Political Corruption in New York: Low Comedy and High Cost

It's possible, what with the rush of the holiday season, that you have neglected to pay close attention to the city's latest political corruption trials. I must admit my own attention was wandering until this week, when a Brooklyn Assemblyman was indicted for attempting to solicit bribes so he could pay lawyers to defend from charges of taking bribes in a previous corruption trial.

The star of that saga is William Boyland Jr., who exemplifies all the reasons the words "state legislature" make New Yorkers want to beat their heads against the nearest flat surface.

He has a completely safe seat, which he inherited from his father, William Boyland Sr., who inherited it from his brother. Junior has had a totally undistinguished career in Albany, starring only in the narrow but competitive area of filling out expense forms. But back home he's apparently been very active in a business loosely described as consulting.

In Albany, consulting is generally a euphemism for being paid to get somebody state money.

And they don't even bother to be all that coy. In his recent corruption trial Boyland was acquitted after his lawyers argued that the Assemblyman was not being paid bribes, but merely being hired by people in search of government largesse because the Boyland name represented "a brand" in New York politics.

I'm sure that's a relief to everyone.

If you look at the recent corruption cases in New York City, you'll see certain patterns. One is consulting. Another is health care. If you want to know why the state is drowning in Medicaid bills, this is a good hint. Former State Senator Pedro Espada is facing trial on charges of misappropriating money from a string of clinics he runs in the Bronx. State Senator Carl Kruger of Queens goes on trial in January on corruption charges that involve his efforts to get state funds for Brookdale Hospital. The return favor, in this case, was allegedly an agreement by Brookdale's CEO to do business with a company connected to one of Kruger's consulting firms.

If you really want to be depressed, let me tell you that the company under consideration here was a hospice called "Compassionate Care."

The new Boyland case is a bit out of the ordinary for New York in that it arose out of an investigation into political corruption in the carnival business. I'll bet you didn't know that was a problem.

The feds apparently have a slew of tapes of conversations between Boyland and undercover agents which they hope to use in the trial. In one he insisted that he needed to "stay clean" -- a commendable ambition except that in this case, the feds say, it meant that he needed to use a bag man. In another he said he wanted $7,000 to "solidify some attorneys" in that earlier corruption case.

Here's the punchline: As things turned out, Boyland was unable to come up with enough cash to hire a lawyer, and was instead given two court-appointed attorneys paid for by you the taxpayer, the Daily News reports. The same plucky lawyers will be back for the second trial in another taxpayer-funded effort to keep Boyland on the street.

Boyland and Kruger and Espada are far from the only local politicians currently involved in corruption charges. Bronx City Councilman Larry Seabrook, a former veteran state legislator, is on trial in a case that involves a slew of nonprofits with fuzzy missions and government funding, which employed a large number of Seabrook friends and relatives and rented space from one another. Among other things, the prosecution claims Seabrook forged a receipt for $177 for a bagel and soda.

And the list goes on -- but you really don't want to hear more, do you? The question is what to do about it.

Two obvious remedies: First, make the state legislature a full-time job and prohibit outside employment. Maybe we could make exceptions for preschool teachers, but anything even vaguely related to the law, real estate or consulting should be illegal on its face.

And remember the controversy over congressional earmarking? Both state legislators and city council members also have the power to direct taxpayer money to causes of their choosing. But in both cases it's much, much easier than it is in Congress. You just sign on the dotted line and, if you happen to be Larry Seabrook, you've got funding for the African-American Civic and Legal Hall of Fame.

Make that all go away, and maybe sometime in the glorious future we'll be able to make it all the way through the New Year without hearing any stories about politicians on the take.