Sunday, November 23, 2008

FBI Involvement In The Springfield, Massachusetts "Towing Alliance" Scandal Photo,
J. Edgar Hoover Building

Ever since reading Peter Goonan's most recent article in The Republican, I've been trying to figure out what FBI Agent William T. Wittrock is doing in the middle of the mess with the Springfield Massachusetts Towing Alliance, an ongoing scandal which has hit this blog a few times...

Goonan didn't have a lot of info from the meeting, though not for lack of trying. So he wrote what he observed without adding speculation, exactly the way I used to teach my journalism students. And here is what Goonan observed:

1.) Agent Wittrock attended the Friday meeting of the Springfield city councilors and sat next to Towing Alliance President Robert L. Jones.

2.) Wittrock spoke to Jones in private after the meeting.

3.) The supervisor of the Springfield FBI office (how convenient to have one right in town!) isn't saying why Wittrock was there.

Reporter Peter Goonan, who deals in facts and not opinion, can't speculate. But I'm a blogger, and I can speculate.

And so I will. I did some digging about FBI Agent William T. Wittrock, and here is what I came up with. It's thin, but I think I reeled in a fish worth keeping.

White Collar Crime Involving Government Entities In Massachusetts

It's important to distinguish William T. Wittrock from the other folks who share the same name without the middle initial. There is a porn director named William Wittrock, but it's obviously not the same guy. The FBI special agent probably uses his middle initial for a very good reason, and I'm guessing the OTHER William Wittrock has something to do with it.

First of all, William T. Wittrock is--as one would expect of an FBI agent--a member of our nation's "best and brightest." In 1996, he won the first "Watt Award" at Canisius College. The award is given to recognize an "outstanding Communication Studies graduate." The brief article, click here, reveals Wittrock graduated from Canisius College in 1986, and by 1996 was working at the National Center for Earthquake Engineering Research at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

A scholarly document about earthquakes which Wittrock helped to produce is found online, too, entitled "Preliminary Reports From The Hyogo-ken Nambu Earthquake of January 17, 1995."
Wittrock was the Graphic Design person who helped produce the article.

At some point, Wittrock ended up working for the FBI. And that's where things get really interesting. Wittrock, who once (apparently) studied the dry, technical details of earthquakes, now digs into sex, lies, and the dirty cash of white collar crime. (Hmmm, you have to wonder if the OTHER William Wittrock might be a cousin from a common ancestor)

A "Zoom Info" profile on William T. Wittrock contains a link to an article in the Boston Herald, published January 20, 2005. The article is no longer online, but a snippet printed on Zoom Info names Wittrock as the FBI's lead investigator in "the MCDI case," and says he testified about something involving "time sheets submitted with Ortiz's name."

Using "MCDI" and "Ortiz" as search terms, the details of this scandal turn up quickly enough, and it happened right in Springfield, Massachusetts. According to this article, click here, Springfield's former police commissioner--Gerald Phillips--was found guilty of stealing thousands of dollars from a city-run job training school. The scam involved "no show" jobs, including one for a muffin wrapper who didn't show up for work, but received rent, utilities and grocery bill payments in exchange for providing sex to Gerald Phillips.

And much, much more.

So the FBI was in the middle of THAT mess, and so was Agent William T. Wittrock. The agent's name also comes up in a 2007 story about bus monitor jobs for special needs students, click here. The jobs were "no show" jobs where a paycheck was collected, but no work was done.

So we have the beginnings of a pattern: in two instances, Wittrock was involved in investigation of funds diverted from government entities; a city run jobs program and a school transportation program.

I'm guessing Wittrock is investigating some of the same allegations with the Towing Alliance mess.

Where The Speculative Rubber Meets The Road Of Reality

But now, having lined up my facts, I have an opportunity to speculate. First of all, the FBI doesn't just wander into a case. Somebody in authority calls the FBI, providing evidence of the need to get the agency involved. In the case of the towing alliance, a lot of financial records fell into the hands of the city, and money didn't add up. So it's possible somebody in the city contacted the FBI.

But there's another possibility. Maybe it was the Towing Alliance who contacted the FBI. The Towing Alliance is fighting for its life, and it's just POSSIBLE (I'm not saying LIKELY) the leadership of the Springfield Towing Alliance has information about payoffs being diverted, possibly even to public officials. In the unsavory position of fighting for its life, the Towing Alliance is likely to spill all the dirt, and let the chips fall where they may.

Only one fact makes me think in this way: William T. Wittrock sat NEXT TO Towing Alliance President Robert T. Jones at the public meeting.

Was this just an aggressive G-man approach to contact Jones, who was sure to be at that meeting? Sure, it's possible. Like an 800-pound gorilla, the FBI sits wherever it wants.

But usually, people who sit NEXT TO each other are communicating, cooperating. If I considered somebody a suspect, I'd be more likely to sit BEHIND them, or a few seats away where I could keep an eye on 'em. But then's not always possible to have a choice of seats at a public meeting. Who knows?

This much I'm sure of: we haven't heard the last of this. And I'd bet a bucket of used axle grease that word will come of an FBI investigation involving towing in Springfield, if not by the end of this year then early in the next year.

All of this just underscores my ultimate point: transparency and accountability is the only way to get the graft out of the towing industry, in Springfield or anywhere else.

But another piece of good advice: don't practice white collar crime in a city where there's an FBI headquarters. They won't have far to walk to start an investigation. And, hey, with a new president who captured the votes of the poor and the downtrodden...maybe it's the worst of all times to be involved in predatory towing scams. I hope so.

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