What’s the difference between the United States and Nigeria?

Trick question. In some respects, there is very little difference. Let’s enjoy this news tidbit from today’s reports:

 

From FoxNews, March 14, 2013 – “TALLAHASSEE, Fla. –  Florida’s lieutenant governor resigned and nearly 60 other people were charged in a scandal involving a purported veterans charity that authorities said Wednesday was a front for a $300 million gambling operation.

The organization, Allied Veterans of the World, runs nearly 50 Internet parlors with computerized slot machine-style games, which are normally legal in Florida if most of the proceeds go to charity.

But investigators said the organization’s executives gave precious little to veterans and lavished millions on themselves, spending it on boats, beachfront condos and Maseratis, Ferraris and Porsches.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi called the alleged scam “callous” and “despicable” and said it “insults every American who ever wore a military uniform.”

Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll was not among those charged but resigned a day after she was questioned by investigators.

The public relations firm she co-owned, 3 N&JC, did work for St. Augustine-based Allied Veterans. A Navy veteran who served in the Gulf War, Carroll also appeared in a TV ad in 2011 promoting the organization’s work on behalf of veterans and their families.

Authorities refused to discuss any ties between the 53-year-old Republican and the investigation. Her aides had no comment.

Carroll said in a statement Wednesday that neither she nor the public relations firm was targeted in the probe, and she stepped down so that her ties to the organization would not be a distraction for Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s administration.

The investigation involved 57 arrest warrants and 54 search warrants issued in Florida and five other states: South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Nevada and Pennsylvania. As of midafternoon, 49 people had been arrested. Allied Veterans’ 49 parlors in Florida were raided and shut down.

Authorities said they seized about 300 bank accounts containing $64.7 million, as well as sports cars and other property.

Bondi said that when charges are formally filed next week they will include racketeering, conspiracy, money laundering and possession of slot machines.

A telephone number listed for Allied Veterans was disconnected. Emails to an address on the group’s website were not returned. The address Allied listed as its headquarters appeared abandoned, the long, gray cinder-block building bare inside.

Gerald Bailey, commissioner of Florida’s Department of Law Enforcement, said the arrests are only the first wave of the investigation and the second wave will look at the “large sums” of money spent on lobbying and donations to political campaigns. He would not give details.

Allied Veterans was founded in 1979 and evolved from a charitable organization that ran bingo games and held bake sales for veterans to a group suspected of widespread illegal gambling around Florida, according to an Internal Revenue Service affidavit. The IRS pronounced the charity a fraud.

One of those arrested, Jacksonville lawyer Kelly Mathis, was identified by authorities as the mastermind of the scheme. He allegedly made about $6 million from the operation.

A woman who answered the phone at Mathis’ law firm said no one was available to talk about his arrest.

From 2007 to early 2012, investigators said, they found evidence of nearly $6 million in what appear to be charitable donations by Allied Veterans. That was only about 2 percent of the more than $290 million made from gambling during that period, they said.

Most of the money went to for-profit companies and the operators of Allied Veterans, authorities said.

To play games at one of the Internet cafes, a customer gets a prepaid card and then goes to a computer. The games, with spinning wheels similar to slot machines, have names such as “Captain Cash,” `’Lucky Shamrocks” and “Money Bunny.” Winners go back to a cashier with their cards and cash out.

Each of the locations had rows of computers and a big sign that read: “This is not a gaming establishment.” On the walls were photos of company executives making donations and letters of recognition from some of the charities that supposedly benefited.

In Anadarko, Okla., the owner of International Internet Technologies, a company accused of supplying the cafes with software, was arrested along with his wife. Chase Egan Burns, 37, and Kristin Burns, 38, face charges including racketeering and conspiracy.

International Internet Technologies made $63 million from the Florida operation from 2007 to 2010, according to the IRS.”

 

Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll is first in line behind Governor Rick Scott of Florida. Let’s look at Rick’s sterling background.

From the Washington Independent, Wednesday, August 11, 2010  – In 1997 Scott was forced to resign as the CEO of Columbia/HCA, then the country’s largest hospital chain, while it was being investigated for massive Medicare and Medicaid fraud. Federal agents seized records from several Columbia/HCA hospitals that revealed how the hospitals kept two sets of books: one that reflected a procedure’s true costs and another with inflated expenses charged to Medicare. There were also allegations that hospitals paid illegal kickbacks to doctors for patient referrals. Four executives were indicted. Two of them were found guilty and sent to prison. The company ultimately pleaded guilty to 14 felonies and ended up paying $1.7 billion in fines and settlements.

Scott was never charged, or even interviewed by authorities. Columbia/HCA paid Scott about $10 million, along with roughly $300 million worth of stock, to leave the company. He has previously said he had no knowledge of the wrongdoing and would not have condoned it. But people familiar with the case, like John Schilling, a former Columbia/HCA employee who reported the abuses to the feds, have stated that Scott’s aggressive emphasis on profits and cost created the environment for the fraud to develop.

Americans love to puff out their chests and proclaim we are second to none. With the kind of entrenched culture that produces a never ending string of scandals from every aspect of life, government and culture on a weekly, if not daily basis, it’s difficult to justify the hubris. Nigeria is world famous for the corruption that infects every facet of life there. We can be proud, as Americans, that we do it better, bigger and richer than the Nigerians.

On some days, (or weeks, or months) it seems that we are in an inexorable slide into some manner of chaos. Many would argue that we are already on the chaos spectrum, and simply sliding steadily into the abyss. Fortunately, many still tilt at the windmill of honesty, high moral character and altruism. I imagine it’s a lonely battle. I hide in the northeast corner of the country, keep my head down, and focus on family and community activities.

I try and do what I can.



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