Case Closed

Posted May 13, 2008 at 10:57am

Federal prosecutors closed the books last week on an investigation into a decades-old scheme to funnel illegal corporate money to lawmakers by top executives at a South Florida construction company.

[IMGCAP(1)]A Miami judge last Friday sentenced Richard Wickett, a former executive at PBS&J, to three years probation and six months of house arrest, plus 600 hours of community service and a $40,000 fine. Originally hired as the company’s treasurer in 1989, he oversaw all of the company’s finances by 1994 and was named chairman of PBS&J’s board in 2002.

Wickett’s cohort, former Chief Executive Officer H. Michael Dye, was sentenced in August 2007 to 488 days of house arrest, one year of probation, a

$20,000 fine and 200 hours of community service. Dye was hired in 1985 as PBS&J’s marketing director, and by 1996 was the company’s top executive.

The two were charged in March 2007 with what prosecutors called a “long-term scheme to violate campaign finance laws” involving sham bank accounts, illegal reimbursements and banned corporate campaign contributions.

According to court papers: “It was the purpose and object of the conspiracy for the defendant and others known and unknown to the grand jury to fraudulently conceal and disguise the diversion of PBS&J corporate funds from legitimate business uses to improper political donations, in order to increase the likelihood of procuring government contracts for PBS&J, despite the reasonably foreseeable risk of economic hardship to PBS&J shareholders from this diversion of funds.”

Wickett and Dye had faced a maximum of five years in jail for multiple conspiracy counts. The two had also been accused of lying to prosecutors to cover their tracks, punishable by up to five years in jail, as well as the lesser charges of mail and wire fraud.

Federal Election Commission records show that until 2004, PBS&J’s employees made almost $40,000 in donations — and likely much more — to federal lawmakers, including Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) and former Sens. Max Cleland (D-Ga.) and Bob Graham (D-Fla.).

Young, Cleland and Graham were named specifically in court papers as the recipients of illegal checks by company officials and a political action committee: $500 for Graham, $500 for Young and $2,000 for Cleland.

Hans Speaks. Beached GOP Federal Election Commission nominee Hans von Spakovsky is backing a modernization of battlefield polling places.

“Military personnel based outside the United States are still dependent on the mail to receive and cast their ballots,” von Spakovsky wrote in the May 12 edition of The Weekly Standard. “When an election official sends a ballot overseas, it can take three weeks (or more) to reach a soldier in Iraq or a sailor on a ship halfway around the world.”

“Even if the soldier or sailor completes the ballot immediately, it may take another three weeks to get back,” he added. “Many ballots simply do not get home in time.”

Von Spakovsky encourages lawmakers to pass legislation sponsored April 1 by freshman Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) that would use contractors to “ensure that any absentee ballot collected prior to the applicable deadline described … is delivered to the appropriate state election official prior to … the closing of the polls on the date of the election.

“This could shorten the delivery time for overseas ballots from three weeks to only four days,” he wrote. “It would mean that many thousands of ballots that were rejected … would count in 2008.”

Last year, the Election Assistance Commission reported roughly half of 2006 midterm votes cast by members of the military serving overseas were disqualified. And of the roughly 1 million votes cast overall by out-of-country voters, the EAC says that 70 percent of the disqualified ballots were deemed “undeliverable.”

Spare Change. The Campaign Finance Institute released a report Tuesday showing that — unlike the presidential races — “small donors are not a factor in House races.”

The group crunched numbers from 1,001 registered House campaigns, concluding that of the nearly $450 million raised so far this cycle, less that 10 percent was from gifts of $200 or less. That ratio, according to the study, is “virtually unchanged from past years.”

“The role of the Internet and the growing role of small donors in the presidential race are healthy signs for democratic participation,” Michael Malbin, executive director of the Campaign Finance Institute, said in a statement. “But the Congressional numbers show that there is a long, long way to go before we can walk away and declare ‘problem solved.’”

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