no time.

Too bad Seth Moulton has sworn off running for president.  I think he’d do fine against either Trump or Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, should Trump quit one night in a fit of rage and frustration or be impeached for any number of good reasons already on the table, first and foremost, violations of the constitution’s emoluments clause. 

Moulton’s no actor.  He never played up his medals when running for the Congress.  His parents did not even know he’d won those medals until a week before the Boston Globe’s Walter Robinson wrote an article on Moulton’s war record, “Seth Moulton underplays military service,” 10-18-14.  At that point, Moulton had been out of the Marine Corps for six years.  In an interview with the Globe prior to the article’s publication, Moulton asked Robinson not to describe him as a hero. 

When a guy who’s no act goes against a guy who’s all act, the voting public almost always sorts it out correctly.













GOP in D.C. Shaping Up as the Major Problem for Charlie Baker

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Charlie Baker sent a letter to key members of the U.S. Senate this past Friday, an ominous document concerning matters with the potential to cause enormous harm in Massachusetts: federal cost sharing reduction payments, and the effort by the Republican majority in both branches of Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare. 

Anybody who cares about the financial health and stability of the Commonwealth should read this letter.  It may be the most alarming document Gov. Baker has signed during his two-and-a-half years in office.  Here’s a link to the text:

Cost Sharing Reduction Payments.  After the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a.k.a. Obamacare, became law, hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts residents gained health coverage because the feds pumped new subsidies into the states, like ours, that agreed to expand their Medicaid programs -- subsidies that made health insurance premiums affordable for new enrollees for the first time.  New federal dollars for health care were packaged, in part, as cost sharing reduction payments, or CSRs.

Some of the many Republicans in the U.S. House who hate the ACA filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration challenging the legality of CSRs, a suit now coming to a head.  If that suit is not somehow resolved or averted, the Massachusetts health insurance market will be seriously disrupted, Baker warned in last Friday’s letter.

“Most immediately, federal cost sharing reduction payments (CSR) must be resolved affirmatively for FY2017 (the current fiscal year) and 2018 (the next fiscal year, beginning July 1, 2017) in order to maintain market stability and to constrain rate increases,” Baker wrote. (The governor’s letter was sent to, among others, Orrin Hatch, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and Ron Wyden, the committee’s top-ranking Republican.)

For Massachusetts, Baker continued,  “…the market is filing its rates for Plan Year 2018 imminently.  If CSR payments were to be halted (as a result of the lawsuit), Massachusetts insurers specifically could be immediately liable for an estimated $63 million in unreimbursed costs for the remainder of calendar year 2017 and approximately $123 million in 2018.”

This, Baker warned, could "dramatically" increase 2018 insurance premiums in Massachusetts and force insurers to withdraw plans from the market, an outcome that would restrict access to health coverage for lower-income residents.      

Obamacare Replacement. Baker has seen the future of health care in America as dreamed of by the most powerful members of his party and he is terrified. 

In his letter this past Friday, when opining on the Obamacare replacement bill enacted in the Republican-dominated U.S. House, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), Baker said the bill “poses a significant threat to Massachusetts, from both fiscal and health care coverage perspectives.”

The Congressional Budget Office  had not yet issued a fiscal scorecard on the AHCA, Baker noted, but “there is no question that this bill would result in a substantial loss of federal revenues to the state and loss of health coverage for thousands of currently insured individuals.”

If the AHCA becomes law, Baker wrote, “thousands will lose their health coverage in the first year, and Massachusetts will lose approximately $1 billion in (annual) revenues, starting in 2020.”  He pointed out, “The loss of federal dollars increases annually thereafter.”

Putting such a loss in context, consider that the millionaire’s surtax proposal now wending its way to the 2018 Massachusetts ballot would yield an estimated $2 billion per year.  We could need all of that money one day just to cover federal shortfalls in MassHealth!

To recap: 

Our fiscally conservative, socially liberal Republican governor is certain that a lawsuit by his fellow Republicans, if successful, will severely damage his state’s insurance marketplace, harming people he's sworn to protect, and that the U.S. Senate should reject the House-approved American Health Care Act because it would blast a $1-billion-dollar-sized hole in the Massachusetts state budget the very first year it takes effect.

If these feared and predicted outcomes occur, they’ll start appearing in 2018, just as the governor is beginning his re-election campaign in earnest.  

One does not have to be pundit to foresee these problems colliding with Baker's hopes for a second term.

Part of Charlie Baker has to be wondering if a second term is really such a good idea in a world where health care has been reshaped in the image of today's Republican Party, the ancestral home of Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, who, don’t forget, was once willing to entertain seriously a national health care plan.

ADDENDUM: A few hours after the Baker administration made public the above referenced letter, the Massachusetts Democratic Party issued a statement, which said, in part, "It's beyond time for Governor Baker to do more than send another anemic letter to be filed away in a drawer down in D.C.  He must do everything in his power to convince the members of his own party that Trumpcare is a deadly bill for Massachusetts and residents across the nation."