Monday, March 27, 2006

What's next in Filippi case?

Huge weekend for our ex-mayor Rick Filippi. Go Rick! Rick walks! All of the above. Interesting the way he fingered Rubino as the villian in this case from the beginning. I remember as soon as he was charged, one of his aides was standing outside Ambrose/Friedman's office holidng up a sign with Money To Rubino or some such stuff on it. Now, it would seem we need to investigate the practices of our state courts, if indeed Filippi was charged with something that was not even a crime in the first place.

Cheers.

Ralph

12 comments:

Stan Langerhaus said...

Ralph, I'd like to discuss more of the Filippi case with everyone, but since my sole source of information on trial and the facts involved was the Erie Times, so unfortunately I don't know jack shit about what happened.

Ralph said...

Actually, the Times did a pretty good job covering that thing spread out over a period of like two years. Basically, the way I understand it is that MTR had pretty much decided to build in Summit or at the old Green Shingle site and had in fact already purchased both properties. But Rick and the city came in with a last minute pitch for the old IP site. Seemed like a reasonable idea and location and MTR was interested. Couple things then: Rick knew that if they wanted to build the size track they needed to attract decent thoroughbreds, they'd have to buy some additional properties and this is when Aiko Aiko all day started buying up properties. The question of whether or not this was insider info. was what the trial was all about. Of course, in the meantime, Rubino was trying to "shakedown" the city for some $50 million in kickbacks for MTR to make "infrastructure improvements." This $50 was to come out of the $150 million MTR has to pay in "sin taxes" to have a municipality host its gaming facility. MTR is trying to do the same thing with Summit right now. For whatever reason, Filippi balked at this payment to MTR and the next thing he knew was being hauled into court. He immediately accused Rubino of using his influence with the state courts to lead to his indictment. How does Rubino wield such influence you ask? Well, he is an associate of Baldwin Brothers who are a huge real estate development firm - even on a worldwide basis I believe - and who may hold some sway in certain areas. I have no evidence of this last part - and quite frankly, this is the one part the Times has not wholly investigated - likely because the Baldwins are cronies of Ed Mead's. But that's my story.

Cheers.

Ralph

DocTorDee said...

Stan,

True enough about the single-source aspect, but these charges smelled bad from the beginning. First, it's been clear to me that Filippi's pals were hoping to cash in on a new casino at the Hammermill site. That's why they were buying the property. So that's a no brainer.

Did Rick give them an any "inside" info? Hard to tell, but a nod is as good as a wink in this case. There were high hopes until the deal fell through.

Was this casino speculation only going on at high levels of City government? Not hardly. I can tell you that the guys in the barbershop on East Lake Road just west of Hammermill were talking about potential traffic problems associated with the casino. These conversations were held at about the same time Aiko bought the property, so the scuttlebut was out there. Anybody could have invested in that property at that time.

Of course, the Aiko guys may have been more confident because they had a certain friend in power. So, it certainly doesn't look good on the surface.

Then there is Rubino...It struck me that this guy wants to fleece the City to line his own pockets. Are we going to run him out of town on a rail? First, he tries to fleece the City and then he attempts to put the Mayor behind bars. Wow. He's a massively self-serving guy, don't you think?

Anyway, as soon as he didn't get the money he wanted from the City (was it $30 million at that time?), he ran to the State Attorney General and threw Filippi under the bus. And the PA State Attorney General was immediately willing to accept Rubino's word on all of this. Wow.

And speaking of the Times-News, there was an initial story where Rubino was speaking like a choir boy about all these dealings. I believe Ralph has cited that story before.

Maybe we can dig the story out, but it came across like Rubino was saying that all these "bad men" (Filippi and crew) were up to no good and as soon as Rubino heard about it, he was morally compelled to report this shady and possibly illegal behavior.

Gimme a break. Rubino is all about deals. It's just that he didn't get his way on this and decided to show people that you don't f*ck with Greg Rubino.

Personally, I think Filippi is guilty of shady dealings, but I also think that Rubino's black reputation made the prosecution look bad enough for a jury to acquit.

I wonder whether Filippi's lawyers and Rick himself will try to find a way to pay back Rubino for all this pain and suffering. They might just try to make his life miserable in as many ways as they possibly can...

Jennifer said...

Great Discussion--

I think Filippi was doing shaddy things, illegal, though... I don't know.

Rubino is also shady. I remember helping interview him when I did an internship at a local TV station. He's a smooth guy and I think he probably is just trying to make himself richer. Good idea for the defense to make Rubino seem like the bad guy... I actually got a chuckle out of MTR meaning Money for Rubino.

Can we just bring in some money to Erie and more jobs, already? What does anyone think of Joe Sinnot?

Stan Langerhaus said...

Ralph/Doctor, thanks for adding some historical foundation, but I still do not understand the concept of Rubino's motivation to attack Filippi without any justification or basis. And since that seems to have been the biggest issue in the trial, it would have been nice if Erie's paper made some kind of attempt to either explain it or at least mention it.

You see, it appears to me that Rubino is MTR's agent regardless of wherever MTR builds in Erie County, so WTF would Rubino care if Erie grants $50M to MTR to build at IP, unless Rubino had some kind of economic incentive to get those kinds of grants for MTR. But if Rubino did have such incentives, I am certain that at least one of the defendants' lawyers would have asked Rubino about it.

Now maybe they did, and maybe the Times discussed it, but I do not recall reading it.

Furthermore, maybe Rubino is a sleazeball, but I still do not understand how the AG seemed to let attacks against one witness defeat the state's entire case. The state had other evidence that seemed to go a long way to show that the defendants bought property on the speculation that MTR would be built at IP. That's why I believe there must be more to story and thus far I have not seen anything in local news reporting that helps explain how the defendants got off.

And just so you know, I don't care personally if they got off or were convicted, I just want somebody to explain the ins and outs of the trial.

DocTorDee said...

Stan,

Thanks for clarifying your concerns. I definitely see your points. There is a lot more to be told about this trial.

To your statement: "I still do not understand the concept of Rubino's motivation to attack Filippi without any justification or basis." I'd say the answer is, at least in part, EGO.

If Filippi told Rubino to "go pound salt," then I would think Rubino would have a reaction to that.

There may be more here than meets the eye and I definitely support more comprehensive reportage, but EGO among men can drive entire wars (see Helen of Troy), why shouldn't it drive vengeful legal actions?

And even though the prosecution had evidence that Aiko purchased the properties and conversations were held, they had trouble holding up the case once the man who initiated the legal action (Rubino) was shown to be a dirty dealer himself.

Hopefully, there will be follow ups in the Times. If not, then we'll just have to keep hammering on it.

DDDDD

Stan Langerhaus said...

Doctor, you may be totally correct in your assumption that the genesis of this matter is nothing more than ego.

But if that were the case, I would love to know how this MTR outfit operates. It appears to me that if Rubino was/is acting as MTR's local agent, that Rubino should have gone first to his client and asked them if they would not mind if he were to become involved as a witness in some criminal matter and thereby bring their name/reputation into question. I would like to think that a rational group of businessmen would say, "No thanks Greg, we'd rather you not get yourself as well as us (potentially) in a messy political fight." So maybe Rubino is a loose cannon who does not give a shit about his clients. But for the $$$ involved in this whole affair, I think that you would have to be a complete idiot to get distracted or otherwise be indiscreet.

Or perhaps, MTR was pissed off that Filippi reneged on some back-room promise to get them the IP site with $50M in grants. And therefore MTR instructed Rubino to go after Filippi. In that case, then it would be interesting for the Times (or someother news organization) to try to dig up more on MTR and the way they operate.

Or maybe, it is just as you say that everybody in the area knew that IP was in play for MTR and Aiko just capitized on public knowledge that property values were going to go sky high once MTR builds. However, that of course begs the question as to how it was possible for Aiko to find property sellers when "everyone knew" that the properties were going to appreciate. And I do recall that the AG did in fact find such a seller who as a state witness claimed he was in the dark as to the MTR plans. Maybe he was just the only sucker out there.

Again, I don't know. All I understand from reading the Times is that three guys got charged with crimes and they were not convicted.

Finally, as to Ralph's original question, I think that there was enough here for the state to go after the defendants. But I think that the state sent the wrong lawyer to do the job, because in all, I think that the state had the better argument.

Ralph said...

Here's the thing - I don't recall anyone officially acknowledging that Rubino brought these charges against Aiko. I think the state claims the stories that showed up in the paper, not Rubino, were what prompted them to go after Filippi. Now, Rubino may have tipped off the papers, but I think the state has purposely tried to distance itself from any relationship with Rubino, aside from his acting as a witness. However, it's this relationship that needs to be investigated. Stan, I am quite certain that Rubino has incentives related to how much kick-back he can get for MTR. And DoctorDee and Stan, by no means do I think Rubino was working alone or motivated solely by ego. Remember, from what I can tell, he is pretty much a straw man for the Baldwin brothers who are a very powerful real estate organization. I think they carry some serious weight downstate and felt the need to excercise it once Filippi started fuckin' with them. They were in line to get like $30-50 million from either Summitt or Erie for their client MTR - quite a bit of which I'm sure would have trickled into their own pockets - until everyone got up in arms about it and started yelling, "kickback." They may hold Filippi responsible for leading this backlash. And they ruined him politically for it. Remember how DiVecchio recently tried to play ball with MTR? You don't think he was scared. I think the real curruption in this case did not take place between on behalf of Filippi and his mates, but on behalf of the Baldwins and the state prosecutor's office. Those are the big fish that need to be fried...

Ralph

DocTorDee said...

Ralph,

When I pointed to ego, I wasn't suggesting that it was the only driving force in this equation.

However, I still think that when a guy is used to getting what he wants, he doesn't take it well when somebody tells him "no."

In other words, this seemed personal.

Actually, I'm glad Filippi got off because it shows that--no matter how much money and power the Baldwin's might have--they can't necessarily have their way with the law. That's still up to the jury.

Doc

Ralph said...

Right on, brother! - Although if you think about it, Filippi's political career was ruined, Rubino was subjected to a good deal of public scorn, and well, the Baldwins kind of escaped to the background. There's clearly something to be said for money and power.

Ralph

Stan Langerhaus said...

You see, the part that I still don't understand, and Ralph you have already referenced it, is why Filippi apparently "killed" the $50M subsidy.

Maybe I am just missing the point, but why would Filippi buy the properties, either legit or otherwise and then later on work to kill the deal that was going to enrich himself (as well as MTR)?

Ralph mentioned that Filippi was motivated to kill the $50M b/c the story was out by then and Filippi was feeling the heat. But if what he was doing was legit as he stated in his trial, I don't see why he wouldn't try to continue to sell the $50M to his critics and the community at large. Filippi never struck me as being a person who cared what other city leaders thought of him anyway.

Maybe my level of looking at this affair is overly simplistic, but I think that at bottom my logic is as sound as Filippi's. If I were an uncharitable person I would call Filippi (and his cronies) simple dumbshits. But I try not to think ill of people. Instead, I believe that they were incredibly naive. I mean, isn't the first rule of political self-dealing that when you want to make money off of your office, you set up your relatives as the parties-in-interest (and thus the resulting fall guys)?

Finally, I would say that I think that Ralph has been watching to much "24." I don't see this matter as a great conspiracy. It appears that the defendants' pretty much took a "take no prisoners" approach to their defense, so if there was more involved I think that it would have come out in trial.

But again, I am only speculating because I think that the Times News did a terrible job of covering the trial.

Ralph said...

Stan:

Okay, a bit more on this: Rubino and Filippi clearly had some sort of falling out - who started it is not clear. The impression I get is that it went like this:
1. Filippi encouraged MTR to look at Erie/IP site mainly because it would be a coup for him politically to land the "sin tax" money from MTR.
2. Rubino said great, let's play ball.
3. Filippi's buddies recognized what was going on and decided they could make some money on the Aiko scam. Rick was pretty busy with other things, but kind of got dragged in because his friends didn't want to leave him out. (I gleaned this from reading the text of the e-mail exchanges between Rick and Rolf and Eric.)
4. This is where things went bad. Rubino got wind of this Aiko business and got pissed. (I'll give you that there has to be more to it, because the Aiko stuff was really pretty small potatoes in the large scheme of things.) At the same time, Filippi, who was up for re-election was feeling pressure to slam the door on the proposed kick-back and since Rubino and him were arguing anyhow, he decided to escalate by publically coming out against giving money back to MTR. This prompted Rubino to throw him under the bus and bring in the state prosecutors. And MTR took their buisness to Summit.

All I can say about my conspiracy theory is that the Baldwin Bros. weild considerable power. If I had the time and wherewithal (excuse my spelling?), I would be doing some investigations into their links to the powers that be. Stan, if you wanted to get started on a book on this topic, give me a call.

Also, Jenson, wanted to address your question on Joe S. Joe seems like a very thoughtful and pensive individual. Sometimes painfully so. But, following Rick's pattern of rashness, he may be just the tonic the city needs for now. By all accounts (and he lives like 200 yards away from me), he is not much of a traditional politician in terms of public persona - but I'm not sure this is a bad thing. He also seems to have Council mainly on his side for now.

Thanks for reading.

Ralph