Kenneth Ryesky
Kenneth Ryesky

Thinking Dirty

I have seen the workings of bribery up close; not as a participant, but as a bystander, as a rebuffer of bribe attempts, and sometimes as a whistleblower.  While employed by the United States government I received training in detecting, analyzing, and reporting fraud, including its bribery-related aspects.  And I had a case in my pre-Aliyah law practice where a client’s relationship with his former employer had gone sour after the client came uncomfortably close to unwittingly sabotaging an unwritten sweetheart deal the employer had with a certain local municipality, an arrangement of which my client had not been informed.

[For early and up-front clarification, I now have no definitive evidence that any as yet unconvicted person discussed or alluded to in this posting has offered, paid, accepted, or received any improper gratuities, and do not intend any speculations set forth here to constitute any accusations of wrongdoing.].

A September 1986 report on Defense Procurement Fraud by the US General Accounting Office (now known as the Government Accountability Office) contains a list of various criminal prosecutions.  Of the 17 listed prosecutions that were brought in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, I had occasion, as a Procurement Agent, Contracting Officer, and/or Analyst employed by the U.S. Department of Defense, to deal with 4 of the 5 vendors who paid bribes, and personally knew 10 of the 12 government employees who accepted bribes; these included two who oversaw my work in a supervisory or quasi-supervisory capacity (one of whom, Jack Kligman, would later receive a Presidential pardon in the closing days of the Clinton administration).  There also were other Department of Defense employees, including my supervisor’s supervisor, whose previous fraud convictions were not included in the September 1986 GAO report because their prosecutions occurred before or after the report’s time frame.

As an attorney for the Internal Revenue Service, I had occasion to deal with the taxation aspects of bribery.

Bribery is not a victimless crime.  In addition to increasing the cost of operating a government (which necessarily reaches into the taxpayers’ pockets), it breaks down the integrity of the systems that are designed to protect lives and safety, such as building safety codes, and induces people to commit crimes such as arson (including insurance fires in which firefighters incur personal injury).

Bribery can severely compromise military capabilities when government inspectors who are supposed to ensure the quality of the materiel procured for the military are persuaded to turn the blind eye towards nonconforming hardware; no less disturbing is that people who take liberties to deliver substandard materiel to the defense forces can take on the attitude that “[The hardware item is] only a piece of steel. It goes on the end of a barrel. If the soldier gets shot, someone else picks up his gun and goes on and does his duty.”

And when bribe recipients get caught and punished, their families often suffer.

***

In the Kfar Ganim Gimel neighborhood of Petach Tikva is a city block known as the Rosmarin Compound.  The Rosmarin Compound was totally vacant land (except for a hole in the ground where the foundation for an apartment building was being laid) when my wife and I made Aliyah six years ago.  Today, fourteen residential buildings have been erected in Rosmarin, including one in which my wife and I have purchased an apartment and now live.

But construction in the Rosmarin Compound has not been completed.  The City of Petach Tikva is now having constructed a school, an amphitheatre, and a sports hall (which was sufficiently completed to be used as a CoronaVirus injection site after using a Kupat Cholim facility in Petach Tikva proved to be too disruptive and impracticable).

A goodly percentage of the Compound residents are in on a Rosmarin WhatsApp chat group, and the predominant topic of the chats has been, by far, the detriment to our quality of life from the construction activity.  In addition to the ubiquitous construction dust which permeates the atmosphere and soils our automobiles, balconies, windows, and everything else, there is a constant parade of trucks which deliver construction materials and cart away the soil being excavated.

Of no less concern is the apparent deviation from the Compound plans shown to the purchasers of apartments here, including but not limited to the recent paving of a parking lot where the entrance to a green open space park should be.

The truck procession begins before 6:00 each morning, and the contractors’ activities reportedly deviate significantly from what is legally required of construction contractors (I have no expertise in this matter of Israeli law, but people who are familiar with the regulations have informed the WhatsApp group that the required measures to control the dust are lacking).

And, of course, the many householders who have young children have expressed concern over the contractors’ failure to properly close off the gates to the construction site; photographs of children playing on the big piles of dirt have been posted on the WhatsApp group (my wife and I have advanced beyond the parenting stage and into the grandparenting parsha, but I know what I did at the local construction sites in the old country when I was a little boy).

Not very long ago, there was a WhatsApp report of a building inspector from the city who just took a quick look and drove his car away, apparently ignoring an obvious blatant violation of the construction code.

***

The other salient “quality-of-life” issue on the Rosmarin WhatsApp is the “Hafganot,” the public demonstrations that occur from time to time near the Compound.  They occur near the Rosmarin Compound because Avichai Mandelblit, the Israeli Attorney-General, resides a few meters away from the Compound, and the demonstrators seek to impress their particular agendas upon Mandelblit’s office.

Never mind that the demonstrators get loud and disrupt the sleep cycles of infants and young children (and some adults as well), the police often block the Rosmarin residents from accessing their own homes. Within the past month, my wife, who is a physician at Beilinson Hospital, took nearly a whole hour to drive less than two kilometers home from her workplace because the police refused to allow her to drive down the only lane from which our building can be accessed, and kept on directing her to drive the care elsewhere until she finally convinced a police officer to allow her to drive the wrong way down the blocked (and therefore vacant) lane.  One can only shudder at the prospect of my wife (or any other healthcare professional) being called in to treat a patient on an emergency basis and being prevented from doing so by the police.

At another demonstration a few years ago, the police grudgingly allowed us to park on the side of the divided street opposite from our building – which would not have been so bad if my wife had not needed to use a walker on account of her ambulation issues at the time.

***

One of my mentors when I worked for the IRS would often admonish me to “think dirty!”  In a discussion with a colleague, it developed that we each had cases with similar issues (discussion of the particulars would now be appropriate), and our respective cases were each handled by the same law firm.  Taking my mentor’s advice, I suggested to my colleague that the respective taxpayers’ lawyers were embezzling their clients’ money.  My colleague was very skeptical, but my “think dirty” hunch was confirmed a few years after I handed in my badge to the IRS and went into private practice.

The Rosmarin Complex is, in a word, dirty.  So dirty that I have begun to “think dirty.”

[Again, this blogpost is not intended to level any charges of wrongdoing against anyone, but my having taken significant efforts during my career as a US Government employee to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest cannot help but bias me regarding Bibi, who, if he has attempted to appear impartial, has certainly not succeeded.].

The viability of Mandelblit’s “Case 4000” against Prime Minister Netanyahu now grows increasingly questionable. How ironic it would be if it were to develop that Mandelblit’s Case 4000 collapses, but that a real bribery case is now actively occurring only a few meters from Mandelblit’s own home!

About the Author
Born in Philadelphia, Kenneth lived on Long Island and made Aliyah to Israel. Professionally, he worked as a lawyer in the USA (including as an attorney for the Internal Revenue Service), a college professor and an analyst for the U.S. Department of Defense. He's also a writer and a traveler.
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