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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Running For Office? The FBI May Assume You're A Crook

The Bid Rig trials begin tomorrow in Newark federal court with U.S. v. Beldini, heard before Judge Jose Linares.   Barring a sudden guilty plea, this will be the first trial in which we will get to examine the credibility of star government informant Solomon Dwek.   Of course, it's not just Dwek's say-so; government sources have promised that there are wiretaps implicating Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini.

Mr. Dwek enjoyed prodigious success enticing candidates and their associates to take bribes, if the representations of law enforcement are to be taken at face value.  In the case of Hoboken candidates for mayor of that town, Dwek reportedly approached each of the three candidates.  The one candidate who accepted the bribe, Peter Cammarano, is among the indicted and resigned as mayor soon after his arrest.  He awaits trial.

Note that each Hoboken mayoral candidate was approached.  This one fact supports the inference that every political candidate in Hoboken in 2009 was a potential crook in the eyes of federal law enforcement.  

It is disturbing to think that the FBI and Justice Department may presume that any political activist or candidate should be subjected to some sort of "honesty test," and more disturbing that law enforcement may assume that any political candidate, consultant or activist -- especially in a given jurisdiction or political organization -- is a crook.   There are community-minded individuals who are surely viewed by someone with a badge as unindicted co-conspirators in a scheme they can't see, touch or prove but which they assume exists.   On one level, this should be absolutely insulting, to both the candidates and their communities.   Certainly, on a public policy level, this has to discourage "the best and the brightest," and certainly some very honest and well-meaning people, from getting involved in their communities.   (Hmmm.  Could that be the intent?)

(Special shout out to Herbert Shaw, a gadfly in Hudson County who actually runs, on a regular basis, under the banners "Politicians Are Crooks."  This is both funny and totally true.)

On the other hand, Dwek's success in finding corruptible "marks" in Hudson County, New Jersey tends to cast a dark cloud over a substantial portion of the public employees (whether elected, appointed or merely rank-and-file) of that county.  There is, to some degree, a culture of entitlement, of special treatment, in Hudson County and in much of New Jersey's small towns.  This attitude tends to lead to illicit acts, to abuses of power, and to acts which qualify as federal crimes.

Hudson County is renowned for the lack of integrity of its public employees.  The sense that candidates in Hudson County are presumed to be guilty of something without proof is insulting; however, the fact that so many Hudson County Democrats were ensnared in this investigation must be highly disturbing if for no other reason than it supports a presumption I consider abhorrent.

Eric Dixon is an attorney in New York and New Jersey who handles civil litigation, investigations, due diligence and dispute resolution for clients directly and also accepts engagements from other professionals.  Mr. Dixon is experienced in ballot access matters, corporate governance and securities compliance.  

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