Tuesday, November 21, 2006

"Yep, I'm Guilty" Says DeFazio

As has been reported in just about every local news outlet, former (just-barely-former, I might add) Allegheny County Sheriff Peter "The Macer" DeFazio pled guilty today to a Federal misdemeanor charge, admitting that he pressured public employees to "donate" to his "re-election" campaigns. The offical charge that he pled guilty to was something called "macing", which I can't find listed in any of the online legal dictionaries. But the Post-Gazette has defined it as "...coercing an employee to contribute to a particular candidate or political party". In plain language, all of this means that DeFazio's endless denials of any illegal conduct on his part, especially in the weeks leading up to his last election victory in 2005, were ultimately nothing more than a bunch of pure bullshit.

Of course, corruption in the Sheriff's Office has been blatantly obvious for years now. So clear was the depths of the illegal conduct there that the Post-Gazette actually endorsed the Republican candidate, Herb Ohliger, in the 2005 general election. The stridency of the Post-Gazette's endorsement is still so clearly relevant that it's worth quoting some of it here:

Sheriff Pete DeFazio's office has been under federal investigation since January [2005] for macing, abuse of power and other illegal activity.

Sheriff DeFazio, who... has worked in the office for 35 years, was called as a witness but, incredibly, invoked the Fifth Amendment to protect against self-incrimination. His executive assistant and one of his sergeants also took the Fifth.

Sheriff's Capt. Frank Schiralli was found guilty of perjury for telling a grand jury that he never kept lists of deputies who bought tickets for political fund-raisers for Sheriff DeFazio.

Sheriff DeFazio's employees testified that his commanders pressured them -- with implied threats about their jobs -- to buy tickets, some costing hundreds of dollars, for the sheriff's Mother's Day brunch, golf outing and other political events.

Sheriff DeFazio's deputies did landscaping work on county time at the home of his chief deputy.

Sheriff DeFazio has been a budget buster, off and on, and has routinely spent beyond his limit. Part of the reason is that he has sought to enlarge the scope of the sheriff's office beyond its core functions of securing the courthouse, moving prisoners and serving court papers.

It's a wonder, with this shameful litany and an investigation still in full throttle, that Pete DeFazio, 56, chose to run for re-election at all. ... Given all of the political activity recently revealed there, to support not only the sheriff but also other Democratic candidates, it's no surprise that the [county Democratic} party felt a need to protect this fund-raising outpost.
And so today, at long last, we can finally know that DeFazio really is the criminal that he always appeared to be.

Not that, even now, Peter "The Macer" DeFazio sees anything wrong with his conduct. Much as Tony Soprano might claim, our just-barely-former Sheriff said the following in an interview with KDKA television: "The only thing I can say is that what was going on there went on for the 36 years I've been here and I'm sure it went on for 100 years prior to me getting there. To be honest with you, I didn't think I did anything wrong,".

But Mom, all the other kids are doing it!

You might think that a man of real integrity, upon finally getting to the top after all those years of working in the Sheriff's office and witnessing this kind of conduct, might try to turn around this century-long tradition of corruption. But then again, as we have known for nearly two years, DeFazio is most certainly not a man with any integrity at all.

And yet, the ultra-perceptive voters of Allegheny County ignored everything a year ago and returned DeFazio to office by nearly 12 percentage points. One can only imagine that, in that final election with our Eisenhower-era lever voting machines, nostalgia-obsessed Pittsburghers took full advantage of their final opportunity to pull that great big "Democrat" lever one last time. Most of them probably didn't even look to see smaller lever marked with DeFazio's name come down, and wouldn't have had any knowledge of just what they were were supporting if they had.

That landslide victory, provided by what could only have been an uninformed electorate, allowed Pete "The Macer" to get that one last year in office that he needed to max out his country retirement benefits. After reaching the point where he had precisely 36 years on the job, DeFazio retired in October.

Oh, and those full retirement benefits that we gave him? He gets to keep every last dime of them, of course. As the Post-Gazette reports:
According to Bruce D. Campbell, the solicitor for the county retirement board, the only way Mr. DeFazio would lose his pension -- which isn't due for approval until next month -- is if the charge he pleads guilty to is specifically named in the state law.

Macing is not.

The Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act spells out 22 state crimes -- or their federal equivalent -- that result in a lost pension. Though the law, passed in 1978, was written to combat public corruption, there are still some crimes related to it that are not covered.

Simply looking at precedent, Mr. Stewart [a former DeFazio deputy who also pled guilty to macing] didn't lose his pension, so it seems Mr. DeFazio won't either.

"I think the public sometimes is offended because some people lose it and some people don't," Mr. Campbell said. "We don't have any control over what the law says."
Actually, we -- the people (remember us?) -- do have control over what the law says. We could put an end to this situation if we were paying any attention at all. But as DeFazio's re-election last year teaches, most of us don't have a clue.


Mark said...

The kicker was 2001's election. Jim Roddey didn't lift a finger to help DeFazio's opponent, a "R" challenger. The GOP sprung for some nail files for the candidate to give away -- and his name was not spelled correctly.

Then in 2002 and beyond, Roddey had a lot of headaches from DeFazio's office and it missing the budget repeatedly.

You only harvest what you sow.

Where was the P-G in the early year endorsements of DeFazio?

Where is the P-G now in terms of putting out a ballot question to see if the county charter should be changed to eliminate an elected position?

Richmond K. Turner said...

This a pretty consistent story with the GOP in these parts. Sometimes, for reasons that I must be to stupid to understand, they gladly stand back and do more or less nothing to win an election. I guess I can understand not wanting to invest money in what they consider to be "hopeless causes". But if they never even try to win, these causes will always be hopeless.

Anonymous said...

They were not nail files! They were emory boards!