Posts Tagged “corruption”

Word of Faith Fellowship Church grounds in Rutherford County, N.C. / CBS affiliate WSPAI’ve already blogged about the Word of Faith Fellowship church in Spindale, NC which was the subject of a series of Associated Press stories.

In addition to some North Carolina prosecutors (who were also members of the church, and one a relative of its leaders) being reviewed for having helped prevent Word of Faith from being fully investigated through the years, there’s been a little more fallout. As the Associated Press reports, a county social worker — also a member of the church who may have helped shield them from accountability — has resigned from her job (WebCite cached article):

A veteran social worker accused of coaching congregants and their children on what to say during a 2015 child abuse investigation of her secretive religious sect has resigned, an attorney for a child welfare agency said Friday.

Andrea Leslie-Fite said Lori Cornelius left her position at the Cleveland County Department of Social Services.…

[North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation] spokesman Patty McQuillan said Friday the agency isn’t currently investigating Cornelius or the Rutherford County Division of Social Services. But she said that could change.…

In its ongoing investigation, the AP has reported that the 2015 social services investigation included complaints that students at the church-run K-12 school were encouraged to beat classmates to cast out devils. Former members also said Cornelius coached children on what to tell investigators with the help of assistant prosecutors Frank Webster and Chris Back. Back is the son-in-law of sect leader Jane Whaley.

That DSS probe ended with no charges.

The abuse this church inflicted on people was all about devils:

Victims of the violence included pre-teens and toddlers — even crying babies — who were vigorously shaken, screamed at and sometimes smacked to banish demons, according to on-the-record interviews with 43 former members. Those interviewed said congregants also were subjected to a practice called “blasting” — an ear-piercing verbal onslaught often conducted in hours-long sessions meant to cast out devils.

Yes, let’s torture people in order to drive out devils (or demons or ghosts or poltergeists or whatever-the-fuck)! Why, of course it makes total sense that incorporeal beings can be harmed that way. Obviously!

Photo credit: WSPA-TV, via CBS News.

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Rutherford Cty (NC) Court House / via North Carolina Court System Web siteIt seems officials in North Carolina finally awakened to the idea that maybe … just maybe! … there’s been a little corruption going on, surrounding abuses at the Word of Faith Fellowship Church in the town of Spindale. The Associated Press’s coverage of this story continues, with a report that there might be a corruption investigation (WebCite cached article):

A district attorney has asked the state to investigate two assistant prosecutors after an Associated Press story that quoted former congregants of a North Carolina church as saying the men derailed criminal probes into allegations of abuse by sect leaders.

David Learner said Wednesday that he wants the State Bureau of Investigation to look into the accusations against his employees, who are members of the evangelical Word of Faith Fellowship church.

The AP story, released Monday, cited nine former Word of Faith members who said Frank Webster and Chris Back provided legal advice, helped at strategy sessions and participated in a mock trial for four congregants charged with harassing a former member.

The ex-congregants also said that Back and Webster, who is sect leader Jane Whaley’s son-in-law, helped derail a social services investigation into child abuse in 2015 and attended meetings where Whaley warned congregants to lie to investigators about abuse incidents.

As the AP reported and I’ve blogged, Word of Faith believes in beatings and other kinds of abuse as a way of exorcising demons and devils. Or at least, that’s their rationale for the abuse.

It’s nice, I suppose, that there might be a probe into Webster and Back, but really, I’m not confident it will go far. This is, after all, a Bible Belt (er, Bobble Bay-elt) state, where churches are sovereign, and no one questions them much. So this might die on the vine, just as past investigations into Word of Faith’s affairs did.

Photo credit: North Carolina Court System.

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PsiCop animated modification of original photo of Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold, via WBTV / Original URL: http://www.wbtv.com/story/22057943/ten-commandments-on-display-at-sheriffs-office-causing-controversyThere are a lot of Christians who think the Ten Commandments are the pinnacle of human morality. They view them not only as the rules everyone should live by, but they think of them as having a kind of magical power to make everyone better and more moral. Or something. I guess. That’s why many of them want to post the Ten Commandments everywhere. Supposedly, being constantly confronted by the Decalogue will turn every American in to an upstanding, law-abiding citizen.

Only, all too often, it turns out this isn’t actually the case. As the Daily News Journal of Murfreesboro, TN reports, one particular Decalogue champion turns out to have been anything but law-abiding (WebCite cached article):

Former Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold pleaded guilty Wednesday to three of 14 counts stemming from a two-year criminal investigation into illegally profiting from inmates through a company selling electronic cigarettes.

Arnold pleaded guilty to wire fraud, honest services fraud and extortion. Each count carries up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, supervised release of not more than three years and a $52,500 restitution payment from electronic cigarettes revenues from the JailCigs business to the county.

Now, the DNJ article doesn’t mention it, but as the Friendly Atheist points out, former Sheriff Arnold just happens to have been a major proponent of spreading the gospel of the Ten Commandments, just a few years ago (cached). At that time, he’d openly defied an earlier court order, on the pretense that he is required to do so because “In God we trust” is printed on our currency, and because “[the Ten Commandments] were the founding principles of this country.” Or something. I guess.

As I always do in cases like this, I like to point out that, for Christians, putting up Decalogue monuments (or plaques, or signs, or whatever) is incredibly problematic. First, it’s an expression of public piety, which Jesus explicitly forbid his followers ever to engage in. Second, one of the Ten Commandments is, itself, a prohibition against idolatry; depending on one’s sect, it’s either part of the First Commandment, or it’s the Second. But, given that Christians are generally unwilling to follow the words of their own scripture, I guess it’s just too hard for them to stop posting the Ten Commandments all over the place. The poor little things, they just can’t help themselves … right?

I expect Arnold and his supporters will, no doubt, consider his corruption — which he admitted in court — a kind of insignificant aberration. After all, I’m sure they’d tell me, “he’s not perfect, just forgiven.” So hey, it doesn’t really matter if he fails to live up to the faith he supposedly follows. Right? Once he’s out of jail, Arnold might even go on the Christian lecture circuit, propounding his past “sin” of corruption to his co-religionists and touting his “fallen” status as a kind of perverse credential of piety. Such is how Christianity works … as freakish as it seems.

Hat tip: Friendly Atheist.

Photo credit: PsiCop animated modification of original, via WBTV.

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Former Connecticut Gov. John Rowland fills in as a talk show host on WTIC AM radio in Farmington, Conn., Friday, July 2, 2010. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill), via New Haven RegisterNote: There’s been some news on this case; please see an update below.

I recently updated my post about former Connecticut governor John G. Rowland having a talk-show on WTIC-AM in Hartford, by noting he had to quit WTIC-AM (WebCite cached article) over what were — at the time he left the station — allegations about his involvement in election fraud. Those allegations have, since his resignation, become a federal indictment (cached).

In this morning’s Hartford Courant, reporter Jon Lender goes over the indictment — which is based on accusations by a GOP Congressional candidate and her husband, backed by emails he’d sent them as well as to another Congressional candidate who’d previously rebuffed his solicitation (cached):

“Love the Gov.”

That’s how ex-Gov. John G. Rowland signed an email to Republican congressional candidate Mark Greenberg on Oct. 23, 2009 — in the first of several messages that prosecutors say he sent over seven months in hopes of becoming a consultant to Greenberg’s 2010 [Republican primary] campaign in the 5th District.

Rowland wasn’t bashful about mentioning his former office — which he quit in 2004, a year before being jailed for corruption — in pitching Greenberg for what a newly released federal indictment describes as a “a sham consulting contract” that would have paid him secretly for helping Greenberg’s campaign.

Rowland depicted himself as still a big man in the district that he’d represented, himself, as a Republican congressman from 1985 to 1991 before he became governor.…

Greenberg ultimately refused the contract.

Rowland didn’t settle for Greenberg’s rejection of his proposal:

In the 2010 election campaign, the indictment says that Rowland proposed that he be paid through a non-profit animal shelter run by Greenberg. Two years later, the indictment says, Republican candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley agreed to Rowland’s proposal that he enter a consulting arrangement with her husband’s nursing-home business while helping her ultimately unsuccessful 2012 campaign.

The $35,000 in payments that Rowland received under that consulting contract were, in reality, payments from the Wilson-Foley campaign for his political assistance — even though the Wilson-Foley camp said that Rowland was a volunteer helper, the indictment says.

Rowland allegedly wanted to conceal his paid campaign work because of potential negative publicity over his December 2004 conviction for political corruption; he pleaded guilty to accepting more than $100,000 in benefits from businessmen while he was governor from 1995 to mid-2004.

At the time he was being paid by Brian Foley’s business and helping the Wilson-Foley campaign, Rowland also was using his role as WTIC-AM radio talk show host to criticize one of Wilson-Foley’s opponents on the air.

What he did for Wilson-Foley was to use his radio show to go after her chief primary challenger, then-state-senator Andrew Roraback (cached). He and his co-host at the time, the Reverend Will Marotti, went as far as to announce Roraback’s cell phone number over the air, implying listeners should call him and protest his opposition to the death penalty as well as his position in other “social issues.” Most of us would call this “inciting to harass.”

Now, why am I pouncing on the poor, beleaguered John Rowland? What’s the relevance of this to religion? That’s easy. As I noted some years ago, Rowland used his religiosity to claim he’s been “redeemed” since he was shamed out of the governor’s office in 2004 and pled guilty to federal corruption charges. He even marketed himself as a motivational speaker, with his main credential being his felonious past, his claimed remorse, and his presumed redemption. Here is his motivational-speaking Web site (cached). He claimed to have become a better man because of his experience and that he could provide life-lessons to other people.

But clearly, he wasn’t really walking that talk. His correspondence with Greenberg in 2010 demonstrates he had his conniving little hand out, trying to scarf up extra money on the side, without anyone being the wiser. In other words, he did again pretty much the same sorts of things he’d done 10 or more years ago, which had forced him out of the governor’s office in the first place.

Had he actually learned his lesson? No. He’d merely pretended to. And he committed this hypocrisy under cover of being religious, arm-in-arm much of that time with his erstwhile theo-political operative Marotti. He and Marotti must have forgotten that their Jesus explicitly and unambiguously forbid them ever to be hypocritical.

What’s more, he used his WTIC microphone to make himself and Marotti (who’s taken his place at the station) into the chief spokesmen for Connecticut’s Religious Right. And those R.R. listeners ate it all up, happily. They called into the show, calling him “governor” even though he’d been out of office for years and in spite of his own crimes that put him in federal prison for a year. All of that was irrelevant. They eagerly kowtowed before, and slavered over, this admitted felon.

Their chief rationales for doing so, are: First, “everybody in office is on the take,” so it’s OK that Rowland had been. After all, there’ve been some Connecticut Democrats convicted of corruption (e.g. former Hartford mayor Eddie Perez and former state senator Ernie Newton), so what’s the big deal with Rowland getting free work done on his cottage by state contractors and political operatives? That the “everyone does it” and “but the other side is corrupt too!” arguments are brazenly fallacious, is something that doesn’t matter to them. Second, many of them think the Hartford Courant fabricated the charges against him back in the early 2000s, and drove a completely-innocent man from office. It’s natural they’d do this, since Rowland himself had spent his last couple of years as governor repeatedly mouthing that very mantra. His wife Patty even once let loose with her own “parody” of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” lamenting how horrible the Courant had been to Connecticut’s first couple (cached). It was all very childish and petulant, of course — not to mention later belied by the fact that Rowland himself allocuted to the charges in federal court when he pled guilty — but many of his followers still cling desperately, in spite of that, to the idea that the Courant had made it all up.

This time around, Rowland once again claims his critics and accusers are wrong. He’s pled not guilty, and his lawyer promises he will be “fully vindicated” (cached). Given the documents in the indictment, it’s impossible to believe this is going to happen, if this should get to trial (unless the jury is packed with Rowland-loving Rightists). Word around Connecticut, over the past couple weeks, had been that, like the Foleys, Rowland was negotiating a plea deal. That effort failed. Maybe his lawyer is pushing back in order to renegotiate a better deal for Rowland, and he’ll plead out later this year. Who knows?

But whatever the case, the real bottom line here is clear: Religious people are just too fucking eager to open themselves up to bad people who’ve claimed their religion “reformed” them. It’s my experience that corrupt people tend to remain corrupt, no matter what they say and no matter if they appear to have cleaned up their acts. Religion has no power to force anyone to become a better person; they either reform themselves, or they don’t. Religion has nothing to do with it. Now, believers in a religion love to think their religion has that kind of power … but their believing it, cannot and will never make it so. Their desire that this be the case, though, leaves them prey to liars, con artists and swindlers.

Update: John Rowland’s trial ended yesterday, and the jury convicted him (cached). He and his attorneys will, no doubt, appeal this, but neither his conviction nor the appeal were unexpected. Oh how the mighty have fallen!

Photo credit: AP Photo/Jessica Hill, via New Haven Register.

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John G. Rowland, governor of Connecticut, 1995 - 2004Note: Some things have happened with the Gov since I posted this. See below for more information.

Unless you happen to live in or near Connecticut, you probably don’t know about our former governor John G. Rowland. He was dogged by corruption allegations for a couple of years in the early ’00s; in 2004 he finally resigned, and despite having spent months insisting he did nothing wrong, pled guilty to a federal felony corruption charge. He served his time and has been out of prison for a few years, mostly trying to make a name for himself as a motivational speaker. Yes, that’s right, a corrupt former politician actually thinks he knows how you should live your life!

The newspaper in his hometown (Waterbury CT), the Republican-American, has never really gotten over Rowland’s shameful departure from office. Every once in a while they try to rewrite history and make it seem that a man who admitted — in court — to having been corrupt, was actually railroaded out of office by false allegations and the vicious, fictional reporting of rival newspaper the Hartford Courant. Their latest effort at doing so is this Rep-Am article in which they make Rowland seem like he’s ready to take vows or something (WebCite cached article):

He is, after all, John G. Rowland, whose spectacular rise as governor of Connecticut was followed by an even more spectacular fall. And he is — and eager to tell you so — in the midst of his own revival; a renewal of faith that began with a handwritten fax to the governor’s office, that saw him through his darkest days in prison and on one recent Sunday led him to clap his hands to a rousing gospel song at a church service which resembled, not altogether coincidentally, a revival. …

“John Rowland today is not the same guy he was in 2003,” says the Rev. Will Marotti, pastor of New Life Church. “He’s very much in tune with his weakness, more sensitive and more humble.”

New Life Church isn’t the same church, either. As Rowland grew in his faith, Marotti’s congregation grew from a few people meeting in his living room to the hundreds packing the Oakdale venue and companion site on Bee Street in Meriden.

Rowland’s spiritual journey began before his famous troubles. In March 2003, New Life Church planned a Sunday rally for the troops in Afghanistan. On a whim, a hunch or, he’ll say, something greater, Marotti faxed a handwritten note about the event to the governor’s office.

Rowland never attended events on Sunday, which he considered a family day. But, on a whim, a hunch or, he’ll say, something greater, he decided to go.

But, as Rowland’s media nemesis Colin McEnroe (a talk-radio host on WTIC-AM during Rowland’s term) points out, this little scenario might not be true. The Rev. Marotti was much more connected to Rowland — the politician — prior to his corruption crisis, than is conveyed by this Rep-Am article. Here’s Colin’s observation (cached version):

But it’s worth nothing that, back in those bad old days, Marotti was already a theo-political operative for Rowland. He had been appointed by the governor to a council overseeing “faith-based” uses of government funds in the fall of 2003, and he repaid that kindness by going on the warpath for Rowland in the heat of the crisis [locally cached]. Marotti openly pressured the media (including me) to lay off Rowland and pressured the legislature to hold off on impeaching him.

What we have here, folks, is another version of a phenomenon I’ve noticed being used elsewhere in Connecticut … which is for public people to visibly espouse religiosity in order to evade criticism or increase their appeal. I suspect that Rowland, who’s currently Waterbury’s economic development director, is angling for some other, more-public job. He might be considering another run for office somewhere, or maybe something else: There are rumors he may become a talk-radio host on the same WTIC-AM which had once been home to McEnroe (locally cached version). At any rate, I don’t buy this “spiritual transformation” crap, not from a guy like Rowland anyway. You don’t spend close to 10 years in high office, contriving ways to profit personally — and illegally — from it, then suddenly decide to “get right with God.” Nope, I don’t believe it. If you live in Connecticut or anywhere that Rowland might someday go to, you shouldn’t, either.

Unfortunately, this tactic frequently works in the United States, because the country’s religious majority is too credulous about such claims. I have no doubt that Rowland and the Rep-Am‘s rewrite of his history will work.

P.S. The reason there’s a talk-radio vacancy at WTIC is because late-morning host Jim Vicevich … a sanctimonious, hyperreligious whiner I blogged about once before … was let go a week or two ago. Gosh, I can’t tell you how broken up I am over that. (Not!)

Update: Rowland did, in fact, get his afternoon drive-time radio show on WTIC-AM a few months after I first posted this. He has, however, lost that show (cached), due to an indictment for election-finance shenanigans (cached). At that time, I blogged about the spectacular failure of his claimed religiosity. Not that any of his “true believer” minions admit that he could possibly have done anything wrong (not recently, and not back in the early 00s). So the lesson is lost on them.

Hat tip: Colin McEnroe “To Wit”

Photo Credit: Notable Names Database.

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Here in Connecticut, over the last 10 years or so, we’ve had a sorry parade of public officials brought up on charges, with most of them convicted and run out of office. The current spate of corruption began in 1999 with the ouster of the corrupt state treasurer Paul Sylvester, and continued with two city mayors (Phil Giordano in Waterbury and Joe Ganim in Bridgeport), a governor (John Rowland), his chief of staff (Peter Ellef), two state senators (Ernest Newton and Lou DeLuca), along with a number of Rowland’s henchmen (Larry Alibozek et al). Have a look at some of these sad characters if you like.

The latest major scandal involves Hartford mayor Eddie Perez, who’s dealing with charges that he improperly got free work on his own home by a city contractor (most dictionaries define this as “graft” but Perez and his attorneys insist it’s normal). Perez has a sizable cadre of followers in Hartford who have advocated for him staunchly and who are keeping him in office (he’s slated for re-election later this year but there’s no doubt he will succeed). He, his attorneys, and supporters have held rallies in his defense — as if an appeal to the public somehow changes the veracity of the charges against him.

His latest deflection attempt was a prayer vigil arranged by him and stuffed by the ranks of his cadre, at the same time as a court appearance, and dutifully reported on by the Hartford Courant:

Mayor Eddie A. Perez stood outside Hartford Superior Court Tuesday morning surrounded by supporters gathered for a prayer vigil and told them: “God doesn’t give you a cross you can’t carry.”

Perez was due in court Tuesday morning for a second time as he faces criminal bribery charges, but the court date was changed at the last minute for to administrative reasons, according to his attorney, Hubert J. Santos.

Several local clergy members spoke to Perez and his supporters Tuesday. One spoke of “complete victory.” The Rev. Cornell Lewis, who organized the event, began it by saying that the weather was a good metaphor for Perez’s situation. “Cold, but the sun is shining,” he said. …

Santos filed a motion on Feb. 19 to dismiss the charges against Perez, arguing that testimony of various grand jury witnesses contradicts the evidence for the crimes with which Perez was charged. That motion is pending.

Santos said Perez will be back in court March 17.

I wonder what sort of theatrics Perez and his faithful minion Hubie Santos will arrange on that day!

This is such a transparent and pathetic maneuver that it hardly deserves mention; however, it’s common for politicians under fire to arrange these displays of religiosity. I can’t help but wonder why so many clergy — on this occasion and on so many others — are willing to involve themselves in these scandals and apparently eager to become spokesmen for these elected sociopaths. What gives? Yeah, I know the Rev Cornell Lewis never met a microphone or camera he didn’t like … he’s one of the worst attention-whores in the state … but to stand up for a crook? Why would he, or any other clergyman, cast his lot in with Perez?

P.S. The Courant has a very strange love-hate relationship with Perez; the paper has reported on all the mayor’s foibles over the years, but somehow it manages always to present him as a sympathetic character beset by troubles not of his own making; in the case of this story, the paper acted as his unpaid public-relations team! What makes this as strange as it seems is that in the case of other officials and groups, the Courant has pretty much gone after them with all guns blazing, unrepentantly and leaving no doubt as to the rephrensible nature of the folks they reported on. For instance, the paper (and its subsidiary the Hartford Advocate) has been relentless in its reporting about the Rev Stephen Foley affair (see e.g. this Advocate article) and how the archdiocese of Hartford has handled it. The Courant‘s presentation of the Perez investigation has been very different. I wonder why? Unfortunately there is no longer a reader advocate at the paper whom I can ask. Pity.

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