If things go as planned this morning, former state Sen. Bob Mellow will step from a vehicle parked near the federal courthouse in Scranton and scurry like a small scared animal into a courtroom to meet his fate.
The 70-year-old political don and admitted felon will stand before the judge and get sentenced for two crimes to which he pleaded guilty in a deal that spared him the trial of a trial and the possibility of big time in prison.
Maybe Mellow, whose lawyers claim is ill from an undisclosed ailment, will apologize for becoming one of the most power corrupt political criminals in Pennsylvania. If so, expect his grieving family and few remaining friends dumb enough to show up in public to get the first and biggest dose of sorry for the pain and suffering of letting them down in a time of need.
This gang is always in need, by the way.
Meeting those needs is how Mellow stayed on top of the refuse heap for so long, polished among the stink and garbage that passes for public service in Northeastern Pennsylvania, as he met the unending needs of people with their hands out.
But for Mellow to meet your needs you first had to meet his. And Mellow benefitted a hundred times more than anybody else because Mellow was King.
Maybe this dazzling grifter will even apologize for ravaging the public trust and gutting our naïve belief in the system like it's a toxic carp pulled from the Susquehanna. Even if Mellow weeps ands utters his “mea culpas” in the old Latin of the ancient church whose leaders winked at Mellow each time he genuflected before the altar of power, Mellow’s biggest apology will likely be reserved for himself.
For the rest of his life he will rue the day he got caught. Mellow will be forever sorry that he got busted. And for that he will likely blame others. No matter what this cur of a soon-to-be convict does, he will never take responsibility for his life of crime. No matter what his slick lawyers say about how remorseful he is, Mellow has not yet uttered a single word of public sorrow. He remains in his mind better than those he ripped off and victimized. The one-time Democratic demigod remains arrogant and aloof, confident that he knows more than anybody else, that his power will remain part of his legacy, even in prison.
If he goes to prison, that is. I expect a year. Prosecutors have asked for two. Federal sentencing guidelines allow the judge to decide between 18 and 24 months. House arrest and probation is not out of the question.
The judge has discretion and in hard coal country that’s as explosive as a sizzling dynamite fuse on a charge in a bootleg hole. At least the judge is from out of town. But that rarely stopped Mellow and his army of cruel arm-twisters in the past from getting what they wanted.
Granted they’re operating at more of a disadvantage than ever before.
But they’re still dangerous. We don’t even know the names of the Senate staffers who enabled and helped Mellow carry out his crimes. To the federal government’s discredit, prosecutors shield their identities perhaps because they helped bring down the boss, perhaps because the feds can use them again. Wiring them up and turning them loose on the Hill and elsewhere makes perfect sense to me. I’d even consider paying them as professional informers.
Still that doesn’t make it right. Yes, informants are often required and necessary to make and break a case. But when they’re still on the public payroll, pulling down taxpayer supported paychecks and wielding their own power as they strive to grow using the same tactics and technique that maniac Mellow taught them, we are still very much at risk.
State Rep. Sid Michaels Kavulich immediately comes to mind.
The former local television broadcaster and church worker stayed as close to Mellow’s, uh, elbow as anyone. The consummate brown-nose Mellow gofer, Kavulich worked in Mellow’s Harrisburg office as well as in the local Peckville office.
Not known for leadership or intellect – or even using his real last name until he ran for public office himself – Kavulich rode the Mellow bandwagon for all it was worth - in his case, a seat in the state House of Representatives.
Yet, even after his recent re-election, Kavulich refuses to speak with me about his role in the Mellow investigation. Speaking to a WILK colleague, he said all questions about the investigation must go through federal authorities. Of course, that is an outright lie.
As expected, Kavulich failed to return my call the other day to say whether he wrote a letter to the judge trying to influence his former boss’ sentence. Mellow’s lawyers claim more than 200 people did just that, a stunning testimony to fear, cult mentality and bad judgment.
Feds have not said whether Mellow is cooperating in other investigations. Maybe he’s a degenerate rat. Maybe he’s just a degenerate. Either way, Mellow’s reign of terror has ended. In the shadows, however, lurks the next generation of blood-sucking pillars of the community, younger aspiring political mobsters who are ready, willing and able to lead us smiling and stupid into the pits of democratic despair.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the Luzerne County Courthouse, the hammer-headed sharks of corruption are circling once again.
Concerned funeral directors are pointing to a county deputy coroner and accusing him of chasing hearses for his private funeral parlor business, claiming that 30 deputy coroners also are funeral directors with an inside track to the corpses.
A local funeral director called Nancy and L.A. this morning on WILK News Radio and said the number is as high as 40.
And why do you think that’s the case?
So the friendly undertakers can always have a trained professional ready to show up at the scene of the crime or death by natural causes? So they can better serve the public in times of grief? Or because they have an inside track for business profit and personal gain that most undertakers would kill for if only they had the right political connections?
Political connections, no matter how small, make a county worker special. Even underpaid courthouse clerks know they’re special. They likely wouldn’t be working if they weren’t somehow connected.
That’s why the Penguins hockey organization offered ticket discounts to county workers as well as free hats and fast food meals. Special privilege, however meager, is still special privilege, a way to gloat over the have-nots because you have something they lack.
Something is always better than nothing in the Luzerne County political pecking order.
And, despite the lessons supposedly learned from the federal public corruption investigation that netted more than three dozen elected and appointed public officials in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties, good-for-nothing county officials remain masters at the payoff.
The county really needs only one coroner who could hire a handful of public servants to help him with the job. The people in turn should carefully watch the coroner and his band during his or her tenure. The same goes for the coroners’ helpers.
As for gifts, the rule is simple: No gifts.
Nothing for free. Public servants serve the public and do not serve themselves. Period. End of sentence. End of story. Anybody caught violating the rule goes to the end of the unemployment line.
No free lunches. No holiday cookies sent over by the bank or the insurance company that wants county business. No eggnog sent over by the tanker full by county vendors. No free booze. No, none, nada, no way. Violate this rule at your own risk. How difficult is that?
Truly, we are getting nowhere fast. Public perception is not what it must be for honesty to be the best policy. And, if this is the new Luzerne County government brought to taxpayers courtesy of the Home Role council members, what is so different from the old government? OK, so at least an official ethics policy exists. But if home rulers can’t agree on what constitutes a gift, are they not failing in their duty to make progressive change that should be as simple as some of them are?
I used to thin k that knowing the difference between right and wrong was easy. Then I moved to Luzerne County in 1985 and saw an entirely different set of rules for the rulers. Few insiders got arrested. Fewer got reprimanded. Fewer challenged the bad behavior because that’s the way it’s always been.
After 17 years I moved away, leaving it all behind. As fate would have it, I returned, this time to live in Lackawanna County. One day during the holiday in 2007, when I stopped by the Luzerne County Courthouse for a visit, I almost tripped over a massive platter of cookies that somebody had placed outside the door of a county judge.
I went on the air and asked what kind of mindless judge would accept even a platter of cookies – a platter piled high on the polished floor for all to see, a gourmet gift that announced influence and accessibility – an offering that showed that even the mere appearance of impropriety, a cornerstone of the judicial code of conduct, would be so cavalierly set aside.
The sweet cookie image hit me shortly after the judge outside whose door the platter appeared got indicted on public corruption charges. That judge, former Luzerne County President Judge Michael Conahan is now serving 17 years in a federal penitentiary.
I’ll bet that cookie platters still show up at the courthouse in the coming weeks.
Who knows what else elected and appointed Luzerne County officials have already accepted – including members of the new home rule council? Who knows what other gifts that might not be viewed as gifts have already been given and received? Who knows where this all will end?
Hopefully not in the public trust graveyard. Honesty must never die. Good citizens must come together and pound nails into the career coffins of sleazy public servants who continue to even minimally abuse the public trust. Lug them off to their final resting places and let the rest of us live in peace.
“Ah, Jesus, doesn’t he look like himself?” is no longer an acceptable response at the drunken wake of a ghost employee.
More fitting is, “Thanks be to God, at least he didn’t get indicted.”
I’m holding a shellacked baseball in my hand. The leather is cracked and the blue ink is fading but the red stitching is strong and tight, like a family connection in the old neighborhood. After 60 years, the ball still holds up. So does the powerful sentiment behind it.
My namesake, Steve O’Neill gave me the ball on my first birthday. He was a major league catcher who played with the Yankees among other great teams and managed the Detroit Tigers to a World Series victory in 1945. O’Neill and his three major league brothers are buried right down the road from where “our” new baseball stadium is being constructed near Montage, just a few blocks from the O’Neill family home in the Minooka section of Scranton, where I live.
On the fireplace mantle in my house sits a framed black and white photograph of O’Neill and his dear buddy, Babe Ruth, who loved drinking frothy mugs of cold beer in Minooka and surprising the kids the way he did my father when Steve brought his “Bambino” buddy to the Minooka school house. In the picture, both men are dressed in fine riding clothing and perched in saddles on fine thoroughbred horses. The picture captures them in all their glory, in the early 20s, when baseball was baseball.
When baseball was baseball, fans concerned themselves with the game. Players, balls and strikes and earned run averages meant everything. Home run hitters earned hero status. Children stared stunned at bigger than life role models who by and large practiced what they preached.
Owners smoked cigars and lived lives that most fans could never imagine. But they knew the game and respected its essence. And that’s what they delivered – a line drive loaded with essence to the lunch pail gang who screamed in their seats or gathered around the radio for their thrills. When television arrived, the neon lights of bright beer signs cast a magic hue over summer nights in neighborhood saloons packed with men who bet, bantered, lived and died together.
Women loved the game, too. My friend Norman’s grandmother made meat loaf sandwiches and never missed a Pirates game on the radio. My wife’s great aunt might very well have died on the couch while listening to the Phillies game on the radio with her little dog listening by her side.
Now I worry that high-powered baseball executives have forgotten those days. Worse, I worry that they never knew about them to begin with. I worry that today’s baseball executives have relegated the game to secondary status. If that’s the case, those executives might want to start looking for work. They are contributing to the downfall of a sacred pastime that can only be saved in the little towns and cities like Wilkes-Barre and Scranton that have always produced real fans.
Pander to crass cartoon commercialism and fire-breathing tricks at your own risk.
This means, you, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.
Bring back the game, the real game, and prosper. Turn us into a commodity, with customers rather than fans and foul out. And, to the spirits of countless famous players who haunt America’s dugouts, that’s as foul as it gets.
This means you, New York Yankees General Manager Brad Cashman, whose last name itself, for God’s sake – Cash Man – sounds alarm bells of profit rather than gifts of endearment in the hearts and minds of some of the America’s toughest baseball fans. Instead of jumping in the limo and taking the short two-hour ride to Dickson City from New York City to join us in celebrating yesterday’s announcement of the new team name and logo for the Yankees farm team that is housed in our neighborhood, Cashman appeared in a video address broadcast at a banquet center that has been the site of weddings and other catered affairs for many years.
Had Cashman showed up in person, he would have shown class and baseball smarts. Instead, acting more like a Wall Streeter hedge fund chiseler than a bountiful baseball baron in love with the roar of the crowd, he fired fastball-like video insults at everybody in attendance, except, of course, for the political and corporate cheerleaders who do Cashman’s bidding and would have appeared naked in an ice sculpture had he decreed their freeze frame for the event.
Cashman probably doesn’t realize he insulted anybody and will likely defensively deny the charge if someone is brave enough to bring this column to his attention. But take a listen to his video and you tell me.
Regarding baseball’s new day in hard coal country, Cashman said, “I look forward to the top of the charts on merchandise sales, with people saying it loud and saying it proud. It’s an awesome new stadium coming on line, a new uniform and rebranding it. And the association with the Yankees is as strong as ever.”
Top of the charts? Merchandise sales? On line? Rebranding? Association?
Keep talking corporate drivel, Cashman, and we’ll ride you out of town on a rail - atop a porcupine. The new logo and prickly mascot is all well and good. So is the new $43 million stadium that Cashman should thank taxpayers for since we’re coughing up more than half the cash, man, in the midst of a recession that’s striking out people in Northeastern Pennsylvania far more often than Cashman’s circle of friends gets their taxes raised.
You want to succeed, have a little respect. Just a little. We’re really not that hard to please. Maybe jump in the limo. Read a book about the Babe. Stop by the O’Neill brothers’ graves. Then bow your head and give thanks. Because it if it wasn’t for guys like them we wouldn’t need guys like you.
Then maybe hit a Minooka saloon or two. Buy a round of beers for some of America’s real baseball fans. Keep treating us like a corporate spread sheet, though, and see how soon the fastball slows and the RailRiders get a shellacking severe enough to knock the horsehide off the ball.
See how long it takes for the mighty Cashman to strike out.
The married former head of the CIA had a girlfriend. The girlfriend, his biographer, sent nasty emails to another of his flashy female friends. She called the FBI. Agents now say the second woman had been corresponding with the Marine general who is in charge of our war in Afghanistan. He says he did nothing wrong although if he had an affair with her, a married woman, he could be prosecuted for adultery. He and the former head of the CIA were buddies, by the way.
In Belize, police are looking for an American computer legend who made and blew millions of dollars in a downward spiral of perverted excess and dysfunction that led to him being named as a person of interest in a murder in paradise.
Locally, political opponents of the top vote-getter in the Plymouth council race want an investigation into state and federal crimes he committed in the past. His lawyer says he returned home from Vietnam in the early ‘70s, got in trouble and straightened out so much so that Gov. Tom Corbett recently pardoned him for his state crimes. Supporters say he is a model citizen who does more for his town than anybody, the first African-American elected to public office in a rough town where racism is no stranger. Critics say investigate.
And, federal banking regulators forced a local millionaire, a living saint /landfill owner/auto parts baron from Dunmore, to step aside from his powerful position as the chairman of a local bank. His brother remains a bank trustee and the millionaire, himself an admitted federal felon, remains the chairman of the board at the Commonwealth Medical College.
In Lackawanna County, Former state Sen. Bob Mellow awaits sentencing in federal court after admitting to public corruption. In Luzerne County, his former colleague, another former veteran state senator and former congressman, awaits trial for public corruption.
In Scranton, a state representative awaits trial in the alleged savage beating of his wife and her friend who testified that the drunken lawmaker assaulted and choked him.
And we spend our days wondering who we can trust.
No recipe for trust exists. No guarantee, either. All we can do is put faith in people until they give us reason to no longer believe in them. But, as it should be, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, they get the benefit of the doubt.
Vague mystery is all the more reason to ask questions. Lots of questions. Starting with “what happened?” If the person to whom you are speaking answers, listen very closely to the response. Ask more questions. Listen even more closely. If the person dismisses or shrugs off your questions, beware. Be suspicious. Don’t jump to conclusion about guilt or innocence. But don’t be a gullible fool. Don’t believe everything you hear until you can confirm, it elsewhere. That’s if you can confirm it elsewhere.
Sometimes you’ll never know the truth.
So ask more questions.
Some people lie.
Many people lie.
Some people are seasoned compulsive liars who work overtime to mislead and deceive because they can’t help themselves. Their psychological make-up is such that desperation, paranoia, anxiety, fear, insecurity and other deep-seated pathologies require them to try to survive at all costs, including betraying those who believe in them and believe they know them best.
Don’t be a sucker.
Don’t let them take you down with them.
Believe in people until you have reason not to believe.
Then stop believing.
Don’t get me wrong. Redemption exists for the willing. For those able to confront the demons. But that is a long, hard trail, a dark place where pitfalls await around every corner of the mind. Rehabilitation exists. But healing requires a willingness to admit the problem and do something to change the bad behavior. That means listening to somebody other than that cocky voice in your head that reassures that you know more than everybody else. That you are right and they are wrong. That they are out to get you so you will get them first. Or last. That you control and they follow. Your orders. Your way. Or no way.
That mindset often explodes. People get hurt. People sometimes even die.
People also get better.
Let’s hope for the best, world, America, Pennsylvania, Northeastern Pennsylvania and all of us who try to be decent people. Don’t give up believing in people. But don’t look at the world with the naive vulnerability of a child. Life is hard enough as it is. Why complicate an already complex existence? Let’s work on the pieces of the puzzle together.
Let us seek and find honest answers to difficult questions together.
Awkward and a bit flustered, the county judge of elections at my Scranton neighborhood polling place told me that the law banned cameras. So I put down my First Amendment weapon of democracy and even turned off the Droid smart phone that now dumbed down the act of newsgathering on behalf of the people.
I had simply asked if I could video myself voting. That was a compromise from what I had already announced on the air when I said I planned to video and post on the WILK News Radio web page my interaction with poll workers to see how he or she or they handled the new voter photo ID law that a judge had blocked.
It’s 2012 and new media has risen - sort of. Even federal courtrooms are hazy when it comes to the new rules of reporting. Some members of the print and broadcast press text live from court when a sign outside in the hall clearly forbids electronic devices. Lazy federal judges have not taken the time to responsibly address the matter and put it in writing. But subjective enforcement of ego-driven procedure is nothing g new in a federal courtroom.
No texting, laptops, audio or video in court is usually OK with me since a pen and a pad remain the cornerstone of my on-scene reporting tools. But the least the government can do is make a rule and put it in writing. That way we in the press know what rule to cite if and when we file a lawsuit on behalf of America’s right to know.
On Tuesday, all I had was the decision of one politically-appointed citizen with a little power trying to do his job and enforce what he believed to be the law.
Ok, I said, cameras not allowed. “Why?” I asked. The judge of elections seemed embarrassed. The state election code says so, he said. OK, I said. Can you show me the law in writing? He seemed even more embarrassed. No, he said, I don’t have the code.
Although he didn’t name his political bosses whom he said instructed him to ban cameras, he said he even excluded a press photographer who wanted to shoot U.S. Sen., Bob Casey Jr. when he voted earlier that morning.
I politely told the man that I wasn’t taking issue with him personally. He was just following orders. That revelation sent a quick chill up my spine. But I didn’t want the “judge” to think that I was provoking him. As a credentialed member of the press I was representing my profession as professionally as I knew how. But I also felt abused by being denied what I believe to be a constitutional right that more and more Americans take for granted or even scorn.
Journalists are no longer as trusted as we should be. Government bureaucrats regularly assault those small liberties that I and other serious members of the press take seriously. The more we passively roll over and follow orders ourselves, the more we lose of this experiment in which those of us who still believe call democracy.
I told the judge that I did not agree that a camera ban exists in the state election code. I said I understand that individual counties in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania can regulate camera and cell phone usage but that a local regulation must exist to do so. I also said that I am under the impression that such a rule does not exist in Lackawanna County.
In other words, the official judge of elections was enforcing a rule that officially does not exist. And, in the absence of such a rule, I believe that I am being denied a precious right to gather and disseminate news to empower the public with information.
Sounds patriotic, huh? Who do I think I am, Thomas Paine? No, I’m just Corbett, one righteous pain in the electoral process. As always, principle matters. As long as ill-informed bureaucrats wield power they do not deserve nor understand, we become weaker as a community and as a nation. As long as we stand idly by and allow appointed public servants to abuse the privilege of public service even on the lowest rung of the political ladder, we fail in our common cause of strengthening the union of liberty and justice for all.
Press reports yesterday from across the country indicate that some election officials actually banned reporters as well as cameras from several polling places.
So I want to sue. I want to fight. I want somebody to officially rule in court, even against me, so I can appeal and appeal again and fight another day for my freedom. But who will represent me? Who will go to court on my behalf? Who will stand against this accepted oppression?
The United States Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania last week assigned ace federal prosecutor William Houser to oversee my polling place and others for federal election law violations. I set out to report on a couple of federal elections and was stopped in my tracks by an enforcer who had no real rule to enforce. But he enforced it anyway.
El Salvador? OK, I’m being a little dramatic. No death squad awaited outside the church where I voted. Nobody tried to throw me into the back of a van. But once the slippery slide begins, who knows where that slope will end? Isn’t rising against even the mere hint of tyranny what America stands for? Are we no longer proud people who stand against even the mere appearance of repression, especially when it comes to our precious Constitutional rights?
If Houser doesn’t help, maybe the ACLU will. If not them, maybe somebody else will take my back. Maybe The New York Times will send a lawyer. Maybe the Times Leader will again come to the rescue. Maybe not, though. Sad to say, I’m betting on maybe not.
No matter what happens, my experience at the polls needs to be addressed. When a law is enforced that is not on the books, another subjectively enforced mandate will soon arise and then another and another.
Unless President Barack Obama calls the show anytime between 3 and 6, he’s banned.
The same goes for his Republican presidential opponent Mitt Romney. Either call the show and ask for our votes or be banished from the most powerful airwaves in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
In case campaign strategists missed it, we vote here in hard coal country. But you’d be hard pressed to find evidence that either campaign cares about us. We’ve only recently heard radio and television commercials.
But that’s not good enough.
Take voters for granted and suffer the consequences.
In 2008 I had presidential and voice presidential candidates falling over themselves to talk with me and my listeners.
I talked politics with then Sen. Joe Biden even before Barack tapped him to be his running mate and help secure white, working-class votes in places like my town of Scranton, where too many voters took the bait and believed Biden when he went into his scrappy kid routine and lied about having family members who worked in the coal mines.
Republican vice presidential candidate and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin called the show and we talked about everything from abortion to basketball. Palin laughed when I told her she could beat Barack in a game of one-one-one or horse. Former North Vietnamese prisoner of war and Sen. John McCain and I sat face-to-face when he appeared in Scranton. We talked about immigration and neighborhoods and family.
His buddy Sen. Joe Lieberman told me on my way out the door that he liked the interview.
All kinds of people showed up in our hard little region to woo us and ask for our support.
During the primary I had interviewed Hillary Rodham Clinton in the girls’ locker room at Scranton High School. Singer/songwriter legend Carole King called the show. Numerous former governors, cabinet officials and other high-profile surrogates called the show.
So did former President Bill Clinton.
Then Obama showed up on line one, oozing soft Chicago-style confidence. We talked about race and getting off cigarettes and the future. Now Obama’s in the White House with Biden and doesn’t want to leave.
But since Pennsylvania no longer is a swing state, our battleground doesn’t seem to matter to him and his elite crew of button-down strategists who plan and plot the direction of the campaign.
The same goes for Romney and his gang of dysfunctional GOP generals who push and pull from the right wing to the middle and back again to right as might, deceiving even their own stuffy faithful with flip flops and falsehoods about their fabricated plans for America.
For months I have politely emailed both campaigns, communicating with the same people, asking them for the courtesy of surrogate interviews so they can share their vision with the people of Northeastern Pennsylvania. I sensed lethargy within their ranks and knew I was being played.
Yes, the Romney spokeswoman said, you are on the list to interview Romney and Ryan. Yes, said the Obama spokeswoman – who seemed to think that I would endorse their candidate and half-joked about how hard I am on the president – we are working with you to get all the interviews you can handle.
In 2008 I told the campaigns that I would take a surrogate a day until November 6. I politely called their bluff, knowing full well that they would not comply. They didn’t but we still got a discussion that helped the debate and the process of democracy. This time, the campaign staffers didn’t even come close and actually re-circulated some of their own staffers who came on the air and acted as translators of a cult doctrine that sounded vague and scripted.
Such crass, empty behavior is simply no longer acceptable.
We didn’t even get Clinton and he talks to everybody.
So two weeks ago I wrote a column in this space issuing an ultimatum, putting both campaigns and their local, county, state-wide and national supporters on notice that some of us in hard coal country would no longer stand for them playing us for suckers, fools and worse, that we will stand on honor, telling them to hit the road rather than continue to be abused.
I gave them two weeks and today’s the day.
Yesterday afternoon I emailed both campaigns and told them that their time is up. Let’s see if either camp responds. I doubt that they will but you never know. But if I don’t hear from Barack and/or Mitt by the end of the day, the two of these mugs can call the show at the same time tomorrow and I will refuse to take their calls.
Who do I think I am?
I’m a law-abiding, good citizen taxpayer and man of principle who votes and expects to be treated with decency, not taken for granted. That’s who you are, too - whether you know it or not. That’s who we all are in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
And whether Barack and Mitt know it or not, one of them will lose here when, had they only shown us more respect, he could have won. Put that in your concession speech and shove it.