Charlie Rangel has been getting a lot of flack about his ethics, almost all of it well deserved, but another member of the City’s Congressional delegation has gotten off relatively Scott-free for improprieties which, if anything, appear to be far worse.
Congressman Greg Meeks is a very smart guy, maybe even a bit thoughtful at times. Further, he has the sometimes refreshing habit of committing periodic deviations from pre-chewed liberal orthodoxy, which drives lefties crazy, but which I often find quite delightful.
On the other hand, it must be noted that these deviations sometimes seems inexplicable, if not unfathomable. Except for the fact that whether good (trade) or bad (net neutrality), they invariably seem to follow the path of the highest bidder
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has called Meeks "one of the most corrupt members of Congress."
I should note that CREW seems to be that rare “non-partisan” group that really is. In fact, their list contains noticeably more Republican offenders than Democrats.
I know some of you are snoring, and it is hard to blame you.
In Southern Queens, it sometimes appears to be far easier to compile a list of electeds not under investigations than it is to list everyone who is.
However, an examination of CREW report, which runs 13 well-documented, footnote-laden pages, is a pretty nauseating experience.
In fact, the report actually contains several chapters of misdeed:
(1) accepting improper gifts and loans;
(2) failing to report income and loans on his personal financial disclosure forms;
(3) involvement with charities under federal investigation; and
(4) actions on behalf of indicted banker and campaign donor R. Allen Stanford.
As a public service, I am here regurgitating large portions of this report, with very few edits or changes from the original:
Improper Gifts and Loans (aka "The House of the Rising Sum")
In 2006, Meeks paid $830,000 for a two-story house in the St. Albans neighborhood of Queens, New York. In January 2007, only a few months after the purchase, the city assessed the market value of the house as $1,239,000.
The home was built by Robert Gaskin, a campaign contributor to the congressman, who has also worked on projects for which Rep. Meeks has obtained federal funds. It was built on land owned by another Meeks contributor, real estate developer Richard Dennis.
Both Mr. Dennis and Meeks claimed Meeks had not received a sweetheart deal on the house, but an independent appraisal done for The New York Times found the value of the house to be more than $1 million at the time Meeks bought it.
"At $830,000, anyway you slice it, it was substantially below market," the appraiser said. "He appears to have gotten a very, very good deal."
In addition, Meeks admitted that over three years he had obtained two loans totaling $55,000 but had failed to report them on his personal financial disclosure forms.
Meeks said he obtained a $40,000 loan in 2007 that he had since repaid, and he received a $15,000 loan in 2008 that he was still repaying. Notably, Meeks failed to include information about any loans on his 2007 and 2008 personal financial disclosure reports, but called the lapse an "oversight."
According to his 2009 personal financial disclosure forms, in 2008 Meeks took a loan for $15,000 from the Congressional Federal Credit Union. On the same form, Meeks also revealed a personal loan of $50,000 to $100,000 from Queens businessman Edul Ahmad, evidently the first disclosure of the 2007 $40,000 loan.
Meeks admitted he had not sought permission from the House Ethics Committee before accepting the loan from Mr. Ahmad.
Apparently, Meeks received a check for $40,000 from Mr. Ahmad in January 2007 to help with costs associated with his new $830,000 home. Meeks received the money without any discussion of interest rates, due dates, or collateral requirements for the loan. Further, Meeks made no payments on the loan until June 2010, after the FBI questioned Mr. Ahmad about the money.
At that point, Meeks apparently took out a home equity loan for $59,650. He then sent Mr. Ahmad a check for $59,684, representing the $40,000 plus interest at an annual rate of 12.5%.
In a July 2010 statement regarding the omission of the loans from his personal financial disclosure forms, Meeks said that when he borrowed the money from Mr. Ahmad in 2007, "interest rates were as high as they have been in nearly a decade. Today, interest rates are as low as they have been since the 1950s. When I saw this, there was no question that it made financial sense to pay back the loan from Ed Ahmad and replace it with a lower interest rate secured by my home, which is exactly what I did during the same week that I filed my current and amended financial disclosure statement."
Meeks admitted he had no documents to back up the loan from Mr. Ahmad, but said it was due within 10 years. Meeks described the loan as necessary "for my family obligations, etc. I was in a new house. It’s taking care of things for my family needs in the house (sic)...You need to make sure the house is furnished. You need things."
The $59,650 home equity loan Meeks took out to repay the $40,000 was borrowed from Four Investments LLC, an investment firm owned by Dennis Mehiel, another New York businessman and a longtime Democratic donor.
Although Mr. Mehiel has not commented publicly on the loan, in February 2010 he said, "I’m a longtime personal friend or acquaintance of virtually every Democratic member of Congress from New York." Mr. Mehiel and his wife, Karen Mehiel, donated $9,600 to Meeks during the 2010 election cycle, the maximum allowed.
During an interview with the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), Mr. Mehiel said Meeks had met with him in June 2010 and asked him for a loan in order to pay back an existing $40,000 loan from another individual, whom Meeks did not identify.
Meeks also requested money to pay interest on the earlier loan. Mr. Mehiel spoke with Meeks’ lawyers regarding loan terms, and told the OCE Rep. Meeks’ lawyers wanted to complete the loan within a day or two because a House financial disclosure form was due.
In addition, Mr. Mehiel reported Meeks’ lawyers "felt compelled to pay the [original lender] a high interest rate so that Rep. Meeks would not be seen as getting a benefit."
Four Investments had never made any similar loans previously and Mr. Mehiel said the company would not make any in the future, but he made an exception for Meeks, whom he described as a friend.
Improper Reporting on Personal Financial Disclosure Forms (aka "Luck be a Lady")
In addition to failing to report the gifts and loans on his financial disclosure forms, Meeks had several other notable omissions, including some of his wife’s sources of income.
State records show that Simone-Marie Meeks earned $2,857 in 2008 as an adjunct professor at Queens College, but Meeks did not include this information on his 2008 financial disclosure forms. Nor did Meeks disclose his wife’s role as a principal at Lipscomb Lord Group, which she created in 1999. The firm specialized in public relations, event planning, and advocacy work.
Further, on November 17, 2010, Meeks admitted he had failed to disclose gambling winnings of approximately $3,500 on his 2008 financial disclosure forms. He told reporters he won the money playing blackjack.
Meeks should be very grateful for the efforts of his buddies, Floyd Flake and Malcolm Smith, to make sure that Racetrack Empire (aka the Aqueduct Racino) was in the hands of trusted friends.
Meeks also acknowledged failing to disclose a Congressional Federal Credit Union savings account containing $25,965.35 in December 2005. He claimed the account had dwindled to $8,926.20 by 2008. He has not included the account on any subsequent personal financial disclosure forms.
Federal Probe into Dealings with Nonprofit Groups (aka "This is the Story of the Hurricane")
Meeks and some of his closest political allies in New York, including Former Congressman, present Man of G-d and Racetrack Empire wannabe-magnate Floyd Flake, and Racetrack Empire wannanbe-Rabbi and State Senator and miserably failed Leader Malcolm Smith, are the subject of a federal probe into their dealings with several nonprofit groups.
According to press reports, investigators are looking into whether Meeks and the others used the groups to benefit themselves, their families, and their friends.
In 2001, Meeks and Smith co-founded a New York nonprofit called New Direction Local Development Corp.
From 2002 to 2008, New Direction’s address was the office of Joan Flowers, a former campaign treasurer for both Meeks and Smith. Ms. Flowers also worked as counsel to Smith, but was terminated in March 2010, as reports of the federal probe surfaced.
Smith helped direct state funding to the group, and Meeks helped it secure other contributions, including a $250,000 contribution from International Airport Centers, the developer of a cargo center near JFK Airport. New Direction prominently displayed a picture of Meeks on its website.
In 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, New Direction began collecting money for New Yorkers Organized to Assist Hurricane Families, a special fund for Hurricane Katrina victims. The New Direction website said it planned to raise $270,000 for hurricane evacuees, and directed donations to the offices of Meeks, Smith, and Assemblywoman Barbara Clark.
Meeks said all money raised for the fund would go to victims, and none would be used for administrative costs. Meeks’ congressional campaign gave the fund $10,000 in 2005, though $5,000 appears to have been refunded to the campaign in 2006. Additionally, Assemblywoman Clark said she helped set up a gospel concert that raised $11,210, and that money was turned over to Meeks to benefit the fund.
Nonetheless, according to New Direction’s tax returns, the only money spent on Hurricane Katrina-related giving was $1,392 paid out in 2006 for hurricane victim expenses. According to press reports, the charity has not accounted for the rest of the money. The group’s most recent tax filing, from 2008, reported assets of just $55,254 remaining at the end of the year.
Meeks initially issued a statement saying "the funds were utilized to help sustain displaced evacuees," but did not provide details.
A month later, in February 2010, amid press reports of an investigation into the charity by the U.S. Attorney’s office, Meeks said he was not responsible for day-to-day operations at the charity and did not know what had become of the money.
In addition, according to The New York Post, federal investigators have subpoenaed Meeks’ records for information about the Greater Jamaica Development Corp., a Queens nonprofit. Meeks has secured millions of dollars in public money for the charity, including $9.2 million from the Federal Transit Administration for rehabilitation of an underpass.
The project has been underway for almost a decade, but the work is roughly only 30 percent complete. Former Rep. Flake is a member of Greater Jamaica’s board.
Ties to Indicted Financier Allen Stanford (aka "Most Likely Hugo Go Uruguay and I’ll got to Venezuela")
Between 2003 and 2007, Meeks, a member of the Caribbean caucus, took at least six trips to luxurious Caribbean resorts paid for by the Inter-American Economic Council, a nonprofit heavily backed by banker R. Allen Stanford.
In 2006, in response to questions from the New York Daily News about the trips, Meeks said the trips were for business, though his wife traveled with him.
"It helps my marriage," he said
Additionally, Stanford Financial Group’s political action committee and employees donated $15,100 to Meeks during the 2008 election cycle, making the firm Meeks’ third largest contributor.
In 2009, Mr. Stanford was indicted for running a Ponzi scheme and federal investigators reportedly began examining his ties to lawmakers, including Rep. Meeks.
The current status of the investigation is unknown.
In March 2006, after the president of Mr. Stanford’s bank in Venezuela, Gonzalo Tirado, filed a lawsuit and raised questions about whether Mr. Stanford was involved in fraud, Mr. Stanford called Meeks, a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and asked him to intervene by going directly to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and requesting a criminal investigation of Mr. Tirado.
Two former federal agents then working for Mr. Stanford were listening to the call, and said Meeks agreed to pursue the matter with Chavez.
Meeks traveled to Venezuela in 2006 on a taxpayer-funded trip, described as a meeting to express gratitude for a program that provided heating oil to Americans.
In 2007, Mr. Tirado was indicted in Venezuela. Meeks has declined to answer questions about the trip, about whether he intervened in the case of Mr. Tirado, and about his relationship with Mr. Stanford.
In April 2010, Meeks officially notified then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that he had been served with a subpoena for documents issued by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, and press reports said the subpoena was tied to the federal probe into Rep. Meeks and other Queens politicians.
The current status of the investigation is unknown.
After conducting an investigation into Rep. Meeks’ loans, the OCE referred his case to the House Ethics Committee on May 18, 2011. The OCE found substantial reason to believe Meeks "failed to properly disclose the $40,000 as a gift on his 2007, 2008, and 2009 Financial Disclosure Statements in violation of House rules, standards of conduct and federal law."
The OCE noted that Meeks and Mr. Ahmad both declined to cooperate with the OCE’s investigation of the loan, and it "appeared to lack the normal indicia, including a set interest rate or repayment terms, of a legitimate loan. Therefore, this $40,000 transferred to Representative Meeks in 2007 appears to have been a gift."
The OCE recommended the House Ethics Committee further review the matter and issue subpoenas to Meeks and Mr. Ahmad.
Meeks’ campaign committee reported paying law firms Dorsey & Whitney and Perkins Coie $245,517 in 2010, and $11,000 as of the date of the CREW report in 2011.
The report concludes that Meeks may be guilty of "False Statements on Personal Financial Disclosure Forms," "Acceptance of a Bribe," "Illegal Gratuity." asking for anything of value from someone who "who seeks official action from the House, does business with the House, or has interests which may be substantially affected by the performance of official duties," exerting improper influence, taking official actions for the prospect of personal gain, "dispensing of special favors or privileges...," Gift Rule Violations and "Conduct Not Reflecting Creditably on the House."
Where Does that Leave Us?
It seems obvious that Meeks must go. I make no judgment on whther or not Meeks belongs behind bars, but it is clear that he does not belong in Congress.
In fact, it was so obvious that Joe Crowley was originally trying to ease Meeks out. Apparently though, that might have led to an actual primary, meaning that Crowley could not control succession.
Anyway, if Meeks was forced to leave office, wouldn’t it be better to happen in midterm, when Crowley could personally control the nomination?
Since the district now crosses into Nassau, the Party’s District Leaders would no longer control the nomination.
Instead, each County Leader would cast their proportionate share of the district’s votes to choose the nominee, meaning Crowley could do it while sitting on the toilet in the privacy of his Virginia home.
And since the district’s population of Irish Catholics and Orthodox and Russians Jews, while significant, is too small to be controlling, any special election would likely be a formality, unless the pastor of a mega-church decided to enter the race.
It has happened before, but Floyd Flake seems unlikely to want a second bite at the apple (and if he did, Crowley would probably acquiesce), and given Flake’s co-starring role in much of the foregoing, he would not be any improvement (in fact, given Flake’s social conservatism, it could be argued that he would be worse).
Better than to choose a successor now.
The field may be pathetic, but that will only facilitate an open primary two years from now. Still one is bound by the Hippocratic Oath to do as little harm as possible.
Who then should replace Meeks?
With G-d as my witness, Meeks’ most well-known primary opponent, former Councilman Allan Jennings, first came to prominence as the subject of one of “Stan Mack’s Real Life Funnies,” then published in the Village Voice.
He has never stopped being a cartoon character.
In addition to seeking the Democratic nod, Jennings has also been endorsed by the Republicans (and that may be the nicest thing this liberal has to say about him).
Allan Jennings is a total loon. There are 60,200 Google entries for "Allan Jennings" + "crazy"; substitute "lunatic" and you get only 59,200.
The New York Press Once gave Jennings the #4 position on its list of "The 50 most Loathsome New Yorkers"
Jennings once threw a metal object at a reporter on live TV. He placed ads in Chinese language newspapers declaring his love for a dancer and his hatred for his wife (as she was then).
Jennings threatened another Council member using verses from the Bible. He used Council envelopes in pursuit of real estate business.
Jennings once released the names, badge numbers and job titles of undercover cops at an oversight hearing at the City Council.
Jennings said his reason for divulging the names was because the police department was avoiding using civilians to do work assigned to uniformed
During his tenure on the Council, Jennings was removed as chairman of the Civil Service and Labor Committee by then Speaker Gifford Miller because "he performed miserably and didn’t live up to rules."
According to the Queens Tribune, another source said that Jennings’ attendance at committee meetings was poor, and that he is an embarrassment to the Council.
While, given the quality of its membership, such a thing may not seem possible, in this case it was.
Jennings was censured by his colleagues for sexually harassing two female staffers and forcing them to remain quiet. The women sued and received a $300,000 settlement from the city.
According to both Jennings and Council sources, one woman testified before the City Council’s hearing on the matter that Jennings made her clean his apartment, run demeaning personal errands and chores while spewing a constantly stream of lewd comments and sexual advances. He would also force them to place their coats on the ground rather than in the closet.
Then he would fire them.
I’m sort of wondering why they would complain about that.
One woman who worked for Jennings him alleged that after she informed him that she had cancer, he grabbed her and pressed his throbbing erection into her backside.
"I haven't done anything wrong," Jennings said at the time. "I have a bunch of crazy people who worked for me who were not doing their jobs properly (birds of a feather having a tendency to flock together), and I terminated them and they decided to retaliate by making false allegations against me."
In his defense, Jennings also called his accusers ugly, and boasted that he would never sexually harass an ugly woman.
Jennings owes the City $45,000 in fines for various campaign finance violations, and $5,000 from an unpaid fine levied by the City Council relating to his sexual harassment charges.
Seeking his old seat last year, Jennings used his campaign finds for what seems to have been daily living expenses.
According to City Hall News, on May 9, 2011, Jennings tipped a waiter $100. He also spent $29 that day for a "meeting" at a tire dealer/auto repair shop, one of five meetings he held there. Jennings has also held "meetings" at gas stations in various locations, including the Garden State.
Other meetings subsidized by his campaign were held at KFC, Cold Stone Creamery and McDonald’s.
Jennings has compared himself to Jesus Christ:
"Two thousand years ago, there was a man from Galilee who did not agree with Caesar and he too was sacrificed and punished."
Also in the race is Joseph Marthone, who has in the past announced at least once for the State Senate, and at least twice for City Council, without seemingly ever making the ballot.
This time he did, since Congressman Meeks, understanding he would have at least one opponent, decided that several would be even better, and did not challenge Marthone’s ballot access.
Here is the description of Mr. Marthone he included on his own website at the beginning of the campaign.
Meet Joseph Mr. Joseph Marthone is a community leader/activist that represents the real needs and challenges of the people and community. Joseph Marthone understands how Washington works, making him an ideal candidate to advance the interests of New York’s Sixth Congressional District. Joseph advised the presidential campaign of Barack Obama on Tax issues.
Joseph’s work for the campaign was a bit of home-coming as Joe started his interest in public policy as an intern in the office of _________________. Taught Joe that the most important responsibility of an elected official is to be close to his constituents and to work tirelessly on their behalf.
Other roles and accomplishments.
*An original Barack Obama supporter & campaign Grassroots Volunteer Captain
*NYC-DYCD Neighborhood Advisory Board #12-Chairman
*National Association of Black Accountants-Financial Literacy Presenter
*Lady Mitz Foundation (Teen HIV/AIDS Education & Prevention)-Chairman
*Graduate of: (Springfield Gardens High School, Queens Borough Community College, & Queens College)
*BSU Presidential Award
*Accomplished Athlete in Basketball & Volleyball
*Former Government Auditor
*Former "Big 6" Accounting Firm Auditor*Former Consumer Products Manufacturer Internal Auditor (3rd largest)
*Former (3 of Top 5) HMOs Child Health Plus, Family Health Plus, & Medicaid Manager & Regional Marketing Manager (2 boroughs)
*My Community My Vote-Exec. Dir.
Since then, Joe’s hired a web-designer and the text now appears to have been written by a junior high school student instead of a third grader. Here are a few samples:
"Joseph Marthone is a confident, intelligent individual with a track record of accomplishments spanning from his education, his community service, his business and personal life."
"His parents provided abundant valuable childhood guidance within a Christian environment, and showed how a supportive family, individual principles, a strong work ethic, faith and a belief in one’s God-given talent can play a critical roles in leading a balanced life with the right perspectives."
"Joseph Marthone knows first-hand the devastating impact our failing economy has on the men and women who live in the 5th Congressional District and the continued government’s neglect and politicians who advanced themselves with empty lies, false hopes and empty promises. This kind of politics does not create jobs, improve the quality of life for us, or improve pride and morale."
"Joseph Marthone has worked as a community organizer for tenants in Rochdale Village, advocating on behalf of Children, women and the elderly. He’s often sought after as a motivational speaker in many forums and has found time to serve as a mentor. Even as a teen he worked with Big Brothers Big Sisters to provide much needed guidance for other youngsters in our community. This life journey of public service is Joseph Marthone’s assignment."
"As a U.S. Congressman, Joe will listen intently, will respond to people just like you. He will carry all your needs and issues to Washington as your trusted voice. These will be among Joe’s primary goals. He will fight for those he represents."
"Joseph Marthone is the Ambassador of Change…" [Well, at least he doesn’t compare himself with Jesus!]
Here are issues that Joseph will be fighting against and standing for the people. [Nothing follows but empty space].
Here’s the contact info for the campaign team." [Nothing follows but empty space].
Rounding out the field is Mike Scala, an earnest (but not entirely crazy) leftie law student and white boy hip-hop performer.
Well, at least he has a cultural affinity with the district. Meanwhile, Allan Jennings is busy trying to get a date with Grace Meng.
Scala has actual coherent thoughts on the issues, and generally his heart is in the right place.
Given the pathetic field, Gatemouth endorses Scala.