Monday, May 7, 2007

The Usual Suspects

It says a lot about a city when the candidates for mayor can compare notes on who has the more impressive rap sheet.

When city voters go to the polls this fall, they may be choosing between two mayoral candidates who've both had brushes with the law.

But several residents interviewed Friday said the candidates' stand on city issues is more important than past troubles. And both Republican Mayor Tim Julian and Democratic Common Councilman Frank Meola, D-4, said they would not raise the opposing candidate's prior arrest as an election issue.

The Observer-Dispatch and other media outlets have reported in the past on the arrests -- both at the time they occurred and subsequently when both men ran for political office.

•In 1995, state police charged Julian with felony criminal possession of stolen property while investigating two men who were selling stolen tools. Julian eventually pleaded down to a violation - the equivalent of a parking ticket - and paid a $250 fine.

As a violation, the file on the case is closed by statute. Julian said he didn't know the tools were stolen.

•In 2000, Meola and 25 other people were identified as participating in a Utica-based shoplifting ring that authorities said fenced more than $35 million worth of retail goods from stores in an 11-county area. Meola pleaded guilty to fourth-degree conspiracy, a felony.

Meola served no jail time for the offense and was placed on five years probation, but that ended after about two years because he'd complied with all the conditions of his sentence.

So there you have it. Tim "The Tool Man" Julian and Frank "Stickyfingers" Meola in a felonious face-off for the future of Utica. God help us all.

What I'd really like to see is an article taking a detailed look at what exactly happened in both cases, since there's a notable dearth of information on the subject. In Julian's case, as the O-D article points out, the same investigation that lead to his felony arrest also netted GOP Chairman Wayne Brooks. Oh, and they were both cuffed and processed by a relatively obscure state police major by the name of C. Allen Pylman.

Let that sink in. I'll wait.


Now that you've had some time to think about it I suspect you're just as curious as I am about what happened back in 1995. Sadly, the O-D doesn't provide any background by reprinting contemporary articles from the time of the arrests, which leaves a lot of questions unanswered and would, nudge, nudge, make for a great follow-up article. Who was the guy with the stolen tools? Where did he get them from? How did Brooks and Julian end up buying them? What did they buy and how much did they pay? How were they able to plead a felony arrest down to, amazingly, a violation?

These are all questions that I'm sure have very interesting answers.

Speaking of interesting answers, here's Mr. Meola explaining why being part of an organized crime ring shouldn't impact his chances of election:

Meola said his arrest is in the past and that he trusts voters will recognize how he's fought to improve the city.

"I've acknowledged what I did was wrong. Many good people, day-to-day, make mistakes," Meola said. "I hope we move on and don't dwell on the past. We all make mistakes and learn from them."

I'm a good person. I've made mistakes. But I think my lapsed inspection sticker kinda pales in comparison to a guy that was allegedly moving millions of dollars in stolen merchandise.

Again, the O-D doesn't provide any real background for the story and leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Considering both these guys want to be Mayor of the city, a position that brings with it control of millions of dollars, I'd sure like to know more about the actual case. What exactly was Mr. Meola's position within the crime ring? How long was he part of it? How much stolen merchandise did he actually handle? Which stores did Mr. Meola and his partners in crime steal from? Did he pay restitution to the merchants he ripped off? Did the crime ring he was part of have any ties to established organized crime families?

These are all questions that need to be answered, and I hope the O-D is up to the task. Both Julian and Meola need to be held accountable for their criminal activity, and writing off either incident as a "youthful indiscretion" is the worst kind of white washing. These guys were grown ups, not kids. Voters need to see the full picture of what they were involved in if they're going to make an informed choice this fall.

To be honest, I'm more uncomfortable with the idea of Mr. Meola holding any kind of elective office than Julian. And believe me, that's damning Julian with faint praise. Frank Meola was part of an organized group that ripped off people for millions of dollars. He was in deep, he was in for an extended period of time, and he was quite literally living a life of crime. Is it beyond the pale that his relationship with his former conspirators didn't end in 2000?