March 14, 2013
Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was convicted Monday of corruption charges, ensuring a return to prison for a man once among the nation's youngest big-city leaders.
Jurors convicted Kilpatrick of a raft of crimes, including a racketeering conspiracy charge. He was portrayed during a five-month trial as an unscrupulous politician who took bribes, rigged contracts and lived far beyond his means while in office until fall 2008.
Prosecutors said Kilpatrick ran a "private profit machine" out of Detroit's City Hall. The government presented evidence to show he got a share of the spoils after ensuring that Bobby Ferguson's excavating company was awarded millions in work from the water department.
Business owners said they were forced to hire Ferguson as a subcontractor or risk losing city contracts. Separately, fundraiser Emma Bell said she gave Kilpatrick more than $200,000 as his personal cut of political donations, pulling cash from her bra during private meetings. A high-ranking aide, Derrick Miller, told jurors that he often was the middle-man, passing bribes from others.
Internal Revenue Service agents said Kilpatrick spent $840,000 beyond his mayoral salary.
Ferguson, Kilpatrick's pal, was also convicted of a racketeering conspiracy charge. The jury could not reach a verdict on the same charge for Kilpatrick's father, Bernard Kilpatrick, but convicted him of submitting a false tax return.
Kwame Kilpatrick, who now lives near Dallas, declined to testify. He has long denied any wrongdoing, and defense attorney James Thomas told jurors that his client often was showered with cash gifts from city workers and political supporters during holidays and birthdays.
The government said Kilpatrick abused the Civic Fund, a nonprofit fund he created to help distressed Detroit residents. There was evidence that it was used for yoga lessons, camps for his kids, golf clubs and travel.
Kilpatrick, 42, was elected in 2001 at age 31. He resigned in 2008 and pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in a different scandal involving sexually explicit text messages and an extramarital affair with his chief-of-staff.
The Democrat spent 14 months in prison for violating probation in that case after a judge said he failed to report assets that could be put toward his $1 million restitution to Detroit.
Voters booted his mother, Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, from Congress in 2010, partly because of a negative perception of her due to her son's troubles.
March 14, 2013
By Darlene Superville
Michelle Obama challenged America’s top CEOs on Wednesday to “think outside the box” and hire more veterans.
The first lady said that, while declines in overall unemployment are encouraging, joblessness among the 9/11 generation of veterans — those who served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — is nearly two points higher than the national average, at 9.4 percent. She said that figure means that about 200,000 veterans don’t have jobs, not including their spouses and those who will return home after the U.S. ends its combat mission in Afghanistan.
Unemployment nationwide fell two-tenths of a point last month to 7.7 percent, its lowest level in more than four years.
Addressing a meeting of the Business Roundtable, which represents chief executive officers of the 200 largest U.S. corporations, Mrs. Obama said the “Joining Forces” campaign she launched two years ago with Jill Biden, the vice president's wife, to rally the country around its military members, has led businesses to hire or train more than 125,000 veterans and military spouses. The private sector also has pledged to hire or train 250,000 more veterans by the end of 2014.
But, the first lady said, “we’ve still got a lot more work to do.”
“Whether you’re in finance or technology or the food industry, every single one of you can ask yourselves that same question: ‘What more can we do?’” she said. “So today, I want to challenge all the members of the Business Roundtable to answer that question for your business.”
“Think outside the box, take real risks and work together to make big, bold commitments to hire our veterans and military spouses and help them reach their full potential within your companies. Show them that your business is there for them for the long haul,” the first lady said.
In challenging the CEOs, Mrs. Obama highlighted Wal-Mart’s pledge this year to hire more than 100,000 veterans in the next five years as part of its plan to help jumpstart the economy. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is the world’s largest retailer and biggest private employer in the U.S. with 1.4 million workers.
Wal-Mart also has made an open-ended commitment to hire any honorably discharged veteran who is still looking for a job a year after they leave the military and wants to work for the retailer.
Separately, UPS said Wednesday that it will hire more than 25,000 veterans over the next five years and commit more than 25,000 employee volunteer hours to helping veterans and the organizations that serve them.
In her remarks, Mrs. Obama disclosed that vice presidents and human resource professionals from Business Roundtable companies met with White House officials last week to talk about how to find people with the particular skills needed at their businesses.
March 14, 2013
By PETE YOST | Associated Press
The Justice Department's watchdog has concluded that deep ideological polarization in the department's voting rights section in both the Bush and Obama administrations fueled disputes that in some instances harmed the office's proper functioning. The department's inspector general said that on some occasions the disputes involved harassment of employees and managers.
Despite the polarization, the IG said its review did not substantiate claims of political or racial bias in decision-making.
The voting section reviews cases where the redrawing of district lines can change the composition of congressional delegations. It also reviews voter ID laws that can make it easier or more difficult to cast ballots in elections.
"We found that people on different sides of internal disputes about particular cases in the voting section have been quick to suspect those on the other side of partisan motivations, heightening the sense of polarization," said the IG's report. "The cycles of actions and reactions that we found resulted from this mistrust, were, in many instances, incompatible with the proper functioning of a component of the department."
The IG's report released Tuesday stemmed from the handling of a 2008 case in which the Justice Department sued two members of the New Black Panther Party, the NBPB's national chairman and the group itself. After the change in administrations, the Justice Department asked the court to dismiss the suit against three of the four defendants.
"The decision to dismiss three of the four defendants and to seek more narrowly tailored injunctive relief against the fourth was based on a good faith assessment of the law and facts of the case and had a reasonable basis," concluded the report by Inspector General Michael Horowitz.
March 14, 2013
By Jon Gambrell
Nigeria has pardoned the former political benefactor of the nation's president, a presidential adviser said Wednesday, a politician convicted of stealing millions of dollars while serving as a state governor.
The decision from a closed-door meeting Tuesday of the Council of State to pardon former Bayelsa state Gov. Diepreye Alamieyeseigha drew immediate outrage across Nigeria, an oil-rich nation long considered by analysts and activists to have one of the world's most corrupt governments.
While the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan repeatedly says it is fighting the entrenched system of graft that strangles Nigeria, the leader has shared stages before with convicted politicians. Meanwhile, the country's largely opaque budgets and loose regulatory controls continue to allow for hundreds of millions of dollars more to be stolen annually.
"It is the final nail that tells the story of fighting corruption in Nigeria today," said Nuhu Ribadu, a former police officer and corruption fighter who led the Alamieyeseigha case. "I'm really sad. I'm sad for my country."
Alamieyeseigha served as governor of Bayelsa state, in the heart of Nigeria's oil-producing southern delta, from the nation becoming a democracy in 1999 through 2005. He was arrested in London after more than $1 million in cash was found in his home there.
Alamieyeseigha escaped British authorities — Nigerian officials say he disguised himself as a woman — and fled to Nigeria, where he had immunity from prosecution while in office. He was then impeached and charged in Nigeria with illegally operating foreign accounts in London, Cyprus, Denmark and the United States. Investigators said he acquired property in Britain and Nigeria worth more than $10 million.
The disgraced governor later pleaded guilty. Alamieyeseigha's impeachment brought Jonathan, a little-known marine biologist who served as his deputy, into power. Jonathan as recently as a few weeks ago referred to Alamieyeseigha as "my boss" during an event in Lagos.
On Tuesday, the Council of State, comprised of current and former leaders, as well as retired chief justices, approved Alamieyeseigha's pardon, Doyin Okupe, an adviser to Jonathan, confirmed on Wednesday.
Okupe described the pardon as a group decision, though ultimately under Nigeria's constitution, only Jonathan has the power to grant it as president. The decision allows Alamieyeseigha to again serve in public office.
"It is like a parent, it is not every decision a parent takes that is palatable or acceptable to the children. But in due course, we always find out the parents were right," Okupe told private broadcaster Channels Television. "The man has been displaced from his office as governor, he was hounded and tried and jailed. ... What is eminently wrong, you know, in giving a remorseful sinner pardon?"
Okupe did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday from The Associated Press. Others pardoned Tuesday included Maj. Gen. Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, a former deputy in a military government detained by late dictator Sani Abacha and who later died in prison under mysterious circumstances.
Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, likely lost more than $380 billion to graft between 1960 and 1999, Ribadu once estimated while head of the country's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Meanwhile, just more than 60 percent of Nigerians earn the equivalent of less than $1 a day, according to a study published by the country's National Bureau of Statistics.
Ribadu, who served as the anti-corruption chief under the ruling People's Democratic Party and later ran as an opposition presidential candidate, said the pardon will make the nation's police question whether pursuing such cases in the future is even worthwhile
"There's not anything people can do anything to bring the people who are corrupt to justice," Ribadu told the AP. "It's a terrible development. I can't understand how leaders will sit down and come up with an unbelievable action like this."