Corruption, Dissected

Bill DeWeese, taking the oath for his 18th term in office. / PHOTO DEWEESE OFFICE.

Let’s call it “Anatomy of Corruption.”

In Pennsylvania, a scandal called “Bonusgate” has rocked the state for the past five years.  It involves over $2 million in bonuses that Democratic leaders gave to House legislative staffers in 2007.

By the time the dust had settled, an investigation into the illegal use of government funds for political purposes resulted in 25 arrests, 21 convictions and a guilty verdict last week against the man whose actions  started it all, Majority House Leader Bill DeWeese.

At every step along the way, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has been digging into the story, which has captivated – and disgusted – Pennsylvania voters.  In the end, some of the most powerful politicians in the state were brought down by the scandal – and many are headed to long prison terms.

Now the newspaper has published a retrospective that shows, step-by-step, how the scheme unfolded over the years. It is replete with tales of “no work” jobs, staffers described as “rock stars” and efforts to destroy evidence by drilling holes into hard drives.

The final chapter has still not been written. Yet it makes for fascinating reading, worthy of a crime novel – except that it is real.

Sweep to Bonusgate: How the statewide public corruption case unfolded

Just days after it was disclosed that former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin is the subject of a federal grand jury investigation, the former mayor denied the charges.

Nagin is perhaps best known to the world as he pleaded for help as Hurricane Katrina and flooding ravaged the city. Now out of office, he says that the allegations against him are old news and that former members of his administration and vendors who were convicted of corruption may be turning against him.

The investigation, which was disclosed in the New Orleans Times-Picaynue, centers whether the city vendors gave Nagin perks such as plane tickets and whether vendors helped the Nagin family’s countertop installation business get a contract with Home Depot, at a time the big box giant sought to buy land in the city.  Other charges involve perks provided by a former – and now jailed – technology vendor to the city.

On a speaking engagement in Minnesota, Nagin dismissed the charges as little more than “rumors and innuendos.”  He said he wanted to put these allegations behind him and is eager to return to his city for many reasons, principally to escape the Minnesota weather. “Cold. single digits,” he tweeted. “Happy to be flying home.”

Sweep to Ray Nagin responds to the Times-Picayune story on corruption probe

Chinese investment in Africa often minimizes local involvement in production. / REUTERS
Is it better for donors to Africa to give things – totally completed projects – rather than money, which can be siphoned off to greedy hands?

That’s the intriguing questions being raised as China steps up its investment in Africa and is taking a completely different approach than Western donors.   An Associated Press story shows that China as been constructing roads, office towers, hospitals and other projects using Chinese labor and handing over the projects, once they are completed, to local African officials.

Aid watchdogs are now saying the Chinese approach may be a better model for helping local people than Western systems of foreign aid delivery, in which cash is given for projects, which often never get built as the money as pocketed by corrupt local officials.

Local Africans, tired of being ripped off by their own leaders, are applauding this turnkey effort. Sven Grimm, executive director of the Center for Chinese Studies at Stellenbosch University in South Africa says the China model is “more effective. It’s less prone to corruption.”

Augustine Ruzindana, Uganda’s former anti-corruption chief, said that “With the Chinese method it’s easier to show that something has been done. They do concrete things which can be seen by several generations.”

Sweep to China skirting African corruption in direct aid gifts

Leslie Wayne

Leslie Wayne

Leslie Wayne, former senior editor at 100Reporters, is an award-winning business reporter, formerly at The New York Times. Ms. Wayne joined The Times in 1981 and has covered Wall Street, banking industry regulatory reform, municipal finance scandals and, most recently, the aerospace and military industries. Ms. Wayne has an M.B.A. in finance from Columbia Business School and was also a Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Business and Economic Journalism.