Thursday, April 20, 2006

Talk About Clean Sweep

You know the moment.

It's when you discover something so surprising and so horrid, the only reaction you can muster is to say "Oh, my God!"

They had an "Oh, my God" moment in Harrisburg this week.

Legislators picked up the Inquirer on Tuesday to discover Mario Cattabiani's story that John O'Connell, a popular lobbyist and former aide to Gov. Tom Ridge and House Speaker John Perzel:

A) Had a bad gambling habit.
B) To feed it, stole at least $160,000 from a political action committee he controlled.
C) Turned himself in to the IRS in August, 2004.
D) He ended up in the hands of federal prosecutors and the FBI.
E) He has been cooperating with the feds into an investigation into corruption.

You see part "E"?

That's where, if you are a Pennsylvania legislator, you say: "Oh, my God!"

You cull your memory for any conversations you ever had with John O'Connell. Then, you read this graph:

In a disclosure that is bound to cause a stir in the Capitol, the plea agreement says O'Connell agreed in January to act in an "undercover capacity" and allow federal authorities to monitor and record conversations he had with people "believed to be engaged in criminal conduct."

You say: "Oh, my God" again.

Within the next two weeks, O'Connell is expected to plead guilty to one count of mail fraud – a mere bagatelle, considering how much he stole. He is now officially a government canary.

I wonder who's going to win the race to call O'Connell the Jack Abramoff of Harrisburg?

I think I just did.

24 Comments:

Blogger Dave Ralis said...

Tom,

I hate the AP for that very reason. I wondered why he only got hit with mail faud - same as former AG Ernie Preate - when he actually stole money. The AP story doesn't say they flipped him and sent him back to H'burg. Check out my Daily Rant today about Perzel's lobbyist 'reform' effort.

9:31 AM  
Anonymous phillydem said...

Wow! I'll bet Perzel is hip deep in it. Maybe Rick Mariano will have some company in the slammer.

12:33 PM  
Blogger ajm said...

I'm pretty sure that the us attorney said that it's a standard form. I think you're pretty terrible for calling someone a canary when you dont know the facts. Did you actually read the plea agreement? If you or Mario did (although he has selective memory) you would realize it along with several other paragraphs are boilerplate language. I think you should check and see who the actual canary is who flipped him to the Feds. I've heard it wasn't the IRS.

4:57 PM  
Blogger ajm said...

phillydem - do you think perzel was betting on games with O'Connell? get a life.

4:58 PM  
Anonymous phillydem said...

Here's the relevent passage from the original story:

" In a deal with prosecutors, O'Connell agreed to plead guilty to the felony count, which could mean two years or more in jail.

"I had a huge gambling problem that I no longer have," said O'Connell, a former consultant and aide to former Gov. Tom Ridge and State Rep. John Perzel (R., Phila.), who is now House Speaker. "I made a mistake, and I'll deal with it."

In a disclosure that is bound to cause a stir in the Capitol, the plea agreement says O'Connell agreed in January to act in an "undercover capacity" and allow federal authorities to monitor and record conversations he had with people "believed to be engaged in criminal conduct." "

We know that the feds have been quite interested in "pay to play"
prosecutions. It's not at all unlikely that with O'Connell being a lobbyist and close to Perzel, that
the feds used the theft charge to
go fishing by having O'Connell wear
a wire. Is Perzel a gambler? I don't
know. But could Perzel have been involved with a O'Connell in a different enterprise? Only the tapes
and time will tell.

5:37 PM  
Blogger ajm said...

phillydem - your first mistake is reading what was written as it was a 100 percent accurate. the first (and most accruate) story on this was published tuesday by pete decoursey of capitolwire.com. he also provided a copy of the plea agreement, not his "summary". I guess the Inky had to make the story more juicy since they were a day behind a subscriber based web service on the scoop.

9:30 PM  
Anonymous phillydem said...

I'm not comparing this to Watergate, but sometimes, esp in politics, seemingly minor things lead to major
investigations.

4:21 AM  
Anonymous phillydem said...

One other thing, I'm always wonder where the real truth is when someone works very hard, as you are doing ajm, to spin a story.

4:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doesn't anyone remember that O'Connell is a Bob Asher protoge from Montgomery County? Criminals stick together. The guy shaking in his boots is Asher.

7:37 AM  
Blogger Dave Ralis said...

I advanced this story a bit yesterday by looking at who O'Connell lobbied for. Specifically, he was the flesh presser for PHEAA and Penn National Gaming.

He spent nearly $90,000 of the $1 million Penn Nantional paid for lobbying in the state Senate alone last year.

That led to another important discovery: Pennsylvania's slot machine law prohibited potential parlor licensees and machine manufacturers from making campaign contributions after it was passed in 2004, but it did not bar or even limit how much they could spend on lobbying.

Read more about it in my Daily Rant.

- Dave Ralis

8:32 AM  
Blogger ajm said...

im not spinning. you are comparing apples and oranges. because a guy has a gambling problem doesnt mean he is a bad person, nor does it have anything to do with the legislature.

9:43 AM  
Anonymous phillydem said...

ajm, nowhere did I say O'Connell was a bad person. Hopefully he has and will continue to overcome his gambling addiction.

As Dave Ralis points out, O'Connell was very well-connected with lots of cash at his disposal for distribution. Given the feds interest in "pay to play" and the revelations coming out of the Abramoff investigation, why wouldn't the feds at least use O'Connell to find out what they could find out?

We'll see what happens, but I do not believe this a "no big deal" story.

1:06 PM  
Blogger LVDem said...

this is going to be a big deal thing. O'Connell is going to have some dirt on a lot of people and probably some recordings for that matter. The guy did business with a lot of people in Harrisburg and carried a big purse along with him.

2:51 PM  
Blogger ajm said...

phillydem - if he had a lot of cash at his disposal wouldnt he have paid his debts as opposed to littering the halls of the capitol with all of this supposed money?

3:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

AJ - everyone in Harrisburg knows how close you and John are. so you tell us, was he wearing a wire or was he not?

4:03 PM  
Blogger ajm said...

anonymous - if you had the nuts to put your initials on here i might have the respect to actually answer your question. in lieu of the fact that you are scared you're question remains unanswered.

4:30 PM  
Anonymous phillydem said...

Well, ajm, as I understand it, O'Connell only embezzled from his own firm, which evidently was collecting plenty of money. It's unlikely he could have embezzled for long from any client who expected him to "deliver".
So, O'Connell still had plenty of money to distribute around and your
argument doesn't really hold water.

4:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

AJ - from your hostility i take it he was wearing a wire.

5:41 PM  
Blogger ajm said...

Anonymous - I am not really hostile. I just don't think you have a clue what you are talking about and would love to know what the name of the mental midget that i am dealing with is. I guess we'll see soon enough if he was wearing a wire

7:07 PM  
Blogger ajm said...

Personally i hope he was. I would like a recording of some of the funny stuff I have said in his presence. That way I could have those memories forever.

7:09 PM  
Blogger ajm said...

phillydem - it was not his own firm. Get a clue

7:14 PM  
Anonymous phillydem said...

From the original story:

"On Monday, federal prosecutors charged O'Connell with mail fraud for siphoning money from Pennsylvania Law Watch, a group he had formed to lobby for tort reform in Pennsylvania."

IMO, your comment it wasn't O'Connell's own firm is a distinction without a difference.

7:44 PM  
Blogger ajm said...

Im sorry - i was a little confused. however, PLW was disbanded in 2003. So he hasn't been spreading their cash around, as you would say, in 3 years. and he delivered the issue. sounds more like a bonus than anything. regardless, the fact that it was 3 years ago and since, according to you, he "had cash at his disposal for distribution" would imply that there has been more embezzling and bribery going on that would be caught on these wiretaps. So did he take more money from other clients? Or did he save some after he paid his gambling debts to bribe legislators?

9:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

AJ - since your brother is the DA there, why don't you explain to us why he is not involved with this case against your friend?

12:06 PM  

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