Sunday, August 30, 2009

THE POLITICAL ORDEAL OF EFRAIN GONZALEZ

Jose Nicot (left) González (below)

Former state Senator Efrain González awaits sentencing after having plead guilty to charges of fraud and mail conspiracy. However, González maintains his innocence. Lack of funds and support to continue legal representation placed González in a vulnerable position.

González maintains that his political woes began with Bush aide, Karl Rove, when González formed the Hispanic Policy Institute. The organization functioned as a lobby interest to counteract the Clear Channel merger with Hispanic broadcasting stations. The merger would have insured positive press for the approval of then candidate Alberto Gonzáles for Attorney general under the Bush administration. Ties between the Texas-based Clear Channel and the President of the United States were legendary. Clear Channel's vice chairman Tom Hicks "made Bush a millionaire," while Clear Channel stations were a staple at "'pro-troop rallies,' which, by many accounts, "were virtually indistinguishable from pro-Bush rallies."

New Jersey senator, Robert Menendez was the only other senator to oppose the nomination. Not long afterwards, both Menendez and González were under legal investigation on various charges under separate incidents.
Menendez was vindicated but González later plead guilty.

Gonzalez's case centers around monies spent through member item privilege. Throughout the process, the total amount of alleged misspent member items has been decreased considerably by the feds. Not to mention that the funds in question were raised through private contributions, not public.
In effect, if González is guilty of anything, it is sloppy bookkeeping . Not much for formality, González states that much of the expenses were paid for "out of pocket." He was later reimbursed for those expenditures by his organization. He also heeded the advice of then
West Bronx board vice president, Jose Nicot.

Nicot was briefly questioned by the feds but has been curiously absent and silent. Nicot has subsequently "left town" and now works as a beverage manager for a company in Atlanta, Georgia. Seen as the man who could possibly shed a light on González's innocence, Nicot, through his attorney has declined comment.

Abandoned by the Democratic party that he served, González awaits sentencing in October.
However, there are many unanswered questions. Why have the feds continued to reduce the initial amount of member item spending charges? If González heeded the accounting advice of Jose Nicot, why wasn't Nicot indicted? Was González's indictment a directive of Karl Rove?
Perhaps in the weeks to come, these issues will be answered. The following is an excerpt from an article that was written by a publication in 2005.
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Though he is the third-highest-ranking Democrat in the State Senate, it was not unusual that Senator Efrain González Jr. of the Bronx missed the leadership's final news conferences of the legislative session last month.

In the 16 years that Mr. González, a former city bus driver, has been walking the marble hallways of the Capitol, he has never been one to seek the spotlight. His Senate Web site lists no news releases. His aides say he is more comfortable flying below the radar, working person-to-person in informal settings.

Even the neighborhood organization he has long served as a benefactor and mentor is a decidedly low-key affair. Seldom has the organization, the West Bronx Neighborhood Association, been mentioned in news articles. Few in the borough know much about its work.

For months, though, Senator González and the organization have been the recipients of unwanted notoriety, as subjects of a joint city and federal investigation whose premise and possible consequences remain unclear.

Last August, investigators from the United States attorney's office in Manhattan arrived with subpoenas for the neighborhood organization, which occupies an office next to the senator's on the first floor of a commercial building on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx.

Since then the senator, who has shared staff members and $32,000 of his campaign money with the organization over the years, has also turned over records, according to his lawyer, Murray Richman.

Over the past few months, city and federal investigators have questioned several people associated with the neighborhood association or the senator, but they will not disclose what has piqued their interest. Emily Gest, a spokeswoman for the city's Department of Investigation, which is involved in the inquiry, said, ''We decline comment due to the ongoing investigation.''

But Mr. González's lawyer said the finances of the neighborhood organization appeared to be a focal point. ''They are just looking at the allocation of moneys,'' Mr. Richman said.

Last month, as the senator went home for the summer to prepare for surgery to remove a tumor from his right kidney, allies and friends said the specter of the investigation still hung in the air.

''There are all these accusations flying around,'' said Michael Jones-Bey, an aide to Senator David A. Paterson, the Democratic minority leader. Mr. Jones-Bey said of Mr. González, ''He said there is nothing there.''

Just a few weeks ago, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer skipped a fund-raiser for Mr. González for which he had been listed as a host. An aide to Mr. Spitzer, Paul Larrabee, said that the attorney general had never agreed to serve in such a capacity. Mr. Larrabee attributed the mix-up to confusion that occurred in the planning of the event.

Allies and friends of Mr. González, who describe the investigation as unfair, say the senator is bearing up well under the scrutiny. They describe him as a tough and savvy man, a former union official who has survived adversity in the past and is facing the investigation, like his illness, with perseverance.

''That cloud has been there,'' said Lynette Perez-González, the senator's daughter. ''But he just goes about his business, his daily life, doing what he's always done.''

Mr. González, who declined to be interviewed for this article, is one of the city's longest-serving state legislators, having been first elected to the Senate in 1989. Though he is chairman of the Senate's Democratic conference, he has also exhibited a distinct tendency to reach out across the aisle. In the past, his diplomacy has extended beyond bipartisan détente and he is known for having endorsed Republicans like Alfonse M. D'Amato and Rudolph W. Giuliani.

A native of Puerto Rico, Mr. González entered politics after serving as a union representative for the Transport Workers Union and the Teamsters. Friends describe him as a jovial man with the core skills of a natural politician, a good memory, a way with people and a generous sense of humor.

At times, the senator will hand out cigars as he works a room. He has his own cigar company in the Dominican Republic, where his wife lives and where he is a housing adviser to the government.

It is in the Bronx, though, that the senator has fashioned himself into a powerful presence through his close ties to the borough's Democratic leaders and through his efforts to lure corporate support for economic development and increased opportunities for Hispanics. He is the president of the National Hispanic Policy Institute, which he has described as an organization to advance the interests of Hispanic-Americans. It is located, like the West Bronx Neighborhood Association, just down the hall from the senator's office at 1780 Grand Concourse.

The West Bronx organization, a nonprofit group founded in 1993, has been run for several years by people associated with the senator. The vice president of its board, Jose M. Nicot, is Mr. González's former chief of staff. Lucia Sanchez, who was listed as its secretary in 2003, is a close friend of the senator's. She now works in his office as a legislative aide, and her salary is paid through the Senate leadership.

The West Bronx organization's small office is identified by two sheets of white paper with its name that have been taped to the front door. No one answered a knock last week, but Mr. Nicot later answered questions by phone and described Senator González as the organization's ''rainmaker.''

''Efrain is the guy who has all of the relationships that make it rain,'' he said. ''He's the guy that brings the money in.''

Mr. Nicot said that, structurally, the West Bronx group was set up like a trade association or a political action committee, not a charity. It does not receive public money, he said, but relies on corporate contributions.

''When business has called and said, 'We have issues,' he has been there and he has solved those problems,'' said Mr. Nicot.

In recent years, the West Bronx group has raised about $200,000 annually, according to its tax returns on file at the attorney general's office. Of the $222,336 it raised in 2002, the last year for which it had filed the forms, costs included: $23,593 for telephone; $20,544 for travel; $92,796 for conferences, conventions and meetings; and $20,500 for ''annual gala expenses.''

Several people who said they knew Mr. González well, however, said they were not familiar with the organization.

''It doesn't ring a bell,'' said Gwynn Smalls, the interim executive director of the Bronx Heights Neighborhood Community Corporation, a housing management and tenant advocacy group, who has known the senator for many years.

Mr. Nicot said publicity was not a measure of effectiveness, and he ticked off a list of efforts in which the association has been involved, including helping young women compete in beauty pageants, paying tuition for students at parochial schools and underwriting summer trips for neighborhood children.

He said money had also gone to support Ramitas de Borinquen, whose members twirl batons in the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade, and to help ship donated city fire trucks, ambulances and buses to the Dominican Republic after Hurricane Georges in 1998.
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