Lawmaker gets caught reading!
Newspaper assails lawmaker for
buying and reading books
An open letter to Amanda Bennett,
editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer
Rep. Mark Cohen
Posted May 14, 2006 -- Editor's note: Readers of this page know that Pennsylvania state Rep. Mark Cohen (D-Philadelphia) has provided invaluable assistance in seeking answers to the disappearances of prosecutors Jonathan Luna and Ray Gricar. In April 2006, Rep. Cohen was attacked by the Philadelphia Inquirer, in part, for purchasing and reading The Midnight Ride of Jonathan Luna. The Inquirer moreover chose to ignore Cohen's research and work on this important subject.
We find this rather odd. Even as our libraries, schools and publishers are sponsoring "Get caught reading" campaigns, showing lawmakers and civic leaders reading books, the editors of the Philadelphia Inquirer obviously prefers we only read their pages.
In response, Yardbird writer and editor Bill Keisling on April 18, 2006, wrote the following letter to Amanda Bennett, editor and executive vice president of the Inquirer. To date, the Inquirer has not published or even acknowledged Keisling's letter. Anyone out there? All this comes at a time of increasing problems at the Philadelphia Inquirer. In recent months, the once-great daily newspaper has been sold, and will soon be resold, like a bad penny.
The Inquirer, one argument goes, essentially lost touch with the community it aspires to serve. Those of us who have observed the Inquirer's precipitous decline over the past several decades note two other contributing factors: its longtime owners at Knight Ridder grew disinterested in the paper; and, of much deeper concern, a shameful campaign was launched by Pennsylvania judges to sue the Inquirer into silence. These essentially un-American libel suits, brought by Pennsylvania judges, and other friends of the court, resulted in judgments worth tens of millions of dollars against the Inquirer, and had the added effect (certainly intended) of silencing smaller Pennsylvania publishers. It used to be, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." These days, the lights have been turned off in the kitchen. And so a once-great institution, and a once-robust and diverse press in Pennsylvania, is brought to heel. Toss in the unchecked buy-outs of newspapers and radio stations by large conglomerates, and you have the shameful and frightening mess we find ourselves in today. Pity the young reporters, who have no idea what it was like when editorial ran the ship, and not the bean counters. It was the life of kings, H.L. Mencken once crowed. Now it's the life of pawns.
So here's an obit of sorts for the Inky, and our lost City of Brotherly Love. Believe it or not, Philadelphia once was the center of book publishing in the New World. It doesn't help that there seems these days to be no institutional memory of our past glories, let alone our current problems, and how we got here. (Must we now really suggest the importance of reading and publishing books?) The March/April, 2006, issue of the Columbia Journalism Review, interestingly, features an article, titled "Looking for Light," describing only some of the long-standing troubles at the Inquirer. The Inquirer's editors may be "Looking for Light," but they certainly haven't spent much ink or shoe leather looking for the killers of Ray Gricar and Jonathan Luna. Why is that? Columbia journalism school teacher Michael Shapiro writes that editor Bennett, "believed that the Inquirer was 'not tremendously engaged' in the region; it was missing too many stories it should have seized upon."
Writer Bill Keisling's letter to editor Bennett reads as follows:
Ms. Amanda Bennett
Editor and Executive Vice President
The Philadelphia Inquirer
400 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19101
RE: Letter to the editor, publication requested
Dear Ms. Bennett,
On his death bed in 1492, Lorenzo de Medici, the great patron of art and of his beloved city Florence, called in a priest to administer spiritual consolation. Instead of absolution for a life well spent, Lorenzo received Savonarola, who, it's written, condemned Lorenzo to burn in hell.
That this account survives at all of course is a wonder. What followed Lorenzo's death was the Bonfire of the Vanities, in which great piles of books and works of art were burned in the streets of Florence. It's said that even artists such as Sandro Botticelli willingly destroyed some of their finest work in the flames.
And so it is with disbelief in the year 2006, the three hundredth anniversary of the birth of printer Benjamin Franklin, I read in the Philadelphia Inquirer what amounts to a scathing attack on a state lawmaker who has the temerity to purchase and read books.
In fact, in your April 11 and 13, 2006 editions, you note that state Rep. Mark Cohen purchased 20 copies of my book The Midnight Ride of Jonathan Luna. Some of these books, you note without explanation, were passed out to members of law enforcement.
Today's corporate media: Chasing the bucks, ignoring public problems, dumb and insisting others get dumber?
In the interest of fairness to Rep. Cohen, I would like to point out some important omissions in your article. More importantly, I would like to praise Rep. Cohen, not only for the purchase of my book, but for taking a courageous stand on matters of vital importance to the people of Pennsylvania, and Philadelphia.
A little background here, I think, is important for your readers. Among the issues raised by my book, which tells the story behind the brutal murder of federal prosecutor Luna, are serious allegations of systemic public corruption in Pennsylvania, and Maryland.
The subject of my book, Mr. Luna, was found brutally murdered, stabbed and drowned, a half mile from a private Pennsylvania Turnpike access road in December, 2003. Early on, in the course of researching my book, questions naturally arose as to who might have keys to this turnpike access road, as well as the quality of overall security on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. It wasn't long before I heard unsettling concerns about a turnpike security provider.
The Schaad Detective Agency of York, PA, holds several important public security contracts with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. These include security contracts with the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, and the Liquor Control Board. A troubling picture quickly began to emerge about the practices of the Schaad Detective Agency, and its principals. For example, one state employee told me he witnessed Schaad security personnel leave bags of collected turnpike toll money sitting out overnight in an unprotected area. But lax financial controls are the least of public and official concerns about Schaad.
In my book, I write that the former police commissioner of York, PA, Herbert Grofscik, and other public officials in York, have received, and have officially (yet ineffectively) acted upon, credible allegations that a York man named Russell Wantz has long-time, close associations with alleged operators and of an ongoing prostitution ring. This sex ring is further alleged to have links to organized crime. This prostitution ring, incredibly, at various times, has been run from the York County courthouse. Wantz, it turns out, is the owner of the Schaad Detective Agency, the Pennsylvania Turnpike's security provider.
Retreat of bad womans: York, Pennsylvania boasts a long and colorful history with prostitution. An industrial town, York long tolerated a sex trade that serviced its working men. The town didn't always look the other way. This drawing by 19th century York artist Lewis Miller shows a mob destroying a York house of ill repute, while the women are driven away. Miller's margin notes read, "In Queen Street, the Retreat of Bad Womans," while one Joseph Fahs treats "the boys to wine for the good work."
Click the illustration to enlarge (+)
Just as incredibly, this York County courthouse sex ring for years has been run with impunity, at least in part, by individuals with close ties to the York County District Attorney's office. When you talk with locals in York about the not-too-secret sex ring, one name that keeps popping up in connection with these allegations is security provider Wantz, who also enjoys sweetheart contracts with the DA's office.
This long-running courthouse prostitution and sex ring caters to well-heeled community and business leaders in York, in the heart of south central Pennsylvania. In the late 1990s, activities involving this sex ring resulted in the mysterious deaths of two of the men who supplied women, and the ultimate state prosecution of State Senator Dan Delp, who himself was caught with a 19-year-old prostitute supplied by the courthouse sex ring. This sex ring is brazenly known by its members as The Reciprocity Club.
Former State Sen. Delp was himself a close friend and protege of York County District Attorney Stanley Rebert. At least two judges, law enforcement officials, and members of the district attorney's staff, and their supporters, have furthermore been implicated in this not-too-secret sex ring. Charming activities of the Reciprocity Club include "greased pig night," where scantily clad or naked women try to catch a greased pig in a rented bar, and Ski Roundtop night, where naked prostitutes are served up as if they are menu items on formal dinnerware at a popular local ski resort.
Another favorite activity of this sex club, I'm told, is a bizarre sex ritual involving the tying of young women to a carnival type wheel. The wheel is spun, and the man who guesses the correct number wins sex with the young woman.
Most upsetting of all, concerned citizens of York complain they can do nothing to stop these activities, or to even get this matter properly investigated. The state attorney general, Tom Corbett, for example, recently supported the time-honored, business-as-usual approach when he announced that he would not investigate allegations involving criminal misconduct made by a female chief county detective formerly employed by DA Rebert -- unless Mr. Rebert himself requests such as investigation. Citizens literally have no where to go with their concerns. That's the real story here.
Among those who have shared their deep frustration with me on this matter is Jim Sneddon, the former editor and publisher of the York Dispatch, an afternoon daily. Sneddon says he suspects that he was fired from his newspaper post in the late 1990s when he bravely attempted to expose the courthouse sex ring, involving as it does community leaders (i.e. prominent newspaper advertisers), and DA staff. Mr. Sneddon is currently the controller of the city of York.
Simply put, York citizens are victims of systemic corruption, which prevents them from getting the help they need to investigate allegations of everything from murder to the courthouse sex ring. Even their own newspapers, fearful of retaliation or legal action filed in the same sex-scandalized courthouse, now turn a blind eye to these problems.
All of this I wrote about in The Midnight Ride of Jonathan Luna.
Rep. Mark Cohen, to his credit, took the time to learn about these outrages and took immediate action.
Taking Ms. Cramer to jail: In this illustration, York artist Lewis Miller recounts that a certain Ms. Cramer was taken "to jail for her bad conduct, by the constable in 1809."
Click the illustration to enlarge (+)
Upon publication of my book, I set out to find help in Harrisburg. I felt somewhat like Diogenes of old, searching with a lamp in daylight for an honest man. I bumped into Rep. Cohen at the state capitol building. Rep. Cohen immediately volunteered to send a copy of my book to State Police Commissioner Colonel Jeffrey B. Miller, along with a request that turnpike security provider Wantz, the Schaad Detective Agency, and the York County courthouse sex ring be thoroughly investigated. To Rep. Cohen's credit, an investigation has been half-heartedly launched by the state police, though those concerned complain it is neither serious nor thorough. The courthouse sex ring roles on, and the Schaad Detective Agency to date has eluded serious inquiry.
Even so, Rep. Cohen was one of the few public officials to take any interest or serious action in this matter. Likewise, Rep. Cohen has taken a much-needed role in drawing attention to the strange disappearances and apparent murders of assistant U.S. Attorney Luna, and Centre County DA Ray Gricar.
Others have prided themselves on doing and knowing nothing, in what amounts to official support for organized crime. (Many in York suspect that the prostitutes, drugs and growing violence imported into York County are controlled by Pennsylvania crime factions associated with the Genovese, Gambino and/or Columbo crime families.)
For one example, in early 2005 I wrote York County District Judge John S. Kennedy about courthouse corruption matters, including the sickening reports of the carnival sex wheel, and his brethren's alleged involvement in the sex club. Judge Kennedy was mentioned in a 2005 federal civil lawsuit concerning courthouse misdeeds. Public corruption in York, I wrote Judge Kennedy, "involves, but is not limited to, prostitution, pandering, murder, influence peddling, and failure of public officials such as yourself to uphold the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the United States of America, to the determent and endangerment of innocent citizens, especially children, and young women."
Judge Kennedy predictably, for York, took no corrective action, in clear violation of Pennsylvania's unenforced judicial canon. Instead, Judge Kennedy swore in, and continues to protect, one of the alleged perpetrators of wrongdoing, a legally unqualified county detective whose local claim to fame was an unsuccessful attempt to elude a drunk driving charge. Moreover, Judge Kennedy recently granted a court motion made by state security provider Wantz to intimidate and punish a whistleblower.
In York, PA, a system of supposed safeguards has totally broken down. In backwater hellholes like York, The System instead works like this: if you go along, you're protected and promoted. If you complain about the endangerment of children, murder, courthouse sex clubs, organized crime and the like, you're punished. So organized crime flourishes. Make no mistake: that's what the old-boy network wants. Why do you think they call it The Reciprocity Club?
Like other Americans, I've come to see that our prohibitively expensive and complicated courts increasingly do not serve justice. Instead, our courts have degenerated into instruments of fear and darkness, not truth and exposition. The job ultimately falls to our fourth estate, our free press, our writers living in this free society, to expose these problems. As the Inquirer's great editor Gene Roberts used to presciently warn us, it's not the sound we have to fear, but the silence.
To break this ghastly and criminal cycle of know-nothing and do-nothing fear and intimidation, the public must feel free to buy and read books and newspapers.
York, Pennsylvania is an industrial town which has long tolerated a sex trade that historically serviced lonely working men. The problem for us now is that the unchecked contagion of York, PA, has spread to broader Pennsylvania. While others, most curiously the majority of the Pennsylvania press, have turned a blind eye and remain silent to our growing problems of public corruption, Rep. Mark Cohen has spoken out, and acted. Cohen is properly to be commended, not vilified.
I'd make several other points. I believe that, rather than protecting Pennsylvania government security providers from thorough investigation, we as a society instead should protect the privacy of all our citizens to speak out freely, and to read and buy books and other material of our choosing.
I'd make the small point that yearly subscriptions to daily newspapers such as The New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer cost in the hundreds of dollars. Many lawmakers and their offices, I know, subscribe to these newspapers. Rather than pillorying these readers as spendthrifts, we instead should allow all of our citizens, including our lawmakers, to subscribe, read and contemplate a wide range of material of their choosing, in private.
It's not the books Rep. Cohen was after; it's the information. If anyone should know this, it should be a journalist. We need all the information we can get to make informed, intelligent decisions. It's a closed-minded, "guild mentality" that allows you to imagine that only a blind-folded, corporate press has all the relevant information -- "All the news that we see fit to print."
The real corrupter of present-day American politics, to be sure, involves the hundreds of millions of dollars raised by politicians for their political campaigns. Where does this money go?
The lion's share of these political contributions of course find their way into the coffers of our increasingly monopolistic and detached media conglomerates, to buy newspaper and television advertising.
It is in the cool blue pale fire of our television sets, and the cynical indifference of our newspaper pages, that today's bonfire of the vanities smolder, in muted, mournful threnody, truly threatening Ben Franklin's America.
Hon. Allen D. Biehler, Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation
Hon. Jonathan H. Newman, Chairman, Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board
Hon. Mitchell Rubin, Chairman, Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission
Hon. Donald L. Patterson, Pennsylvania Inspector General
Thomas C. Black, Judicial Conduct Board of Pennsylvania