Tuesday, July 31, 2007
The Fish That Got Away
In an unsigned article in the Valley Advocate last week in their "Splash" section, someone who may or may not have been Maureen Turner wrote about the declining drama of the Springfield corruption investigations, stating:
Perhaps the disappointment comes from the creeping sense that, after years of providing the best show in town, the feds have more or less closed up shop in their public corruption probe. While we've seen a flurry of convictions of late, it's been a long time since we've been treated to a nice, juicy indictment - and there are plenty of creeps still hanging around the city who deserve one.
Oh yes indeed there are! And if in fact the probe has petered out (although never underestimate the FBI) then what better time to take stock of the fish who got away:
Richard Neal - In the 1990's corruption probe by former State Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, both the Washington Post and the Boston Globe reported that the real target of the investigation was Congressman Neal. Even the Springfield Newspapers admitted as much, but only after the probe was safely over. Harshbarger failed to bag his congressman because the person he was most dependant on for testimony - longtime Neal crony and confidant Francis Keough - after at first promising to co-operate as part of a plea bargain developed a bad case of amnesia. Perhaps more importantly, Harshbarger developed a bad case of gubernatorial ambition, and feared that pressing the probe would alienate the Western Mass Democrat machine. Although Harshbarger backed off, it still left hard feelings. When Harshbarger ran for Governor in 1998, at Neal's instruction the local Dems sat on their hands as a act of vengeance.
So when later the FBI came around it seemed like common sense that they would pick up the ball where Harshbarger had dropped it and go after Neal again. That seemed especially likely when another key Neal ally, Raymond "Papa Ray" Asselin went down in a hail of indictments. The Asselins were handling almost exclusively federal funds administered through federal programs, meaning a close working relationship between Neal and Asselin was essential. Did Neal know anything about all the dirty deals that went down?
When shortly after his arrest Asselin was spotted prominently dining with Neal at The Fort restaurant, it was seen by many as an important signal to the local Democrat machine members: We're standing by the Asselins so KEEP YOUR MOUTHS SHUT! Apparently it worked, as no prominent local Democrat ever spoke against them. Although wiretaps insured that nothing could save Papa Ray from a lengthy prison term that may well result in him dying behind bars, amazingly not a drop of mud ever splashed on Richie.
Michael Albano - Oh how his enemies salivated at the thought of watching the TV footage of the former Hizzoner being taken away in handcuffs. But although almost the entire top echelon of his administration was either indicted, disgraced or both, Albano himself somehow escaped scott free. However he cannot escape the judgement of history, which will certainly declare him to be the worst mayor in the history of Springfield.
Saco Catjakis - In his heyday he was a Mr. Fixit known to have his fingers in many pies. His indictment seemed a certainty after federal agents raided his home, but to everyone's surprise no charges were ever filed.
Raipher Pellegrino - Once regarded as the wonderboy of Springfield politics, former City Councilor Raipher fell in with a bad crowd, namely Albano and the Ardolino brothers. By the time the voters threw him out of office, he was known as a cynical deal maker whose name was associated with numerous shady and controversial affairs. People expected that a series of indictments would clear the air, and while the feds made it obvious that they were looking at him very closely, in the end nothing happened.
Ray Jordan - Even while he was in office charges of conflicts of interest dogged this former state rep. It seemed natural that as the feds did their homework that they would take an interest in his past dealings. Not only didn't that materialize, but Jordan, never known for his humility, now brazenly poses as an elder statesman in the Sarno for Mayor campaign.
Robert McCollum - The plunging of the city into debt over the building of palatial school buildings of dubious need came to symbolize the wild fiscal irresponsibility of the Albano years. Overseeing it all was McCollum, who also served as the affirmative action enforcer, deciding who would get the fat plums awarded strictly on the basis of color. As one minority contractor told me who refused to partipate in bidding after dealing with McCollum, "No white supremist would have made me grovel before him like McCollum expected you to do to get those affirmative action set-aside contracts." With so much money involved, and so many enemies, it seemed impossible for McCollum not to get caught in the web; and investigators did indeed give the school construction program a serious look. Yet he never did the perp walk.
And no doubt there were others, with ties to these big fish, who perhaps should have gone down as well. However, it looks like they all swam safely away. Or did they? Francis Keough thought he was home free when the Harshbarger probe fell through, only to find himself heading to prison at a later date. Who knows who may yet face a similar fate?
Here's a video I made at the Hampshire Mall recently.