Sam Riddle, professor of ethics

Like many high school seniors, I took a blow off class or two. One of those classes was advanced weightlifting. (I’m not sure where the “advanced” part came from. But yes, I went to a public school.) My teacher, whose name escapes me, was six feet tall and weighed about 260 pounds. Best of all, he knew about as much about weightlifting as he did about Weight Watchers.

But hey, he was on the school’s payroll and had an opening in his schedule, so they sent him to the gym to babysit a group of teenagers. And most of these “weightlifting” classes devolved into impromptu “dodgeball” games in which one poor kid ran for his life and six people chased while hurling anything that wasn’t nailed down at him. It’s quite a miracle no one was ever hospitalized or charged with anything. The point is that this guy was as qualified to teach weightlifting as Sam Riddle is to teach ethics.

Wait, what? [Detroit Free Press]

That’s right. Sam Riddle. The guy in prison for soliciting and accepting bribes as part of Monica Conyers’s pay-for-play scheme. Teaching ethics to prisoners. How poor must the ethics of the other prisoners be?

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Oh. Never mind.

UPDATE: Common sense has prevailed.

Sam Riddle was all set to teach an ethics course to prisoners — until corrections officials apparently had second thoughts.

The controversial political consultant, who is behind bars for taking bribes and shaking down businesses, was prepared to teach “Ethics and Good Decision Making” at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at a federal prison in North Carolina. But by midday, prison officials canceled his class indefinitely with no explanation, his lawyer said.

“He was all set to teach tonight. The books had been selected. The students were selected, but we don’t know the reason (for the cancellation),” said Tracey Martin-Henry, Riddle’s attorney.

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This Week In Detroit Corruption

[This was originally going to be a Kwame Kilpatrick post. That was yesterday morning. Then the news just kept on rolling in…]

It’s sad that we’ve hit a point of oversaturation with Kwame Kilpatrick that we don’t post that much of what goes on with him anymore unless it’s particularly noteworthy, like his attorney plays the Patrick Ewing “We make a lot of money but we spend a lot of money” defense.

But this week, Detroit’s reputation is taking a worse beating than Jake Lamotta in Raging Bull. Not only did Kwame swoop back into town in the face of a new arrest warrant, but Monica Conyers and Sam Riddle are back in the news for their roles1 in the Synagro bribery scandal. Plus we have news of a federal investigation into Kilpatrick family kickbacks and the fallout from the Detroit Law Department’s complete and utter lack of professional ethics.2

1 Alleged! 2 Truth!

Kwame Kilpatrick just won’t go away. He’d like to, certainly, but on his own terms. Those terms undoubtedly include not going to jail, and probably not reimbursing the city either.

His endless attempts to stay out of jail for violating his parole by not paying restitution as ordered looked to be coming to an end. After the Court of Appeals denied his attempt to overturn Judge David Groner’s order to pay $70k by February 26, Kilpatrick filed a motion to have Groner removed for being biased against him. [Mlive]

“There’s nobody else in Michigan who’s been scrutinized like this ever in the history of this court,” he said.  “And I accept that, but I also want some fairness and somebody to be non-biased.”

This morning, Wayne County Circuit Court presiding criminal judge Timothy M. Kenny denied Kilpatrick’s motion. Rather than deal with Kilpatrick once and for all, Groner has scheduled his probation hearing for March 24, giving us two more weeks of this crap. [The Detroit News].

Monica Conyers is an absolutely nuts. After years of megalomaniacal displays, she managed to stay out of the spotlight for six months after pleading guilty to accepting cash for a vote in the city-wide Synagro scandal.

Then Wednesday, like Wyatt Earp in Tombstone, she returned… and brought hell with her. [The Detroit News]:

An angry Conyers, who surprised U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn by announcing she wanted to withdraw her guilty plea on bribery charges, unleashed a loud courtroom tirade against federal prosecutors and the news media.

“I’m just not going to jail for something I didn’t do,” said the former Detroit city councilwoman. Conyers left the courtroom saying: “I’m appealing this case” because Cohn had “no right to do that.”

She apparently thought she’d get a lighter sentence.

It was disclosed for the first time that Conyers has attempted to cooperate with government prosecutors. According to Cohn, prosecutors said they are still checking out information she gave them but so far do not feel it is valuable enough to warrant a reduced sentence.

Cohn’s courtroom was packed, with dozens of people, including FBI agents who investigated the case, unable to get a seat to watch the sentencing.

“It was one of the most bizarre courtroom experiences of my career,” said Conyers’ attorney, Steve Fishman, who is in his 37th year of practice. He told Cohn after the hearing he needs to withdraw from the case as he could be called as a witness in any appeal.

“No judge in my memory has allowed cooperation (with prosecutors) to go unrewarded,” Fishman said. “That’s essentially what he did.”

Though Fishman did not argue that Conyers should be allowed to withdraw her plea, he told Cohn she deserved a much lower sentence. Cohn, he said, should resist media drum-beating for a harsh sentence.

They’ve made Monica Conyers the human pinata for all that is wrong with Detroit,” he said.

I’d bet Kwame probably disagrees with that statement. But even if it’s true, I’d say that Conyers has done a pretty good job of that all by herself.

Conyers also wanted Cohn and everyone else to think about the children:

Before the sentencing was announced, a strange series of events transpired, highlighted by Conyers’ request to withdraw her guilty plea. She was screaming that she had her own tapes that would exonerate her before the sentence was announced. She also yelled “What about my children? They did nothing to cause this!” before the sentence announced.

Also,Cohn disclosed today that his sentence was lighter than he had planned for it to be.

Monica’s old partner-in-alleged-crime Sam Riddle is back in the news, finally picking a new attorney who will take his case (and announcing it on Twitter): former DOJ attorney Richard Convertino. Now he needs to find another juror who believes he didn’t do it. [Detroit Free Press].

The Kilpatrick family’s troubles extend beyond Kwame, of course. A grand jury is looking into accusations that Karl Kado paid Kwame, his father Bernard Kilpatrick, and his chief administrative officer Derrick A. Miller. The Detroit News has a transcript. The FBI is preparing federal charges, possibly racketeering, against Kwame.

Whether this is related to previous matter is yet to be revealed, but Kwame’s mother, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, and her aide, Andrea Bragg, have been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury in Detroit.  Bragg said she’s coming but Carolyn? She’s going to talk to her attorney to see how she’ll respond. But with her son and husband involved in that investigation… [UPDATE: Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick said that she and Bragg will cooperate with the grand jury. She also said that she is “not a target.”]

The worst part is that I could go on. The Freep has a comprehensive list of the other scandals with which the city is still dealing.

The Joker (circa 1989) summed it up best:

This town needs an enema.”

Feds want serious jail time for Monica Conyers

DETROIT (AP) — Federal prosecutors are calling for a prison sentence of about four years or more for Monica Conyers, who admitted taking bribes to support a sludge contract when she was on the Detroit City Council.

The government believes a judge should consider more than Conyers’ corrupt deal to support Synagro Technologies, a Houston company. Prosecutors said she should be punished for a series of alleged schemes to shake down people with city business.

The evidence, including hours of secretly taped phone calls, was aired at the recent trial of her former aide, Sam Riddle, before his case ended in a mistrial.

"The pattern of abuse of office and self-enrichment highlighted during that trial confirms that Synagro was not an isolated or anomalous incident," assistant U.S. attorneys Mark Chutkow and R. Michael Bullotta wrote.

They said Riddle and Conyers received $69,500, a figure that would place her sentencing guidelines at 46 months to 57 months in prison. A sentence near the top of that range would be just under the five-year maximum punishment for conspiracy.

U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn, however, will have flexibility Wednesday because the guidelines are not mandatory. Defense lawyer Steve Fishman declined to comment on the government’s sentencing memo, which was unsealed Monday.

Conyers, the wife of U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., pleaded guilty to conspiracy last summer and quit the council.

"The citizens of Detroit elected Ms. Conyers to an important public office, conferring on her the authority to make decisions impacting the health, safety and welfare of the community," Chutkow and Bullotta said. "They expected her to exercise that power solely for their benefit, without consideration of personal gain."

Riddle jury seated as race issue arises again

“The issue of how many blacks will sit on the jury for political consultant Sam Riddle’s corruption trial erupted again Wednesday when government prosecutors used one of their challenges to keep a black woman off the jury,” according to a story in The Detroit News.

“The move brought an objection from Riddle attorney John Minock and a heated sidebar exchange followed, with prosecutors, defense lawyers and U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn arguing in hushed tones beside Cohn’s bench.”

Thursday legal(ish) links

Former judge Mary Waterstone wants the Michigan Supreme Court to remove the attorney general’s office as the prosecutor for her criminal case because the AG represents her in the civil case related to the same matter. She is accused of allowing a witness to lie in a 2005 drug case. [Fox 28 (South Bend, Ind.)]

Roger Parloff of Fortune Magazine thinks that  ‘honest-services fraud’ law is being overused. The SCOTUS will hear three ‘honest-services’ prosecutions this term – all of them high profile cases (Enron CEO Jeffery Skilling, Conrad Black and a former Alaskan legislator). The ‘honest-services’ fraud laws are designed to be a catch-all for dishonest activity that may not fall under other fraud protection laws. Think you can spot it? or do you want to see how erratic the application of the law is? Try this quiz! [HT: The great SCOTUSBlog]

One in five Americans needed a lawyer for something last year, says a survey by Findlaw. [TaxProf Blog]

If you really want to serve on the jury for the Justice Department’s trial of Sam Riddle’s involvement in the Detroit/Synagro bribery mess, too late. USDC Judge Avern Cohn told the media on Wednesday that the 100 juror candidates have already returned questionnaires and the pool will be ‘whittled’ down from there. [Detroit Free Press]

Judge tells Sam Riddle to shut his mouth

The Detroit News is reporting:

A federal judge today blasted Sam Riddle for his repeated comments to the news media, telling the political consultant to “keep his fingers off a keyboard as well as his mouth closed.”

U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn said he’s reluctant to delay a January trial date on bribery charges because Riddle keeps talking to the news media.

“The court isn’t going to delay a trial when there’s a potential for polluting the jury pool by continued public comments,” Cohn said.
 

Riddle wants Convertino for defense

“Political consultant Sam Riddle wants former federal prosecutor Rick Convertino to defend him on federal bribery charges connected to the Southfield City Council’s approval of a pawn shop relocation, Riddle said in court papers filed today,” reports The Detroit News.

“Riddle, who is facing two sets of corruption charges, filed hand-written papers to add Convertino as an attorney in the case before U.S. District Judge Marianne O. Battani in which Riddle is accused of bribing former Southfield City Councilman William Lattimore.

“Lattimore has pleaded guilty to taking a $7,500 bribe and awaits sentencing.”