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March 13, 2008

Enough is enough: Feds probe Spitzer's records back to 1999

The feds are launching a massive investigation into Eliot Spitzer's finances, going back to 1999. They say they're looking for more evidence of "structuring."

"Structuring" sounds sinister, but it just means breaking a large transaction into several smaller ones in order to skirt reporting guidelines. It's not money laundering. It's not public corruption. You can "structure" while buying legal goods and services with your own money. 

Structuring is a thought crime. If you calibrate the size of your transactions in order to avoid federal scrutiny, you're guilty. Yet the exact same transactions could be perfectly legal if you made them with "pure" intentions. Structuring charges are a way of meting out ad hoc punishment to people who are otherwise adhering to the letter of the law. How dare you prefer not to call attention to yourself?

Bush's Justice Department is using structuring as an excuse to literally make a federal case out of a pretty banal prostitution scandal. A powerful man bought sex with his own money, he got caught, he resigned. In two weeks, nobody but his family and New York political junkies will care.

Unlike pimps and prostitutes, johns are rarely prosecuted unless they get caught in the act. For example, none of the DC Madame's clients are going to jail because their names turned up in her little black book. Buying sex isn't a federal crime, and New York State doesn't give a rat's ass about Spitzer's dalliances, as far as the criminal law is concerned.

So, the so-called Public Integrity Section of Bush's Justice Department is trying to exploit an obscure bit of bank law to destroy Spitzer.

This isn't an isolated incident. The Republicans are using the criminal justice system to pick off rising Democratic stars, one by one.

This isn't just politics as usual. It's no longer about getting the Republicans' enemies out of office, or costing the Democrats the next election. It's about making sure the targets are so thoroughly discredited that they never return to public life. It's about ruining their lives, if at all possible.

Don Siegelman, was a rising Democratic star in Alabama. He was a rare commodity, a Democrat who could win elections in a deep red state. Some people saw a presidential bid in his future. Now, Siegelman is languishing in a federal prison camp, thanks to Karl Rove and the some cooperative US Attorneys. (For more details, see Scott Horton's Siegelman Chronicles.)

Now, the Bush Justice Department is trying finish off Eliot Spitzer, another high profile Democrat who once harbored presidential ambitions.

Our former governor was reckless enough to cause the sex scandal that ended his political career. In any sane world, Spitzer would just slink back into private life in disgrace. If Spitzer's political enemies had any sense of proportion, they'd be satisfied to see him lose his office and his reputation. But that's not good enough for the DOJ. They want to bring Spitzer up on federal criminal charges.

For what, really? For being a little sneaky when he wired his own money to pay for a call girl. Or, maybe for arranging to have a New York escort to service him in DC, in violation of a federal anti-"White Slave trading" statute. The feds can pour on the legal jargon and the righteous indignation, but that's really it.

The message to future reformers is clear: Don't you dare fuck with us.

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Comments

Here's a good description of what laws Spitzer may be charged under.

http://www.slate.com/id/2186345/

Acting less suspicious is in itself suspicious. Ha.

Spitzer wasn't flagged for structuring. He was flagged for calling the bank and saying "I am involved in criminal activities. I am governor Eliot Spitzer and I am trying to transfer funds to a criminal enterprise. Help me cover up my criminal activities."

To me, I'm not sure what the legal intepretation of it is, structuring is only illegal if it's related to some other activity which directly relies on hiding currency for it to be perpetrated.

Making multiple transactions in itself is not a crime. Hiring a prostitute is a crime, but the fiscal part of the transaction isn't what makes it a crime. Whereas with money laundering is a crime having to do with hiding money, and structuring is part of that crime where you're attempting to circumvent their detection mechanisms.

I agree with Lindsay that most the charges seemed trumped up in order to scare Spitzer, however, wouldn't he know if they held any validity or not? I mean he is after all an ex-DA and a Goveneor. Shouldn't he better than anyone else know what's criminal and what isn't? The only real crime Spitzer is truly guilty of is defrauding his wife, and hiring a prostitute. The rest seem like contrived reasons brought to explain the justification of their surveliance, something that has been brought up many times in the news as an overly abused aspect of the Patriot act. Spitzer commited a sex crime, not a financial crime, and I think it's irrelevant how he broke up his money in order to make the transactions seem more innocuous.

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