How Local Officials Siphon $…Bernie?

By J. Eller @SDzzz  SandersGuide 2016 YouTube

Did Bernie Sanders and his cronies siphon money from publicly funded accounts? We’ll never know, but here’s one way it’s done…

 Years ago, I was a member of a citizens group of varying political persuasions with one goal, to find out why academic programs were being short-changed in a very large school district. We knew two things at the outset:

  • The school board and administration officials were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on travel to national conferences (entertainment and limos included) and training to install Outcome Based Education strategies in the school system.
  • The district was leaking millions of dollars in funding, that was simply “gone” without any explanation.

We demanded  copies of budgets and audits, any paperwork we could find, and when met with resistance, gathered supporters for school board meetings to pressure officials. It wasn’t easy to do. Sports parents are a rowdy lot, they fundraise with fervor and can pack a meeting on demand. Academic parents are quieter, less likely to raise a fuss or speak out.

After days of marathon sessions reading through three-inch think binders, school by school, we finally found a small department in a rural elementary school with a shocking $6.5 million dollars in its sports equipment department, tucked away in the back  of that tiny school’s budget.

We learned how budget strategies worked,  like their “average-to-actual” strategy  which allowed over-funding or under-funding any department in the school. This technique was used to get around time limits on funding schedules. Federal and state monies often rule that the money must be spent within a certain time-frame to receive new funds for the next year, and surpluses were not allowed. By setting higher than normal budgets (averages) the actuals would be met and and a surplus gained.

I can’t say this is the strategy used when Bernie Sanders and Jonathan Leopold “reformed” accounting procedures in Burlington City Hall and suddenly found extra money, but years later Leopold would find himself in deep financial trouble plus job loss for swapping columns, just as Jane Sanders would lose her job at Burlington College in a similar swapping scheme.

The danger is that it’s fraud when knowingly used to gain profits from public monies (proving intent is difficult) and secondly, since the leftovers don’t “exist”, any unscrupulous official or group can tap that account and siphon off what they want for personal gain or personal pet “public” projects that they fear would never meet voter approval. No one in the school system would ever report it if those funds went missing because the sky would fall on all of them, from the federal level, then state level, and finally local level, because what one board does impact’s decisions of another board or council who may have been deceived into doing things like raising property taxes to meet the other board’s yearly demands and voters would be very happy over such negligence and malfeasance and remove them from office. It’s even more complicated when one person holds as many board positions as possible outside of elected office without apparent conflict-of-interest scrutiny. It would take a strong outsider to challenge it in the political arena, one who would have to endure the abuse from those exposed and their cronies, who might be their neighbors.

We decided to get like minded people to run for school board, prevailing with two candidates  who pressured the financial architect slash superintendent into resigning. Did everything change? Not as much as we would have liked and many of us were harassed, our cars vandalized, fake police complaints lodged and so forth, but it only strengthened our resolve. The old guard still held a majority and there was the borough council to deal with as well.

From there we learned the secret of audits via the inner sanctum. The public is shown one version of an audit with all the checks and balances. The administration sees another copy revealing losses, accounting errors, and so on. The school board sees the true audit and it’s confidential. These result in executive sessions, meetings closed to the public, where they decide what’s best for the district, not the public or students. No action has to be taken, but it’s the legal venue for board discussions not allowed in other private conversations outside of board meetings. It is what it appears to be, a plotting session.

Unless an audit is approved to scan for criminal activity, which is almost impossible to get approved after district officials make sure the local paper’s headline blasts a six-figure cost to taxpayers, no criminal activity will be discovered because that is not the purpose or scope of a typical audit.  In reality, audits just make sure all the columns add up . Something like $6.5 million in a small, remote elementary school’s sports equipment department wouldn’t raise an eyebrow, not even slightly.

Insider Trading

Why is it so many public officials serving their community enjoy higher personal wealth growth than the average citizen when those board positions are often volunteer or compensated with small stipends? For one thing, they know when government or outside funding is in the works for Project X. They may have even created Project X (possibly seeded with those “average” funds) or been part of it, all for the “good”of the community. They know where it will happen (real estate), the support network needed (local businesses) and when. They also have name recognition as officials, helpful to their business concerns,  and party loyalty.

By knowing  the parameters and rules better than outsiders, they’re positioned to take advantage, if only to pass info to friends, family or political allies. They know what land to buy or sell. They can project financial rewards to come in several categories, similar to investing in the stock market.  Get the grant, get the government funding, make it happen, then sell the idea to the public to take it to the highest level (if we stop now look at all the money we lose). There are so many working parts to the machine that no watchdog group has a chance of tracking it all, especially since it’s exhausting, stressful and usually uncompensated volunteer work.

Lucky Joe, brother of Councilman Jack, just sold his worthless piece of property for a million bucks, imagine that! Wonder how he knew that new project was coming or why they chose that location? Is it okay the real estate broker was Councilman Jack’s wife? What if Project X ‘s CEO just happens to be the son of Councilman Jack?

All Jack has to do is disclose his conflict-of-interest and vote for his own interests, because it’s ‘public knowledge’, after all.

Don’t worry about that tax increase, it’s all for a better community.

Influence Peddling

That’s the easiest scam, especially for people enamored by power, even if it’s just small town power. Basically, it works off the quid pro quo system and favors can take years to pay back, but it’s like having a favor in the bank. Manipulations by the, “I’ll look into it” handshake crowd are common. If you’re not a “friendly”, expect to be pushed to the back of the line.

I have to laugh when Bernie Sanders blames all the nation’s woes on Wall St. and corporations. Small town power plays go on day in, day out in communities across America. Most of us know it or at least sense it, yet feel powerless to change it. The best place for a plunderer is a small town and you can bet the city councils, school boards, housing authority and every entity, no matter how large or small has a player “on board”.

I still maintain some hope in the system. Not everyone in politics is a scoundrel or crook, but the longer they’re in office, the harder it is to maintain autonomy, but it’s not impossible if they have strong character.

This is why voting in local and state elections matters so very much. Who we choose from councils to judges to prosecutors, mayors, governors, congress and senate makes the system as a whole succeed or fail. It isn’t as exciting as presidential elections nor does it carry the obvious weight, but it’s where everyday life is lived. Influence it, wherever you can.


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