Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Clambake corruption detailed as McFaul pleads guilty

Did you catch this detail in the coverage of Gerald McFaul's guilty plea? The former sheriff pocketed $50,000 in cash from selling souvenirs at his infamous clambakes. From this morning's Plain Dealer story, which says McFaul will repay $130,000 in ill-gotten gains:

$50,000 will go back to McFaul's campaign fund. McFaul sold items -- coffee cups, shirts, hats and instant bingo tickets -- at his annual clambake but never listed the cash in his campaign filings, Lingo said. ... The money can only be used for political purposes or donated to charity.
That's 50 grand in 10 years, or $5,000 a year. How many T-shirts and hats is that? I wonder if they'd have a residual value as kitsch. Surely authentic McFauliana would be even funnier than these satirical pins. Frequent clambakers should sell their swag on eBay. I'd buy it.

Although McFaul held the clambake for more than three decades, the theft charges stem from 2000 to 2009 because investigators could only prove the thefts during that time, Lingo said. "I can't tell you how long it was going on," he said.
The answer is, a long, long time. Here's another key detail:

$80,000 of the restitution will go to the Sheriff's Office for the time employees spent selling clambake tickets while on-duty. He estimates workers spent about 500 hours a year selling tickets.
Who bought these tickets? Well, who's at the Justice Center every day? Judges, lawyers, bailiffs -- the people who administer justice in Cleveland. This shows us how Cleveland's political culture has changed quickly -- how corrupt corner-cutting was tolerated, unquestioned, whispered of for years. Everyone knew.

What changed? With McFaul, the answer is Mark Puente's exposés, all the more impressive because he found something others at the PD missed. Consider former PD editorial page editor Brent Larkin's March 2009 mea culpa for having endorsed McFaul five times. He wrote then:

Sure, there were warning signs, either dismissed or downplayed. ... there were periodic rumblings about the aggressive fund-raising tactics surrounding McFaul's annual clambake.
Then, in 2007 and 2008, light after light switched on, first at the local FBI offices, then in newsrooms. I've blogged before about how quickly the county government went from unexamined to relentlessly watchdogged after the $40 million Ameritrust Tower debacle, how secrets tumbled out once people knew someone wanted to know.

Now a retired judge from Geauga County will decide whether McFaul goes to jail, maybe even the jail he used to run. I may have spoken too soon when I said he'd probably be locked up -- lots of people think he'll get probation. His plea and restitution might buy him freedom. It may depend on whether the judge holds McFaul to the standards Cleveland is holding elected officials to today, or considers the much lower standards McFaul got used to years ago.

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