Friday, April 1, 2011

Sticky Fingers

The thing about Arizona corruption is that it's pretty straight forward. Other than Ned Warren's byzantine land deals back in the 60's and 70's, our crooks don't really exhibit much inventiveness. This makes it much easier to follow their crimes--that is, if anyone is paying attention.

John Junker, former CEO of the Fiesta Bowl, is the latest poster boy for Arizona corruption.

The Fiesta Bowl is a big deal. (I read that somewhere.) It's a big deal because it allegedly pumps $200 million into the local economy every year. Just between you and me, I do not believe for one moment that that figure is accurate. A quick fingering of the old abacus tells me that if it were, it would mean that everyone who attends the game must spend about 5 grand each while they're here. Seems a little high, doesn't it? And whatever amount the bowl actually generates, I'm guessing that no more than a fifth, and probably closer to a tenth, of it actually stays in the Valley.

But what do I know? Some expert economists have been paid a lot of money to explain to us disbelievers just how important it is to have The Fiesta Bowl, or the Insight Bowl, or any bowl for that matter. And who am I to argue with "expert economists"? (The underlying theory seems to be that no one will come to the Valley of the Sun in the winter unless there's a college football game to attend. And so all of that money would stay in winter wonderlands like Pittsburgh, Dubuque, or Omaha.)

The Fiesta Bowl's stated goals include "assisting education and being a source of pride for all Arizonans". Well, mission accomplished! Its Board of Directors is made up of some very important people and like most boards they don't do much of anything. Oh, there are functions to attend, and photo ops, and the various perks that come with being on a board, and maybe even the occasional board meeting. But for the most part, they mind their own business. After all, these are important people and they have other important things to do. Besides, the bowl has a large well paid staff, headed by the aforementioned Mr. Junker, who do all of the day to day stuff.

Apparently the day to day stuff included what could be called "bribes", and the misuse of expense accounts on an impressively large scale. Of course, the board is shocked, shocked, to find out that that sort of activity is taking place.

Now, as I am fond of saying, let he who is without sin among you cast the first stone. Let's not be naive here, of course you have to bribe people. What is crony capitalism if not a system of bribes? This good old boy greases the palm of that good old boy and stuff gets done. So and so plays golf with such and such, they have a nice dinner, a few drinks, later they end up at a strip club, because, well, boys will be boys. Now who's going to pay for all that? Well, their employer, naturally. Because they're working. And from such arduous labor much wealth flows...allegedly.

Furthermore, if a politician is in a position to help the Fiesta Bowl, it would be a foolish, indeed reckless, business practice to not "help" that politician in any way possible. And if some busy body do-gooder has erected barriers (i. e. laws) to stop you from helping your friends, then by God it's your moral obligation to find ways around these barriers (i.e. laws). After all, what kind of person doesn't help his friends? A bad person, that's what kind.

And sometimes you might even help people who aren't your friends in the hopes that they might become your friends. That's called being an optimist. What's that old saying? "A stranger is only a friend you haven't spent thousands of dollars on yet."

I guess once you get in the habit of handing out a lot of cash, it's hard to stop. And finding yourself sitting on about $22 million, with incredibly lax accounting procedures overseeing it, well, a fellow just feels entitled, indeed obligated, to help himself to his fair share. And maybe some more, just for luck.

So John Junker got a little carried away and began spending the bowl's money like a drunken sailor. Five thousand here, ten thousand there, and my personal favorite, thirty thousand plus for his own birthday party. Come on, he's only human. Admit it, you'd do the same if you could get your hands on that kind of loot. In his defense, it was his 50th birthday. And you only have one 50th birthday, so you better have a big party. Otherwise people might think you're a loser. And the CEO of the Fiesta Bowl is not, cannot be, a loser. (I don't remember what we did for my 50th birthday. Probably something with Mexican food, tequila, and a cake from Safeway. Come to think of it, there might have been balloons, too.)

I'm not sure how good the Fiesta Bowl is for the local economy. But it was very good for John Junker and his friends.

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