Friday, October 24, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Philadelphia is so corrupt that exposing corruption in the newspaper is kind of worthless

When you're a reporter in Philadelphia, you learn pretty quickly that "All the President's Men" is just a movie, depicting ancient history. For me, I found out in 1997, when I broke a story about then city controller and mayoral hopeful Jonathan Saidel and his girlfriend, who'd used campaign funds to make a down payment on a house and also fudged the campaign report to cover their tracks. My first lesson in Philly Politics 101 was that they indicted the girlfriend, but not Saidel. My second lesson came at the preliminary hearing. The girlfriend called two character witnesses -- then-Mayor Ed Rendell and U.S. Congressman Bob Brady, The charges were tossed.

Philadelphia is so corrupt that exposing corruption in the newspaper is kind of worthless

When you're a reporter in Philadelphia, you learn pretty quickly that "All the President's Men" is just a movie, depicting ancient history. For me, I found out in 1997, when I broke a story about then city controller and mayoral hopeful Jonathan Saidel and his girlfriend, who'd used campaign funds to make a down payment on a house and also fudged the campaign report to cover their tracks. My first lesson in Philly Politics 101 was that they indicted the girlfriend, but not Saidel. My second lesson came at the preliminary hearing. The girlfriend called two character witnesses -- then-Mayor Ed Rendell and U.S. Congressman Bob Brady, The charges were tossed.

I think of that experience a lot -- especially when I read a story like this:

The Daily News obtained the video of the Sept. 11, 2007, raid and search of Duran's Super One Market, in West Oak Lane, and posted it on Philly.com in 2009 as part of the newspaper's Pulitzer Prize-winning series, "Tainted Justice."

An FBI-led task force was launched at the start of the series after the Daily News reported that a longtime drug informant had accused Officer Jeffrey Cujdik of sometimes lying on search-warrant applications to gain access to suspected drug homes.

The probe mushroomed when the Daily News reported allegations that Cujdik and other members of the Narcotics Field Unit took cash and merchandise from corner stores after disabling surveillance cameras. Then came allegations from three women who said that a member of the squad, Thomas Tolstoy, fondled, groped or sexually violated them during raids.

Amid the revelations, five officers, including Cujdik and Tolstoy, were placed on desk duty. Today, nearly four years later, all but one, who retired, remain there.

The FBI interviewed Duran and other merchants shortly after the Daily News' reports, but never followed up, Duran said. None of the alleged victims has been asked to appear before a grand jury. And none of the women who alleged abuse by the police was ever contacted by the FBI or the District Attorney's Office.

So...unfortunately the prize judges who awarded Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman a Pulitzer for their reporting don't have subpoena power or the ability to indict people. No, that job belongs to a ciminal-justice and political system that stinks to high heaven, that only serves to comfort the already comfortable and to afflict the already afflicted.

And sadly, it goes beyond Philadelphia. Watch "Frontline" on PBS, and see the story of how Obama's Justice Department has miserably failed at going after the crooks on Wall Street who tanked the world economy for you and me. It makes me sick to my stomach. Journalists can and do expose corruption -- but they can only do so much. Our present system is broken beyond repair. The people in high places who protect their own need to be held accountable.

Have a great weekend, for cryin' out loud!

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Will Bunch
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