Confirmed: Wacky Biz Deals in CLT
As predicted a week ago, the local arm of North Carolina’s Alcohol Law Enforcement agency was deeply involved in tipping off the FBI in the corruption case the Bureau lodged against Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon. And since Cannon’s resignation, the extent of the federal investigation has begun to become apparent.
Already we have an interesting cameo in the person of NYC hotelier and self-promotion master George Dfouni. Dfouni is part of the ownership group of a Charlotte hotel that badly needed an alcohol permit. Cannon’s parking company has a contract with the hotel to manage parking at the site. A hotel rep, Larry Parks, contributed $1250 to Cannon’s city council campaign and, according to an ALE agent, claimed he could get the hotel’s alcohol permit approved via his influence over the local alcohol licensing board.
Dfouni is cutting Parks loose on that one:
Hotel co-owner Dfouni said he knows Cannon and has met him several times, but never sought influence from him. He said he dealt with Jeff Feemster, E-Z Parking’s co-president, when dealing with parking, not Cannon.
“I didn’t ask for favors,” he said. “What do I need the mayor for, with all due respect to the mayor?” …
Dfouni said he was surprised to hear that Parks allegedly told people he could influence the ABC. He said Parks was an architectural consultant.
“This is news to me,” he said. “I’m actually surprised by this. … He was introduced to me as somebody local who knows a lot of architects. He was like a middleman between me and contractors. I really don’t deal with Larry that much.”
Dfouni has much better things to do, you see — like dabble with running for president of Lebanon after a whirlwind trip to Beirut, London, and Europe. But instead of running himself Dfouni, whom the Lebanese press describes as “known for his friendship with President Barack Obama,” has thrown his support behind former Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud.
Dfouni, recall, became involved with the Charlotte property following the spectacular flame out of another NYC hotel magnate, Charles Dayan and his ownership group.
Charlotte is finally truly world-class.
Charlotte’s Web of Corruption
As I have said previously, any honest observer of Charlotte politics and culture over the past 25 years was surprised by the federal arrest of Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon on bribery charges — but not shocked. Not given the way the city operated for decades via wink-and-nod, bait-and-switch, and insider self-dealing.
In a way, you almost feel sorry for Cannon. He was a lowly parking lot operator and as such without easy access to connected windfalls available to CLT pols who had law firms, construction companies, or other professional service cut-outs. Maybe a bribe-funded feminine hygiene product really was the best get-rich quick scheme he could come up with. But to the question of the day: What comes next?
First, let’s backfill some sloppy assumptions afoot in the matter. Because the indictment sources the investigation to a tip from “local law enforcement” operating undercover in 2010, some outlets have taken that to mean Charlotte-Mecklenburg police. Not so fast.
By “local law enforcement” the feds could mean any local arm of law enforcement. And the designation of “undercover” is slippery as well. It could just mean an entity that sometimes operates undercover, so as to wall-off the source from disclosure. Also, the more you know about how law enforcement typically works in Charlotte, the less it seems like CMPD provided the initial tip.
For one, the only undercover ops I ever knew CMPD to undertake involved either drugs or prostitution. Now it is possible one of those operations stumbled on an elaborate development and permitting corruption scheme located at the GovCenter, but that suggests truly epic Sharky’s Machine scale illegality that is just not reflected in the Cannon criminal complaint.
Besides, the mention of alcohol permits in the complaint should direct our attention to the local arm of the state’s Alcohol Law Enforcement agency. While CMPD conducts background checks on permit applicants on behalf of city officials who then recommend up or down on permits to the county arm of the state’s Alcohol Beverage Control commission — North Carolina has deliberately made the distribution and sale of alcohol as complicated as possible — it is ALE that is charged with the day-to-day enforcement of liquor laws at licensed operators. What’s more, ALE does deploy plain-clothes “undercover” agents in a variety of sting ops, from underage sales to over-serving to after-hours operation.
Further, CMPD and ALE have not always had the best working relationship, with CMPD more interested in tracking down the sale of heroin and other drugs at bars and restaurants than in policing every dot of the state’s arcane alcohol code. This conflict reached its zenith several years ago with ALE attempting to shut down bars in which CMPD had carefully placed informants among the kitchen staff in an attempt to get a handle on the city’s rampant black tar heroin trade.
Given the division of labor and history between the two institutions, this scenario suggests itself: ALE operatives get wind of a current or prospective permit holder boasting of having an in with city officials and/or CMPD due to bribes. Without any jurisdiction to investigate such a claim, ALE must turn it over to another investigative agency. Presumably the initial allegation involved an out-of-state, multi-state current or possible permit holder, making it a federal matter.
This scenario also comports with the language in the FBI complaint stating that “other individuals” were probed prior to the investigation landing on Cannon. Had CMPD initiated the investigation, it would have done both an internal clearance of its own officers and that of any non-elected city personnel. Instead, it certainly sounds like the FBI was on the case from the start. And that suggests to me ALE called them in. We may never know.
Meanwhile, only insular, proud Charlotte could have produced a legitimately shocking follow-up to Cannon’s arrest — a serial attempt at witness tampering by Charlotte City manager Ron Carlee.
…Carlee said he met with city executives Thursday morning, including those in the planning and zoning departments. He said they told him the city wasn’t a “pay-to-play environment” and Carlee said Charlotte is “doing things right.” …
In a news conference Thursday, Carlee tried to downplay Cannon’s ability to corrupt city government, saying much of the mayor’s job is ceremonial and that there are enough checks and balances to limit one person’s power.
Carlee said Cannon’s arrest wouldn’t impact the city’s quest to secure federal funding to build a streetcar or keep control of the airport.
“(The mayor) doesn’t have operational responsibility for the airport or transit,” Carlee said. “It can’t be done by the mayor, it’s done by the council. The mayor is an important position, has a bully pulpit, but he doesn’t have operational control.” …
The city’s zoning process has several steps that would make it difficult for one person to advance a project, Carlee said.
Just brazen. If anyone asks, just say the mayor had no influence and you did things by the book.
But that is how Charlotte rolls. Has rolled. Straight into a ditch. What comes next?
More of the same.
The datanews team started wondering how many places someone could safely land a Boeing 777 within the potential range of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
Lorenzo Paez Calles, 34, is charged with buggery.
NSA: Ed Snowden is a Hobbit
We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious. They stole it from us. Sneaky little hobbitses. Wicked, tricksy, false! — Gollum
Not much more needs to be said about the incredibly self-serving memo the NSA recently dropped — and credulous reporters promptly picked up, firing not a synapse in the process.
The national security state would have you believe that Ed Snowden bamboozled three different high-clearance individuals into giving Snowden their security credentials so that he might quietly loot the state of millions of top secret documents. That is certainly one narrative, one the state has pushed from the very start — Snowden was no lone actor, he had witting or unwitting help.
Of course, the government’s vested interest in pushing that story is to tell possible future Snowdens within the security state that acting alone is impossible — not even Snowden did that — so ignore your guilt and do your job. Somehow that angle never gets mentioned in all the supposed coverage of this front-page matter.
Then there is the fact that institutional interests also converge to both maintain the fiction of infallible spy state systems and identify scapegoats consistent with the informant culture rampant with the federal security state.
To wit, in the post-Snowden investigative frenzy, how hard was it to find three individuals — interestingly enough representing the three different categories of spy state actor, NSA civilian employee, active duty military, and a civilian contractor — who had violated in some manner the complex security regs surrounding the Snowden doc programs? From there, how stupid would these individuals have to be to not blame Snowden for their lapses? To not call Snowden tricksy and false?
Telling interrogators what they want to hear, particularly with felony charges in the balance, is a routine part of the administration of justice in America. To think that the Snowden matter is not subject to those real world constraints is to inhabit a fantasy world every bit as rich and fanciful as Middle Earth.