Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Durbin ready to celebrate tainted money


Politicians across the country have been running for the hills to return campaign contributions from the suburban Chicago business consulting company International Profit Associates and its founder John Burgess. Except, apparently, Hillary Clinton. And Dick Durbin, who is knee-deep in IPA-related money and has its lawyer (pictured above) on his finance committee for a big Chicago fundraiser on Friday.

There are several reasons for the returned contributions: the sordid past of Burgess—he's a disbarred lawyer and convicted felon who has pleaded guilty to both attempted larceny and soliciting a 16-year-old prostitute, according to the New York Times. Also, the 1,800 employee company has been drawing a steady stream of fraud complaints since it opened its doors in 1991. The Better Business Bureau says it has an "unsatisfactory record" with more than 400 complaints the last three years, the Illinois Attorney General's office has an open fraud investigation and a private RICO fraud lawsuit is pending in Chicago, among other lawsuits.

(For a complete chronicling of the company's modus operandi, this 2000 article in Inc. magazine is superb. And don't forgot to check out the still active message board at the bottom of the online story for a flavor of public sentiment about the company).

If this isn't enough reason to steer clear of IPA, how about the largest sexual harassment lawsuit ever filed by the Chicago office of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission? The lawsuit, pending in U.S. District Court in Chicago, alleges companywide abuse led by Burgess. This is from a recent court filing by EEOC:
IPA's management, led by John Burgess, created a culture at IPA where sexual harassment flourished. IPA's senior managers harassed women with impunity, sending a signal to lower-level managers and employees that they could do the same. Given the tone set by IPA's senior management, it is not surprising that sexual harassment at IPA was rampant in all departments and at all levels of the company. Women at IPA routinely had to endure a gauntlet of abuse, ranging from sexual solicitations and physical harassment, to sexual comments and offensive sexual materials. Based on the extensive record of harassment presented in this case, IPA is not entitled to a finding that as a matter of law, the sexual harassment that occurred at the company was insufficiently severe or pervasive to survive summary judgment.
For the record, IPA officials deny the sexual harassment charges and the fraud allegations. The man making many of the denials is Chicago attorney Myron "Mike" Cherry, who is listed on the finance committee of Durbin's fundraiser on Friday at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Chicago. The "Spring Leadership Dinner" is hosted by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Cherry is no ordinary lawyer purely interested in protecting the rights of his clients. He's a major Democratic fundraiser. And it appears he helped steer hundreds of thousands of IPA dollars to top Democrats. In the New York Times story last year, Cherry conceded he was the conduit for IPA donations to Hillary Clinton, which total about $150,000. In the scathing article, Clinton said she's wasn't aware of Burgess' and IPA's history and was "reviewing" whether to return the money. There's no evidence it has been returned.

Durbin has taken $2,750 from IPA executives and another $13,150 from Cherry, according to online databases. IPA executives have given another $86,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and $32,500 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. IPA executives have given tens of thousands more to individual Democratic senators, including John Kerry and Ted Kennedy. And Cherry has given nearly $10,000 to the DSCC and DCCC.

Cherry also is a major donor to Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who has returned more than $100,000 in IPA money. Although he hasn't been charged, Cherry was implicated in the recent corruption indictment of Illinois insider Tony Rezko. He has been identified by the news media as "individual H" in the indictment. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Cherry was listed as a recipient of a no-work $250,000 finder's fee on a state pension deal before the deal was quashed by the pension agency. The indictment says Individual H was substituted for another person to conceal the fee and is silent on whether Cherry was aware of the substitution. Cherry says he's been told by the feds he's neither the target or subject of prosecution, according to the Chicago Tribune. Soon after that incident, Cherry was given a controversial no-bid state contract by the Blagojevich administration to investigate insurance fraud in Illinois even though critics pointed out he had no expertise in the matter. Cherry billed more than $900,000 in six months and the state refused to release details of those billings.

Cutting through all the numbers, here's what we have. Hillary Clinton, Durbin and others are wallowing in IPA related money. The articles are all out there about the very real possibility that IPA is scamming small and medium sized business owners across the country and, in the course of those operations, sexually harassing women. Hillary, Durbin and others don't seem to care. Other politicians, including Barack Obama, returned IPA money. I wonder how the alleged fraud and sexual harassment victims feel about this?

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