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Saturday, Dec. 11, 2004 at 12:48 AM
author: Daniel Hopsicker
"An electronic voting system is to a mechanical one what a nuclear bomb is to a hand grenade... If someone manages to sabotage it, the results can be catastrophic."
This article was originally posted to the Portland IMC - 12/9/04.
While Ukrainians poured into the streets of their capital Kiev to protest a presidential election they say was stolen by that country's current regime, here in the U.S. a little-known election company called Sequoia Pacific, responsible for putting our own "current regime" in power four years ago, was at the center of controversy last week... for the second Presidential election in a row.
While U.S. newspapers have been filled with quotes from American officials pontificating about election miscues in the Ukrainian election, doubts have been raised anew about the accuracy of the election results of Sequoia Pacific, fingered for blame four years ago in the Florida Vote Snafu which marred the 2000 election.
"Mum's the word"
Senator Richard Lugar, "monitoring" butterfly ballots in Cyrillic, issued a statement calling the Ukrainian election "unfair." And a top White House representative said authorities in the Ukraine appeared to have indulged in a "concerted and forceful program" of fraud.
Yet a MadCowMorningNews investigation into the ownership of the companies that count America?s votes has uncovered evidence indicating the crisis of democracy in Kiev is hardly more serious than the one taking place in Washington, D.C.
One of America's two major election companies, Sequoia Pacific, has a felony 'rap sheet' an arm-long. In the endless news coverage of the recent Presidential Election, this news has somehow failed to surface, perhaps because if it had, people might start pouring into the streets here, too.
Yet even as Sen. Lugar and the unnamed White House official were making their righteous statements about the virtues of democracy in foreign countries, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley were announcing their findings of irregularities in three Florida counties using electronic voting machines from Sequoia Pacific and industry giant Election Systems & Software, the U.S.'s two largest election services companies.
Where Are International Observers When You Need Them?
The "irregularities" resulted in a so-far inexplicable 260,000 additional votes for President Bush.
A New York Times editorial demanded a "Fair Vote Count." But the editorial writers were referencing "not embattled citizens in the states of Ohio and Florida" but those of the Ukraine. The Times said, "International observers alleged systemic voting abuses."
What the Times and almost all of the major media refuse to address is the fact that there has, to date, been no credible counter-argument put forward to counter the loud and vociferous assertions of numerous computer experts who insist that electronic voting machines can be rigged. And that if they can be rigged, they are? because if you leave the bank vault open, sooner or later someone is going to rob it.
The persistent allegation that American elections might not be as open and honest as has thus far been made known has received no serious coverage.
Why the official silence?
Let's take a look.
Two of the three Florida counties cited, Broward and Miami-Dade, used machines made by Election Systems & Software (ES &S). Palm Beach County uses machines from Sequoia Voting Systems. (The company which has so far received the most critical scrutiny, Cleveland-based Diebold Election Systems, has no touch-screen machines in use in Florida.)
In essence, the U.C. researchers said that Bush got more votes than could have expected, and attributed the discrepancy to "irregularities" associated with electronic voting machines.
"The data show with 99.0 percent certainty that a county's use of electronic voting is associated with a disproportionate increase in votes for President Bush," the study said. "Compared to counties with paper ballots, counties with electronic voting machines were significantly more likely to show increases in support for President Bush between 2000 (election) and 2004."
"The association between electronic voting and increased support for President Bush (in the three Florida counties) is impossible to overlook," the U.C. Berkeley researchers stated.
What makes their conclusions difficult to dismiss as "anomalous evidence" is the nature and history of the election companies themselves...
Visible in the public record of Sequoia Pacific, a company counting one in three American votes, is clear and convincing evidence that the company has been run, perhaps for decades, as a Continuing Criminal Enterprise specializing in blatant and widespread bribery of public officials, with numerous felony convictions, Mob ties, and a history replete with stories of threats, coercion, and even murder.
Sequoia Pacific has a more colorfully-criminal corporate history, we learned, than that of any organization this side of the Gambino Family. In fact, the Gambino Family and Sequoia Pacific have had more than a nodding acquaintance, according to newspapers in New York reporting on the intrigue surrounding the awarding of a multi-million dollar contract for election machines in New York City during the mid-90's, where Sequoia?s representative in the bidding gained notoriety for attempting to grease the skids al little at a marathon luncheon hosted by Salvatore Reale, a Gambino underboss who later pled guilty to racketeering.
Yet Sequoia Pacific is not unique... Instead, it is emblematic of the systemic wrongdoing of all three major election services companies.
A New Word for a New World
Sequoia Pacific's record is riddled with instances of criminal bribery and political corruption.
It began its modern life as Automatic Voting Machine, spun off to shareholders of Defense contractor Rockwell in the 1960s. The company?s founder, Lloyd A. Dixon Jr. resigned as president and CEO on Jan. 10, 1973, and later went to prison, after being indicted by a New York federal grand jury for bribing Buffalo election officials.
The company was fined nearly ,000 for bribing Texas and Arkansas officials, not a particularly auspicious beginning.
Then things got worse.
Last week we briefly related the sordid tale of the next owner of Sequoia Pacific, financier and corporate raider Louis Wolfson. Wolfson was convicted of bribing the only Supreme Court Justice ever forced to resign in disgrace, "Dishonest Abe" Fortas.
Fortas got caught palming a lifetime yearly "retainer" from the wily Wolfson?s family foundation... Alas for "Dishonest Abe," as he came to be called, the Law draws no distinction between ?accepting a retainer? and "taking a bribe."
Fortas cut himself a deal. He taped phone calls, at the FBI?s behest, with Wolfson, who was pleading with the Supreme Court Justice to dummy up. In the transcripts of these phone calls the word "cover-up" enters the American lexicon for the first time.
Apparently Fortas coined it at the instant of need, when he said (probably for the tape recorder), ?No I can?t do that! That would be a cover-up!?
The Modern Age had begun.
"Tacho Has Only One Question"
Dixon?s main competitor, Ransom Shoup, also got sent to the Big House, in 1979. The company which became E S & S, barely escaped a Justice Dept. investigation, but only after a change in Administrations in Washington.
"We had to get Ronald Reagan elected President to get this thing (the investigation) killed, ", quipped E S & S's President at the time.
In a November 29, 1985 Chicago Tribune article headlined ?VOTE MACHINES CAN BE A DIFFICULT SELL? a company marketing director is quoted as saying that ?Whether working in the United States, Europe, Asia, Africa or Latin American the first disquieting question of potential customers is always the same. "Can the things be rigged??"
The election company exec, Ron Lawyer, spoke of meeting Shoup for the first time in Managua, Nicaragua, in the palace of then-Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, to whom Shoup was attempting to sell voting machines.
"Tacho (Somoza) had one question," Lawyer told the Tribune. ?Can I be guaranteed the election?"'
We first learned of Sequoia Pacific's penchant for greasing the palms of corrupt public officials from the well-publicized news accounts in the year 2000 about Louisiana's Commissioner of Elections Jerry Fowler, convicted of taking as much as ten million dollars over a period of a decade from Sequoia?s Southeast Representative, a man named Pasquale "Rocco" Ricci, from Marlton, New Jersey.
Even after pleading guilty to suborning democracy in the state of Louisiana for more than a decade, Ricci remained something of a mystery figure, we learned to our surprise.
When L.J. Hymel, the silver-maned and somewhat elaborately-coiffed US Attorney for Louisiana gave a press conference on the steps of the US Courthouse in Baton Rouge after Fowler's sentencing, an out-of-state reported posed a question to him?
"Was Pasquale Rocco Ricci of Marlton New Jersey?the man convicted of bribing Louisiana?s Commissioner of Elections for over a decade?a member of Organized Crime?"
"I don't know," replied Hymel. Apparently the question had not crossed his mind, or was of little concern. "I don't know," he repeated again, a little more forcefully this time.
The reporter persisted. "You're the US Attorney, and you don't know if the man who bribed the state Commissioner of Elections is a member of Organized Crime?"
From the shocked silence among the assembled members of what passes for a free press in the benighted state of Louisiana, it was clear that the question was akin to asking the U.S. Attorney whether he enjoyed having sex with small furry animals. It was a faux pas.
The reporter had violated a taboo.
Whether the man who fixed elections for Sequoia Pacific in Louisiana for over a decade was a member of organized crime was not considered a fit topic for discussion on the steps of the US District Courthouse.
And, indeed, the closer you look into the election services industry, the more the whole topic appears to have been placed off-limits. Had it not been, we would have already heard a lot more about Sequoia Pacific.
"Pressing Bernacker and getting Gambalucca"
"Long-time Louisiana Governor Earl Long once claimed that with the right elections commissioners he could make the voting machines play "Home Sweet Home." Commissioner of Elections and former pro football player Jerry Fowler would have been his kind of public official.
Fowler got himself in big gambling trouble at Harrah's casino in Atlantic City in the mid-'90's, which helped explained his taking bribes. It was at this same time when allegations of voting irregularity became commonplace in Louisiana.
Curiously, gambling was the burning issue on the ballot in state elections at the same exact time.
One proposition concerned Harrah's proposal to build a casino in downtown New Orleans. From one of five losing candidates that alleged vote fraud in a suit at this time, we learned of the strange death of the Supervisor of Elections in New Orleans just two weeks before voters went to the polls.
Tony Giambelluca, who held the keys to the warehouse where the election machines were kept, turned up an apparent suicide. He had chosen to take his life behind a garbage dumpster, which seems an odd decision. Given the choice, we figure most people would choose to end their existence in a slightly more scenic locale.
"Given the choice."
The discovery that the election scandal had already consumed lives certainly quickened our interest. The sad
fact is that nothing becomes a true scandal in America anymore until after the bodies begin to pile up.
Voting machine tests performed and videotaped by a suspicious local candidate immediately after this election demonstrated that votes Susan Barnecker cast for herself during the test were electronically recorded for her opponent.
The test was repeated several times with the same result. (The astonishing video footage is in our documentary The Big Fix, 2000. You can see the trailer here.)
Manhattan Commissioner of Elections Douglas Kellner investigated Barnecker claims, then questioned the reliability of Sequoia Pacific machines. The issue quickly became a focal point among people who distrust electronic voting.
So? Rocco Ricci counts your vote. You got a problem with that?
But it was the efforts of another unsuccessful candidate, Woody Jenkins, the Republican Senate candidate in Louisiana in 1996, who lost the contested 1996 US Senate race by a hairsbreadth margin to Democrat Mary Landrieu, that led to prosecutions.
Allegations of voting irregularities by Republican Jenkins led to a year-long investigation. The probe quickly came across evidence of massive bribery, which became the focus of the investigation that followed, leading to charges that Elections Commissioner Fowler had squandered .6 million in state money on worthless election equipment, and taken kickbacks from voting machine contractors working for Sequoia Pacific, all in a scheme engineered by that company's executives.
Fowler was eventually sentenced to five years in prison.
But for Jenkins tenacious efforts the world might never have learned of Pasquale "Rocco" Ricci. And although Fowler's conviction was big news in the state's two major newspapers, the New Orleans Times-Picayune and the Baton Rouge Advocate, neither mentioned the name of the company on whose behalf he was being bribed? Sequoia Pacific, which was successful at keeping the company's name completely out of local newspaper and television coverage.
So although the defendants signed admissions stating that the entire scheme was carried out on behalf of the Sequoia Pacific Corp., the firm garnered zero negative publicity. No 'bad pub' at all.
More dummy front companies
Study of this case revealed some interesting details about the way the 'election services' industry works...
First, the scheme showed that there was collusion, rather than competition, between the two major election services firms, Sequoia Pacific and E S & S. Court documents revealed the two sold voting machines back and forth to each other until they had arrived at the figure they wanted the client, the state of Louisiana, to pay.
Nor was this an isolated case. The bribery conviction of Arkansas Secretary of State Bill McCuen, for example, revealed that E S &S?s predecessor company, Business Records Corp. of Dallas, arranged for contracts which led to Smurfit Packaging Corp. and its subsidiary, Sequoia Pacific Voting Equipment Inc.
Another discovery was that, like the CIA, Sequoia Pacific operates through a number of dummy front companies. For example, two Florida election execs, Glenn Boord and Ralph Escudero, pled guilty to conspiracy to compound a felony (public bribery), who had owned a paper voting-machine company called Uni-lect, which was just a front for Sequoia Pacific.
Pasquale "Rocco" Ricci's company, International Voting Machines, was also really Sequoia Pacific. So too was Harold Webb's Garden State Elections. (And also Herb Webb's Elec-tec.)
Webb, a New Jersey elections equipment executive who participated in the bribery and kickback scheme that resulted in the conviction of Fowler, also played a key role in the infamous Martin County, Florida drama over Republican absentee ballots in the 2000 election.
New Jersey election services companies controlled by Webb were key suppliers to Martin County, Florida, which calls into question the version of events surrounding the tampering with absentee ballot applications testified to by Republican Party operatives in court in 2000.
In counties where their name never surfaced, Sequoia supplied both computer and punch card systems, and used tabulating machines from Sequoia Pacific disguised as being from other vendors, and used the same (doctored) machines as Louisiana, supplied by the same 'shadowy' sources.
When a reporter for the Fresno Bee interviewed Sequoia's chief executive, the reporter told us later he had been "taken aback by his secretive nature." In truth, Sequoia?s chief executive has a lot to be secretive about?
As we will see next week, the company has decades-long ties to the Rockefeller Family, as well as to a very private organization, the bete noire of "conspiracy theorists" everywhere, the Bilderberger Group. During the endless cable news coverage of the Presidential Election, any of these stories would make an interesting and colorful item.
Funny how no one in the major media let slip a word. But not "funny" ha-ha.
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