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Lipsky's afterlife: an exemption for ex-cons advising unions (and a question about rehabilitation)

Richard Lipsky, the former lobbyist convicted of bribery, got a break.

(Remember, Lipsky lobbied for Forest City Ratner, and paid bribes to corrupt state Senator Carl Kruger, another Atlantic Yards supporter, though none of the admitted crimes involved the project. Kruger was caught on tape having very chummy conversations with Forest City External Affairs VP Bruce Bender, who requested state money for Atlantic Yards but instead got it for a Prospect Park project.)

The New York Times told us 12/22/16, in Ex-Prisoners Get an Advocate From Their Own Ranks, that Lipsky, who's advocated for criminal justice reform since his guilty plea and brief three-month sentence, won the battle for an exemption from a law that bars those guilty of crimes including bribery, from advising unions until 13 years later.

Federal Judge Jed Rakoff, who gave Lipsky such a short sentence in light of publicly unexplained cooperation with prosecutors (see sentencing memo), agreed to the exemption, despite opposition from the U.S. Labor Department, which (according to the Times) said the former lobbyist had failed to “clearly demonstrate” rehabilitation and thus couldn't be “trusted not to endanger the organizations in the position he seeks.”

Rakoff wrote that, by waiting, that would cost the 69-year-old Lipsky the time he'd have to work.

Lipsky has already worked for a foundation on criminal justice reform, and would advise the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union on such policy issues.

Big bribes, but acknowledgement?

Well, it's good that Lipsky aims to work constructively on these issues, and is no longer slinging criticism and contempt toward Atlantic Yards opponents and critics. And I don't know all the details.

But Lipsky did pay Carl Kruger between $120,000 and $200,000 in bribes in less than three years. That's not chump change.

But Lipsky's public presentation, at least in two examples, seems to have soft-pedaled the crime. In an op-ed for Crain's last April, What I learned after my arrest for bribery: Our system is broken, Lipsky made some cogent points. But he also wrote:
I speak from personal experience. For more than 30 years, I lobbied on behalf of the under-represented in New York—often neighborhoods and small businesses. Along the way, I upset plenty of power brokers. But my decades of professional achievement were forever tarnished four years ago when I was arrested for conspiring to bribe New York state Sen. Carl Kruger in return for him lending support to some of my clients.
Yet, eight months after I was arrested and threatened with a 20-year prison sentence, a remarkable about-face took place. On close examination of what I had done, prosecutors told my lawyers that they didn’t believe I belonged in prison. I eventually did serve 90 days.
Yes, as Lipsky wrote, his "career was ruined at an extreme emotional and financial cost." That's significant.

But I don't think prosecutors' leniency stemmed from rethinking the wrongness of Lipsky's underlying acts, but rather his willingness to offer what they called "substantial assistance" in this and other prosecutions. Also, he pleaded guilty not just to conspiring to bribe Kruger, but to actually bribing him.

In January 2015, Lipsky wrote an op-ed for the Daily News, Prosecutors like Preet Bharara are politicians, too.

Those observations were wise, but Lipsky's self-description as "someone who was himself caught up (and eventually pled guilty in the Southern District) in the grinding gears of the prosecutorial state" sounds like he thinks he was wrongly prosecuted.

Similarly, the biographical note--"Two years ago, he spent 90 days in a federal prison camp"--almost sounds like Lipsky spent time investigating as an anthropologist rather than as a prisoner serving a sentence.

By the way, Crain's reported in October 2012 that "Lipsky will get to spend his short stint in the cushiest federal prison in New York," Otisville. Kruger's still there. Forbes called it one of the country's ten cushiest prisons.

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