Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Michigan AG suspends probate foreclosure practice in wake of investigation

Michigan AG suspends probate foreclosure practice in wake of investigation

Ibo
x

kenneth ditkowsky

6:44 PM (12 hours ago)
to
I know that I sound like a broken record but corrupt reins unabated and no one appears to be interested.   Our courts are important and they must have dignity, honesty and provide a forum that is unbiased and available for providing a resolution of disputes.    The Courts have fallen down on the job     

The cover-up of corruption in our courts is inexcusable and wrong!    To many citizens the 9th Circuit decisions in regard to the President's minor ban on limited travel from certain countries was biased and corrupt!    But for personal experiences with the Courts many people would have accepted without inquiry the Court decision, but when people see every day judges being influenced by extraneous matters, political matters, or outright bribes it is hard to accept any decision of any Court without real question.

The foreclosure cafeteria Courts are akin to the traffic court, except people are losing their homes.   A day in Court is a mainstake of democracy; however, when that Court is corrupt and lawyers and others are being punished for speaking out - something is more than just rotten!

The time for an HONEST INVESTIGATION IS NOW.   According to the e-mail below, it appears that the new broom sweeping Michigan is taking a look!    We need the same in Illinois, and certainly Collier County Florida is badly in need a look!

Ken Ditkowsky





----- Forwarded Message -----
From:

Sent: Tuesday, May 23, 2017, 12:41:09 PM CDT
Subject: Michigan AG suspends probate foreclosure practice in wake of investigation

 To all,
 
This was recently sent out by a member of the National Association to Stop Guardianship Abuse by the COURTS. You should open these news reports and check this out. They are not long. I've been suffering similar theft for 10 years on top of both my parents being hastened to their graves with no justice. What is taking the Ohio Attorney General so long in Ohio? I have pounded at their doors for years.  
 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

United Health Care

looks like United Health Care was a vehicle for the fraud

The question is why the media is so silent!    Why is the political class so silent?



On Tuesday, May 16, 2017, 10:51:35 PM CDT, j. d. <jdit@aol.com> wrote:
BUSINESS 422660714

Feds sue UnitedHealth alleging at least $1 billion in false claims

The government's complaint comes in a whistleblower case brought by a former employee in Minnesota. 
MORE
The federal government sued UnitedHealth Group on Tuesday alleging the Minnetonka-based health care company wrongly received from Medicare at least $1 billion in “risk adjustment” payments based on inaccurate data submissions.
The government took issue with what it called “one-sided” chart reviews that focused on maximizing taxpayer dollars to the nation’s largest health insurer, but didn’t correct errors that allegedly inflated the company’s revenue, according to the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
Risk adjustment payments are made to private insurers that operate “Medicare Advantage” plans, which are an increasingly popular way for beneficiaries to obtain their government health insurance benefits. Tuesday marked the second time in a few weeks that the Justice Department filed a complaint against UnitedHealth over allegations of inflated risk adjustment payments.
“The primary goal of publicly funded health care programs like Medicare is to provide high-quality medical services to those in need — not to line the pockets of participants willing to abuse the system,” said acting U.S. Attorney Sandra R. Brown in a news release.
In an earlier statement, United Health spokesman Matthew Burns said, “we are confident our company and our employees complied with the government’s Medicare Advantage program rules, and we have been transparent with [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] about our approach under its unclear policies. We reject these claims and will contest them vigorously.”
UnitedHealthcare, which is the company’s health insurance division, is the nation’s largest provider of Medicare Advantage plans.
The federal government’s civil fraud action comes in a whistleblower case first brought by a former UnitedHealth Group employee named Benjamin Poehling who worked for the company in the Twin Cities. The government said it would join the case in February, at which point Poehling’s initial lawsuit was made public.
In March, the federal government said it would join a second whistleblower case against UnitedHealth that raised similar allegations about risk adjustment payments in Medicare, which is the massive federal health insurance program covering Americans age 65 and older.
Earlier this year, the federal government disclosed it had ongoing investigations about risk adjustment practices at four other carriers including Aetna and a division of Cigna. Rules for how payments should be risk adjusted for patient illnesses have been controversial in the past, with UnitedHealthcare suing the federal government in January 2016 over a change in guidance on how to assess the health status of enrollees.
Last month, a federal judge ruled the UnitedHealthcare lawsuit against the government could proceed, despite efforts to have the case tossed out on procedural grounds.
In Medicare Advantage plans, the government pays health insurers a per-member per-month payment for enrollees. The government says the fees can be increased when health plans submit information about an enrollee’s health that justifies a higher “risk score” for the patient.
The adjustments are meant to make sure Medicare Advantage plans are paid more for enrollees expected to incur higher health care costs.
To make sure Medicare doesn’t make erroneous payments to health plans, the government says information about diagnoses must be supported by the patient’s medical records.
The federal lawsuit filed Tuesday highlighted UnitedHealth’s program to review charts, calling it a “one-sided revenue-generating program.”
The insurer collected “millions of medical records” and employed chart reviewers “in order to mine for diagnoses that the providers themselves did not report to United for their patients,” the lawsuit states. “United used the results of the chart reviews to only increase government payments ... while in bad faith systematically ignoring other information from the chart reviews which would have led to decreased payments.”
It goes on to say: “Since at least 2005, United has known that a significant percentage of diagnoses reported by providers to it … are invalid because the beneficiaries’ medical records do not substantiate that the beneficiaries had the medical conditions identified by the diagnosis codes reported by the providers.”
The claims asserted against UnitedHealth are allegations only, the federal government said in a statement, adding that there has been no determination of liability.
Whistleblower cases alleging false claims are brought by “relators” such as Poehling, the former UnitedHealth employee, on behalf of the federal government. They are designed to recover funds for the government, with relators receiving a portion of the recoveries.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Buying A Judgeship

Buying A Judgeship
by Sherman H. Skolnick 
If you want a car, you buy it. Or, if you are a thief, you steal it. Business is business. And crime is crime. We presume everybody understands that. It seems fundamental in a real world.
 
 
And what about public positions? If you want to be a judge, you, or your friends, buy the job. Or, if you and your friends are crooks, you procure the judgeship by blackmail. Yes, there are honest judges in America, but they are an endangered species. [And we have to someday post a story just about that and how some judges in really important matters have been murdered and the Establishment does not deal with that.]
 
 
As a court reform group, Citizen's Committee to Clean Up the Courts, we have been greatly interested in two topics for more than 40 years. (1) How does one become a judge? and (2) In the court rulings that we suspect are tainted, "bought", or just plain crooked, one of the tip-offs is the judge, or panel of judges, issues a ruling containing judicial perjuries, that is, lies they insert based on supposed "facts", not in the record, but made up by the Judges out of the air. [A Chief Federal Appeals Judge from Chicago that does that is the subject of a previous story of mine. See "Chief Crook in Microsoft Mess".]
 
 
Starting about 1966, from various sources, we made up a list of "prices" to procure a judgeship in a major venue, like Chicago. To become a state judge in the local court, such as Cook County [or Crook County] where Chicago is. The price at that time was 50 thousand dollars reportedly donated to a key and appropriate official of the Chicago Bar Association, the lawyers mafia union. [Now the filling of vacancies on the bench, temporary or otherwise, leading later to permanent positions, is done through a Judge on the Illinois Supreme Court, the state's highest tribunal. More about that later.]
 
 
To "buy" a chair in the U.S. District Court, such as in a sizeable town like Chicago, in 1966, was 250 thousand dollars, "donated" or "contributed" to the Senior U.S. Senator from Illinois who makes the pitch to the President who generally appoints according to such an order from the Senior Senator, especially if it is from the same political cabal.
 
 
For a judgeship on a federal appeals court, like in Chicago, that covers appeals from federal district courts in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana---well, the price was a million dollars or then and now, "sky is the limit". Now those were 1966 prices, and the "costs" have gone up plenty since then.
 
 
Why would someone, or his cronies for him, pay 50 thousand dollars to be a local state judge? First of all, it beats trying to make a living in the law factories (that is what we call them) and running up and back to the different courthouses and courtrooms. But more to the point, it enables the would-be judge to take care of his political and financial confederates. And since all too often, justice is for sale in America, it enables a person to become a judge and live above his regular income, through pay-offs of some kind, whether in cash or property, perhaps offshore. [At the time of Shakespeare, litigants made judges rich by giving them gold buttons for a favorable ruling.]
 
 
Suppose there were no morality, no laws against thievery and corruption. There you are, the Judge. You are sitting at a table, or Bench, and on the Bench is a matter awaiting your handling, worth a half a million dollars. So what if 25 thousand dollars, or less, falls off the table, into your suitcase. In business, it would be called a commission, a finders fee, or a referral fee.
 
 
The really big bucks cases are in the U.S. District Court, such as Chicago, Los Angeles, New York. It would not be unusual for a multi-million dollar matter to be on the docket of such a Judge. In the federal courts, you are appointed for life. Federal Judges "shall hold their Offices during good Behavior" so says the U.S. Constitution, Article III, Section 1. For many years it was up to the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee what was "good Behavior" to be determined, rarely invoked during the history of the nation by way of Articles of Impeachment. That power has now been unlawfully delegated to be determined by a "club" of judges called the Judicial Council of the Circuit. That is, the appellate circuit encompassing the particular U.S. District, such as 7th Circuit, Chicago headquartered.
 
 
In recent years, the different Judicial Councils referred matters for impeachment to the House Judiciary Committee, against basically honest judges who by their rulings, angered America's secret political police, the FBI, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and CIA.For similar reasons, two black U.S. District Judges were removed by Impeachment, one in New Orleans and another in Florida. In Nevada was removed a federal district judge by a frame-up. He dared pronounce the apparent truth from the Bench, that the Organized Crime Strike Force of the U.S. Justice Department were themselves criminals and mobsters in Nevada. A latino federal judge in California dared pronounce, based on the evidence before him, that the INS and the FBI were the American Gestapo. Luckily, he beat back the Justice Department's framed-up criminal charges against him, but it took a piece out of his life.
 
 
Why would a band of "businessmen" get together and "buy" a chair on the federal appeals court, such as in Chicago? And pay one million dollars (in 1966 dollars) or ten million dollars or more in year 2000 dollars? Most all the cases that try to go beyond the federal appeals courts require the petitioner, or loser in the appeals court, to beg the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. It is done by "knocking on the door" and imploring the high court to open the door. Called Petition for Certiorari. In a recent term of the U.S. Supreme Court, on the first day of Court, 1600 such begging petitions were pending on their docket. The high court judges being old and tired, or lazy, or indifferent, refused ALL 1600 petitions. Most every one, by collect telegram from the Clerk of the high court, with just one word "Denied", no explanation given. Really? No merit in 1600 petitions?
 
 
So for most cases, the various federal appeals courts are the end of the line. Hence, it is wise to buy a chair there. Many of the federal appeals judges own and operate banks, are tied to banks and other financial entities. We call them Banker-Judges. They do NOT disqualify themselves when their financial links are litigants in their court. Guess who wins in their crooked court? [In the 1960s and 1970s, our work led to the jailing for bribery of the highest sitting federal judge in U.S. history. When we accused a 7th Circuit Federal Appeals Judge, to his face, of bribery, he called a press conference. On all the media, this Banker-Judge, Otto Kerner, Jr., (former Illinois Governor), called me a "liar". He tried to get a fellow judge to jail me for "contempt of court". He died an ex-convict, convicted as I accused him. The current federal appeals judges are so angered by our work, they have unlawfully barred me and a TV Show associate of mine, from all the federal courts in the 7th Circuit.]
 
A cynical reality: often after we have fingered a crooked judge publicly, the Establishment, acting just like the mafia, throws away the judge. He is no longer useful to fix cases. Suddenly the local prosecutors remind themselves that the judge in question does not pay his proper income taxes and such. So they send him to jail. No sensible crook would bother to bribe an already-fingered corrupt judge.
 
 
A hard to find book, published about 1962, is "The Corrupt Judge" by Joseph Borkin. He points out from specific, documented examples, the few times in U.S. history that federal judges were removed from the Bench were when the judge got in the middle between two sizeable financial entities. The competing forces crushed the Judge like a bug. But an underdog, such as a patent owner suing a huge corporation for violating his patent, gets nowhere accusing a judge of crooked rulings. [In 1963, our group originally was called the Committee to Protect Patent Owners.] In Chicago, the Banker-Judges on the Federal Appeals court in three separate appeals on the same basic case, overturned a district court jury's verdict, including massive fraud, against Sear Roebuck & Co., in an important patented tool case. The Banker-Judges had a financial interest interlocked with Sears and did NOT disqualify themselves.
 
 
In Chicago, a divorce case has led to a supposed federal investigation of possible judicial bribery in procuring judgeships. The estranged wife claimed her husband bought his chair on the local state court for 20 thousand dollars of the family money. The possible bribery probe target has been the Chief Judge of the Illinois Supreme Court, highest tribunal in the State. His home district is Chicago. He has done some strange things reportedly for his political crony, Edward "Fast Eddie" Vrdolyak, at one time a Chicago alderman. The judge once appointed a judge from the lowly traffic court to sit in the intermediate court, called the Appellate Court of Illinois. The appointee reportedly did not have sufficient experience to be sitting in the middle level reviewing court.
 
 
This Chief Judge who has appointed judges to fill a vacancy in the lower courts is quite a character. He goes around town in a cherry red Mercedes. His residence occupies two floors in a ultra-expensive high rise in the Gold Coast district of Chicago. [Hey, is this all on his judicial salary? Really?]
 
Part of the supposed probe is how "Fast Eddie" gets his crony, Chief Judge Charles Freeman, to appoint persons as judges to fill a vacancy. It seems some of them reportedly are also in the Nursing Home business with the judge. [Nursing homes are a favorite "investment" for some corrupt politicians. Such as cronies of Clinton and their Beverly Enterprises chain of nursing homes.]
 
How far will the supposed investigation go? There is an inclination for the FBI, themselves highly corrupt, to quickly hush up the matter. Why? Some have claimed that Fast Eddie, for much of his adult life, has been reportedly a "mole" or stool pigeon for federal authorities, including the IRS and the FBI. Some contend this stems from the way Fast Eddie beat back a murder charge against him, an outgrowth of trying to break a labor union strike in 1959. At the time, Fast Eddie was a law student and claimed he was in class at the time of the crime. Did he strong-arm his teacher for an alibi? Some over the years continue to say so. Some claim Fast Eddie is a key feature in the reported buying and selling of judgeships.
 
By the time of the new century, the prices to buy a chair in the federal courts has gone way up. At least a million dollars is reportedly required now to purchase you a judgeship in the U.S. District COurt in a major district like the one that includes Chicago. Ten million dollars or more is required to obtain a chair in the U.S. Court of Appeals, 7th Circuit, Chicago, one step below the U.S. Supreme Court that rejects the bulk of all the begging petitions submitted.
 
 
So, if you want to know how and why America has come to have a corrupt judiciary, covered up by a venal, lackey monopoly press, and cowardly lawyers, well, these are some of the reasons.
 
Stay tuned. 




Since 1958, Mr.Skolnick has been a court reformer. Since 1963, founder/chairman, Citizen's Committee to Clean Up the Courts, disclosing certain instances of judicial and other bribery and political murders. Since 1991 a regular panelist, and since 1995, moderator/producer, of one-hour,weekly public access Cable TV Show, "Broadsides", Cablecast on Channel 21, 9 p.m. each Monday in Chicago. For a heavy packet of printed stories, send $5.00 [U.S. funds] and a stamped, self-addressed business sized envelope [4-1/4 x 9-1/2 #10 size] WITH THREE STAMPS ON IT, to Citizen's Committee to Clean Up the Courts, Sherman H. Skolnick, Chairman, 9800 South Oglesby Ave., Chicago IL 60617-4870. Office, 7 days, 8 a.m. to midnight, (773) 375-5741 [PLEASE, no "just routine calls]. Before sending FAX, call. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

doing the right thing

To:   Jerome Larkin,
Subject:  doing the right thing
Personal Message.
Dear Mr. Larkin,
 
At this point in time I am sure that you know that your wrongful actions directed against Attorney Denison, and Attorney Lanre Amu are not going to swept under the rug, and the ‘cover up’ is going to not be successful.     I also trust you are aware that the allegations that you made “under oath” in the “kangaroo” disciplinary proceedings have stirred a ground swell of anger and  serious demands for you to be disbarred. 
  
What is done is done?  Ir is never too late to do the right thing and attempt to make restitution for bad conduct.    The Philip Esformes affair disclosure is a major victory for the side that runs with the angels in the WAR AGAINST THE ELDERLY AND THE DISABLED.     Indeed, we have been virtually impotent up until now but in September the ESformes case will go to trial.     The trial will be an eye=opener and the Chicago connection – including but not limited the 18 USCA 371 connection with the IARDC is going to come out.    The miscreant’s attorneys have been openly bragging of their political and judicial connections!      This is too good a story for the 4th estate to ignore.   It is also going to end careers!     And it may have other consequences of an even more uninviting nature.
 
When the expected hue and cry commences only the Good Lord knows where and what it will bring down – but it will do damage.
 
I am aware that the last person that you want advice from is me, but, it is never too late (prior to the sky actually falling in) leading a charge to do the right thing.     Neither Denison or Amu should have been disciplined at all and the proceeding reek of corruption.      The documents that were filed under your name with the Supreme Court of Illinois should make you blush with shame.     That said, let me urge you to do the following:
1.       Sua Sponde vacate the wrongful suspension of law licenses
 
2.       Sua Sponde join with JoAnne and myself in calling upon Law Enforcement for an HONEST INVESTIGATION of:
 
a.       The Mary Sykes fiasco 09 P 4585, including the total violation of the procedures mandated by 755 ILCS 5/11a – 3b and 755 ILCS 5/11a – 10.     If you need any encouragement read the Gloria Sykes affidavit, Judge Connor’s evidence deposition, and the words and phrases of 755 ILCS 5/11a – 3b.    Try to explain how Judge Maureen Connors could appoint a guardian WITHOUT A HEARING?   How could you bring any disciplinary charges when the Court record reveals this perfidy?     This you equated with “yelling fire in a crowded theater!”      
 
b.       The Alice Gore outrage, including the actions of the Guardian ad Litem and the Judge who presided over the case.     This is the case that brings in a strong tie in between yourself and the Esformes clan.     The ‘war crime’ allowed by the presiding judge at the request of the Guardian ad Litem to collect the gold from Alice Gore’s mouth cannot be ignored.
 
3.        Order (and or request) a special counsel to be appointed by the Supreme Court of Illinois to investigate if any disciplinary charges ought to be brought against the licenses of each of the miscreants in the various guardianship cases that have polluted the Cook County Circuit Court (and the other Courts around the State).      If warranted request that the Attorney General of the State of Illinois bring such proceedings before an independent panel – These proceeding must be totally fair to the n’th degree.
 
4.         Make a public apology to Diane Nash for excluding her from the JoAnne Denison hearing.    This action was not only uncalled for, but an affront to the minority community.
 
This is all a matter for your conscience and your integrity.      I do not expect that this personal e-mail will have any effect on you or will cause you to suddenly “find religion” and drop from the ranks of those who seek to traffic in the elderly for profit.      In fact I expect that this e-mail will be ignored; however, it is difficult to stand by and watch another “human” *******.    
 
The Esformes trial looms large!      He stole a Billion dollars from Medicaid!       The very same criminality is going on in Chicago and the ‘word’ on the street is that you are being “paid off!”    I do not know if such is true or false, but ,  based upon your statement equating the blog “MARYGSYKES”  to “yelling fire in a crowded theater”  I believe the claim made concerning you would be sustained.      In any case, under the tax code, there is more than enough to create a tax headache for you and yours!
 
Happy Derby Day,



Sunday, May 7, 2017

Why Cook County judge quit after just 142 days

THE WATCHDOGS: Why Cook County judge quit after just 142 days

THE WATCHDOGS 05/05/2017, 05:15pm
Former Cook County Judge Richard Cooke, holding his judicial robe, at his Logan Square law office. | Max Herman / Sun-Times
At the orientation for what he thought would be his dream job, Richard Cooke says he and other rookie Cook County judges were told they should appreciate their ascension into “career paradise” — and never question the boss.
“This job as a judge, we were told, came with unbelievable perks: high salary, incredible respect, five weeks’ paid vacation, basically unlimited, compensated sick days, minimal supervision, great health insurance and an outstanding pension,” Cooke says.
Cooke mounted an aggressive effort to land the job as a Cook County judge last year, showering campaign contributions on political decision-makers to help him. Yet he quit the $194,001-a-year job on April 25 — just 142 days after being sworn in.
Offering an unusual peek inside the workings and internal politics of the judiciary, Cooke says there’s more to his leaving than the way his brief tenure has been portrayed by Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans’ spokesman, who says Cooke defied orders assigning him to traffic court. And he complains about the “sick culture” of the Cook County judiciary.
“I am not the egotistical judge who was too good to preside in traffic court,” he says.
After Cooke was assigned to preside over marriage ceremonies for a few months, Evans called him before the Cook County Circuit Court’s executive committee to explain his “noncompliance with his judicial assignment” to traffic court. The committee referred Cooke’s case to the state agency that has authority over judicial conduct.
Though he immediately resigned, Cooke says he had valid reasons for not accepting his assignment to traffic court. And he says Evans and other top judges punished him unfairly.
He says he quit rather than bunker in at the marriage court while his case moved through the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board.
“I could have sat in the basement of the county building for years collecting over $200,000 a year in annual salary and benefits, all at the taxpayers’ expense, for doing close to nothing all day,” he says. “But I am unable to do that. That is not who I am as a person.”
Cooke, 50, is a Loyola University-educated lawyer. He also owns carwashes and gas stations in Chicago that have city, county and state contracts. That would have posed a “clear conflict of interest” when those government bodies had cases before him in traffic court, he says.
Because of those contracts, he says it would have been “a violation of the highest order of the ethical rules governing judicial conduct if I heard traffic court cases” and also if he presided over criminal cases.
Generally in such cases, Illinois Supreme Court rules say, “As soon as the judge can do so without serious financial detriment, the judge should divest himself or herself of investments and other financial interests that might require frequent disqualification.”
Cooke says he tried unsuccessfully to get his partners to buy him out but doesn’t think he needed to divest himself of his business interests because that would have caused him serious financial harm.
He also says his brief stint in traffic court proved difficult because he’s dyslexic.
“Using acronyms or reading handwritten cursive or sloppy printing is very difficult for me,” he says. “I had tremendous difficulty reading the handwritten tickets and charges that were the basis of why the defendant were in court.”
To run for judge, Cooke had moved from River Forest to an apartment he owns above his law office near the Logan Square CTA train station. That qualified him to run last year in the county’s Sixth Judicial Subcircuit.
He poured $660,000 into his campaign in the form of a loan. He gave more than $67,000 of that to other politicians, including the Democratic Party leaders who oversaw his slating as a judge candidate, records show. The checks went to four Democratic ward organizations in the subcircuit, House Speaker Michael Madigan’s Democratic Party of Illinois and the 14th Ward Democratic organization headed by Ald. Edward Burke, who oversees judicial slating for the party.
State records show Cooke also paid $40,000 for campaign help to a company owned by state Rep. Luis Arroyo Sr., D-Chicago, and his wife.
Most of Cooke’s loan to his own campaign went unspent. He says the main reason he put so much into his campaign fund was to scare away potential rivals and that he did that on the advice of Democratic ward committeemen. Sure enough, he ended up running unopposed.
On Dec. 5, Cooke put on his black judicial robe and was sworn in for a six-year term with other new judges. His family was there for the ceremony. In his pocket, he carried Mass cards from the funerals of his grandmother and grandfather.
“Now, finally, my dream was being realized,” Cooke says.
But soon, he says, he saw that he and other judges were being “conditioned not to express opinions that differed from that of Chief Judge Evans.”
Chief Cook County Judge Timothy Evans. | Sun-Times files
At a weeklong training program for new judges, he says, “Senior judges spoke openly that being a judge in Cook County was a career paradise. We were told that every judicial assignment is a good assignment and never, under any circumstances, question Chief Judge Evans.”
Cooke says his veteran colleagues also offered another tip: Don’t use the judges’ elevator at the Daley Center courthouse if you want to skip out of work early because reporters have been known to wait in the ground-level lobby outside the elevator doors.
“With a wink, during lunch, I was told that we were expected to work until 4 p.m. each day,” he says. “But I was also told how to sneak out of the Daley Center early through the concourse level.”
After orientation came the training stint in traffic court.
Cooke says he offered to go instead to even the least desirable civil courtroom. He also says he told his bosses that, alternatively, he’d go to a criminal courtroom but only if Evans put in writing that this couldn’t constitute a conflict of interest.
Cooke says he tried to meet with Evans about his issues with being in traffic court but his requests were ignored for weeks, until two aides to the chief judge offered to have someone sit next to him in court and read the ticket information aloud for him. Cooke says that would have been “ridiculous” and “embarrassing.”
The chief judge then met with Cooke on Feb. 1. “He said he was going to assign me to a call where my dyslexia and ethical conflicts would not impact me or the administration of justice,” Cooke says.
Cooke was sent to marriage court — which he calls “judge jail” — and says his life insurance was cut off.
“It has dim lights, broken and dilapidated furniture, stained carpeting, dirty walls, sagging ceiling tiles and is infested with roaches,” he says. “The boredom was intolerable. I felt as if I was stealing taxpayer money by collecting a salary. I was sitting and doing very little actual work.”
In the past, others assigned to marriage court have included a judge who had sex in court chambers and another accused of lying on a mortgage application. 
Every night, Cooke says he hung his robe in a garment bag in the closet of the marriage court office. Some mornings, he says, he found the robe stuffed into a garbage can.
He emailed Evans on April 24 to demand he reassign him. Within hours, he was summoned to a meeting the following day of the court system’s executive committee.
Judge Tommy Brewer. | Sun-Times files
Cooke says Judge Tommy Brewer questioned him at that meeting about how, given his dyslexia, he had received good ratings from bar associations.
Brewer, recently promoted by Evans to presiding judge of the Markham branch courthouse, had been hit with liens by the IRS for more than $227,000 in unpaid personal income taxes, the Sun-Times reported in 2015.
“It was surreal to have one presiding judge, who is well-known to be dealing with multiple IRS liens for non-payment of taxes, leer at me and question my conduct,” Cooke says.
Brewer says there “was some discussion” about Cooke’s dyslexia but declined to say more, saying he had to check first with Evans.
Cooke says he told Evans and the others on the judges’ committee he’d quit if they referred his case to the Judicial Inquiry Board.
Evans’ spokesman says Cooke “is making statements that are nonsense” and “insults the collective intelligence and dedication of the nearly 400 men and women who serve in the judiciary.
“Chief Judge Evans promotes a culture of professionalism and works to accommodate judges with any concerns regarding their service,” says spokesman Pat Milhizer. “If Mr. Cooke believes that he was being mistreated and is right in his assertions, then why didn’t he allow the JIB to place him under oath and then make his case? Instead, he resigned.”
Cooke acknowledges that clout ensured he got elected. But he thinks he was dealt with harshly because some of his backers pushed behind the scenes last year to take away the chief judge’s role that Evans has held since 2001.
Richard Cooke holds his unused judge’s nameplate. | Max Herman / Sun-Times
Now, Cooke says he is reopening his law office — and won’t ever run for judge again.
He has no regrets about quitting but wishes he got the chance to be a judge in a real courtroom. He says his brass judge’s nameplate, given to him after he took the oath of office, never was slid into a slot at the front of a courtroom. He still has it. It’s in the bubble wrap it came in.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Feds in Florida: Burlington College Probe Goes the Distance

Feds in Florida: Burlington College Probe Goes the Distance 

By PAUL HEINTZ @PAULHEINTZ
click to enlargeSen. Bernie Sanders with Jane O'Meara Sanders - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders with Jane O'Meara Sanders
Ron Leavitt was driving from a master gardener class to his Naples, Fla., home three months ago when he received a surprising call from his wife.
"She said, 'The FBI is here to talk to you about Burlington College,'" he recalled. "'When are you going to be home?'"
The semiretired orthopedic surgeon had moved from Vermont to Florida five years earlier, but his association with the shuttered liberal arts college — and the wife of a United States senator who served as its president — had followed him to the Sunshine State. When he returned home to his gated community later that afternoon, Leavitt found two Federal Bureau of Investigation agents waiting for him with plenty of questions about a $30,000 donation he had made to the school.
"It was a little strange," he said of the unexpected visit.
Leavitt is one of five people formerly associated with Burlington College who have confirmed to Seven Days that they were contacted, interviewed and, in some cases, subpoenaed by federal authorities over the past 15 months. While much about the inquiry remains shrouded in mystery, documents and interviews suggest that it is a serious criminal investigation focused on a $6.5 million bank loan application the college made in 2010 to pay for a $10 million lakeside campus.
The woman who signed that application? Former Burlington College president Jane O'Meara Sanders, the wife of 2016 presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
The investigation appears to stem from a January 2016 complaint filed by Vermont Republican Party vice chair Brady Toensing on behalf of Catholic parishioner Wendy Wilton, a conservative activist and Rutland City treasurer. Toensing alleged that O'Meara Sanders committed federal loan fraud by inflating the number of fundraising commitments she had secured to buy the 32-acre North Avenue campus from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington. When those donations failed to materialize, the college defaulted on its loans — costing the church, which financed a portion of the sale, between $1.6 million and $2 million.
Neither the FBI nor the U.S. attorney for the District of Vermont would comment on the matter. But according to Carol Moore, who served as the college's final president until it closed last May, an FBI agent who contacted her "three or four weeks ago" called it "an ongoing investigation."
Moore said the focus of the feds' questions was clear: "Was there any collusion between Jane Sanders and the bank?" Moore said, quoting the FBI agent. "Did she falsify records in order to get the loan from the bank?"
O'Meara Sanders and her husband's Senate staff have largely ignored questions from the press about her tenure at Burlington College, which began in 2004 and ended with her ouster in 2011. But in an unusual statement issued Monday through the digital services firm Revolution Messaging, former Sanders presidential campaign manager Jeff Weaver noted that Republican operatives were behind the request for an investigation.
"Jane has not been contacted by the FBI or any other authority and only knows as much as news reports indicate," Weaver said in the statement, which noted that he was "speaking for the Sanders family."
The investigation appears to be serious enough that authorities have issued federal grand jury subpoenas to procure documents. Vermont Educational and Health Buildings Financing Agency executive director Robert Giroux, whose state agency issued tax-exempt bonds to cover Burlington College's $6.5 million loan, clammed up when asked about the situation Monday.
"I can't make a comment on that right now," he said, explaining that his attorneys had reached out to federal authorities for guidance about what he could say. "That's typical when you have a grand jury proceeding."
Other institutions and individuals involved responded similarly. Spokespeople for the diocese and People's United Bank, which provided the loan, declined to comment, as did Adam Dantzcher, who chaired the college's board of trustees during O'Meara Sanders' presidency. Christine Plunkett, who served as O'Meara Sanders' chief financial officer and succeeded her as president, declined comment on Monday and then hung up on Seven Days.
Not everyone has kept quiet. Former board member Sara Adsit-McCuin told the paper last week that the FBI had contacted her "a couple of weeks ago" and interviewed her in person.
Rumors of a federal probe have circulated in Burlington for more than a year. When the college announced in May 2016 that it would close due to the "crushing weight of the debt" incurred by O'Meara Sanders, reporters asked Moore at a press conference whether the feds were investigating. She twice declined to answer the question.
But new documents obtained by VTDigger.org last week show that, as late as February 2017, there was an ongoing U.S. Department of Justice investigation — and it involved one of the top federal prosecutors in the state: Paul Van de Graaf, criminal chief of Vermont's U.S. Attorney's Office.
In a December 2016 email to a state Agency of Education lawyer about Burlington College records that the state had in storage, Van de Graaf wrote, "I think we need to make sure that there is nothing significant to our federal investigation before [the records] are destroyed." In February 2017, the AOE attorney, Molly Bachman, informed Van de Graaf, "FBI Special agent Patrick Hanna asked for another month to review records at the AOE. That is fine."
It was hardly the feds' first crack at those documents. According to Coralee Holm, the college's former dean of operations and advancement, the FBI subpoenaed the institution a year earlier, in February 2016, and interviewed Holm on campus at least four times over the next several months.
"I cooperated with their request, which was to provide any documentation that pertained to the purchase of the new property as it related to fundraising for that property," she said.
click to enlargeBurlington College - FILE: NATALIE WILLIAMS
  • FILE: NATALIE WILLIAMS
  • Burlington College
Holm said she turned over a filing cabinet and three or four banker boxes filled with donor files, along with emails she found in accounts that belonged to O'Meara Sanders and Plunkett. She said the FBI provided her with a hard drive on which to transfer the electronic documents.
Despite her best efforts, Holm said, she was "unsuccessful in locating documentation of the gifts and pledges" the FBI was seeking. Asked whether she had stumbled upon anything noteworthy in O'Meara Sanders' emails, the former dean said, "I prefer not to comment on that."
The crux of Toensing's 2016 complaint was that, in order to secure the $6.5 million loan, O'Meara Sanders "successfully and intentionally engaged in a fraudulent scheme to actively conceal and misrepresent material facts from a federal financial institution." Though O'Meara Sanders certified that Burlington College had locked down $2.6 million in future gifts and grants, the school realized only $676,000 of that over the next four years, according to audits.
As Seven Days reported in June 2015, O'Meara Sanders wrote in her 2010 VEHBFA loan application that "one gift of $1-million has been committed and another $1-million has been verbally pledged." In August 2014, Plunkett told WCAX-TV that she had learned after taking the reins at Burlington College that the $1 million gift was actually a bequest — and therefore not immediately available.
"The understanding at the time was that it was a cash gift, and we proceeded until we understood it was a bequest," Plunkett told the station.
Accompanying the loan application was a spreadsheet listing confirmed contributions, the dates they were expected and the initials of the donors. Leavitt, the Naples surgeon, was among those whose initials were included in the document. His late wife, Mary Haas, had been on Burlington College's board of trustees for several years before her 2009 death. Leavitt succeeded her and served until he left Vermont in 2012.
But as VTDigger first noted in a September 2015 story, the spreadsheet indicated that Leavitt had pledged to make two $30,000 contributions — even though the former trustee later recalled promising just one such donation.
"I don't remember doing that," he reiterated to Seven Days this week, referring to the supposed second pledge.
According to Leavitt, the FBI agents who visited his home earlier this year were focused on what he had promised Burlington College and when he had promised it.
"I didn't exactly understand what their goal was," he said.
The Sanders family was concerned enough about the investigation during the 2016 presidential campaign that O'Meara Sanders' daughter, Carina Driscoll, asked that the school notify her of any press inquiries it received, according to Holm. Burlington College reached out to the campaign "on at least three occasions," she said.
"Carina was very quick to want to be knowing if anything came up," Holm said. "People were making inquiries, so we did make the campaign managers of the [presidential] campaign aware of that, and we kept Carina apprised at the time, but we did not go into any detail."
Driscoll declined to comment.
The senator's critics and opponents have taken note over the years of his wife's rocky tenure at Burlington College.
In September 2014, Skip Vallee — a Shelburne gasoline distributor, former ambassador and conservative provocateur — bought $10,000 worth of television advertisements accusing the senator of hypocrisy because he benefited from a $200,000 "golden parachute" when his wife left the school. An opposition research file compiled by 2016 presidential rival Hillary Clinton and obtained by WikiLeaks includes five pages of news stories about O'Meara Sanders' time at Burlington College.
Toensing himself sought to tie the senator to the controversy in his initial complaint, alleging that O'Meara Sanders' "special political status not only helped enable these apparent offenses, but also ensures her protection from any sort of state scrutiny or enforcement." The Republican lawyer wrote that the couple had "built political careers pontificating against corporate corruption and claiming to want to help the needy" but had harmed the diocese and the "vulnerable Vermonters" they serve.
Though the family's response Monday to news of the investigation was measured in tone, Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs lashed out at Toensing when he filed his complaint in January 2016, calling it "recycled, discredited garbage."
In a statement issued at the time, Briggs wrote, "These kinds of attacks on family members of candidates are one of the reasons why the American people are so disgusted with politics in America today."