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A Cash Business

Former Chicago Mayor William Hale Thompson: Cash is king.On the occasion of Rod Blagojevich’s case going to the jury last week, Russ Buettner of the New York Times surveyed some of America’s most memorable political scoundrels.

Among those he mentioned were:

Paul Powell, the Illinois secretary of state. He once said: “There’s only one thing worse than a defeated politician. That’s a defeated and broke politician.”

Powell died in 1970 in a hotel room with his personal secretary. Investigators later discovered he’d squirreled away hundreds of thousand of dollars of cash in shoe boxes, bowling ball bags, and his office safe, generated by kickbacks from employees and bribes from lobbyists. Strangely, he also had more than $200,000 in coins.

“He had a daily or weekly habit of walking down to the basement of the Capitol and confiscating piles of coins from the vending machines,” said Kim Long, author of The Almanac of Political Corruption, Scandals and Dirty Politics.

William Hale Thompson, the mayor of Chicago for all but four years from 1915 through 1931. He died in 1944 with an estate formally valued at $150,000. But two safe deposit boxes in his name were later found to hold $1.5 million in cash — more than $18 million in today’s dollars.

David Friedland, a state senator from New Jersey. While waiting to be sentenced for fraud in 1985, he staged his death in a scuba diving accident. In 1988, he was caught in the Maldives, where he’d built a successful chain of dive shops. He served nine years of a 15-year sentence. “He was really too successful,” said one federal investigator. “If he had elected to become low profile, he might still be at large.”

The article from the July 31, 2010 New York Times is Ross Buettner’s Running Government as a Cash Business.

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