Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pay the Innocents from an Equity Bucket

"I am innocent."

"These charges have no basis in fact."

"I will vigorously defend myself against these charges."

Oh, be sure your sins will find you out, you liars.

Are you as tired as I am with all of the public figures who get accused of a major crime, insist they're innocent, and then either get proven guilty in a court of law or end up pleading guilty themselves?

They're never held to account for the way they misled the public by insisting they were innocent, even as they most likely knew all along their claims were bogus.

Case in point:  disgraced Brooklyn State Senator Carl Kruger, who when arrested and charged with $1 million in kickbacks this past March, claimed through his lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, that he'd never accepted bribes or abused his position.

Granted, considering the cost of living in New York City, breaking the law for a paltry $1 million seems a little stupid on Kruger's part.  If he'd been smart, instead of simply saying he was not guilty, he'd have pled his case to his fellow New Yorkers:  "Hey, how far do you think I could go on $1 million in this town?  Do you think I'd forfeit my reputation for such cheap bribery?

Well, turns out, he did just that.  Today, after nine months of feigning innocence, Kruger turned himself in to the United States District Court in Manhattan to plead guilty on four of the five charges pending against him.  He's agreed that he's guilty of  two counts of fraud conspiracy and two counts of bribery conspiracy, which add up to a maximum of 25 years in prison.

It's hard to tell which is more embarrassing for him:  being forced to admit he's been lying all this time, or getting caught over a sum less than most one-family houses sell for in Brooklyn's best neighborhoods.

Granted, a New York State politician pleading guilty to corruption is hardly newsworthy in and of itself.  If the state really wanted to, it could probably turn its sprawling Modernist capitol complex into a prison to hold all of their corrupt public officials, and run the state's business out of a nearby Starbuck's with whomever's left.

The point is that just like so many other people who've been indicted and know they're guilty, former Senator Kruger - he resigned before pleading guilty to avoid being automatically terminated upon his plea - lied to the public without impunity for months.  Sure, a lot of people probably didn't believe him, but it could always be said that "a man's innocent until proven guilty."  And Kruger banked on that rhetoric to continue holding his Senate seat and exploiting a lavish - garishly gaudy, actually - lifestyle on the Brooklyn waterfront.

Yeah... about that lifestyle.  The never-married Kruger, 61, has been the State Senator for 16 years representing an upper-middle-class enclave called Mill Basin, along the murky shoreline of southeastern Brooklyn.  He lives with a pair of brothers, who are both unmarried gynecologists, and the brothers' divorced mother.  In a farcical stucco palace originally built for a Mafia crime boss.  A guy who reputedly had the architect for his home knocked off, probably for agreeing to design such a horrible-looking dwelling.

At four stories of somber gray walls and navy blue stripes - yeah, hideous, right? - with goofy white clip-art-looking decorations haphazardly stuck on, the "mansion" Kruger shares with the gynecologists and their mother boasts its own private dock, which was built on public land.  Metal sculptures sprout from the yard, evoking warped planking left over from some Mafia construction project.  A fake miniature mountain, replete with scraggly pine trees and disturbing statues of children, completes the bizarre homestead.

Maybe there's no law against having bad taste, but if there was, Kruger would already be in jail.

As the Feds were building their corruption case against Kruger, they compiled a series of recorded telephone calls in which the senator and one of the gynecologist brothers shared obvious proof of an intimate interpersonal relationship, yet even knowing the tapes will undoubtedly be played in court for the world to hear, Kruger has maintained that he's not gay.

And no, it's not a crime to be gay, either.  But continuing to insist the evidence proving the fact is wrong seems more of a case of serial denial than logical public relations.  After all, this is Brooklyn.  And a liberal part of Brooklyn, too.  He's already bought-off plenty of voters, back when he could still run for office. What's he got to lose by at least being honest about his sexual orientation?

It's as though he's living in a fantasy world, where reality is only what your lawyer can't get you out of.

Sadly, Kruger isn't the only public figure guilty of playing the public for a fool in this way.  He's just one of today's more interesting perpetrators of this deceit.

Unfortunately, all of these claims of innocence that inevitably get blown out of the water when the truth comes out do have victims.  The victims are all of those people who are accused of something they really didn't do.  They get hauled off to the courthouse, they're forced to do a perp walk, they hold impromptu press conferences pleading their innocence, all to the deaf ears of the public. 

The court of public opinion is often woefully unfair.

We've become desensitized to cries of innocence because "where there's smoke, there must be fire." But by the time an innocent person is proven to be so, the public doesn't care anymore, or the story isn't relayed properly, or the wrongly accused has already lost too much credibility and social standing to make up whatever they've lost while living under suspicion - if indeed they can even get back to where they'd been before being wrongly accused.

So, I have a solution to this inequity.

We should create an "equity bucket."

Everybody who gets accused or arrested for something and proclaims their innocence should be encouraged to put a significant amount of money in the "equity bucket."  If they manage to get all the way through a trial with proof of their innocence - and their integrity - intact, then they get all of that money back.  Plus interest - kind of a "we're sorry" for putting an innocent person through the wringer like that.

How does the amount paid out in interest get funded, you ask?  If the accused person finally admits that yeah, they're guilty as sin, or the courts prove they're guilty, the person forfeits all of the money they put into that "equity bucket."

Something tells me there will be more than enough money left over after the truly innocent are proven to be so, that the "equity bucket" will probably never run out of funds.

Unless enough people who are guilty of crimes actually 'fess up when they're caught.  And forgo the charade of innocence in public.

Because just as people who know they're guilty hope their claims of innocence can somehow morph into corroborating proof in a court of law, too many innocent people lose too much getting lumped in with all of the genuine losers.

"Be sure your sins will find you out."

That works most of the time.

Except if you were innocent to begin with.

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