Opinion

The ripoffs and rotters of 2008 continue...

I thought I was all through with Ripoffs and Rotters for 2008, news stories about people who ripped off other people or businesses or organizations, and rotters, people who did things they ought to be ashamed of, but I found a few more that needed airing.

GIG HARBOR — The most ardent opponent of a new Tacoma Narrows toll bridge is costing toll payers thousands of dollars a month. The state Department of Transportation has hired a temporary employee to fulfill a massive public records request by Randy Boss of Gig Harbor. More than $10,000 was spent in September and October and the work could continue for a year, DOT said. Boss said he’s been asking for information that should have been provided a year ago for free to a citizen advisory committee that makes toll recommendations. He tried for 10 years to prevent the bridge being built, then fought to keep costs and tolls low. What he’s seeking is the invoices for an account that shows every dollar put in to operate the bridge and every dollar paid out. DOT said there could be 25,000 of them.

SUMNER — A Sumner man who falsely claimed to be a Vietnam-era war hero pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Seattle to making false claims of military service, awards and decorations. Steve Bennest, 57, in applying to the Veterans Affairs’ Seattle office to be compensated for alleged post-traumatic stress disorder, falsely asserted he had been awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. Bennest served in the Army between 1969 and 1972, but did not earn either of those medals, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. He faces a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

TACOMA — A Federal Aviation Administration employee and his half brother were charged in federal court in Tacoma with carrying out a four-year illegal shopping spree, defrauding the government of millions of dollars of public property, including a Forest Service airplane, nearly 10 trucks, two boats and dozens of tools and computers. FAA employee Steven B. Smith, aided by half brother Bradley Garner, accessed federal excess property Web sites in Tacoma, Puerto Rico, California, Florida, New Hampshire and Minnesota and claimed property on behalf of the FAA, which they put to their own use.

DENVER — Invited to sing the national anthem before the Denver mayor’s annual state of the city address, jazz singer René Marie instead sang the lyrics of the song known as the black national anthem. It was an artistic expression about being a black American, she said, and she had decided months ago to no longer sing the national anthem, but did not tell the mayor and “pulled a switcheronnie.” City officials were outraged and even Barack Obama declared, “We have only one national anthem and if she was asked to sing the national anthem, she should have sung that.”

ARLINGTON — The owners of a Stillaguamish tribal smoke shop pleaded guilty to federal felony charges of cheating the state out of $25.7 million in taxes by selling millions of contraband cigarettes. Two former tribal chairs, Ed Goodridge Sr., 60, and his son, Ed. Jr., 33, wife Linda Goodridge, 59, and cousin Sara Schroedl, 40, admitted to selling more than 1.8 million cartons of cigarettes without state tax stamps at the Blue Stilly smoke shop on Stillaguamish tribal land near Arlington. They agreed to forfeit $1 million in cash and 5.3 million cigarettes and are free until sentencing in March when they have a plea agreement that the government will ask for only 18 months in prison.

WASHINGTON — Christopher Ward, treasurer for a Republican congressional fund raising committee, pocketed $740,000 over five years by submitting forged audit reports, according to a lawyer brought in to investigate. The FBI is on the case.

Adele Ferguson can be reached at P.O. Box 69, Hansville, WA 98340.

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