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January 29, 2014

Those Pesky Ethics: From Allegation to Indictment

Patrick W. Allen

Ethics violations and political corruption have been all over the news recently. From Richmond, Virginia, to Trenton and Hoboken, New Jersey…and apparently in a Maryland county about halfway between these two states.


The undeniable life cycle of political corruption and corrupted ethics has always followed the same path…referred to as the Four Stages of Corruption, which are:


·       Allegation

·       Denial

·       Investigation

·       Indictment


Stage 1: Allegation(s). This is where the spark is lit. It can begin as simply as the unintended interception of an email, or noticing something out of place, or even the rampant discussion of unethical conduct throughout a local community. Allegations can even be made from one-on-one conversations, or the handwritten content of a personal journal or meeting notes. There are other triggers for this stage, but the ones cited are the ones that most often begin the ball to roll and the dominoes to fall.


This stage is most often seen as the whistle blower stage.


As an example, in Richmond, it was an email from the governor’s chef that put authorities on notice that something was not right in the relationship between Gov. Bob McDonnell and Jon Williams, the CEO of Star Scientific.


Another example would be the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge, which spans the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey. Discussions (rumors, if you like) were like an out-of-control wildfire, which led others to come forward and make substantiated allegations of unethical and/or illegal conduct by the governor of New Jersey or members of his staff.


There are many other examples beyond the most recently reported, such as John Ensign from Nevada, David Vitter from Louisiana, Mark Foley from Florida, and Tom Delay from Texas, etc. But not all corrupt and unethical politicians are at the national level. That community only has 535 members. The far greater number of corrupt and unethical elected officials comes from towns and counties all across the country.


It is important to note that effective whistle-blowers don’t play all of their cards at once. Since their allegations wind up in news print for the corrupt elected officials to see, they generally play only as many cards as necessary, and keep the rest in reserve.


Stage 2: Denial(s). This stage is the most fun to witness. Just grab a box of popcorn and maybe a beer, then sit back to watch the show unfold. Having hoped for some time that the news would never make it into the public domain, the corrupt politician and/or government worker begin to experience anxiety attacks and their blood pressure rises like a fundraising thermometer at the county fair.


One of the first steps taken is to try to get out ahead of the news story, planned for publishing in the next day’s newspaper. Whatever it takes. Even using their resources to go on the radio and rail against the whistle-blower while asking for forgiveness and support from their staff and friends. This is called the “oh, crap,” “knee jerk” response to being outted.


A lot of work has been done by the neuro-science medical community in studying the nature, behavior and personality of corrupt politicians. The research has established that corrupt politicians exhibit the same behavior patterns as a sociopath. An important finding and conclusion to their research is:


A valuable red flag to recognize when trying to spot a political sociopath is to see how they deal with attacks on their own integrity. If a political sociopath is presented with a collection of facts, documents and evidence showing that she/he lied or deceived, she/he will refuse to address the evidence and, instead, attack the messenger (whistle-blower).


It’s pretty obvious that in the Virginia, New Jersey and congressional examples cited in the Allegation Stage, this is exactly what happens. Have another handful of popcorn. And just like many of those who are already in prison, this group of ne'er-do-wells all of a sudden find religion themselves.


Stage 3: Investigation(s). In the old days, there wasn’t much to work with. Investigators would question a person of interest with, “Did you…” and if the answer was, “Why no, not me,” then the person of interest was marked off the list and on many occasions the case was closed.


However, today we have easy access and archives of investigative information from video cameras, micro-recorders, emails, text messages, sexting messages and phone records…a virtual blueprint and fingerprint from which the corrupt politician and/or government worker cannot escape from or talk their way out of.


Oops, never saw that coming.


Long before investigators get into the forensic investigation of digital information, they should take a simple and logical step…have the whistle-blower and the corrupt/unethical political figure and/or government worker take a polygraph examination. Now, we all know that the poly is not admissible in court, but it is used every day as a fundamental investigative tool.


The polygraph, alone, will give the investigators what they need to determine if they should move forward and dig deeper, or whether the allegations are a hoax.


It is important to note that long before taxpayer money is expended on forensic investigation of digital information and a courtroom trial, the results of a simple polygraph examination can have extraordinary impact in the court of public opinion.


Stage 4: Indictment(s). Some people never get to this stage, having realized that the investigation is ironclad and their best exit strategy to stay out of jail is simply to resign and walk away. This has been the case in several situations; the Florida Representative Foley evidence of improper conduct with congressional pages and the case in Maryland which led the state’s Senate Majority Leader to resign his office well in advance of his term expiration date.


Indictment is a serious matter and should be taken seriously. However, to get to this stage, the process may have to overcome intrinsic obstacles, such as “good-old-boy networks” and Ethics Commissions appointed by those who are charged with unethical conduct.


In the vast majority of cases, an indictment leads to a successful prosecution…having passed muster during the previous stages of corruption.


Virginia’s former Governor McDonnell now resides in this stage. Looks like New Jersey’s Gov. Chris Christie and members of his staff are on their way.


With regard to Maryland and the almost circus-like atmosphere via newspaper articles, Letters to The Editor comments, social media and restaurant conversations surrounding allegations of unethical, if not illegal conduct, by an elected county official and a senior county worker...they may not get to this stage if they make it to the investigation stage and see a plea deal as their best exit strategy. Otherwise, arrogance and bad advice might prevail, resulting in a roll the dice, come-what-may.


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