Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Secret Problem with Jeb: Why Another Bush is not the Solution 1/2

by Nomad

Some in the Republican party still consider Jeb Bush a possible candidate in a run for the White House. This two-part series lays out the case against Bush in exact detail. 

In the last presidential election, many people were stunned at the quality of the candidates. They looked outside of the pool for a Republican candidate with solid credentials and a familiar name.  
One name that’s been put forward is former Florida governor, John Ellis “Jeb” Bush, the younger brother of the former president George W. Bush and  second son  of the former president, George H. W. Bush. As writer Joe Conason notes:
The first obstacle that Jeb would have to surmount is that to most Americans outside the Sunshine State, he is known only as the brother of George W. Bush, most recently named one of the two worst presidents in the past half-century by respondents to a Gallup poll—rated just above the late Richard M. Nixon, in fact.
Let’s face it. That’s a mighty heavy burden. You could even add another brother, Neil -master of the S & L crisis and a grandfather, Prescott who raised FDR's hackles for his banking deals with the Nazis. All and all it's quite a family hall of notoriety. Even his father was not what would call a major success, come to think of it. (Let's not get ahead of ourselves.)
Apart from the collective automatic flinching at the mention of the Bush name, Jeb Bush appears on the surface to have a lot going for him. Sean Trende, writing for RealClear Politics puts it this way:
For many conservative Republicans, the dream outcome of the primary season is a brokered convention. Disappointed in the four remaining choices, they hope to change horses in August, and draft their preferred candidate, be it Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie, or Paul Ryan.
But like a lot of things in the world of politics, appearances can be deceiving.

Something Close to Charisma
Firstly, let’s take a look at some of his advantages. 
Elected as the 43rd Governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007, Jeb Bush cultivated strong support among Cubans in Florida (winning 80 percent of the Cuban vote in 2002) and popular among non-Cuban Hispanics (56 percent in 2002, equaling the 56 percent he won statewide). Very little mention has so far been made of the Hispanic vote and it could be a weakness for the other possible candidates. Jeb Bush maintained a good standing with Jewish leaders, has reached out extensively to Florida's Haitian community and even black Republicans found something to like about this Bush. 
In short, Jeb Bush’s outreach to minorities would make him a formidable threat to Obama’s greatest strength.

Besides that, there is another advantage. Even his detractors admit that Jeb Bush excels (unlike both his father and his brother) in inter-personal skills. Compared to his father’s whining and coldness or to his brother’s clumsiness, ignorance and generally arrogant sense of humor, Jeb Bush looks like he might have been adopted. It might not be charisma, but it beats vomiting in a Japanese official’s lap or giving unrequested shoulder squeezes on Angela Merkel.

Jeb Bush doesn’t carry the Romney disadvantages, namely his heartless approach to economic refitting (or something similar) and he isn’t a Mormon. He is also free of Santorum’s religious intolerance and preoccupation with other people’s consensual sex practices, (babies, babies and more babies), the ridiculous bombast and back-breaking baggage of Newt Gingrich or the tiny hints of racism, crankiness and all of the, well, years of Ron Paul. Jeb Bush is, in fact, a rather likable guy, all in all. For a Bush. For a Republican.

For these reasons, Jeb Bush’s name has been mentioned, despite his repeated denials of any ambitions. When asked whether the door was closed on a Presidential run, he said, “Yes.” (Of course, even Palin has said that. Who seriously believes that?) 

ABC news tamely suggested that Jeb Bush might be next in line in the Bush dynasty to move into the White House.  The article is filled with quotes from less than unbiased politicians.
"I think a lot of people are looking back with a little -- with more fondness on President Bush's administration, and I think history will treat him well," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex, who is in charge of getting Republicans elected to the Senate in 2010, told C-Span..
If you say so, John. Forgive ABC for not mentioning that in the general election, Cornyn ran as a supporter of President George W. Bush and called for making Bush’s 2001 tax cuts permanent. Then, there's this.
"Given the way the Obama administration is going, I think it's not too soon," said one Florida Republican who asked not be identified so as not to appear to be taking sides.
With a statement like that, who would dare accuse Mr. No-name of taking sides? You might think that, if push comes to shove, and if everybody could be properly persuaded (or bribed), Jeb Bush might present the Republican party with a way out of its present dilemma. 
Actually nothing could be further from the truth.

The alleged role that Jeb Bush played in the suspicious Florida vote count in 2004 is, of course, something that most people think of when it comes to Jeb Bush’s main drawback. Some have- and not without reason- accused him of aiding and abetting his brother in the theft of the presidential election. It’s all pretty familiar territory.

However, there are other darker accusations that cut to the very heart of the Bush family and the assorted shadiness that has always surrounded it. They begin nearly twenty years prior to the 2004 election.

Codina, Padreda, and Bush
In order to understand why Jeb Bush will- if he has any trustworthy advisers or common sense- never run for president, it's necessary to dive into the history books. But, don't worry about the dust and the bother, it's worth it.

Mother Jones Magazine’s Steven Pizzo, in a 1990 article entitled Family Values, provides a veritable treasure trove of information about Jeb Bush’s earliest days.
(For those who wish to learn more about the pre-1990 careers of the Bush brothers, it is recommended reading.)

Upon graduating from Texas University, Jeb Bush apprenticed in an entry level position in the international division of the Venezuelan branch of Texas Commerce Bank in Caracas. It was certainly not through merit or talent that Jeb landed the job but through James A. Baker, III, a long time family friend and chairman of the board. In spite of the fact he spent in total only two years and had begun in an entry level fresh from university, Bush was placed in international finance operations and eventually worked for the bank's executive program.

So much for the “self-made man” image.

After that, in 1980, he moved to South Florida to help with his father unsuccessful primary bid against Ronald Reagan. Miami, with its large Cuban community, was full of useful contacts for Jeb Bush. (We shall be investigating the reasons for this a bit later.) 

One of those contacts was Cuban- American developer Armando Codina who hired Bush as a leasing agent  for office space. New Miami Magazine tells us more about Jeb’s reasons for moving to Florida:
While campaigning in South Florida, he was befriended by Armando Codina, the self-made millionaire and real estate magnate who would eventually become Jeb's business partner. Codina later recounted to New Miami magazine a conversation he says he had with George Bush during the 1980 campaign, recalling that Bush told him Jeb was unhappy in Houston because of the way the Anglo community there reacted to his wife's Mexican heritage. George said Jeb was thinking about moving to Miami, where Anglo-Latin marriages are common.

Jeb Bush tells a different story about what brought him to Miami. He was especially close to his wife's family, he told a reporter for the Miami News in 1983. "On the personal side," Bush said, "my mother-in-law and sister-in-law were already living here." On the professional side, he said, he wanted to make money. "I want to be very wealthy," he told the News, "and I'll be glad to tell you when I've accomplished that goal." Bush seemed especially impressed with the commercial possibilities of Miami. "Any other city this size anywhere else in the U.S. has a big corporate base," he said. "But here...the business power is in the hands of a lot of entrepreneurs."
With entrepreneurship on their minds,  business partners Codina and Bush purchased an office building in the financial district. The financing for this deal came as a result of a $4.5 million loan from Broward Federal Savings. The complicated deal was explained in the Washington Post thus:
On February 1, 1985, Broward Federal loaned $4,565,000 to real estate developer J. Edward Houston, secured only by Houston’s personal guarantee. The same day, a company headed by Houston turned around and loaned the same amount to a partnership of Jeb Bush and Miami real estate developer Armondo Codina for them to buy a five-story building in Miami’s financial district.
(After the S and L collapsed in 1988, federal inspectors found some serious problems. When Bush and his partners were unable to pay back the loan, a unique solution was found. The building was re-appraised from the original estimate of $4.5 million to only $500,000. And, despite defaulting on the loan, Bush and company were permitted to keep the office building.)
*   *   *   *
By 1985, Jeb Bush’s connections to the shadier side of the Cuban exiled community were beginning to pay off. Bush began a close association with Camilo Padreda, a former intelligence officer with the Batista dictatorship overthrown by Fidel Castro. 

Padreda, like Codina, made his living as a land developer. However, according to Pizzo's article, Padreda specialized in deals with the corrupt Department of Housing and Urban development. In 1986, he hired Jeb as the leasing agent for a vacant commercial office building, which Padreda had built with $1.4 million in federal loans- loans approved by HUD officials, oddly enough, even though they knew there was already a glut of vacant office space. 

When Jeb was the then-chairman of the Dade county Republican party, Padreda was the finance chairman, despite the fact that Padreda had already a dubious background. 
He, along with a fellow exile and Cuban banker, Hernandez Cartaya, had earlier been indicted on a charge of embezzling $500,000 from a Texas savings and loan institution, Jefferson Savings and Loan in McAllen, Texas, in 1982. 
(Cartaya was charged with drug smuggling, money laundering, and gun running. Shortly after the indictment, the FBI reportedly received a call from the CIA warning that Cartaya was one of their assets; all charges against Padreda were dropped, and Carteya's list of charges were reduced to a single count of tax evasion.) 

In 1985, Bush and Padreda went into a business deal together. There’s no way that Bush could not have known what Padreda was all about. After all, just months before they began working together, Padreda was charged with improper influence of the Dade County manager, in an incident that involved phony land rezoning, profiteering, and laundering of drug money.

In 1989, Padreda pleaded guilty to defrauding HUD of millions of dollars during the 1980s. It was through Padreda that Bush met one Miguel Recarey who happened to be one of Padreda’s tenants. It was to prove a short-lived, lucrative but ultimately disastrous relationship.  

Recarey, IMC, and Bush
By this time, in 1985, Jeb Bush- whose great desire when he moved to Miami was to get as rich as possible as quickly as possible- was just about to meet his next big break. Both men were to serve each other's interests. 
At the time Bush and his future employer Miguel Recarey met, his company International Medical Centers (IMC) was leasing nearly all the space in  Camilo Padreda' s vacant office building. 

When the Cuban immigrant and businessman faced one major obstacle to building his Medicare empire. According to Health and Human Services (HHS) regulations, HMOs were restricted at drawing no greater than 50% of its revenue from Medicare. 

According to Recarey, in order to get around this restriction, he contacted the middle son of then-Vice President Bush who called HHS Secretary Margaret Heckler to obtain a waiver for Recarey. In exchange, IMC reportedly paid Bush's company a $75,000 "real-estate consultant" fee. (Supposedly for helping IMC find suitable headquarters which, according to
IMC records had already been found before Bush had been hired.)

Jeb Bush’s “lobbying” -or influence peddling- was part of a larger operation during which top-level Republican lobbyists whom Recarey had hired for $1 million were also working on HHS for the waiver. 
Bush denied any direct involvement but admitted only that he made one call on Recarey’s behalf to Haddow’s assistant, to secure Recarey a “fair hearing” within HHS. 
Rare photo of   Miguel Recarey
(Courtesy of Mother Jones Magazine)

In a news interview in 1986, Haddow disputed this and stated that Bush’s involvement went further. According to Haddow, two years earlier, Bush had contacted both Heckler and Haddow when doctors and patients began filing complaints against Recarey. 
Specifically, they charged that IMC’s medical care and allegations that Recarey had embezzled funds a few years earlier from another hospital. Bush gave the HHS assurances that Recarey was dependable. According to a source:
Bush had told Haddow that “contrary to any rumors that were floating around concerning Mr. Recarey, that he was a solid citizen from Mr. Bush’s perspective down there [in Miami], that he was a good community citizen and a good supporter of the Republican Party.”
With the obstacles overcome with successful deregulation, Recarey’s Medicare business skyrocketed, becoming America’s largest health maintenance organization for the elderly and received $1 billion in Medicare funds. 
All good things must come to an end and this “good thing” didn’t last long. In 1987, the bubble burst for Miguel Recarey and his Medicare scheme. 

The unraveling came when a low-level HHS official, Leon Weinstein, began warning his superior that IMC had been conducting illegal business since 1977. These warning had, in fact, began in 1983- even before Jeb Bush was involved- and were consistently ignored. It wasn’t until Weinstein alerted Congressmen Barney Frank and Pete Stark that the proper attention was given. An investigative hearing was initiated into the scandal. 

During the hearings, it came out that Recarey was also being investigated for bribing union officials in order to get a larger membership of non-Medicare patients. Soon enough, the company was put out of business in 1987 by the courts after the incredible medical fraud was discovered- the largest Medicare fraud in history.

Escape with a Pat on the Back
This “solid citizen” Recarey fled the country when the courts filed three indictments for labor racketeering, illegal wiretapping, and Medicare fraud. He escaped the country for safe haven in Madrid, (or maybe..Caracas) 

The circumstances of his departure can be found in the book, Masters of deception: The Worldwide White-Collar Crime Crisis and Ways to Protect Yourself, by Louis R. Mizell:
Curiously the US government made it extremely easy for Recarey to leave the country. Even though he was under indictment, a federal magistrate didn't impose any travel restrictions and the State Department graciously issued passports for his children. In August 1987, the Internal Revenue Service expedited Recarey's corporate income-tax refund of $2.2 million income tax refund provided Recarey with a comfortable life as a fugitive and certainly helped him avoid capture...
Sources tell us that Recarey’s HMO left $222 million in unpaid bills and was suspected of up to $100 million in Medicare fraud.
An AP story in the Ocala Star-Banner, dated Oct. 8, 1989, has this to say about Recarey’s escape:
"That the US would allow Recarey to live in Venezuela with his millions without putting any pressure on him to face the charges makes a mockery of the crimminal justice system,"said Joseph DeMaria, the former Justice Department prosecutor who brought the first indictment against the IMC president.

During his tenure at IMC, Recarey contributed hundred of thousand of dollars to top politician, including the campaigns of President Bush, former presidents Reagan and Carter, the late US Rep. Claude Pepper and others....
The article (which clearly had no idea of the back-story) goes on, giving one last glimpse of Jeb Bush’s business partner before we say Adios:
Now he lives securely with his wide and children in Lagunita, a posh suburb of Caracas, according to reports received by Us law enforcement authorities..
He is developing condominiums in the Isla de Margarita, a bustling seaside resort 200 miles northeast of the Venezuelan capital.
William Teich, head of the US Office of Labor Racketeering in Miami, called IMC, “the classic case of embezzlement of government funds” and declared it was nothing more than a “bust-out operation” where money was “drained out the back door” and disappeared down “a black hole.” 

The son of the then vice-president had his own special reasons for helping Recarey and IMC. In fact, the Bush administration had its reasons. 

According to a report on Jeb Bush in The National Corruption Index
In 1985, Jeb Bush acted as a conduit on behalf of supporters of the Nicaraguan contras with his father, then the vice-president, and helped arrange for IMC to provide free medical treatment for the Contras.
Corroborating evidence can be found in the notes of one of the key players, Oliver North, who apparently directed operations with Cubans Jose Basulto and Felix Rodriguez. A note in North’s diary reads:
22-Jan-85 Medical Support System for wounded FDN [Contras] in Miami -- HMO in Miami as oked to help all WIA [wounded in action]... Felix Rodriguez."
And Basulto himself would later admit to his role to the Wall Street Journal in 1987. He told the reporter that he had attended meetings at IMC with Felix Rodriguez and Adolfo Calero. 

When Stephen Pizzo of Mother Jones was told by a former agent of the Department of Health and Human Services that that Recarey used part of the $30 million a month he received to treat Medicare patients "to set up field hospitals for the Contras." 

This was a particularly sensitive time in the Iran-Contra affair, a clandestine action not approved of by the United States Congress. The whole complicated arrangement, from the selling of weapons to Iran to the secret bank transfers, to the illegal arming of right-wing “freedom fighters,” all of it was contrary to the legislation of the Democratic-dominated Congress and contrary to official Reagan administration policy. 

Jeb Bush was one of the few who could be trusted with protecting the president and the vice-president, his father. 
And George H. W. Bush needed a lot of protection. 

In the second part of this post, we shall reluctantly examine possible reasons why Jeb Bush should be willing to help Miguel Recarey.  

To continue to  Part TWO
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