Thursday, November 19, 2009
Brotherhood of Plunder: Snapshots of America's Criminal Oligarchy
"Twisted sense of entitlement": Police extortionist David M. Cohen (left), and his accessory, former Chief Manuel Cachopa (below, right).
David Cohen, a nebbishy, balding fellow from Stoughton, Massachusetts, seemed poorly cast as a loan shark.
Unlike Chili Palmer, the mob debt collector created by Elmore Leonard (and played on screen by John Travolta), Cohen couldn't pry open the bank accounts of recalcitrant debtors simply by fixing them with a steely gaze and hissing, "Look at me."
Cohen was dispatched by a friend named Peter Marinilli to collect $9,000 from a businessman named Timothy Hills. Frustrated when his demand didn't reduce Hills to a puddle of compliant jello, Cohen -- a sergeant in the Stoughton Police Department -- tried a different approach: He placed Hills under arrest, handcuffed him, and detained him until the businessman signed a promissory note to Marinilli.
Hills had received $10,000 from Marinilli as an investment in a business deal, and he later admitted in court that he had taken the money under false pretenses. During the same trial, one of Hills' former employees described him as chronically dishonest and entirely unreliable -- in short, a terrible credit risk.
Given that history it seems odd that Cohen had Hills sign a promissory note, a document that most likely wouldn't have been necessary had the debt to Marinilli been legally enforceable. Cohen, a part-time attorney in addition to being a police sergeant, must have understood that the debt couldn't be collected without a legally valid contract.
What Cohen seems to have forgotten is that forcing a hostage to sign a contract at gunpoint is extortion.
Hills immediately filed a complaints against Cohen with the Stoughton Police Department, the Board of Bar Overseers and the Massachusetts Attorney General.
This prompted an investigation of Cohen by Lt. Michael Blount of the department's internal affairs unit. Blount's inquiry didn't sit well with Manuel J. Cachopa, who at the time was Chief of the Stoughton Police.
"Why are you trying to f**k this officer?" Cachopa asked Blount on one occasion.
Cachopa refused to cooperate with the investigation in any way, demanding that Blount simply "get rid" of it.
All of this took place between 2002 and 2004. During that period, Cachopa was demoted to Lieutenant after the town selectmen refused to renew his contract as Chief. Two of Cachopa's critics were removed in a recall election, and Cachopa was reinstated -- just in time to be hit with a felony indictment for being an accessory after the fact to Cohen's extortion attempt.
Up to this point, the damage done by this sordid business was limited to those directly involved in a dubious business venture and a handful of less-than-upright police officers. However, when Cachopa was indicted, the local taxpayers were cut in for a share of misery: Cachopa was placed on "administrative leave" from 2005 until his conviction in 2009, which means that he collected his full annual salary of $139,000 for doing nothing while another paid official carried out the duties of Police Chief.
Cohen was convicted on four criminal counts and sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison. Cachopa was found guilty of acting as an accessory to extortion and given three years' probation, in addition to 1,000 hours of community service. Cachopa could have received a seven-year prison sentence.
Despite their criminal convictions, Cohen and Cachopa insist that they are entitled to nearly three-quarters of a million dollars from the long-suffering taxpayers of Stoughton, Massachusetts -- most of it going to pay the legal bills they ran up during their own criminal trials.
Through his attorney, David Cohen -- who was released from prison while appealing his conviction (a consideration not many convicted extortionists receive) -- has filed a demand for at least $113,000, a sum that includes "87 accrued vacation days, 125 unused sick days, 144 hours of compensation time accrued for not using sick time, 152 hours of supervisor comp time, 481 hours for court appearances related to his criminal case, 280 hours of overtime to prepare for his case, and least 61 percent education incentive pay for 2007, and 61 percent for accrued stipends and benefits," reports the Brockton, Massachusetts Enterprise-News.
Not content with collecting $600,000 in salary and benefits during his four-year "administrative leave," Cachopa is now demanding $549,000 to pay his legal bills, and $55,978 in vacation and sick pay. The Enterprise-News editorially lambasted Cachopa for his "twisted sense of entitlement" while pointing out that "the ill-considered contract language" agreed to by the City of Stoughton "is loose enough to give his lawyers a fighting chance in court."
"This is a union contract that clearly and unequivocally states that if charged with a criminal offense or sued, the town indemnifies you," insists Kevin Reddington, a member of Cachopa's legal team.
A much better arrangement would have been to put Cachopa on unpaid leave and, in the event he was cleared of charges, "give him back pay and benefits," observed the Enterprise-News. "Instead, Cachopa was on extended vacation, able to collect his annual salary of $139,000 year after year while the town struggled to keep its financial head above water." Assuming that Cachopa and Cohen are able to force the town to make good on the terms of their union contracts, the resulting financial undertow may drag Stoughton down for good.
The "twisted sense of entitlement" displayed by those corrupt officers is entirely typical of the "public servant" class nation-wide. Yes, this self-serving arrogance is particularly acute among police, firefighters and other "public safety" employees, who -- statistical evidence to the contrary notwithstanding -- describe their jobs as so fraught with peril and stress that they shorten the life expectancy of those who somehow manage to live until retirement. But similar self-exalting attitudes suffuse government employees in every field that is blighted by the state's influence.
As Steven Greenhut of the Orange County Register documents in his infuriating new book Plunder! How Public Employee Unions are Raiding Treasuries, Controlling Our Lives, and Bankrupting the Nation, this pervasive sense of entitlement has been translated into financial burdens that are suffocating local economies.
During the past several decades, writes Greenhut, "politicians have been dramatically increasing the pay and especially the benefits for all categories of government workers [sic; I prefer the term "government employees" -- WNG]. The pay structure also has a sort of multiplier effect. Because they receive such generous pensions, public-safety workers are encouraged to retire at an early age, thus leading to `shortages' in law enforcement in particular. The taxpayer gets hammered twice, as he pays full freight for retired employees and then has to pay for a full-time replacement."
The coprophagous grin of an impenitent parasite: Meet Glenn Goss, the pension-spiking millionaire police chief of Highland Beach, Florida. Remember that smile next time you look at your 401(k).
Chief Cachopa's case, in which he received a full salary for four years after being suspended following his criminal indictment, is a particularly obnoxious variation on the familiar scheme described by Greenhut. Another version that involves what has to be considered criminal fraud is the case of Glenn Goss, the Police Chief in Highland Beach, Florida.
In 2005, the same year Cachopa began his all-expenses-paid vacation, Goss retired from his $90,000-a-year job as a police commander in Delray Beach. At the age of 42 he began drawing a $65,000 annual pension -- guaranteed for life, indexed to inflation, and including full health benefits. Goss draws that pension in spite of the fact that he immediately took a better-paying job as Chief of the Highland Beach Police Department.
At age 47, this "poor, honest cop" is now a tax-fed millionaire -- merely one of countless others, Greenhut points out. With increasing frequency, government employees "are made instant millionaires just for taking a job and sticking with it over their career," notes Greenhut. "This certainly is easier than taking the more traditional American route to becoming a millionaire, through risk-taking and entrepreneurship."
Government employment rewards creative deviousness, rather than risk-taking and productivity. Former Fullerton, California Mayor Mike Clesceri presents a splendid case study.
In addition to being mayor -- a part-time job -- Clesceri worked as an investigator for the district attorney. When he had a falling-out with his boss, Clesceri filed for a disability pension of $58,000 (complete with COLA), claiming that he was crippled by Barrett's Esophagus, a condition related to acid reflux.
While waiting for his disability pension to kick in, Clesceri "pursued a local police chief's job and remained on the job as mayor and ran a tough re-election campaign," recalls Greenhut. "He even had time to have his brother-in-law attorney send threatening letters to members of the community who commented on the absurdity of his disability pension."
"Pension-spiking" scams of this variety are plentiful in California, a state being driven into financial ruin by its rampant "public employee" unions. Thanks to the terms of their union-negotiated contracts, many firefighters and police (particularly in the upper echelons) are afflicted with "Chief's Disease" -- a mysterious malady that causes those who suffer from its multifarious symptoms to go on disability pay during their final year of employment.
As the Los Angeles Daily News pointed out, this means that the final year's salary is tax-free, which "creates an artificial boost in take-home pay, which is how the final pensions are tabulated. The [spurious] injury also paves the way for a disability retirement with half the income being tax-free. The bottom line is more money for firefighters [as well as police] during their lifetime pension at the expense of a public that will be lucky to retire on a paltry Social Security check."
Often several scams will operate in synergy, resulting in huge profits for tax-feeders and a much larger burden for the productive. For example: A lucrative new pension plan for Orange County deputy sheriffs resulted in a wave of early retirements. At the same time, the Sheriff's Office, in compliance with union demands, went to a three-day "work" week. The Orange County Register described the predictable results: "After enhanced pensions led to a large number of retirements, deputies with four days a week off were happy to fill up the empty shifts with overtime."
Cops as Robbers: Remember Fahrenheit 451, in which the "Firemen" were sent to start fires? Police in Detroit today serve a similar function, stealing cars and other assets in order to make up for tax "shortfalls."
Orange County employs more than one hundred deputy sheriffs. Nearly all of them make more than $100,000 a year, despite the fact that "culture and discipline problems" are rampant in the department.
Scams of this kind are more plentiful in California than in some other states, but as Greenhut demonstrates, few if any municipalities have been spared from the ravages of omnivorous public employee interest groups.
"At all levels, state and local government employment grew by 13 percent across the United States from 1994 to 2004," he writes. During the past half-century, the country's population has grown 115 percent. During the same period, the sub-population of tax-feeders increased by 492 percent. The federal government is now the nation's largest single employer.
"I fear that the nation has reached critical mass -- the number of government employees at every level has gotten so high that it is politically impossible to roll back the bureaucracy and rein in the costs," Greenhut observes. Be that as it may, he suggests several very sensible reforms, among them the quite sensible proposal that "public employee" unions be banned.
Summoning the political will to enact such measures will be difficult, however, in an electorate long inured to the repellent notion that it's proper to live at the expense of others. This suggests that the parasite class will continue to propagate itself until it entirely kills its host economy. And then -- what...?
Robbed by the Police: Detroit resident Jacque Sutton, who was never charged with a crime, had to pay $1,000 to recover his 1989 Ford Mustang after it was stolen ("forfeited") by the police. "It's like legalized stealing," he complains. No, it is "legalized" stealing.
Michigan offers a glimpse of what may become a common future. In 2006, Greenhut notes, total government employment in Michigan exceeded the number of manufacturing employees for the first time in recorded history. Already teetering on the edge of the economic abyss in 2006, Michigan -- particularly Detroit and its immediate environs -- is now plummeting rapidly into the bottomless pit of a depression.
In Detroit, municipal authorities, led by the local police, have dealt with the downturn by resorting to undisguised theft. The Detroit News reports: "Local law enforcement agencies are raising millions of dollars by seizing private property suspected in crimes, but often without charges being filed -- and sometimes even when authorities admit no offense was committed."
Between 2003 and 2007, Romulus, Michigan witnessed a 118 percent increase in forfeiture revenues (the theft, by police, of money and property from people not charged with criminal offenses) despite the fact that there has not been a corresponding increase in criminal activity. Well, make that unofficial criminal activity. One township, Novi, went from $12,278 in 2003 to $2.7 million in 2007. The Wayne County Sheriff's Office netted $8.69 million in 2007, four times the haul its banditti seized in 2001.
Sgt. Dave Schreiner, who is in charge of Canton Township's forfeiture unit -- which is to say that he's the kingpin of that community's most notorious criminal gang -- is astonishingly candid: "Police departments right now are looking for ways to generate revenue, and forfeiture is a way t offset the costs of doing business.... You'll find that departments are doing more forfeitures than they used to because they've got to -- they're running out of money and they've got to find it somewhere."
When it can afford to, the Brotherhood of Plunder prefers to shroud its criminality in the sanctimonious argot of "public service." That veil is being lifted, and the Robber State is revealing itself in the full malevolence of its criminal corruption.
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Dum spiro, pugno!