A federal grand jury yesterday began hearing from witnesses in an investigation of possible corruption connected to an electronic-bingo bill in Alabama. Some legislators reportedly wore wires in an effort to capture inappropriate offers from lobbyists. The targets appear to be individuals who were pro-bingo, which means the investigation probably is driven by GOP Governor Bob Riley, an anti-gambling zealot, and Bush-appointed U.S. Attorney Leura Canary--who, inexplicably, remains in office under Obama.
No new developments have been reported on the Rogers front in recent weeks, but it remains one of the most alarming stories we've read in 2010. Why? Without knowing anything about the rightness or wrongness of John Rogers' activities, the move screams of political investigation/prosecution. And it's happening on the watch of a Democratic president.
We should note that John Rogers was targeted not long after he spoke out about the Obama administration's failure to appoint a replacement for Leura Canary as U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama.
What could be political about the FBI seizing computer files from John Rogers' office at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), where he works as director of minority affairs? Well, let's consider other questionable activities we know about at UAB, which apparently have drawn little or no interest from government investigators.
* Massive Medicare Fraud--It's a matter of public record that UAB has admitted to engaging in research-funding fraud, much of it involving federal Medicare dollars. The university settled a whistleblower lawsuit with the government for $3.4 million in 2005, even though a forensic accountant estimated the actual fraud at about $600 million. In other words, UAB got off with paying way less than 1 percent of the fraud in which it engaged. That kind of "penalty" should have quite a deterrent effect, shouldn't it?
* Rob Riley's UAB-Related Hanky Panky--It's a matter of public record that a company partly owned by Rob Riley, son of Governor Bob Riley, has been accused in federal court of engaging in health-care fraud, again involving Medicare dollars. Two of Riley's partners in Performance Group LLC, Dr. Thomas Spurlock and Dr. Francois Blaudeau, are associated with UAB.
So here we have at least two examples of major financial fraud connected to UAB. But has the federal government seized anyone's computer files regarding either of those two case? We've seen no signs of it.
Could that be because most of the folks involved in those two cases, unlike John Rogers, are not black and are not Democrats? We would say the answer to that question is probably yes.
On the $600-million fraud case, there is little reason to think the puny penalty changed UAB's behavior. In fact, the university announced a few weeks back that it had reached $485 million in annual research funding, a new record. Given that previous high-water marks almost certainly were aided by fraud, is there any reason to think that UAB's new "record" was reached in a clean fashion?
As a practical matter, one that takes human nature into account, consider this scenario: If you had stolen $1,000 from someone and was caught and forced to pay 50 cents as a penalty, would that stop you from stealing money in the future? Probably not, especially if you got to keep the $1,000.
Sources with ties to the Justice Department have told us the government never even conducted an investigation in the $600-million fraud case. UAB hired some high-powered Washington lawyers who stipulated that the university would plead guilty to fraud in one case--never mind more than 100 others that were ignored--and the government actually agreed to that.
Did that close the case? Not exactly. The settlement states that the government can reopen a criminal, civil, or administrative investigation at any time. But don't hold your breath waiting for new U.S. attorney Joyce White Vance to do that. Why would an Obama appointee go after a $600-million problem when she can go after John Rogers?
As for the Rob Riley case, Vance's predecessor--Bush appointee Alice Martin-- chose not to join the case, essentially leaving the whistleblower out to dry. But the case, and the allegations, are still out there. Will Joyce Vance take up the charge? Again, don't hold your breath.