Defend democracy in the South.

The New York Times this morning highlights the story of North Carolinian Robert J. Stein, "who was charged yesterday with accepting kickbacks and bribes as a comptroller and financial officer for the American occupation authority in Iraq was hired despite having served prison time for felony fraud in the 1990's."

I'm all for giving ex-cons a second chance, but putting them in control over $82 million in cash earmarked for Iraqi rebuilding projects? Can't be good:

But the list of charges does little justice to the astonishing brazenness of the accusations described in the complaint, including a wire transfer of a $140,000 bribe, arranged by Mr. Bloom, to buy real estate for Mr. Stein in North Carolina. The affidavit also says that $65,762.63 was spent to buy cars for Mr. Stein and his wife (he bought a Chevrolet; she a Toyota), $44,471 for home improvements and $48,073 for jewelry, out of $258,000 sent directly to the Bragg Mutual Federal Credit Union into accounts controlled by the Steins. [...]

Much of this money was intended for Iraqi construction projects like building a new police academy in the ancient city of Babylon and rehabilitating the library in Karbala, the southern city that is among the holiest sites for Shiite Muslims.

The government happened upon Stein's misdeeds as the result of a "sweeping probe" of rebuilding contracts led by Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. It's good they've exposed this, although this statement seems a bit much:

"The reconstruction of Iraq is, and must be, built on a foundation of integrity and honest business dealings," said Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher in a statement.

Yes, where could have Stein gotten the idea that graft, fraud and abuse in their Iraq contract dealings was ok?

Chris Kromm

Chris Kromm chriskromm

Chris Kromm is executive director of the Institute for Southern Studies and publisher of the Institute's online magazine, Facing South.

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