Corruption in the City of Brotherly Love
Philadelphia Daily News reporters Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker have written two powerful series of articles on abuse, corruption, and intimidation within the city, state, and federal government. These stories read like something out of a political thriller. The first series, “Tainted Justice,” earned them a Pulitzer Prize and was turned into a newly-published book, Busted: A Tale of Corruption and Betrayal in the City of Brotherly Love. It explores police corruption within the Philadelphia narcotics department. The second ongoing series, “Perfect Prey,” chronicles fraud within the Social Security system involving payee representatives. American Thinker had the privilege of interviewing these investigative reporters.
The authors found that some police were as corrupt as the criminals they targeted. These detectives terrorized hardworking legal immigrant shop owners, sexually assaulted women, and fabricated search warrants. The reporters discovered that drug addict informant Benny Martinez helped Jeffrey Cujdik, a Philadelphia narcotics officer, to fabricate search warrants in order to enter a suspected drug dealer’s house illegally. Cujdik and his team also used search warrants to bust into retail shops owned by legal immigrants. After the narcotics team disabled security cameras they would steal cash and merchandise. A third scandal was discovered in the course of the investigation, how one officer sexually assaulted women. He chose women who were large breasted, demure, poor, and would not fight back.
The reporters noted to American Thinker, “This is not how the police should work in a democratic society. What is to stop someone from lying on search warrants to get into your home, my home, or any law-abiding citizen’s house? What broke the case wide open was a video given to us that was on a hidden back-up hard drive of one of the immigrant shop owners.”
What is outrageous is that the four police officers involved have not been fired. They still collect their paychecks, minus overtime pay, although they have been relegated to desk jobs. None of the officers have been charged with any criminal activity because the FBI and the Philadelphia police commissioner are dragging their heels. These detectives have been in a “holding pattern,” for over four years.
The other case the reporters are currently investigating involves the outrageous Social Security fraud scandal. This series, “Perfect Prey,” shows how at best, government is incompetent, and at worst allows employees to neglect their responsibilities while sitting back and collecting a paycheck. The articles deal with people who scam the Social Security system, stealing public funds as they “collect people.” There is no oversight and Barbara described some employees as “lazy,” since no attention is paid to the payee rep’s background. These victims are collected in shelters or on the street, and are convinced that they will be helped.
Those targeted are the handicapped, both mentally and physically, as well as the elderly who cannot function for themselves. Wendy told American Thinker, “These ‘people collectors’ basically become the payees of the vulnerable, and are in charge of all their money, doing it for the paychecks. The victims sign off on their food stamps and social security checks. Someone who pays taxes should be horrified. This is not how we want our money spent. The public employees are not following up on where the grants and money is going.”
The reporters became aware of the abuse with the Tacony dungeon case where four mentally disabled people were held captive by Linda Ann Weston in 2011. She became the social security payee for all of them. Incredible as it seems, even though she was previously convicted of manslaughter for starving her sister’s boyfriend, she still was able to become the payee. Because of this injustice, in June, 2012 Social Security launched a pilot program in Philadelphia that would supposedly bar people from becoming payees if they committed one of twelve crimes including human trafficking, false imprisonment, kidnapping, first-degree homicide, and rape/sexual assault. With typical government spin, Social Security claimed this program was a success, citing that 223 applicants were caught out of 26,395, less than one percent. Looking at these numbers it does not seem there is anything to brag about, since it becomes obvious these programs are not very effective. Barbara told American Thinker that part of the problem is that the program does not allow for the access to law enforcement databases, only public ones. The other problem is that the program counts as a success, not who was weeded out, but those who readily admit to wrongdoing.
In another case a payee rep, Sandra Choates, was allowed to control the Social Security checks of her two victims. She did not feed them properly and provided no electricity, heat, or running water. Besides this abuse the caretaker blew thousands of dollars at casinos, spending $5400 in one year. But even worse, Wendy and Barbara point out that before Choates became a payee she had filed for bankruptcy in 1997, 1998, and 2004. Barbara commented, “You would think if someone files for bankruptcy even once that should raise a red flag. How could they be allowed control over someone else’s finances when they could not even control their own? We were told by a Social Security spokesperson that ‘past financial difficulty should not automatically exclude a payee applicant from consideration.’”
Wendy says one of the saddest cases was that of Clarence Shuford, who was physically abused by his caretaker, the recipient of his social security checks. After they received a tip they visited the house and were worried for Shuford’s safety so they called the state-run hotline and reported the abuses. Unfortunately, the Department of Public Welfare's Adult Protective Services program inspected the house and found no problem. The reporters then contacted the police who found horrific conditions.
Barbara also wants people to understand that the fraud is not limited only to Social Security. She gave the example of a payee collecting people’s food stamps. But instead of using them, the payee would have those she controlled line up at a Church food bank to get free food.
It is obvious with all of the above cases that taxpayer money is not being used to support “hard-working government employees.” There is no oversight, no checks/balances, and no transparency. The system is based on self-reporting with a reliance on the criminal to be honest. As the reporters summarized, “There is a lot of waste and fraud that goes unchecked. There is no training program, no requirement to file receipts, and no background check on those who choose to become payees. These agencies are certainly not being watch dogs.” Obviously, this is big government not at work, but at its worst.
The author writes for American Thinker. She has done book reviews, author interviews, and has written a number of national security, political, and foreign policy articles.