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Pension Looters for the Left? By: Patrick Poole
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, October 16, 2006

Imagine the following scenario: during the height of election season, a high-placed Republican donor is discovered to have looted millions of dollars from the retirement funds of individuals and companies he manages, and then contributes more than $70,000 to his state GOP party. When the fraud is discovered, the state party not only refuses to give the money back to the victims, but characterizes calls from Democrats to return the ill-gotten gains as “a cheap Democratic ploy” – even as top GOP elected officials in the state demand that their party return the money.

Is it hard to imagine the virtual non-stop coverage that both local and national media would devote to the GOP scandal, with constant reference made by Democratic Party-linked talking heads and mainstream media “reporters” incessantly predicting how the scandal will derail Republicans' chances in the gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races under way in that state?


The scenario described above has been unfolding for months in the Volunteer State, but it isn’t the Tennessee Republican Party on the working end of the scandal. Instead, local news reports indicate that the Tennessee Democratic Party has received $52,250 for state races and $18,000 for federal races from a major Democratic donor, Barry Stokes, who was arrested by federal officials on Friday for embezzling retirement funds from his clients – money Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Bob Tuke vowed last Friday to keep even after one of the top state Democratic Party officials, State Sen. Doug Jackson, urged his own party to return the money. In a letter to Tuke, Jackson said that keeping the money would be a “travesty.” In recent months, two Tennessee Democratic Congressional candidates have returned campaign contributions from Stokes.


The intramural exchange between Jackson and his Democratic Party chairman came only after the Tennessee Republican Caucus returned $1,000 earlier last week that had been donated by Stokes in 2003 – a move the Democratic Chairman Tuke described as a “cheap Republican ploy.” But in a statement, the Tennessee Republicans explained, “our Caucuses want no part in receiving stolen pension funds - or any other stolen money or goods for that matter.” Their Democratic counterparts, however, don’t seem to share their scruples.


As the scandal threatens the reelection prospects of Tennessee Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen – one of the few remaining Democratic governors in the Red State South and the only Democrat to win statewide office in Tennessee since 1992 – and potentially dashes the hopes of Rep. Harold Ford, Jr. (D-Memphis), who Democrats nationwide hope will pick up a US Senate seat in a Republican-leaning state (the seat being vacated by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist), there has been no mention of the escalating scandal in the national mainstream media – quite unlike a similar scandal last year involving Ohio Gov. Bob Taft and a GOP supporter who has pled guilty to stealing money from an account he managed for the Bureau of Worker’s Compensation. Despite the national media blackout of the rapidly unfolding Democratic scandal, the matter is being superbly covered by local bloggers and grassroots journalists, including Bill Hobbs and Terry Frank, and by the major Nashville newspaper, The Tennessean.


Looking at the known facts so far in the Tennessee case, it is much worse than the hypothetical scenario I previously described. Not only is the Tennessee Democratic Party refusing to return the stolen retirement money to the US Bankruptcy Court trustee handling the matter (unlike Tennessee Republicans), but Barry Stokes – the man accused of embezzling the funds and who used his position within Gov. Phil Bredesen’s highest circles to pitch flexible spending accounts managed by Stokes’ company, 1Point Solutions, to the State Treasurer’s office –  is represented in the matter by Bredesen’s 2002 campaign manager and current campaign treasurer, lobbyist Stuart Brunson. Stokes’ company was also awarded a contract last year by the Tennessee Board of Regents, which oversees most of Tennessee’s colleges and universities, to manage the flexible spending accounts of 14,000 Board of Regents employees. Last week, the Board of Regents employees discovered that debit cards linked to their accounts with 1Point no longer worked.


Also last week, Bredesen spokeswoman Lydia Linker revealed that Stokes met with Bredesen chief-of-staff, Dep. Gov. Dave Cooley, on several dates in 2003 and 2004 seeking assistance on a custody dispute. The ties between Stokes and Gov. Bredesen continue until today. In fact, Stokes is still listed on Bredesen’s campaign website as one of the “Top Business Leaders Endorsing Bredesen.


According to a September 26th article in The Tennessean, even as Stokes’ financial empire began to crumble in recent months under pressure from multiple lawsuits, his giving to the Tennessee Democratic Party continued unabated. On one day this past June, as one Nashville law firm was demanding the transfer of their employees' 401(k) and flexible spending accounts, Stokes was giving the Tennessee Democratic Party a huge $20,000 check at their annual Jackson Day fundraiser at the historic Ryman Auditorium, former home of the Grand Ole ‘Opry in downtown Nashville (Stokes had also given $20,000 to the Tennessee Democratic Party in May 2005).


The victims of the fraud by Stokes and his company are widespread. Among them are 1,000 Nashville Metro government employees that had accounts handled by 1Point (Nashville Metro government is controlled by Democrats). The contract was awarded even though the company had not submitted an audited financial statement and annual report, as had the other companies submitting bids.


According to an article in Saturday’s edition of The Tennessean, the 1Point web began unraveling in April when the New York-based Jewish Funds for Justice filed a lawsuit seeking the return of retirement funds Stokes and his company had been given to manage. That lawsuit was eventually settled, but the money used to pay off Jewish Funds for Justice came from an account that Stokes was pouring millions into from other clients to settle the claims and pay personal expenses.


In mid-September, an auto-parts manufacturer based in Smyrna, Tennessee, was told by one of Stokes’ attorneys that $7 million given to 1Point to manage was “gone and likely unrecoverable.” Within days, several other clients also filed claims in court against the company. With lawsuits rapidly piling up, 1Point was forced into bankruptcy last month. The bankruptcy trustee has discovered that in the weeks after the 1Point accounts had been frozen by the court, Stokes withdrew at least $40,000.


The bankruptcy trustee also announced last week his discovery that after one client had transferred $650,000 to 1Point in May and June, not only did the money never make it to the investment houses, but $100,000 of those funds were deposited into a trust account for Stokes’ father, and Stokes had pocketed $30,000 and spent another $9,300 with a Tokyo art gallery. Stokes is reputedly one of the world’s largest collectors of Japanese block prints, with a collection estimated at $2.5 million. But bankruptcy officials have discovered that at least $1 million worth of paintings have disappeared from storage.


Ironically, included amongst 1Point’s victims are employees of the Tennessee Democratic Party. But Democrats should have known better, notwithstanding his cozy relationship with the Tennessee Democratic elite, as indicated by Stokes’ troubled financial past, as described last week by The Tennessean:


Barry Stokes came onto the Nashville scene three or four years ago, spending lavishly at fundraising galas, often showcasing his valuable museum-quality Japanese print collection to raise money for social and cultural causes.


He rapidly grew his business, signing up clients such as Metro government, a local law firm and the state of Louisiana and even handling the retirement accounts for employees working for the Tennessee Democratic Party, to which he contributed nearly $50,000.


But if those businesses or agencies that contracted for his services had looked deeper into his background, they might have thought twice. A closer examination by The Tennessean revealed an earlier bankruptcy, failed computer ventures in Houston, a termination from a financial company and a string of federal and state tax liens that paint a problematic picture of the 49-year-old’s business life.


As the Tennessee Democratic Party responded to calls from outsiders and members from their own party to return the stolen pension and retirement funds to the US Bankruptcy trustee, the Party spokesman, Mark Brown, dismissed concerns that they intended to keep the pilfered money, which presumably is being spent to reelect Gov. Bredesen and to send Harold Ford to the US Senate (hailed by many as “this year’s Obama”), and stated that the state party’s primary concern was for the four employees who have lost money in the 1Point scandal, instead of the thousands of employees and retirees in Tennessee and around the country who are also victims. “Our sole focus at this point is to protect the interest of the four Tennessee Democratic Party employees whose retirement funds were managed by 1Point Solutions,” Brown told the press late last week.


What potential impact this story might have on the races in Tennessee remains to be seen. The race for the open US Senate seat is being watched nationally as the race between Harold Ford and Bob Corker remains close, and the story is getting a lot of local coverage, which could potentially hurt Ford and Bredesen, as well as other Democrats running for office in the Volunteer State.


But the added scandal of the Tennessee Democratic Party keeping stolen retirement funds doesn’t seem likely to get near the national media attention as had the similar GOP scandal in Ohio, which is hurting many Ohio Republicans who had no involvement in the matter. Ohio Democrats have benefited tremendously from coverage of the Taft-Bureau of Worker’s Compensation scandal in multiple stories by the New York Times, Washington Post, and other national media outlets, and the Democratic National Committee is airing numerous campaign commercials in Ohio trying to tie unconnected Republicans to the affair.


But nothing in the Ohio GOP scandal can remotely compare to the Tennessee Democratic Party’s decision last week to knowingly profit from the crimes of one of its major donors and the brazen callousness of the party chairman, Bob Tuke, to the plight of thousands of Tennessee citizens who probably will not see their retirement accounts restored anytime soon. In comparing the ongoing reporting on the Ohio story with the current national coverage of the explosive Tennessee scandal that has escalated since earlier this year, the mainstream media silence on the latter has grown deafening.


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Patrick Poole is a regular contributor to Frontpagemag.com and an anti-terrorism consultant to law enforcement and the military.

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