About this Blog

"In the future everybody will be world-famous for 15 minutes." So said the bleached-out, late lamented artist Andy Warhol. Having lived and worked in New York City, Warhol came to fully grasp the hold celebrity has on us. In this very famous sentence, he meant to point out that in a culture fixated on fame, many people will suddenly flash brightly onto the public screen, then--poof--will just as quickly disappear from public view--like shooting stars. Other individuals derive their celebrity from one stellar accomplishment (one hit song, one iconic role, etc.) that they never again match.

This blog is devoted to the one part of our celebrity culture that no one has written much about: temporary/one-shot celebrities.

The pace of modern life has quickened, and now we hear people speaking of someone's 15 seconds of fame. These "celebrities with a lower-case c" who will appear in this blog sometimes come to us from the world of entertainment, sometimes from the world of news. All are fascinating.

The need of our communications media for a continual stream of new material assures that we will have no end of colorful people who go quickly, where celebrity is concerned, from zero to hero (or villain) and back to zero. Now you see 'em, now you don't. What a crazy world, eh?

Temporary celebrities coming from the world of entertainment include one-hit recording artists; TV and movie icons who, although they might have had a great many accomplishments in their career, are remembered for one big role; standouts of reality TV; sports figures remembered for one remarkable accomplishment; and people whose celebrity came from one big role in a commercial or print ad.

News-based temporary celebrities come in many forms: mass/serial killers, other murderers of special note, sex-crime offenders, disgraced figures of government/military/business/media/religion, spies/traitors, hoaxers, femmes/hommes fatale, heroes, whistle blowers, inventors/innovators, and victims.

Celebrity Blogsburg will consider each category in turn.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Mass/serial killers: Joel Rifkin

A high-IQ dyslexic from a troubled home, New York resident Joel Rifkin in 1994 was convicted of murdering a string of nine New York City women, mostly prostitutes. He is thought to have killed eight more women.

His first murder was in 1989, his last in 1993. Rifkin's usual method was strangulation, sometimes followed by dismemberment.

Rufkin was caught after a high-speed chase when a trooper noticed that Rifkin's pickup had no license plate. The body of his last known victim was found in the truck.

Rifkin was found guilty in 1994 and was sentenced to 203 years to life.

Mass/serial killers: Micheal Bruce Ross

Known variously as the Roadside Strangler and the Connecticut Strangler, Micheal Bruce Ross of Putnam, CT, murdered eight young women between 19812 and 1984.

Ross came from a violent, abusive home. While a student at Cornell University, he began stalking young women. He also raped the women he strangled and killed.

Ross appeared to realize the threat he posed to society and did not attempt to fight the death penalty. He was executed by injection in 2005.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Mass/serial killers: Efren Saldivar

California respiratory therapist Efren Saldivar killed somewhere between 50 and 120 patients who already were near death from 1988 to 1998.

Saldivar was born in Texas. After completing his education, he took a job on the night shift at a California medical center, where the killings by injection took place.

His motives for these killings remains unclear. Perhaps he wished to help people in distress die rather than suffer further. Perhaps not.

He confessed to 50 such killings, then recanted. Twenty of his alleged victims were exhumed, and abnormal levels of a morphine-like drug were found. He pled guilty to six counts of murder in 2002 and is not serving two life terms without a chance for parole.

Even if he actually did kill 150 people, he was still far behind a Brit, Dr. Harold Shipman, alias Dr. Death, who is thought to have killed as many as 508 victims in a similar manner between 1975 and 1998.

Mass/serial killers: Jeff Weise

In what became known as the Red Lake Massacre, 16-year-old Jeff Weise, and Objibwa Indian, went way off the deep end, killing 10 people.

First, the troubled youth shot and killed his grandfather, using a .22. He took his grandad's .40-caliber pistol, 12-gauge shotgun, bullet-proof vest and car and drove to his Red Lake reservation high school. There, his first victim was the school's security guard.

Then Weise, a large boy who wore all black clothing in the "goth" style, shot and killed fellow students until finally turning the gun on himself, ending his own life.

While Weise had endured a hard childhood, he had a circle of school friends who remembered him as an apparently normal boy who liked to help others. Others considered him a strange loner.

Mass/serial killers: Charles Whitman

Apparently suffering from some form of mental illness, 25-year-old University of Texas student Charles Whitman opened fire from the observation tower of the Austin campus' tallest building, killing 14 and wounding 31 more.

Whitman was born in Lake Worth, Florida. His father was abusive, yet Charles became an Eagle Scout and later enlisted in the Marines. After separating from military service in 1964, he enrolled at UT-Austin to study architectural engineering.

In 1966, Whitman snapped, first strangling his mother, then stabbing his wife to death.

Posing as a maintenance worker, Whitman gained access to the Texas Tower's upper deck, where he spent the next 96 minutes firing with deadly accuracy at random targets below. A policeman in a small plane circled the tower, trying to divert Whitman's efforts.

Finally, a small group of men stormed the deck, killing Whitman with a shotgun blast and subsequent gun shots. A medical examination showed that the shooter had a small brain tumor that likely contributed to his deadly state of mind.

The Whitman case caused many U.S. city police departments to establish SWAT teams.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Mass/serial killers: Wayne Williams

The case of African American Atlanta resident Wayne Williams is a strange one indeed. In 1982, he was found guilty of the murders of two black men, and soon thereafter, the city's police closed the murder cases of 27 African American minors.

Williams denies responsibility for the younger victims, some as young as 8. These black children and teenagers disappeared over roughly a two-year period, from 1979 until into 1982. Williams was sentenced to two life terms for the murders of the two older men.

Some authorities think that Williams, who was a small man, was the guilty party in the killings of the younger victims, some of whom were bigger than he was.

Whatever the truth may be, he remains incarcerated.

Mass/serial killers: Aileen Wuornos

Self-identified people hater Aileen Wuornos shot and killed seven men in Florida in 1989 and 1990.

She was born Aileen Pittman in Michigan. Her father was in prison during her childhood, and she eventually married a child molester. After they divorced, she was re-married to a geezer, which also ended in divorce. Thereafter, she became a lesbian but supported herself as a prostitute.

Wuornos denied being mentally ill, but said she was so filled with hate she would kill again if given the chance.

She was executed by lethal injection in 2002.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Murderers: Byron De La Beckwith

Note: Among the most notorious temporary celebrities are individuals who suddenly become household names by murdering someone. News values being what they are, the murderers who stand out from the herd and hence receive heavy publicity tend to be those whose cases offer some entertaining or titillating element, such as prominence, beauty, or wealth. Poor people who kill other poor people for very poor reasons are not usually accorded this kind of "celebrity," of course.

Mississippi Klansman Byron De La Beckwith was convicted in 1994 of the 1963 murder of African American civil rights leader Medgar Evers, field secretary of the NAACP.

It has been remarked that the wheels of justice grind exceedingly slowly, which certainly was true in this case. When Beckwith's fingerprints were found on the rifle used to shoot Evers in the back, Beckwith was twice tried in 1964 for the murder; both attempts to convict him ended in mistrial.

Beckwith apparently thought he had beaten the system and widened the scope of his hatred to not only blacks, but foreigners, Jews, Catholics and the Feds. Beckwith was something of a rarity in that he himself was an Episcopalian, a demonination usually known as progressive and liberal.

In 1973, Beckwith was hauled into court and charged with conspiring to murder a leader of the B'nai Brith Anti-Defamation League. He was found guilty and spent roughly three years in prison.

Then in 1994, he again was tried for the Evers murder, but this time, the jury had both black and white members. At age 74, he was convicted and sentenced to life without parole. Beckwith died in 2001.

Murderers: Mark David Chapman

Mental illness was behind the murder of former Beatle John Lennon in 1980 by schizophrenic, delusional Mark David Chapman.

As Lennon and wife Yoko Ono exited their Manhattan apartment building, Chapman put four bullets into Lennon's back.

Chapman had been a huge fan of the Beetles and of Lennon, but that fixation came into conflict with his fundamentalist religious views after he heard Lennon quip to the media that the Beatles had been "bigger than Jesus."

Prior to the murder that turned him into a celebrity of sorts, Chapman had once attempted suicide and a year thereafter, had taken a trip around the world, after which her married his Japanese-American travel agent, who reminded him of Yoko Ono.

Chapman remains imprisoned, having been denied parole on several occasions.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Mruderers: Ira Einhorn

Wild-eyed and fierce of aspect, social activist Ira Einhorn earned temporary celebrity of the nefarious kind for the 1977 murder of his former woman friend Holly Maddux.

Maddux had dumped him and moved away. When she returned to Philadelphia to retrieve her personal effects, she disappeared.

Einhorn, who was a contemporary of Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, was nicknamed "The Unicorn" due to his last name.

Charged with the Maddux murder, Einhorn fled to Europe and remained at large for 16 years before being captured in France. He was extradited to the United States, where he had been tried in absentia and convicted of murder. His claims that Maddux was killed by the CIA fell on deaf ears, and he now resides in a Pennsylvania prison.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Murderers: Ed Gein

Today, public memory of the name Ed Gein has all but disappeared, but in the 1950s, he was a celebrity psychopath of the first order.

Probably Gein killed quite a number of victims, but since he was convicted of but two killings, he is listed here rather than among the proven serial killers.

Gein is said to have provided the inspiration for the character Norman Bates in the classic movie "Psycho." In real life, Gein was crazy as a bedbug and lived in a filth-filled, dilapidated farmhouse in Plainfield, Wisconsin. He subsisted on government welfare payments and by doing odd jobs.

When police suspected him of robbing and abducting a local hardware store owner, Bernice Worden, they were horrified by what they found when they entered his house.

Mrs. Worden had been decapitated, hung upside down and gutted, in the manner used by deer hunters. Officers also found human skulls, lampshades and other items made of human skin and the grisly like.

Gein admitted to the murder of Worden and that of Mary Hogan, whom he had killed in 1954. He also admitted digging up the corpses of deceased women and making what was left of them into various bizarre objects.

Gein was found to be insane and was kept locked up in a mental facility until his 1984 death.

Murderers: Jean Harris

As headmistress of a posh girls' school, Jean Struven Harris appeared to be an unlikely murderer.

She had graduated magna cum laude in economics at Smith College and eventually became headmistres of the Madeira School in McLean, Virginia.

A couple of years after divorcing, she met cardiologist and Scarsdale Diet author Herman Tarnower and began what turned into a 14-year affair. Knowing that she was being replaced with a younger, more nubile model, Harris snapped and in 1980 shot the amorous doctor, killing him. She maintained that the gun had gone off accidentally.

She was found guilty of second degree murder. In 1992, Governor Mario Cuomo pardoned her. In recent years, she has resided in a Connecticut retirement home.

Tarnower, who made as unlikely-looking a Cassanova as Harris did a murderer, is shown below.

Murderers: Talmadge Hayer

At age 22, as a member of the Nation of Islam loyal to its supreme leader Elijah Muhammad, Talmadge Hayer was the only one of a group of five men who in 1965 assassinated militant activist and rival leader Malcolm X.

As he gave a speech, Malcolm X was first shot with a shotgun, then with pistols. He died before reaching a hospital.

Hayer used a .45 pistol in the crime, was wounded in one leg, and was quickly arrested. He was found guilty and was sentenced to life in prison. By now, he has been released.

Hayer has also used the name Thomas Hagen.

Shown below is Harris' victim, Malcolm X, in happier times.

Murderers: James Charles Kopp

Few issues make Americans as fighting (and sometimes killing) mad as the question of abortion. In 2001, anti-abortion extremist James Charles Kopp shot and killed Dr. Barnett Slepian, an East Amherst, New York, physician who performed abortions.

Kopp's justification for his actions was that he did it to save the lives of the unborn. He hid out, first in Mexico, then in Ireland, and then in France after the shooting and was placed on the FBI's 10 most-wanted list.

Kopp was captured in France and extradited to the United States, where he admitted to the shooting and was given a life sentence.

Murderers: Lyle and Erik Menendez

Over-privileged children living large in Beverly Hills, the Menendez brothers in 1989 used a 12-gauge shotgun to kill their own parents, after which they went on a merry spending spree.

Their father had fled Castro's Cuba in 1960 and had made it big as an executive with RCA Records.

Erik reportedly confessed to his psychiatrist, who informed police.

In a joint trial heard by two juries, both brothers were found guilty and received life sentences. While in prison, Lyle married, divorced and married again. Erik did likewise.

Murderers: Devin Moore

Cop-killer Devin Moore stood out from the never-ending mass of American murderers mainly because of the defense mounted on his behalf: that playing a violent video game had made him do it.

In 2003, 18-year-old delinquent Devin Moore (born Devin Thompson) grabbed an officer's .45 pistol and shot and killed two policemen and a police dispatcher in Fayette, Alabama, after having been arrested for car theft. Then he took off in a police car.

Moore pled not guilty, and his defense attorney argued that hours of playing the video game Grand Theft Auto had been to blame for the killings. The jury did not buy it, however, and Moore received the death sentence, which in December 2009 has yet to be carried out.

In 2005, former lawyer Jack Thompson brought suit against Sony on behalf of two of the victims. In the case of Strickland v. Sony, Thompson argued that games such as Grand Theft Auto are, in a way, similar to selling pornography.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Murderers: Lee Harvey Oswald

Although he was shot and killed soon after his arrest and long before he could be tried, Lee Harvey Oswald, according to the findings of the Warren Commission, was the assassin of President John F. Kennedy.

After a troubled childhood and dropping out of high school, Oswald enlisted in the Marines in 1956. During his years of service, he was court-martialed on two occasions.

Oswald got a hardship discharge in 1959 and moved to the USSR. There, he was turned down for citizenship but took a factory job and married a Russian student. He and wife Marina moved to Dallas, Texas, in 1962. He had difficulty holding a job and in the following year tried to murder right-wing retired General Edwin Walker, which came to light after his arrest in the Kennedy assassination.

Oswald took a job in the Texas School Book Depository, where on 22 November 1963, he apparently shot the president and wounded Texxas Governor John Connally.

Shortly thereafter, Oswald shot and killed police officer J.D. Tippit, who had stooped him for questioning. Oawald attempted to hide in a movie theater but was arrested there.

Two days later as Oswald was being moved to the county jail, he was shot and killed by underworld figure Jack Ruby.

Years later, a House committee concluded that Oswald was not alone in the plan to kill the president but could not identify his co-consiprators. Many a conspiracy theory was advanced.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Murderers: Scott Lee Peterson

Scott Lee Peterson of Modesto, CA, gained his celebrity infamy in 2003 when he was arrested and charged with murdering his pregnant wife, Laci.

The beautiful young woman had been reported missing on Christmas Eve, 2002. In April 2003, the body of a male fetus washed ashore in San Francisco Bay. The following day, Laci's remains washed up nearby.

Scott Peterson's philandering had come to light in the meantime. His most recent fling was with massage therapist Amber Frey,, who gave damaging testimony against him. He was convicted of murder and received the death sentence.

Peterson's case is on appeal at this writing in November 2009.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Murderers: James Earl Ray

The name James Earl Ray is sure to be easily recognized by most Americans as belonging to the man convected of murdering the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968.

A sad, pathetic figure by the time he died at age 70 in 1998, Ray had come of age as an unfortunate product of his time. In that era in which most white Americans were at last coming to see the immense wrong of racial segregation and discrimination, Ray remained adamant.

He had spent quite a few years in prison prior to King's murder and had made two attempts to escape before he finally succeeded in doing so in 1967. Details are lacking, but after shooting Dr.King, Ray reportedly traveled to Mexico, Canada and England. How he came up with the money for this travel remains a mystery although conspiracy theories abound.He was caught at London's Heathrow Airport.

In 1969, Ray pled guilty but later changed his story. He received a 99-year sentence.

He escaped in 1977 but was recaptured three days later.

Among those who do not think Ray actually was King's murderer are, reportedly, King's surviving family.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Murderers: Jack Ruby

While still in shock over the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the American public quickly received another jolt--shown on live television--when small-time nightclub owner Jack Ruby shot and killed Kennedy's alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.

Oswald was being moved by authorities through the basement of the Dallas jail when Ruby pushed through the crowd of onlookers and fired one shot from a .38 handgun into Oswald's midsection.

Ruby's birth name was Jacob Leon Rubenstein, but he and his brothers shortened and "Americanized" their last name to Ruby sometime in the late 1940s.

Ruby was suspected of having Mafia connections and had a history of relatively minor offenses: carrying a concealed weapon, ignoring traffic tickets, violations of liquor laws, and assault. Ruby was also suspected of running guns to Fidel Castro and his supporters in Cuba.

Ruby reportedly said that his decision to shoot Oswald was a spur of the minute thing, but conspiracy theories abound about the Mob having ordered him to do the "hit."

Ruby was found guilty and sentenced to death. On appeal, a higher court ruled that Ruby's motion for a change of venue should have been granted, overturned his conviction, and ordered a new trial.

In 1967, before the new trial could commence, Ruby died in prison of a pulmonary embolism.

The photo shown below shows Ruby in happier times while he was serving in the U.S. Air Force in World War II.

Murderers: Sirhan Sirhan

In 1969, Jerusalem-born Sirhan Bishra Sirhan was convicted of the murder of Senator Robert Kennedy.

Just after having given a speech in a Los Angeles hotel, Kennedy was shot at close range with a .22 pistol and died about a day later.Five other people were wounded as well. Sirhan was immediately taken into custody and pled guilty to the crime.

Sirhan's defense argued that he was suffering from diminished mental capacity, but the jury found him guilty. He was sentenced to death, but that sentence was later commuted to life after the California Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional.

A journal of sorts was located, in which Sirhan placed blame for the Six-Day War on Robert Kennedy, who had supported Israel.

Murderers: Michael Skakel

A nephew of Ethel Kennedy, widow of Robert Kennedy, Michael Skakel was in 2002 convicted of murdering a 15-year-old friend and neighbor-- in 1976.

The victim, Martha Moxely of Greenwich, CT, was beaten to death with a golf club, a 6-iron to be exact. Although the club was found to have come from the Skakel home, the case went unsolved until the appearance of a book by ex-Los Angeles cop turned writer Mark Fuhrman--he of O.J. Simpson case fame.

Skakel finally was arrested in 2000, and in 2002 he was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years to life.He has never officially confessed to the crime, but two of his school chums testified that he had confessed it to them.

Murderers: Pamela Ann Smart

An attractive young woman of 22, with tossing curls and generally good looks, Pamela Smart was in 1991 convicted of planning the murder of her 24-year-old husband, who had admitted that he was having an extramarital affair after less that a year of marriage to Pamela.

A staff member at a New Hampshire high school, Pamela Smart began an affair of her own--with one of that school's students, 15-year-old Billy Flynn.

Prosecutors convinced a jury that Smart threatened to end the affair unless Flynn killed her husband, who in 1990 was found fatally shot in the head. Smart was given a life sentence without parole.

Smart's case was sufficiently sordid that two movies were based on it--one with Helen Hunt and the other with Nicole Kidman.

Murderers: Susan Leigh Vaughan Smith

In 1995, Susan Smith of Union, S.C., was convicted of one of the most grisly kinds of murder of them all: that of her own children, ages 3 and 14 months at the time of their deaths.

In 1994, Smith called police and reported that her car, with the children inside, had been hijacked by an African American man. A little more than a week later, however, she confessed to murder.

The children were killed by Smith having rolled her Mazda into John D. Long Lake, where the two tykes drowned. Her motive was not at all clear.

Figuring into Smith's troubled background were her parents' divorce, her father's suicide and later having been sexually molested by her stepfather.

Smith looked dowdy and crazed at her trial, but since being imprisoned has lost weight and has taken on a much more youthful appearance. Two prison guards reportedly have had sex with her.

Smith will be eligible for parole in 2025.

Murderers: Jens Soering

Jens Soering, the bookish looking son of a German diplomat, in 1990 was given two life sentences for the 1985 murders of his girlfriend's parents.

Soering was convicted of stabbing to death well-to-do Derek and Nancy Hayson, who lived near Lynchburg, VA.

Both Soering and Elizabeth Haysom were honor students at the University of Virginia at the time of the murders. Both eventually were arrested, and Soering confessed, thinking that due to diplomatic immunity, he would be sent to Germany to stand trial as a juvenile.

During his trial, however, he recanted his confession, saying he had confessed so that Elizabeth would not get the death penalty.

Both were spared the ultimate penalty, and both will likely spend the rest of their lives in prison. Soering spends much of his time writing and has published several books, both in English and in his native German.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Murderers: Dan White

Homophobic Dan White, ex-city supervisor in San Francisco, shot and killed that city's mayor, George Moscone, and supervisor Harvey Milk in 1978.

Milk was one of the very first U.S. politicians to come out openly as gay. White, a young man having a mop of dark hair and a cleft chin, entered City Hall through a basement window and shot first the mayor, then Milk.

White's defense team argued that depression had caused their client to eat an unaccustomed amount of junk food, which, they reasoned, helped cause his violent actions.

The term "the Twinkie defense" was much discussed but didn't work but so well for White, who was found guilty of manslaughter and was sentenced to five years.

San Francisco's gay community was outraged by the light sentence and protested violently in what came to be known as the White Night Riots.

White was paroled after five years and then returned to San Francisco. He committed suicide in 1985 by carbon monoxide asphyxiation in his estranged wife's garage.

Murderers: Collie Leroy Wilkins

A revolting example of racism Old South style was 21-year-old Collie Leroy Wilkins, convicted of shooting and killing civil rights worker Viola Liuzzo in 1965.

Liuzzo was the only white woman killed in the protest era of the 1960s. She left her home in Detroit to aid in Martin Luther King's efforts to end racial segregation. Demonstrators had marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to demand that black citizens be allowed to register and vote.

Liuzzo and African American teen LeRoy Moton had driven demonstrators back to Selma and were headed to Montgomery to pick up more when they were overtaken on a dark stretch of highway by a car occupied by four Ku Klux Klansmen.

According to the testimony of the other three men, including one who was an FBI informer, Wilkins did the shooting.

An Alabama jury deadlocked, and on retrial, Wilkins was found not guilty. Shown on television news, he looked pleased with himself, but not for long. In federal court, he was found guilty of depriving Liuzzo of her civil rights and was sentenced to 10 years.

He served seven years, then worked the rest of his life as a mechanic. Wilkins died in 1994.

Murderers: Benjamin Matthew Williams

A sad and hate-filled tale of two couples unfolded in 1999. One couple was gay; the second couple was composed of two brothers who hated gays.

In a classic example of a hate crime, Benjamin and James Williams, California landscapers, used a .22 to dispatch two of their customers, Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder, a gay couple who lived in ironically named Happy Valley, CA.

The homeschooled, fundamentalist, white supremacist Williams brothers admitted to the murders and said they did the crime simply because the other two men were gay. Matthew was the one who pulled the trigger.

Tyler worked out a plea agreement and got 29 years to life.

Matthew, who later said he also had taken part in torching an abortion clinic and three synagogues,received a 30-year sentence. In 2002, he committed suicide in his cell.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Murderers: Andrea Yates

Americans who follow the news were chilled in 2001 to find that Houston native Andrea Yates had drowned her five small children in the family bathtub.

Yates had suffered severe depression, reported hearing strange voices, twice attempted suicide,and suffered a nervous breakdown in the years leading up to this horrendous event.

The killing of her own children, she said, was done out of religious motivation. Demons told her to do it, she claimed. Yates also said that she had to kill them because she herself was evil and had caused the children to become unrighteous and in danger of going to hell.

This poor, sad woman had gotten off to a good start in life before mental illness overpowered her. She had been her high school class's valedictorian and a member of the National Honor Society. Later she had worked as a registered nurse.

Yates was convicted in 2002 and sentenced to life in prison. In 2006, another court ruled that she had been insane and hence overturned her prison sentence, sending her instead to a high-security mental hospital.

Murderers: Ronny Zamora

At age 15 in 1977, Miami teenager Ronny Zamora and his friend Darrell Agrella broke into an elderly neighbor's home to burglarize it, and when the 83-year-old woman returned home and found them there, Zamora shot her to death.

The boys found a few hundred dollars, stole their victim's car, and took off for Disney World.

The Zamora murder case was made memorable by the inventive, if ridiculous defense Zamora's attorney mounted: that his client should not be found guilty because he had been temporarily deprived of his sanity due to "television intoxication."

Lawyer Ellis Rubin, known for using flamboyant, offbeat defenses, tried to convince the jury that Zamora had developed "TV intoxication" by watching a steady diet of violent detective shows, especially his favorite, "Kojak."

Agrella made a plea deal and was out of prison by 1986. Zamora was released in 2004 after having served 27 years. He was immediately deported to Costa Rica, where he had been born.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Spies/traitors: Larry Wu-Tai Chin

Note: Particularly revolting among the various types of miscreants who achieve at least temporary celebrity when their misdeeds come to light are those who betray their country. Some traitors who spy for foreign powers rationalize their actions by saying they acted for the greater good, given some of the ill-advised foreign-policy decisions that have been made by our government over the years. Most of these individuals, however, were in it for the money. A few of the people appearing in this section of the blog realized significant amounts of swag for their treachery, but most spies, like so many politicians, can be bought cheaply.

Peking-born Larry Wu-Tai Chin spent more than 40 years in sensitive U.S. government jobs, all the while selling information to China. He is thought to be among the elite group of only five spies who were paid more than $1 million for the intelligence they traded for cash.

It is also thought that Chin was a trained spy for China when he got his first U.S. government job in 1951, translating Korean prisoner of war interviews for the State Department.

In 1952, he went to work in Japan for the CIA's Foreign Broadcast Information Service, and in 1961, he took a new CIA job in California. Chin became a U.S. citizen in 1965.

Having been promoted, he moved to a higher-level job in Arlington, VA. Reportedly, no one in the agency suspected him of being a mole. Chin cultivated a reputation as a successful gambler as cover for his more lavish than normal lifestyle.

He retired in 1981 and was given the CIA's career intelligence medal for distinguished service. Meanwhile, Chin had a wife in Virginia and a mistress in Chicago.

Chin was arrested in 1985 by the FBI and was held without bail as a flight risk. He admitted to spying for China and in 1986 was convicted. Prior to his sentencing, however, he apparently placed a plastic bag over his head and committed suicide in his cell.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Spies/traitors: Aldrich Hazen Ames

The best-compensated spy in our nation's history is ex-CIA officer Aldrich Ames, who raked in nearly $5 million from the Soviets and, later, from the Russians.

Ames' story was dramatized in the 1998 film "Aldrich Ames: Traitor Within," with Timothy Hutton in the title role.

Ames was with the CIA for a long time: 31 years. A Russian speaker, he began his career by identifying Soviets who might become double agents for the United States. Then he himself became one for the Communists.

Ames passed along classified information and received cash payments at what are called "dead drops," agreed-upon locations where items could be dropped off and picked up.

It is a matter of great wonder that his superiors failed to notice that a man earning $60 or more.

Ames' revelations cost several Soviet and Russian double agents their lives, and finally, the agency took notice of how many of their key sources were turning up dead. Ames came under suspicion and was given two polygraph tests, but passed both.

In 1994, the FBI arrested both Ames and his wife. To avoid the death penalty, both pled guilty. He got life, she, five years. The photo below shows Ames being cuffed leaning on his ill-gotten Jaguar.

Spies/traitors: Christopher John Boyce

The 1985 movie "The Falcon and the Snowman," starring Sean Penn and Timothy Hutton, depicted the story of Christopher Boyce (played by Hutton) and his lifelong friend Andrew Daulton Lee, convicted American spies for the Soviet Union.

Boyce's father, an FBI agent, helped his son get a job as a clerk at TRW, a California company that dealt in U.S. spy satellites. As a boy, Boyce had taken up falconry as a hobby, hence the nickname The Falcon.

Lee was a drug dealer, which accounts for his nickname, The Snowman.

Boyce would purloin classified documents, and Lee would drive them into Mexico to sell to the Soviets. Detained in 1976 on suspicion of non-espionage criminal activity, Lee was caught with classified microfilm. He fingered Boyce, who was arrested at age 24 in 1977. Both men went to prison.

Boyce said that the reason for his treason was anger over some of the ill-advised activities of the C.I.A.

Boyce escaped in 1980 and turned into a one-man Bonnie and Clyde, robbing 17 banks before being recaptured in 1981.

Remarkably, Lee was paroled in 1998 and Boyce in 2003.

Boyce and Lee have led awfully active lives for a pair of former Roman Catholic altar boys.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Spies/traitors: Clyde Lee Conrad

For roughly 14 years, U.S. Army non-commissioned officer Clyde Lee Conrad sold secret documents to Hungary, which netted him more than $1 million.

Conrad had been introduced to this dangerous but profitable line of work by another Army sergeant, Hungarian-American Zoltan Szabo. Szabo weaseled out of prison time by testifying against Conrad and others in their spy ring, but Conrad was tried in Koblenz, Germany, in 1990 and received a life sentence.

This spy ring had sold the Hungarians information on nuclear weapon sites, NATO material of various kinds, and the U.S. Army's plan for troop movements should war break out.

Conrad died in prison in 1998 at age 50.

Spies/traitors: Robert Hanssen

Over a 22-year span, FBI counterintelligence agent Robert Hanssen sold secrets to the Soviets. For his efforts, he received not only uwards of $1 million, but also a life sentence without parole. Most of his prison time is spent in solitary confinement.

Hanssen's espionage activities began in 1979, when he ratted out a Soviet spy who had been working for the United States.

Hanssen's most-publicized traitorous act was revealing to the Soviets the tunnel dug under the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C., to facilitate spying on that country's activities.

He also revealed the plan for where our top government officials would be located in case of nuclear war.

Hanssen was columnist Robert Novak's source for a story on then U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno's lax prosecution of campaign finance "irregularities."

At age 58 in 2001, Hanssen was given his sentence. He was spared the death penalty by having pled guilty to espionage charges.

Spies/traitors: John Walker Lindh

"The American Taliban" is the nickname affixed to then 20-year-old U.S. citizen John Walker Lindh, who was captured in 2001 by Afghan forces.

Lindh, who had a bullet wound on one thigh, was questioned by the C.I.A. and admitted that he had received training at an Al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan and at another location in Pakistan.

As a teen, Lindh had converted to Islam, traveled to the Middle East, learned Arabic and studied the Koran. He began dressing the part and took the name Sulayman. He returned to America but at age 19, returned to Yemen and received his military training.

Lindh was indicted in 2002 for supporting terrorist forces and attempting to kill U.S. forces. He pled not guilty to firing on Americans but guilty to aiding the Taliban.

Young Mr. Lindh was given 20 years without parole. His parents attempted to have President George W. Bush grant their son a pardon, but Mr. Bush refused.

Spies/traitors: Jonathan Pollard

Texas-born Jonathan Jay Pollard is unusual in that he was a U.S. citizen who spied for one of our nation's allies, not one of our enemies.

Before receiving a life sentence in 1987 for spying for Israel, Pollard defended his actions on the basis that being Jewish, he had a higher calling to promote the welfare of the Jewish homeland. The court, on the other hand, firmly disagreed.

Pollard was a Navy intelligence officer whose handling of classified documents raised suspicions. After an FBI investigation, he was arrested in 1985 after an unsuccessful attempt to receive asylum in the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C.

Pollard's first wife, Anne, also served a much shorter prison sentence for having assisted her husband's activities. The couple divorced, and Pollard was remarried while in prison to a woman who has campaigned for his release or pardon.

Spies/traitors: John Anthony Walker

A remarkably active Cold War spy for the Soviets was John Anthony Walker, a Navy warrant officer.

Walker, sometimes with the help of his son, Michael and other accomplices is said to have aided the Soviets in translating upwards of 200,000 encrypted messages, beginning in 1967 when the elder Walker was working aboard a U.S. nuclear submarine.

Two sad aspects of this saga were that Walker had been allowed to join the military rather than serve time for burglary--not the very best way to recruit-- and that no one suspected him of selling documents to a foreign power until his own ex-wife ratted him out when he would not pay her alimony.

Son Michael got out of prison in 2000, but Walker and the other members of his spy ring all received life sentences.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Disgraced political figure Rod Blagojevich

Note: Here follow a sample of U.S. political figures of various kinds whose reputations have been harmed by scandal. Some of these individuals have suffered from zipper trouble; others from the heavy need for that root of all evil, money; and a few for still other troubles.

Youthful looking, mop-haired Rod Blagojevich was Governor of Illinois from 2003 until he was removed from that office in 2009. The charges brought against him were several, but the straw that broke the camel's back in his case was the allegation that he attempted to "sell" the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama when Mr. Obama won the White House.

For that and other similar matters, Blagojevich, age 52 at the time, was impeached; he has now been indicted by a federal grand jury, as well.

He maintained his innocence, and although he lost his high office, he put up one heck a PR damage-control campaign in his attempt to remain governor.

Disgraced political figure Michael D. Brown

Aside from the horrible plight of the thousands of people who lost their homes and jobs due to Hurricane Katrina in 2005,one of the most pathetic sights of that time was President George W. Bush complimenting Michael Brown for his FEMA management, saying with total cluelessness, "You're doin' a heck of a job, Brownie."

At that time, Brown, a political appointee, was the federal government's head of FEMA response under Homeland Security.

Brown's lack of awareness was such that he admitted to CNN that, despite constant reporting, he did not realize that many of the storm's displaced persons were being quartered in the New Orleans Convention Center awaiting food, water and other help.

Embarrased, Homeland Security head Michael Chertoff relieved "Brownie" of his Gulf Coast duties a few days later. In turn, Brown placed the blame on New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco.

Interestingly, Brown is now an executive for a consulting firm, specializing in disaster recovery.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Disgraced political figure Henry Cisneros

An accomplished fellow, Henry Cisneros had become the first Hispanic man to be elected mayor of a big American city (San Antonio, TX, in 1981) and from 1993 to 1997 was Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Bill Clinton.

His well meant involvement in changing mortgage rules to help more low-income people achieve the "American dream" of home ownership later turned into the nightmare that helped bring on our nation's present recession.

Cisneros had to resign in 1997 due to money he had paid the woman with whom he had been involved in an extramarital affair, Linda Medlar.

As is usual with prominent politicians, he failed to come clean under questioning and in 1997, was hit with a variety of charges, including giving false statements.

Cisneros was allowed a plea agreement and got off with a small fine. Finally, in 2001,he was the grateful recipient of one of Bill Clinton's many presidential pardons.

Disgraced political figure Gary Condit

Like many other members of Congress who get themselves into zipper trouble, Gary Condit, who represented California in the U.S. House, is rather a handsome chap who looks younger than his actual years.

Condit, a Democrat, served his state from 1989 until 1993. What caused his political tumble was an affair with a 23-year-old political intern (he was 53 at the time).

The affair came to public light in 2001 after the young woman, Chandra Levy, disappeared. At first he denied any wrongdoing regarding the extramarital affair but upon further questioning by police, admitted to it. He was not an official suspect in her disappearance, although rumors flew, a couple of which caused Condit to sue for libel.

Later news reports revealed Condit had had an earlier affair with an airline stewardess.

Nevertheless, he pressed on, running for another term, but lost in the primary. He has since gone into the ice cream business.

The body of Miss Levy was found in Washington's Rock Creek Park in 2002, and in 2009, police arrested ex-con Ingmar Guandique and indicted him for Levy's killing.

Condit sued Dominick Dunne of Vanity Fair magazine in 2002;suit was settled out of court. Condit tried to sue Dunne a second time for repeating the alleged libel, but a judge tossed that suit. The former congressman also brought suit against a small California weekly, but in 2007, that suit, too, was dismissed.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Disgraced political figure Bull Connor

Perhaps Theophilus "Bull" Connor was merely a product of his times, but the man will go down in U.S. history as the very face of racial discrimination and repression as it was once practiced in the Deep South.

Connor, Alabama-born, won a seat in his state's legislature in 1934 and two years later became Birmingham's commissioner of police, a post he held for more than two decades.

Connor ran unsuccessfully for governor of his state in 1950 and got into trouble the following year for having a fling with his secretary. He was nearly impeached, but a state appeals court saved him from that fate. He also was said to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

Connor's lasting infamy, however, came in 1963 when he ordered fire hoses and police dogs loosed on protesters organized by Martin Luther King. The resulting TV footage revolted decent Americans and shamed our nation in front of the rest of the world. The irony is that that footage proved to be a turning point in race relations and in the attitudes of all but the most entrenched segregationists.

Connor died in 1973 after having suffered two strokes.

Disgraced political figure Larry Craig

In 2007, Republican Senator Larry Craig of Idaho was arrested and charged with lewd goings-on in an airport restroom.

Craig had represented his state in Congress since 1991 and was on the board of the NRA (National Rifle Association). Rumors had circulated about Craig's sexuality for years, but no charges of any kind were ever filed.

The truly unusual facet of his 2007 troubles was that the senator initally pled guilty to disorderly conduct, yet denied that he had practiced lewd behavior in the Minneapolis men's room. He announced that he would resign from the Senate but later attempted to withdraw his guilty plea and changed his mind about resigning. Craig did not run for re-election and served out his term which ended after 2008.

Like many other former members of Congress, he founded a consulting business.

Craig will long be remembered for his remark that he merely had a "wide stance" when doing No.1.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Disgraced political figure Duke Cunningham

Randy "Duke" Cunningham represented California in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1991 until 2005, when he resigned due to multiple charges of misconduct.

Cunningham had a heroic career in the Navy prior to getting into the dirty business of politics. He was an ace fighter pilot in Vietnam and after that, a flight instructor of future Navy pilots.

As a congressman, he was no shrinking violet. He was an outspoken far-right Republican who showed little patience with "soft" Democrats. He was tough on crime--ironic, as it happens.

When charges against him began to surface, he initially admitted only to bad judgment. As evidence began to pile up, he eventually pled guilty to taking large bribes, tax fraud, wire fraud, mail fraud and conspiracy.

In 2006, Cunningham was given an 8-year prison sentence and was ordered to surrender $1.8 million. He should have listened to President John Kennedy when that leader said, "Ask not..."

The Copley News Service and the San Diego Union-Tribune won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for their work that dug up the dirt on Cunningham.

Disgraced political figure Tom DeLay

It is important to note that former Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas has not yet been convicted of anything illegal, but in 2005 he resigned his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives amidst charges of campaign finance misdeeds.

Staunchly conservative, DeLay (nicknamed The Hammer) was pro-life, pro-Israel, pro-business, against the teaching of evolution, and a major foe of environmental advocacy groups. He also joined in the debate over what to do about disconnecting comatose patient Terri Schiavo from life support. DeLay, of course, argued against disconnecting her feeding tube.

It appears that DeLay's troubles stem from his relationship with lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pled guilty to various fraud charges.

Since is departure from Congress, DeLay has started his own political blog, has published a book and has appeared on Dancing with the Stars.

Disgraced political figure John Edwards

One of the saddest falls from grace among many in this category of the blog was that of John Edwards, whose hopes for our nation's highest office were wiped out by an affair he had with one of his campaign staffers, Rielle Hunter.

The sadness was not so much in the disappointment suffered by Edwards himself, but in the anguish caused his wife and the mother of his four children, Elizabeth Edwards, cancer sufferer.

John Edwards became known to the nation as Sen. John Kerry's vice presidential running mate in the 2004 election. Having lost that one, Edwards returned to the state he once served in the U.S. Senate, North Carolina, and in 2001, accepted a position at the Chapel Hill School of Law.

Having retained his hopes of making it into the White House, Edwards became a Democratic candidate for president in the 2008 race. His Republican opponents derided him as "The Breck Girl" due to his shiny mop of hair, which made him look younger than his actual years.

In his younger years, Edwards had become the most successful plaintiffs' lawyer in North Carolina and had his own highly profitable firm in Raleigh.

His undoing as a candidate stemmed from his affair with Hunter, which he initially denied, then finally confirmed. Americans' hearts went out to his wife, still fighting cancer.

A child born to Hunter has never been proved to be Edwards', but in a seamy twist to the tale, Edwards' aide Andrew Young (not the one from Atlanta) at first claimed that he was the father of Hunter's child, then recanted that story, saying Edwards had pressured him to make the bogus claim.

It has not been a pretty story, to say the very least.

Disgraced political figure John Ensign

A dapper, youthful looking Republican from Nevada is John Ensign, whose reputation was slightly dented in 2009 when he admitted to having an affair with a woman on his staff.

The woman in question was the wife of one of Ensign's top aides.

After the admission, Ensign and his own wife apparently reconciled. Ensign was one of the many Republican members of the House of Representatives who called for Democrat Bill Clinton to resign in the wake of the Monica Lewinski scandal.

Also, Ensign has opposed same-sex marriage, has been staunchly pro-life and has often espoused the sanctity of marriage and family life.

Ensign, who has been in Congress since 1995, entered politics after a successful veterinary career.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Disgraced political figure Mark Foley

Florida Republican Mark Foley, who represented his state in the U.S. House of Representatives, resigned in 2006 in the midst of a scandal involving sexually oriented emails.

The emails in question were sent by Foley to boys who had been pages in Congress. Ironically, Foley had spoken out in Congress against the activities of pedophiles. In fairness, he did vote in favor of allowing same-sex marriages.

A number of former pages came forward making charges of inappropriate conduct on Folwy's part over a period of roughly 10 years.

No physical sexual contact with minors was proved about the congressman and no criminal charges were filed against him.

Foley revealed that as a boy, he was abused by a member of the clergy and also revealed that he had a drinking problem.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Disgraced political figure Rudy Giuliani

OK. Ok. Maybe "disgraced" is a little harsh in Giuliani's case. Perhaps "sullied" would be more accurate.

Giuliani, almost always photographed smiling broadly, was Mayor of New York City in between the terms of David Dinkins and Michael Bloomberg, and a very popular mayor he was, too.

The Republican, George W. Bush-backing Giuliani was appreciated most for his part in reducing street crime in the city, his success at prosecuting the various New York crime families during his time as the city's U.S. Attorney, and for his seeming omnipresence to bolster morale after the World Trade Center disaster.

The Brooklyn-born politician, having achieved widespread name recognition all over the nation, made a run for the White House in the 2008 election, but his campaign fizzled amid accusations of fraudulent billing associated with an extramarital affair he was having at the time. This affair, with Judith Nathan, whom he later married, was the second such drawback to his political hopes. In 1997, a story in Vanity Fair magazine had reported another affair, this one with his communications chief, Cristyne Ford Lategano.

After his term as mayor ended in 2001, Giuliani joined a law firm and opened his own investment banking company plus his own security consulting firm.

Disgraced political figure William J. Jefferson

Nine-term Democrat representing Louisiana in the U.S. House of Representatives William Jefferson was found guilty in 2009 of 11 of 16 charges against him.

Jeferson, an African-American Harvard Law School graduate, was convicted of bribery, money laundering, racketeering and wire fraud.

Most damning of all was the FBI's having found $90,000 in marked bills wrapped in foil, concealed in frozen food boxes and stashed in the congressman's office freezer. That's a lot of cold cash, and its journey's beginning was videotaped by the FBI, as well. The search warrant that allowed this 2006 revelation is thought to have been the first FBI raid of a U.S. congressman's office. One hopes it is not the last.

Jefferson denied any guilt, has not yet been sentenced, and vows to appeal his conviction. Even so, he lost his House seat in 2008 to Republican Anh Cao. Jefferson and his wife filed for Chaper 7 bankruptcy protection in 2009.

Disgraced political figure John Jenrette

By far the most colorful figure brought down by the FBI's Abscam sting in 1979 was John Jenrette, Democrat, who represented South Carolina in the U.S. House of Representatives.

He was colorful in that he was young and energetic and in that he was at that time married to a blonde of extraordinary beauty with whom he is said to have had sex one night on the steps of the Capitol. The excellent D.C. comedy troupe, The Capitol Steps, have the Jenrettes to thank for their group name.

In 1980, John was found guilty of taking $50,000 from a phony Arab sheik in exchange for his congressional influence. He got a two-year sentence, and the shapely Rita divorced him and did an eye-popping spread in Playboy magazine.

John Jenrette later went into public relations and property development in his native state.

Disgraced political figure Kwame Kilpatrick

The son of a well known political family in Detroit, 31-year-old Kwame Kilpatrick became Detroit's youngest mayor in 2002.

His tenure as governor was as sore beset with trouble as his city's economy, and in 2008, he resigned his office as part of a plea arrangement.

Kilpatrick had been charged with a wealth of misdeeds, which he initially denied, including an extramarital affair with his chief of staff, Christine Beatty.

His attempts to blame his woes on racism, inasmuch as he is African American, failed.

Other portions of his plea deal required that he spend four months behind bars, repay the city $1 million, surrender his law license and give up his pension rights from his period as a state representative.

Disgraced political figure Bob Livingston

A Republican who represented Louisiana in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1977 to 1999, popular conservative Bob Livingston resigned after marital infidelity revelations surfaced.

Democrats smirked at this news, inasmuch as Livingston not long before had loudly called for Bill Clinton to resign as president following the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Livingston had been remarkable in that he was the first Republican within living memory to have been elected to Congress from his state.

Livingston was replaced by David Vitter, who lasted but a little while until he was brought low by a sex scandal of his own.

A truly odd aspect of Livingston's political demise was that the governor's affair had been brought to light by Larry Flynt, publisher of the girlie magazine Hustler.

Disgraced political figure Jim McGreevey

Another of the increasingly numerous governors to resign because of extramarital sexual adventures is Jim McGreevey of New Jersey.

McGreevey, a Democrat, led his state from 2002 until in 2004, he came out as gay and admitted his affair with an Israeli man named Golan Cipel, whom the governor had hired as his state's director of homeland security, even though the man's credentials for such a post were minimal at best. Cipel denied being gay and said he had been sexually harassed by McGreevey.

When McGreevey made his dramatic resignation announcement, his wife stood by his side in one of those supremely uncomfortable moments of political life.

Disgraced political figure Dick Morris

Included here because of his former role as a top political adviser to Bill and Hillary Clinton, Dick Morris suddenly dropped out as Bill Clinton's campaign manager for reelection in 1996 after news reports appeared revealing Morris' "affair" with a prostitute, Sherry Rowlands.

According to Rowlands, Morris especially liked toe-sucking. She also revealed that he had let her a Clinton speech prior to its delivery.

Lord knows, President Clinton had enough marital infidelity troubles of his own, and Morris, a further embarrassment, had to go.

Naturally, Morris remained in the political consulting business and began to specialize in the campaigns of other nations.

Morris' infidelity doesn't seem to have harmed his career all that much. In America, what do we do with someone like him? Why, we turn him into a New York Post columnist and a Fox commentator, of course. And media convergence being what it is, he also started his own political Web site, Vote.com and has published a number of books, some of them critical of the Clintons.

His prediction that the presidential election of 2008 would be between Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice proved wrong.

Disgraced political figure John M. Murphy

Caught in the net of the FBI's 1979 sting operation known as Abscam was House of Representatives member John Michael Murphy, New York Democrat.

Video footage made available to U.S. television audiences showed Murphy literally stuffing his clothing with cash that he thought was from an influence-buying Arab sheik.

Murphy was given a three-year prison sentence on conspiracy charges and in 1980 lost his reelection bid as well.

Before getting into the smudgy business of politics, Murphy had been a decorated Marine officer and had served honorably in Vietnam.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Disgraced political figure Bob Packwood

One of those powerful politicians who seem to think "harass" is two words, Bob Packwood of Oregon resigned from the U.S. Senate in 1995 after being recommended by the Senate Ethics Committee for expulsion.

His weakness was women, which came to public light in 1992 in a devastating story in the Washington Post. That story told of complaints made by 10 staffers and lobbyists who said they had been groped or otherwise abused by the senator, who for two years in the 1980s had been chair of the Senate's Finance Committee.

Following his resignation, Packwood started his own D.C. lobbying company.

Disgraced political figure Daniel Rostenkowski

Chairman of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee and a 36-year veteran in the House Dan Rostenkowski of Illinois in 1991 found himself under investigation for a variety of corrupt practices.

Turning postage stamps into cash, personal use of funding for his office, and giving people bogus "jobs" were among the charges.

Rostenkowki, a Democrat, was sent to prison for 18 months in 1995. He once had been, at 24, the youngest member of the House, and his many connections along the way helped him receive a presidential pardon in 2000 from the Great Pardoner himself--Bill Clinton.

Disgraced political figure John G. Rowland

John Grosvenor Rowland was a highly popular three-term governor of Connecticut, but his powerful position led him astray and into a 10-month prison stay.

Rowland, a Republican, led his state from 1995-2004, when he resigned his high office.

Reports of political graft were at first denied by the governor, but finally he plead guilty to tax and mail fraud charges after some of his aides began to spill the beans.

Following his prison stay plus four more months of house arrest, he began to put his life back together and today heads economic development for the city of Waterbury, CT.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Disgraced political figure Jack Ryan

Illinois Republican Jack Ryan seemed to have it all: Ivy League credentials, with both MBA and JD from Harvard,train loads of money from his work as an investment banker, and a striking personal appearance.

In 2004, however, he dropped out of his campaign for the U.S. Senate after reports began circulating about allegations that he and his former wife had frequented sex clubs.

Ryan and actress Jeri Ryan had married in 1991 but divorced in 1999. In 2004, Ryan's political opponent demanded that Ryan's divorce and custody records be made public. When the records were released, Ryan's political goose was cooked.

Most political higher-ups who get into zipper trouble have done so by having clandestine sex with women other than their own wives. Ryan's problems, oddly, stemmed from public sex involving his own wife. But then, it's a pretty complicated world out there.

Disgraced political figure Mark Sanford

Entirely bizarre is the "Appalachian Trail hike" of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford.

Sanford, governor of his state since 2002, dropped out of sight suddenly in June 2009. Aides told the media that the governor had gone hiking to clear his mind.

Sanford, a staunch conservative, had just proclaimed that his state would not accept federal stimulus funds, but the high-placed Republican hiker was getting a stimulus package of his own in Argentina, not trudging the long, lonesome trail.

Busted, he admitted in a rambling press conference statement to having had an affair with an Argentinian woman, Maria Belen Chapur. Later, he admitted to other earlier indiscretions of the same general kind. The situation was especially ironic because after the Clinton-Lewinsky affair, Sanford had favored impeachment.

At one time, the handsome, normally articulate Sanford had been considered as a possible vice presidential candidate.

Political figures from both sides of the aisle have expressed the opinion that Sanford should resign, but at this writing in September 2009, he has not done so.

Disgraced political figure Eliot Spitzer

Eliot Spitzer is a man who had a remarkably fine record as New York's Attorney General, then Governor, before being brought down by a sex scandal.

In 2008, Spitzer fessed up to having consorted with a comely young call girl, Ashley Dupre, age 22, and resigned his governorship rather than be impeached.

Until his personal fall from grace, Spitzer appeared headed for even bigger things, perhaps even the presidency.

His education included degrees from Princeton and Harvard, and he had joined a major law firm before going to work for the office of Manhattan's District Attorney, where he took on the Gambino crime family.

As his state's Attorney General, he went after the big fish--in other words, major white collar crooks of various kinds. His efforts were so successful that he had little trouble winning in his 2007 race for Governor.

Following his resignation the very next year, reporters found out that Spitzer had done business with other prostitutes as well, and over a considerable period of time.

Spitzer's sad case is truly one of those stories of what might have been.

Disgraced political figure James Traficant

One of Ohio's most colorful, unorthodox "public servants" was James Traficant, Democrat.

Traficant, who traded on his populist appeal, often voted with the Republicans and in addition, had absolutely the most dreadful hairpiece ever to appear in the halls of Congress.

His toupee was the least of his problems, however, in 2002, when he was indicted for using campaign funds for his own personal purposes. (Gee, imagine a Congressman actually doing such a thing!)

In that same year, he was convicted of multiple felonies including tax evasion, racketeering and bribery and was given a 7-year sentence. His "coming out party" occurred in 2009.

Disgraced political figure Frank Thompson

Frank Thompson, Jr. was not a name known extensively outside the state he represented in Congress, New Jersey--until the 1980 Abscam sting operation, that is.

Thompson was one of six duly elected Congressmen caught trying to peddle influence to a phony Arab sheik. Like the others caught in this net, Thompson was videotaped by the FBI doing what so many of our "public servants" do but usually manage to get away with doing.

For his political sins, Thompson spent 1983-1985 in prison, and his 26-year career in the House ended.

The never-ending need for hard cash--and lots of it-- does this to many a politician, but in this case, it seemed sadder than usual inasmuch as he had sponsored some very good legislation and had been a decorated member of the Navy during World War II. He died in 1989.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Disgraced political figure David Vitter

Louisiana Senator David Vitter is quite a sport, don't you know--nudge, nudge, wink, wink. He is also one of those politicians who lived through personal disgrace and kept alive politically.

A handsome young fellow, Vitter went to Harvard, got a law degree, and was a Rhodes Scholar as well. The New Orleans native is a conservative Republican and, as such, has had much to say about the centrality of family values--that is to add, before his name appeared on lists of published phone numbers of brothel clients.

In 2007, Vitter's number appeared in a much-publicized list of "johns" of a prostitution service called Pamela Martin and Associates, operated by Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the so-called "D.C. Madam." It appeared that Vitter had been a client for years--ever since he replaced Bob Livingston, another Louisiana congressman who resigned that in 1999 due to his own adultery troubles.

Vitter more or less admitted his adultery, but lay low and toughed out the criticism and the smirking. He also was reported to be on the list of customers of New Orleans madam Jeanette Maier, sometimes called the "Canal Street Madam." At least in this instance he could claim that he bought local.

Again the Democrats had a field day doing what columnist Cal Thomas termed "pinning the tail on the elephant." The sorry spectacle was no doubt a lot more fun for the Democrats than for Vitter's wife and four children.

Disgraced business figure Richard Scrushy

Note: Wherever there are huge sums of money to be made, temptation also dwells. Most of us--professors for example-- work in jobs that offer scant opportunities for graft and corruption, and perhaps we are honest because there is little opportunity to do otherwise. Corporate titans, on the other hand, sometimes succumb to the desire not simply to be rich, but mega-rich, and do things they, the ones who get caught, are terribly sorry about later. Others serve a little time in stir but emerge from prison still in possession of most of their ill-gotten gains.

Some of these figures simply appear to be larcenous from top to bottom. Others make illegal use of inside information to enrich themselves. Still others buy politicians to help them get what they want. (Sadly, the higher up influence-peddling politicians are, the less likely that the public is to believe that he or she could be so slimy.)

In our present misguided, polarized era in which major corporate CEOs often make perhaps 300 times the compensation of the mean compensation of their employees, the crooked business figure can absolutely ruin the lives of a lot of people with their various schemes for self-enrichment.

In addition, the occasional business titan, like some of our powerful politicians, brings trouble down upon himself for non-financial reasons of a more personal nature.

A good example of what's wrong with the current system of health care in the United States is Richard Scrushy, who founded and ran HealthSouth Corporation, one of the nation's biggest health care firms.

As this is being written, many well-meaning Americans are howling like wounded wolves about the idea of creating a public option in health insurance. Saddest are those ranting that they "don't want the no-good socialistic fed-rul gumment" getting involved in Medicare, apparently not realizing that Medicare is and has always been a government program.

After doing a little college teaching, Scrushy went to work for the Texas health care firm Lifemark, for which he eventually became CEO. In 1983, he founded his own such company, Amcare, and only a year thereafter started HealthSouth, a company he grew into a corporate giant. Scrushy soon was said to be one of that nation's highest-paid CEOs.

When a HealthSouth auditor called attention to suspect company practices, the auditor was fired. Fraud accusations were raised anyway, and the firm's profit picture darkened. Improper Medicare billing was charged, and Scrushy found himself facing multiple counts of fraud. In 2005, however, an Alabama jury acquitted him.

Soon thereafter, both he and an ex-governor of Alabama, Don Siegelman, wer indicted in federal court for bribery, racketeering, money laundering, and obstruction of justice. Scrushy pled not guilty, but both he and Siegelman were convicted. Scrushy's appeal was unsuccessful and Siegelman's only partially successful.

Scrushy lost again in a subsequent civil trial to settle damages to HealthSouth stockholders, and in 2009, he was ordered to pony up $2.87 billion. Locating his assets, however, is proving difficult for officials.

Disgraced business figure Ivan Boesky

One of the happiest looking of Wall Street wheeler-dealers was Ivan Boesky, a specialist in corporate arbitrage.

No wonder he looked happy. His abilities gained him wealth said to be in the neighborhood of $200 million before he came under active suspicion for insider trading.

Perhaps Boesky's intelligence skills had been honed during his time working for the CIA, but his law degree should have caused him to be more subtle in his timing. Eventually, his big stock buys just prior to takeover announcements attracted the kind of attention insider traders don't want.

He worked out a plea bargain by informing against other corporate rascals, was fined $110, and got only three and a half years. Two years later, he was a free man again.

It is said that he was the primary model for the "Greed is good" character Gordon Gekko played so well by Michael Douglas in the 1987 film "Wall Street."

Disgraced business figure Jake Butcher

Still a well known public figure in Tennessee is former banker Jacob "Jake" Butcher," the guiding light behind the 1982 World's Fair that was held in Knoxville.

With his younger brother C.H., Butcher ran eight banks, the biggest of which was Jake's United American Bank in Knoxville.

Having become very wealthy, Jake twice tried to become governor of his state. In 1974, he lost in the Democratic primary, and in 1978, in the general election.

In the early 1980s, officials began to become suspicious about some of the brothers' dealings, some of which involved shifting funds among their banks, and in 1982, raided these banks and their branches. Evidence of fraud was discovered, and United American went belly up in 1983, a major bank failure.

Jake Butcher pled guilty and got 20 years, but he was paroled in 1992. His brother, C.H. Butcher Jr., was also found guilty and died following a storke in 2002.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Disgraced business figure Douglas S. Cone

The disgrace of wealthy Tampa businessman Douglas S. Cone was not a matter of fraud, insider trading, or any other such business offense, but was of the personal sort.

Mr. Cone, a stern-looking man who made his money in road construction, had been married for 50 years to his wife, Jean Ann Cone. The two had contributed to various philanthropies, most notably the building of Berkeley Prep, a local prep school.

Another generous benefactor of Berkeley Prep was one Donald Carlson, who no one at the school had ever actually met in person. The Carlsons sent both their children to the school,and its baseball field was named in the Carlsons' honor due to their financial gifts.

In 2003, Mrs. Cone returned home in her green Rolls Royce, pulled into her garage, shut the garage door, but left the car running. She died there of carbon monoxide poisoning, and tests later showed that she had anti-anxiety medication in her system in addition to having a high blood alcohol level. Her death was ruled accidental.

Just two weeks later, Douglas Cone remarried, this time to a woman who had been calling herself Hillary Carlson for 20 years. It then came to light that Douglas Cone and Donald Carlson were one and the same fellow.

Cone had managed to have two families for all those years, and they lived a mere 20 miles apart. He had done it by telling wife Jean Ann that he frequently had to be away on business and by telling Hillary that he had a highly sensitive State Department job that kept him on the road much of the time.

Talk about burning your candles at both ends. And talk about sheer gall!

Disgraced business figure Bernie Ebbers

Now reposing in prison on a 25-year sentence, former WorldCom CEO Bernard Ebbers was, as of 2005, at least, at the center of the biggest corporate fraud case in U.S. history. Since then, that dubious distinction has been claimed by another Bernard, this one having the last name of Madoff.

Ebbers, a large, forceful fellow, launched his business career in 1974 by buying an old Mississippi motel. From this humble beginning, he built a chain of motels, and in 1983, he helped found Long Distance Discount Services, Inc., also in Mississippi. This long distance company bought up other similar companies and in 1995, became WorldCom, with Ebbers as CEO.

WorldCom bought MFS Communications for $12 billion the next year and in 1998, it acquired MCI, for $40 billion.

In 1999, Ebbers' troubles began when he tried to take over Sprint Communications as well,at a price tag of $115 billion. Federal anti-trust regulators began to intervene, and that deal fell through. When that happened, WorldCom's stock price plunged as well, and a lot of people lost a lot of money.

Ebbers resigned in 2002. The colorful Sunday school-teaching, cowboy boot-wearing Ebbers came under allegations of securities fraud and conspiracy that same year, and his corporation was shown to have engaged in what very kind people might term "creative accounting."

He was indicted in 2003, but charges were dropped. Ebbers was again indicted in 2004, and in 2005, he was found guilty. After his appeal failed, he reported to prison in 2006 and, barring a presidential pardon, will be in his mid 80s when he emerges.

Digraced business figure Billie Sol Estes

Billie Sol Estes--a wonderfully Southern name if ever there was one--has known the inside of the prison system for his wheeling and dealing in Texas. He is also known for the explosive charges he has leveled at the late President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Back in the 1940s, Estes made money by selling irrigation pumps that ran on natural gas. He added the fertilizer business to his holdings, adding to his wealth.

A big supporter of then Texas Senator LBJ, Estes concocted a scheme that used non-existent cotton and later fertilizer tanks as collateral for loans. The scheme took advantage of federal farm subsidies for cotton production.

In 1962 and 1963, Estes was confronted with multiple fraud charges, was found guilty, and was sent to prison for what might have been a good long stay, even though three individuals who were expected to testify against him kept turning up dead from carbon monoxide poisoning. This is not to suggest that Estes was responsible for their deaths, but the chain of events was odd indeed.

In 1965, in Estes v. Texas, Billie Sol's sentence was overturned because TV cameras had been allowed in his court trial; 5-4, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the cameras' presence had deprived him of a fair trial.

It was then that the freshly sprung Billie Sol claimed that he had shared a good bit of his cotton scam loot with LBJ, that Johnson had had a hand in the deaths of the three witnesses, and--most sensational of all by far--that LBJ had been in on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Due to his record as a felon, Estes and his various charges were not taken very seriously by authorities, although they provided conspiracy theorists a field day.

He has been a rascal, to be sure, but Billie Sol has been the stuff of Southern legend: a convicted scam artist who was at the same time a Church of Christ lay minister and a colorful Texas character of the first order.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Disgraced business figure Andrew Fastow

Charges of wire and securities fraud, conspiracy, insider trading and money laundering during his years as Chief Financial Officer at Enron (1998-2002) netted Andrew Fastow six years in prison.

Fastow had helped set up a system of shadow companies used to obscure the actual financial status of that huge energy-trading corporation. For a long while, financial analysts, stockholders and employees were in the dark about the true condion of their company.

Fastow pled guilty to certain counts and, in order to get a lesser sentence, cooperated with investigators. In addition to his prison term, he forfeited around $23 million.

Disgraced business figure Kenneth Lay

An executive whose dishonesty or ineptitude, or both, cost thousands of people their livelihoods and/or their life savings was Kenneth Lay, CEO of Enron Corporation.

Lay had a Ph.D. in economics, was once a university economics professor, and began his career with Exxon in 1970. He worked for a while for the Department of the Interior, rising to undersecretary, and next worked for Florida Gas.

In 1985, he was employed by Enron and the next year became its CEO, changing what began as a pipeline company for natural gas into a huge energy-trading firm--one of the nation's biggest companies.

Like most canny CEOs, Lay contributed to both political parties, but he favored the Republicans. He was in the inner circle of George W. Bush, who called him "Kenny Boy." Lay and Enron were most generous contributors to President Bush.

Like most CEOs of large corporations, Lay was wildly over-compensated, of course, but his troubles really began when, after he had just divested himself of a few hundred million dollars in Enron stock, and after he knew the company was headed for bankruptcy, he smilingly assured his employees that all would be OK and to keep buying the company's stock. Many did, and it cost them dearly.

He was charged in 2004 with securities and wire fraud plus other charges and in 2006 was found guilty. He faced as much as 30 years in prison but died by heart attack while on vacation prior to his sentencing.

Disgraced business figure Dennis Kozlowski

Now serving a prison term of 8.25 to 24 years is former Tyco International CEO Dennis Kozlowski, a corporate executive who made lavish executive spending into an art form.

Having been with Tyco since 1975, Kozlowski took over as CEO in 1992 and worked out for himself compensation packages beyond the wildest dreams of avarice.

Company stockholders began to take notice of his excessive compensation, and news began to surface regarding his $30 million Fifth Avenue apartment in New York, a $15,000+ umbrella stand, and--wildest of all--a $6,000 shower curtain.

Then there was the matter of a birthday party held on the island of Sardinia for Kozlowski's wife Karen, who divorced him in 2006. The party was tricked out as a stockholders' meeting and cost the company a reported $1 million, with the high-living CEO contributing a like sum.

These matters, plus allegations of high-ticket art purchases paid out of company funds and absurdly high bonuses for other top corporate brass, led to Kozlowski's resignation in 2002.

Eventually he and his CFO were charged with having stripped the corporation of around $600 million. He was convicted in 2005. His appeal was rejected.

Disgraced business figure Bernie Madoff

Creator and operator of an incredibly enormous Ponzi scheme, said to have cost his clients around $65 billion, is Bernard Madoff of New York.

Financier Madoff is a rarity: a white-collar miscreant who actually confessed to what he had done rather than pleading not guilty or weasel-wording that he "might have made errors of judgment."

Instead, he pled guilty to duping an enormous number of investors, some of them very wealthy and presumably sophisticated individuals, via what might very well be the biggest Ponzi scheme anyone ever operated.

Madoff started his own Wall Sreet firm, Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, in 1960 and grew great wealth for himself and some of his employees, some of whom were family members.

Madoff lived the lifestyle of the rich and famous, with a New York penthouse plus other residences in Palm Beach and France.

In 2008, with trouble closing in, he confessed to his sons that he was operating what amounted to a giant Ponzi scheme. The two younger Madoffs turned him in, and their father was arrested by the FBI straightaway.

For a time, Madoff was held in house arrest, but his bail was revoked and he was taken into custody. He was found guilty and sentenced in 2009 to 150 years in prison, with restitution demands of $170 billion.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Disgraced business figure James McDougal

One of Bill and Hillary Clinton's closest business associates, Jim McDougal, died in prison at age 57 in 1998.

McDougal and his wife Susan partnered with the Clintons in the infamous Whitewater land deal while Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas. At that time, McDougal owned and ran the Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan, from which he took funds to cover losses suffered in the development planned to be built in the Ozarks.

McDougal, a big supporter of the Clintons in politics, used the Rose Law Firm, in which Hillary was a partner, as his legal counsel when charged in 1984 with fraud. McDougal also got into fraud trouble over another development project, Castle Grande, near Little Rock.

McDougal was convicted on 18 felony counts and faced a sentence that would have imprisoned him for many decades, but at that time he began cooperating with Kenneth Starr's investigation of Whitewater and managed to have his sentence cut to three years. McDougal's wife Susan would not cooperate and spent 18 months in prison for contempt. She also received a two-year sentence for bank fraud.

The flamboyant Jim McDougal suffered a heart attack and died about a year before his scheduled release. Before he died, he published a book containing allegations about payoffs to the Clintons and an unfulfilled promise of a presidential pardon for Susan.

Disgraced business figure Michael Milken

One of those all-American stories of temporary disgrace erased by big bucks and good deeds is that of financier Michael Milken, known as the Junk Bond King.

Milken, who emerged from his troubles with more than $2 billion, was charged in 1989 with securities fraud and racketeering due to alleged insider trading and other violations.

The racketeering charges were dropped as part of a plea bargain, but in 1990 Milken plead guilty to several financial market improprieties. He got 10 years, but later, with the help of lawyer Alan Dershowitz, the term was reduced by a judge. Milken served a bit less than two years and emerged still smiling and still very wealthy.

The Wharton School MBA worked for the investment bank Drexel Harriman Ripley, later Drexel Burnham & Company. There, he began dealing in risky but high-yield bonds. Later, he left Drexel to start his own firm, International Capital Access Group.

The wily and successful bond trader has resurrected his public image via good works accomplished through the Milken Institute, the Milken Scholars program, and Milken foundations for research on epilepsy, melanoma and prostate cancer.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Disgraced business figure Marc Rich

The commodities trader born in Belgium as Marc David Reich, had his name changed to Marc Rich (a downright prophetic choice) after he immigrated to the United States with his family in 1942.

Rich married a shoe company heiress in 1966 and in the early 1970s, contrived to ignore the U.S. embargo on buying oil from Iraq and Iran. This occurred at a time when Iran was holding more than 50 American citizens hostage, and Rich's deals no doubt helped the Iranians and Iraqis purchase armaments. Having bought the oil on the cheap, he then sold it at enormous profit during a period of frightening U.S. gasoline shortages. He established a beneficial relationship with Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini and also founded a big real estate development company in Eastern Europe.

Rich came under indictment for tax evasion and illegal oil trading in 1983 and chose to remain in Switzerland rather than return to America and face charges. He gave up his U.S. citizenship, living the lifestyle of the rich and famous with residences on Lake Lucerne and in the Swiss resort town of St. Moritz and in Marbella, Spain.

Rich lives the very, very good life in Europe, continues doing business deals in Nigeria, South Africa and elsewhere, has been honored in Israel for his philanthropy there, and was a big contributor to the coffers of President Bill Clinton.

In one of his most questionable non-sexual acts as president, Clinton granted Rich a full pardon on Clinton's last day in office. Rich's beautiful ex-wife, Denise, had been a major contributor to Clinton and the Democratic Party and had lobbied hard for the pardon. The pardon, like Bill Clinton's unusual intern policy, was one of his most shameful acts.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Disgraced business figure John Rigas

John J., Rigas was a self-made man trained as an engineer. At the time he ran into major-league legal trouble, he was CEO of Adelphia Communications, one of the largest U.S. cable TV companies.

Rigas started his entrepreneurial career by buying a movie theater, then got into the cable TV business, which he grew with great success.

In 2002, he was forced to resign amidst charges of bank, wire and securities fraud. He, his sons Timothy and Michael and two other Adelphia executives were thought to have improperly taken more than $2 billion out of the corporation.

Rigas was found guilty and given a 15-year sentence; the once successful company went into bankruptcy. Son Timothy was also convicted, but Michael was acquitted. On appeal, a judge lessened John Rigas' sentence to 12 years, and the former CEO was unsuccessful at getting a presidential pardon from George W. Bush. Should he live so long, the elder Rigas will be 92 when his sentence has been served.

Disgraced business figure Robert Vesco

After many years on the lam from U.S. law enforcement, financier Robert Vesco died of lung cancer in 2007 in Havana, Cuba.

Vesco's storied wealth began with his International Controls Corporation in New Jersey. Then in 1970, he took over a mutual fund family, Investors Overseas Service, Ltd., which he then looted.

The Securties and Exchange Commission charged Vesco with defrauding that company of more than $200 million, and rather than face the charges, he rapidly relocated in 1973 to Costa Rica, where he dispensed enough payoff money to prevent his being extradited to America.

In 1978, he moved to Nassau and next to Antigua. He hoped to purchase the island of Barbuda from Antigua and declare it his own sovereign state, but that plan failed.

Next he lived in Nicaragua, and in 1982, he moved to Cuba. There he was charged with drug smuggling, and when Vesco attempted to put one over on Raul Castro in a business deal involving the medicine Trixolan, Vesco was arrested. He was found guilty in a Cuban court and sentenced to a prison term in 1996.

Vesco was scheduled to be released in 2009, but death overtook him at age 71.