Archive for the ‘Worcester’ Category

No Need to Keep Tamerlan Alive

May 8th, 2013

stonebonesWhile it might amuse those who know me to read it, I sometimes feel I lack self-control…st least in stifling myself in commenting.

I’ve been pretty good staying away from the brothers Tsarnaev matters, despite my many thoughts and feelings. Ryan and I did riff a bit on it at the very beginning of our most recent Left Ahead show, which actually introduced the Boston mayoral contest.

I can quickly get my fill of spite and bile from protesters interviewed on the news in Worcester or Boston, or if I can stomach it, reading the comments in any related Boston Herald article. More surprising have been the preemptive moves by the nearby government officials. The Worcester cops are piling (can we say pig piling?) it on Peter Stefan, the noble funeral director who has had the guts to take the body and work for its burial by saying he owes them $30,000 for doing their jobs. That is, they directed traffic and such around the protests by his establishment. This has whiffs of when the Boston police encouraged attacking the Sacco/Vanzetti corpse transfers from the North End to Forest Hills for cremation. Self-righteousness has no place behind badges and guns.

Stefan has a long career of such as burying AIDS-related corpses and those of gang-violence victims when no one else would help their loved ones in fatal crisis. He deserves respect, not reviling. He’s one of the good guys.

Then in Cambridge, City Manager Robert Healy and in Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino each preemptively said publicly not to consider asking those cities to find a burial spot. Eh? I don’t know Healy, but I do know and like Menino. Such a position is beneath him.

At least some at the Globe have a more historically and humanitarian and reality based view. Consider Adrian Walker’s column today that in effect says bury the elder Tsarnaev brother, let the story fade from the news and give some peace and a little closure to those affected. A fitting companion piece by Peter Schworm cites how other hated mass murderers, child molesters and such were quickly and quietly planted without endless public drama and ceaseless coverage.

The classic message for no rest to the wicked is holding around here. Think the multiple places in Isiah, such as 57:20, But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.

If MA history holds, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will be convicted of the Marathon bombings, he will get life without possibility of parole instead of execution, and he will die in prison not too long away — either by his own hand or that of another inmate. That’s what we do here with the infamous and despised.

Given my classics background, my first thoughts when so many began making so much of the disposition of the corpse was to reflect on Plato’s Phaedo, describing the last hours of Socrates’ life. The philosopher had the long view and made sport with follower Crito over what he viewed as petty concerns about his corpse.

With death pending for Socrates, Crito tried to be helpful and respectful, going for the mundane details. He even asked, “How shall we bury you.” The old wag started with a joke — “Just as you please. if only you can catch me, and I do not escape from you.”

Then he got more to the point. He said not to refer to the body as Socrates. It will be just a body and not the person. Thus usual or customary disposal is fine. “You must have a good courage, then, and say that you bury my body, and bury it in such a manner as is pleasing to you, and as you think is most agreeable to our laws.”

So it is here. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died three and one half weeks ago. Only those who involve themselves in keeping him alive to the public through their arrogant and self-centered proclamations cannot let him die.

The Precipitous End of Ed Mattar

April 14th, 2008

Time to call the FBI special agent or U.S. Attorney in Denver, as I have every six months. I won’t have to anymore. My guy leapt to his death.

Mattar and BallTwenty-seven stories to the concrete, breaking a small tree on the way down, don’t belong in the cry-for-help class. Edward Paul Mattar, III, J.D. had something more definitive in mind on Friday, November 2, 2007.

Ed is left in this picture and I’m on the right. That was inside the jacket of the book we did together 22 years ago. It was McGraw-Hill’s Handbook for Corporate Directors. He was editor-in-chief, which in this case meant that he identified 61 subject matter experts and topics for his assistant to acquire a chapter from each for the book. I was coordinating editor, which meant that I edited, wrote or ghosted the chapters. Also, I am an absolute freak about indices, so I indexed it, a task that generally falls to a contractor who knows little or nothing of the contents.

I, Me, Mine

The Ed I knew was always working the edges and middle simultaneously. He’d do anything to ensure an advantage and a favorable outcome…for himself.

A college chum of mine who had moved to Worcester called me up laughing about Mattar a lot of years ago. Ed was the lead on the front of the local paper’s business section. The article featured the handbook, but did not mention me. The accompanying staff photo showed Ed sitting at his desk holding the book. He expertly covered my name without obscuring his own at all. I too thought it pretty funny, as well as classic Ed.

Ed had earned a solid reputation there for turning around Worcester College. They brought him in as a consultant in 1977 to close it down. Instead, he convinced local businesses to send employees there and rescued it financially. He became president of the renamed Central New England College.

That seems to have been his career’s high water mark. The Rocky Mountain News published a litany of his failures, replete with multiple accusations of fraud and swindling. They cite a trail of educational then financial institution collapses attributed to him in Maine, Rhode Island and Colorado, as well as Worcester. He resigned from Central New England, which somehow was suddenly $14 million in debt and described kindly as having financial irregularities.

People who dealt with him in Denver had unpleasant eipthets for him — a total jerk, abrupt and rude, very arrogant, strange in a lot of different ways. A bank consultant said, “He gave you this gut feeling that something wasn’t right.” Likewise, our mutual McGraw-Hill project manager said, “I don’t know what it is. He always makes me feel like I just peed in my suit.”

College to Court

On that handbook, we got along fine, largely because his assistant did the actual acquisitions work that he credited himself with doing. As a former newspaper reporter doing his first book, it never entered my mind that we would miss any deadlines. I had a full-time magazine job, but did this work evenings and weekends. When I turned it in to McGraw-Hill, Bill Sabin, the head of the division said that he had never gotten or heard of a handbook coming in on schedule. These are honking big books. I suppose if you don’t know any better, you can just do something.

In the two-year project, I did not become attached to Ed, but did and do feel an emotional tie to the handbook.

I saw a news article that briefly mentioned Mattar’s being under indictment in Colorado for bank fraud and conspiracy to do all manner of nasty things. That inspired me to ask around and connect with the U.S. Attorney’s and FBI offices there.

I was amazed at the timeline. See the BestBank history in brief at the Boulder Daily Camera‘s Banker commits suicide. Accusations started in 1995, a $30 million mystery loss and forced bank closing in 1998, a grand jury investigation in 1999, federal indictment in 2005, convictions in 2007, and sentencing for Mattar last November.

According to the agent and attorney, this is not unusual in fraud cases involving large amounts of money. Lawyers know how to drag things out and just maybe get a better deal or a reversal.

That was not in the works for Ed. He had escaped from the Northeast, but not Denver. He and his convicted co-conspirators were found guilty of 15 of 95 original counts. Two got 10 years each in federal prison; another two got 7½ each.

Ed was forever the big shot and this time he was the centerpiece. He could plan on 14 to 30 years in prison. Prosecutors asked for the 14 years for the 68-year-old. In addition, while he likely still had a few million, they asked that he forfeit $4.7 million, plus make restitution of $134 million.

He did not have that kind of money and had no way to get it. He was looking at possibly whiling the rest of his impoverished life in prison.

Scrubbing Ed

In what is apparently a standard sentencing procedure, prosecutors are certain to drop his charges eventually. The concept seems to be that even though he was convicted and cut deals on some charges, he would no longer be able to help in any appeals. So the others will have criminal records and likely never be able to work in finance again. Because he died between conviction and sentencing, he would be the only one with a clean record in the end.

Instead, 11 hours before his sentencing, at about 3:30 a.m., he took a sledgehammer to his window. I immediately wondered whether he bought or stole that for this purpose or perhaps had a sledge for work in some vacation home. It is an odd image to think of the always business-suited Ed lugging such a blue-collar implement in the elevator of his rich folk’s high-rise in the middle of Denver.

He had no spouse, but his older brother, Norman is an attorney in Buffalo. Apparently no family members attended any hearings or trial sessions. However, his brother defended Ed after the fact:

He thought he was wrongly accused because he had hired all kinds of people from the banking industry to be present and make sure they were following all the regulations. He wasn’t really a banker himself. He thought everything was perfect.

Ed was singularly nonathletic and grew increasingly eggplant shaped. There’s a bit of drollery in his using a sledgehammer to break his picture window so that he could leap. The intensity of sensations he had to feel in his last instants was not what I would have imagined for him. He seemed to have been more a sleeping-pill sort. Then again, in a bizarre way, throwing himself from the window must have given him a sense of control at the very end.

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Jimmy Breslin Pounds a UU

February 15th, 2008

On Point on WBUR is not normally a yuck-fest. Today, though, I caught the Jimmy Bresllin segment while driving. It’s worth listening to for the first caller, a UU minister.

This show will be online shortly here. This entry is cross-posted at Marry in Massachusetts.

As a disclaimer, I admit that I’m a long-term UU. I even drive the cult car, a Volvo sedan. Also, I am a former journalist and as someone whose high-school tenure was exactly the same as Breslin’s three years writing columns for the New York Herald Tribune. We got the local paper, the NY Times and the Trib daily. I”d start with the Breslin column any day it ran. So, I can identify with both self-righteous UUs and newspaper writers, and of course, Breslin in particular.

I nestled in when I heard that he’d be on talking about his latest collection of Mob Tales, The Good Rat: A True Story, and taking listener calls. I got an extra charge when Tom Ashbrook rushed the introduction to start taking calls and the first caller was someone I’d met.

That would be Rev. Aaron Payson. His a big guy who dresses colorfully. He’s the minister at the UU Church of Worcester. He’s the other type of UU minister.

About half of them are slight and wiry with close cropped gray beards. Payson is the other kind — tall and chunky, smiling with dreadful sincerity.

We met in Worcester in court at the Larry Cirignano trial last fall. Payson was a witness for the prosecution, as well as a friend of the victim. He attended the whole trial and we chatted on occasion in the chamber and outside. We’re not buddies.

I do have a full enough sense of him to see my lefty politics racing behind his eyes, eager to assert themselves in conversation. That he did with Breslin…failing miserably several times.

Payson started with a longish assertion disguised as a question. It tangentially keyed off Breslin’s long journalistic and fictive association with the Mafia. Payson’s routine had two points:

  • Does writing about the Mob, treating them as entertainment, do society a disservice?
  • If the Mafia killings and such are somehow justified and humanized, does that lead to excusing the bloodshed of such adventurism as the current Iraq war?

Breslin was born in 1930 and has seen and done a lot. As far as I know, gangsters threatened him many times for his coverage, but only beat him severely once. As well as well writing, he’s extremely well read and is very thoughtful. He’d have none of Payson’s UU syllogisms.

I have no doubt that Payson rides those violence horses around his nave and in his living room. As a UU of more than 20 years, I am puffy and pedantic like that often as well.

Breslin noted that not only is violence one of the few mainstays of our entertainment, that has long been true. He said something to the effect that William Shakespeare had the stage littered with bodies before the end of many of his first acts.

Payson kept coming back. Breslin kept pushing back. He found it outrageous that someone would see a causality from writing about gangsters to thinking it’s okay to murder folk in foreign lands.

It’s a hoot and I hope I think of it the next time some right winger edges me into a debate. We lefties, particularly Unitarian ones, have to guard against such silliness.

By the bye, that BUR link has its sub-link to a selection from Breslin’s book.

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