Taxpayers As ATM Machines?

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“Tragedy in life normally comes with betrayal and compromise, and trading on your integrity and not having dignity. That’s really where failure comes”.
Tom Cochrane – Canadian musician best known for his hit song “Lunatic Fringe”.
In Sex, Lies and Videotape I asked if Clarkstown had become the Peyton Place of Party Politics and had a new Machiavellitaken over in the Republican Party’s House of Borgia. Shortly thereafter Clarkstown’s own version of ‘sex lies and videotape’ was released to less than rave reviews.
It revealed that the Republican Party’s Machiavelli was actuallyInspector Clouseau in disguise. Clouseau’s videotape sadly has no sex though some camera angles repeatedly show a speaker’s crotch that may be suggestive of something quite unmentionable.
Happily in the absence of sex there was a healthy dose of lying and even some talk about a portly colleague being a “lying bag of s**t” leading me to believe that the Chickens on Clarkstown’s Town Board have decided to self immolate. Turning to WRCR for possible news updates I noticed that two attorneys, Mike Bongiorno and Lydia Coats, were chatting with the editor of the Our Town newspaper, Art Aldrich, about theTrayvon Martin case. Hearing no real disagreement between the three of them over the jury’s acquital of George Zimmerman, I decided to divert their attention with a question about the ‘lunatic fringe’ that is controlling the political system in Clarkstown.

Here is a transcript of our conversation ……
Hull: Art, I wonder if I could ask the two legal people what are their opinions about the Sparaco tapes and the fact that he had gone to the FBI and it has apparently shown no interest and now the tapes are public and the way they were made public.
Aldrich: Well that is certainly a good question. I invite Michael or Lydia to respond.
Bongiorno: I have not seen all of the tapes – I have just seen snippets.  I think the problem is you really shouldn’t be out there making tapes on your own. When something like this arises you have got to get in touch with the authorities right away – it could be the FBI – sometimes local authorities. When I was district attorney and someone would come in to our office and say “Someone is trying to bribe me” you get the authorities to do the wiring and taping and they control the situation.  If you make tapes on your own and bring them to the FBI later as happened here you may not get as good a response as certainly when the FBI conduct the investigation themselves.  I think for anyone listening that would be the biggest problem with the situation here.  We may never know exactly what happened because we didn’t have a law enforcement authority managing the entire investigation.
Aldrich: We were discussing this before we went on the air today and the point was made that there is a very fine line between incrimination and entrapment. A trained undercover investigator knows the difference and would not go to entrapment which would throw the case out.  But an untrained freelance person with a motive, obviously a motive involved, – and there are political motives involved – jobs and patronage and there is different party lines, they may not have the discretion to avoid entrapment which may be why this case hasn’t gone anywhere.   Lydia do you want to weigh in on this story?
Coats: I agree with Michael and yourself that people shouldn’t be immersing themselves with this where there is a serious case that a crime is being committed.  Because first of all I think they are obstructing what could be a government investigation.  Would you agree, Mike?  It could be tainted – the information could be tainted.  So when people go and they tape it could be against State Law – you could actually be engaging in a crime yourself.
Bongiorno:   It depends on where … if you remember theMonica Lewinksky tapes with Linda Tripp.  Maryland is a two party state – in order to tape someone you need permission of both parties to the conversation.  New York is a one party state where anyone can tape as long as they are part of the conversation; they don’t need permission of the other person.
One thing here that goes beyond whether or not there is a criminal aspect is that I think it points out the way a lot of politicians use government in Rockland County.  I learned this – and I came in from outside I was part of anything until I was appointed D.A. and I’m not part of it now – this is about jobs and money.  Who gets them and who doesn’t.
There are certainly some comments on those tapes about the way jobs are being doled out and were these jobs necessary.  I think there was one comment by somebody on the tape to the effect like “Well you know it is only $75,000 worth of money and what does that mean to the Clarkstown Taxpayers”. There is this attitude by a lot of political leaders – I wouldn’t say everyone – that taxpayers are ATMs and we can use the money any way we want to – to elect ourselves or advance our agenda. It’s all about jobs and money – its at the Federal level, the State level, the local level.
That is why our taxes are out of control.   That is why the roads have holes in them despite the taxes being out of control and I think it is unfortunate.  It is the seedy side of government that goes on behind closed doors.  It is something I always did not like but it may not cross the line into criminality.  In other words bad government may not be a crime although it is going to cost us a lot of money.
Aldrich:  Nor is stupidity necessarily a crime.  Nobody involved in this case came off looking good. Most of the people came off looking very stupid – at the very best they look stupid.  They looked venal, they looked greedy, they looked cynical and I just felt after going to that press conference, listening to and watching that video, that I would just like to go and wash my hands. I felt dirty and I think this whole thing is rather dirty.
Hull: Art you realize that the tapes were given to the press then had gaps in them. There was a timeline analysis done on the tapes that showed clearly certain parts had 8 seconds missing or 19 seconds missing etc.
Aldrich:  No question they were edited!
Hull:  Which raises the question as to why were short seconds of tape cut out?
Aldrich: They were edited!  I couldn’t accept that as a journalist. When I wrote the story I pointed out some of the inconsistencies and I couldn’t accept that as a contemporaneous record made by an impartial party. Everybody had an axe to grind in this including Mr. Sparaco.
Hull:  Now let me ask another question.  If a person is recorded doing stupid or bad behavior but not criminal behavior and someone exposes that behavior to the general public does he have a basis for a defamation lawsuit?
Coats: I don’t know all of the facts in this case so I am not going to opine on that question in particular but certainly if the discussions or the conversations or the speech is something thatmaligns you, or puts you in a bad light or puts you in a false light then certainly talking with respect to the laws about defamation, yes.
Bongiorno: Defamation cases are very difficult hard to win and they are very hard to collect damages because you have to show actual monetary damages. If you are a public figure – you can say just anything you want about a public figure so long as it is not a lie or regardless disregard for the truth. So there may be defamation suits coming out of this – lawsuits have been threatened – it will not be easy to win those lawsuits.
But they could go forward with depositions!  The last thing you want to do nowadays is to be subject to a deposition.  Look at all of the people who get into trouble out of depositions. The classic example is Bill Clinton who went to deposition and that is what cost him not necessarily all of the other stuff.  He was disbarred for lying in a deposition.  God knows what will come out in the depositions but that’s there with the lawsuits. We will have to see what happens.  I don’t know what is going to happen with the lawsuits but I think Art hit the nail on the head -this is just one big mess.
Aldrich: You are asking very interesting questions!  What is your take on this? Your opinion is as good as anyone else’s out there.
Hull:  My opinion is that if you suspect corruption you go to the proper legal authorities and as Mike said they are the ones who then wire you and they have the evidence in the proper format that can be taken into a court of law.  But given this did not occur and these tapes were taken later to the FBI who apparently after three months have shown no interest, then one has to question the whole reason as to why they were made public.
Aldrich:  That is the big question! The motivation! Because everybody had a dog in that fight. Everybody had something to gain and nothing to lose and it just shows how far people will go to get these third party endorsements (Conservative,Independence and Working Families) which are apparentlycontrolled by a handful of people.  Sometimes it is three people in a room who make a decision who to give a ballot line to that could get them 2,000 votes in the general election.
Hull:  The general public does not know that this is the case.  Is that a failure of the press?
Aldrich:  I have been commenting in Our Town on this for years.  I can recall when the Conservative Party in Rockland had a so-called caucus in somebody’s living room and there were two people there!  You would go and you would make the appropriate noises and come up with the appropriate campaign contributions and finance your campaign and you would get the Conservative Line (and be their candidate). They you would get 3,000 votes.
There are a lot of loopholes in our election process that allows these things to happen which are not illegal – it’s not illegal to horse trade – politicians do it all the time and looking at that video I am trying to figure out where and if anyone crossed the line into criminality.  Apparently the FBI didn’t think so.
Hull:  In my opinion Sparaco did a very stupid thing but he also stupidly did a great service to the public because now there will be depositions if people file lawsuits. If there are depositions, as Mike has pointed out, there is going to be a whole can of worms that will crawl out.   So we may have all been done a great service here.
Aldrich: And the media have had a hand in exposing what I consider to be the dark underside of politics in Rockland County – the political reality – the deals as Michael Borngiorno was saying – the horse trading – the giving and withholding of jobs -the patronage at the taxpayers’ expense – all in a verycynical and cavalier sort of way like they don’t really care about what happens to taxpayers’ money.  As I said, it makes me ill and I want to go wash my hands.
Hull:   Right!

Michael N. Hull is a retired senior citizen who writes opinion pieces on local political issues. He is presently a Director of Clarkstown Residents Opposing Patronage with Tom Nimick and Ralph Sabatini and is President of the Residents Association of Bardonia.