Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Of Mice And Men

On one of his many campaign stops across the country, Senator John Kennedy, then running for president, found himself at the Alamo. It was very hot, very crowded, and Kennedy was anxious to be on time for his next campaign appearance. He was running late. So Kennedy corralled a guide and asked where the back door was.

“There are no back doors to the Alamo, Senator Kennedy,” he was told. “Only heroes.”

Speaker of the House James Amann beat a most unheroic retreat, one newspaper reported, “rather than have budget negotiations that included Republican leaders Rep. Lawrence Cafero and Sen. Louis DeLuca,” who has a bid of a problem involving his grand daughter’s husband and state prosecutors.

DeLuca recently pleaded guilty to a charge of “threatening conspiracy,” a misdemeanor, that arose from a meeting he had with James Galante in which DeLuca was told by Galante that he would help the senator settle a family problem.

The problem involved a granddaughter who, DeLuca thought, was being abused by her husband, Mark Collela. The husband denies the abuse occurred; DeLuca said he had taken to the police photographs that showed the abuse in an attempt to persuade them to intervene. He later recanted this statement; now he says he did not show the photographs to the police. The police chief says that DeLuca did not mention the physical abuse suffered by his daughter. According to DeLuca, the police refused his entreaties because the granddaughter would not issue a complaint. And so, out of desperation, DeLuca met with Mr. Galante, who promised the senator that he would pay Collela a visit. Returning to his office, Galante told his confederates that he wanted Collela “bitch slapped.” Thanks to a gloss provided by prosecutors, we now know that “bitch slapped” means that Galante was appointing an intervener to “do bodily harm” to his granddaughter’s husband. Galante is in the trash business. One report describes him as a “trash magnate.”

No harm was done to Collela, because the police dispatched an officer to keep watch over his house; the police presence, it is theorized, frightened away any potential slappers in the area.

The question hanging like a Damoclean sword over DeLuca is: Should he resign?

My own very short answer to the question is – yes. Like U.S. Rep. John Murtha before him, the senator did not report to the relevant authorities that he had been offered a bribe from an FBI agent pretending to be a Galante associate of questionable character. In Murtha’s case, the FBI agent was pretending to be the representative of a wealthy Arab who wanted to enter the United States and was willing to surrender half a million to Murtha to hasten the process.

Both DeLuca and Murtha refused the bribes, but neither reported the bribe attempt. This is wrong. Lawmakers should not be scofflaws.

There are two open questions in this sad tale: Why did prosecutors serve a warrant on DeLuca for a charge that had timed out? The statute of limitations on conspiracy threatening had elapsed when the warrant was served. And why didn’t federal prosecutors seek a warrant on DeLuca for making a false statement to federal agents in an interview in which he lied about the purpose of his meeting with Galante? That charge is a felony that carries a sentence of five years.

Did federal and state prosecutors bring the lesser charge because they wished to secure DeLuca’s co-operation in the far more important case against Galante, a defendant in a wide ranging anti-trust case filed against organized crime figures associated with the trash hauling business?

Amann was not fleeing DeLuca’s company because the Republican leader in the legislature had suddenly developed leprous sores. When Amann snuck out the back door of President Pro Tem Don William’s office, he was quitting the premises for reasons relating to what we may now laughingly call a budget. The revenue bill produced by Democrats who control both houses of the legislature, since it does not address spending, is half a budget.

The real budget was to be discussed by Amann, House Majority Leader Chris Donovan and state budget chief Robert Genuario. But when Amann heard that Rep. Lawrence Cafero and Sen. Louis C. DeLuca were to be in the room, he had one of his increasingly frequent meltdowns and quickly crept ou the back door -- one day before the end of the legislative session.

Some leaders in the Republican Party mildly opposed an earlier Rell plan to raise the income tax and Rell ditched the idea. At this point – with the clock running out and a real budget not yet in the sausage grinding machine – Amann probably figured that Cafero and DeLuca would not be soft touches, unlike the governor. Amann had come to negotiate, and negotiation, for a party that controls the state legislature with a veto proof majority, means dictating terms.

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