Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Honey Pot

Back in  my baby lawyer days I did some work on the case of a short-haul trucking company (this was pre-UPS) that collapsed into bankruptcy, a farrago of bad management. Or worse: the books showed something like $5 million in claims collected (mostly minuscule); when the bean counters moved in they  could find only something closer to $2 million.  I believe one guy went to jail--that would have been after I left the case.  But early on, I remember chatting with an investigator; I remarked that I wasn't satisfied in my own mind just who had walked off with all the swag.

"You forget," he said, "the possibility that it wasn't one person.  It may have been everybody--in the sense that controls were so bad here, it could be that everybody had access to the cash, and everybody just helped themselves."

I thought of this conversation this morning when I picked up a Sacramento Bee  and read about accusations of "Massive fraud" in the California National Guard.  We're still at the accusation stage here (where would journalism be without the word "alleged"?) but in outline it looks something like this.  Apparently the Guard had a pot of money earmarked to pay of student loans and such like as inducements for recruits.  Evidently (you're ahead of me here) a good deal of the money seems to have walked out the door to people who didn't qualify, who didn't have any paperwork, or who collected on claims way over the limit.

The Bee fingers one apparent culprit--the "M&M Lady," who is said to have supervised the payouts.  Apparently she is now responding with "profanity and evident bitterness," which doesn't sound like a great career move: this looks to be a girl who is going to need all the friends she can get, not least in the press.  But on the core point, I suspect she is right.  I.e.., the thrust her remarks seems to be that she couldn't have done it without a lot of help.  IOW, another honey pot in which everybody felt entitled to poke their taster.

In my distant and not-terribly-corrupt youth,I also spent some time in the National Guard (not willingly, I can assure you). And unencumbered as I am by any specific knowledge of the present case, I can see the outlines of a picture.  That is: my guess is this a crowd with a settled aversion to the pinheads in Washington, with a particular hostility to confiscatory taxes and silly bureaucratic rules.   I bet they spent a fair amount of their spare time fulminating against the evils of "waste, fraud and abuse,"  with star turns for food stamp fraud and the provision of medical care to illegal alien children.  This would be, if I am right, a crowd that wouldn't see any inconsistency at all in lining their own pockets while decrying the grabbiness of others.  After all, we're good ol' boys (unisex) together, not so, and it's the gummint's money so where's the problem?

Afterthought:  The Bee bills this as a "Bee Exclusive," as if they created the story.  This strikes me as a bit of a stretch.  Looks to me like is largely the creation of one, maybe two, hard-working and boringly-honest mid-level noncoms.

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