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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Solomon Dwek De-Composing: Fact or Fantasy, or Both?

The first corruption trial in the series of "Bid Rig" arrests started this past week in Newark federal court.   Several dozen people were arrested in July 2009, and there have been others who were not arrested at the time but have since pleaded guilty to crimes in connection with the investigation.   It is likely there will be others, as yet unindicted, to be indicted or who will plead guilty.  
The investigation centers around a series of videotapes made by a pretty bad man named Solomon Dwek.   Mr. Dwek admitted to what amounts to a lifetime of lying when first presented on the witness stand.   Mr. Dwek has previously admitted to the crime of bank fraud, but compared to his.other acts, it seems clear his lawyers engaged in some creative fact-bargaining (getting the government to ignore plenty of other bad acts) and the government, for reasons unclear, acquiesced.
The tapes will be the primary evidence.  Soliciting and accepting bribes are serious crimes which undermine the very legitimacy of our government.  (In Hudson County, New Jersey, those concepts may be novel and quaint.  Hold your laughter.)   However, the credibility of Mr. Dwek is still an issue.  He has to testify to provide the foundation for the evidence.   So far, he has not been the most convincing, at least to one astute courtroom observer writing in the Star-Ledger.
Mr. Dwek basically admitted on his first day in court that he was performing.   The choice of that word does not suggest the concept of truth.  It very clearly suggests the concept of fiction, in the Broadway show context. 
This raises a disturbing series of questions.   First, the naive question:   Are Mr. Dwek's statements true
More distressing is the following chain of questions which flow out of the first one:  Why did the federal government use this guy to go undercover?   Weren't there other law enforcement agents available?  What about honest private citizens who pass a background check?   

Or, was there a particular reason to select Mr. Dwek?
Here's the central question:  Was Mr. Dwek chosen, in spite of his admissions to ripping off friends and family and running a Ponzi scheme, chosen to be the bribe-giver, not because he could chronicle the truth, but (precisely) because he was willing to say anything the government needed him to say for its case?   In essence, was Mr. Dwek the perjurer-for-hire of the day?
And a global question:   Are these arrests and cases the product of a results-oriented, conclusion-first, ends-justify-the-means investigation that started with the assumption (or the hope) that certain politicians were crooks and then just tried to manufacture certain evidence to hopefully convince a jury that there was a crime? 
Here is a current Star-Ledger story with direct links to transcripts and videotapes.   Judge for yourself Ms. Leona Beldini, whom, lest we not forget, is the defendant in this first case.   Ultimately, it is the propriety of her actions which is the issue.  Ed Cheatam has already pleaded guilty in this investigation, and Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy likely has a role in this investigation which has yet to be revealed.   
Cleaning up corruption is admirable and desirable.   And it is necessary, especially in Hudson County, NJ where there is a strong history of outright corruption and an equally strong tradition of institutionalized favoritism, special treatment and other forms of line-jumping.  But using someone who is arguably dirtier than dirt is a recipe for cross-contamination.  These "investigative tactics" undermine the legitimacy of and public faith in our law enforcement authorities and their adherence to basic Constitutional rights.   Truth and justice matter, at least in the America we are taught exists.   

Should some of these "Bid Rig" defendants turn out to be really crooked, the last thing Hudson County needs is a witness like Dwek who may make these crooks look like sympathetic figures.  That might be the worst possible outcome this first trial may yield.     

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