In the bulging roster of corrupt pols who serve the people on the Eastern Seaboard, few provide as many black laughs as the Asselin clan of Springfield, Massachusetts. Even the klown kings of Jersey can’t hold a candle.
Springfield is the largest city in Western Mass., the third largest in the state. Its citizens have been treated to the antics of the Asselins for decades. The clan’s pater familia, Raymond Asselin Sr., was long time head of the Springfield Housing Authority (SHA). A U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) production. When Ray first went SHA, Disco ruled the dance floor and Pam Grier was blowing off mobsters as Coffy. During Papa Ray’s reign, he and his family looted the SHA. Those who partook included his wife, their five adult children and two daughters in-law. Assorted henchmen and public contractors buzzed round the hive giving and getting graft. When an Asselin needed a home rehab, a swimming pool, a boat or a BMW, the SHA or a bid rigger picked up the tab. Workers, materials, and appliances were rerouted from public housing projects. Even washers and dryers in laundry rooms were reaped. To the Asselins, there was no such thing as “spare change.” Their pockets bulged with stolen quarters. And when State Representative Christopher Asselin ran for office (Democrat, 9th Hampden District, 2001-2005) his campaigns were juiced by the SHA.
None of this took place in a vacuum. Springfield has a hoary rep re political corruption and its best bud, organized crime. The rep took on new luster during the administration (1996-2003) of ex-Mayor Mike Albano. Albano was a revitalizing ball of fire. Taxpayers, largely through HUD, made many an investment, including ones in mob bars and mortgage frauds. Apres Albano, Springfield went bust. The state took over via a Finance Control Board. Though Mayor Mike has never been charged with a crime, many folks close to his administration have been swept up by an ongoing federal investigation launched at the turn of the millennium. By the dawn of 3000, Springfield should be squeaky clean. Particularly if over the next thousand years, regional dispensers of taxpayer investments are more canny than they’ve been in the last 30. Hey — kazillion dollars and a dream!
Milking HUD isn’t the only way to kill time when being corrupt in Springfield. Threatening grand jury witnesses and being a blowhard is also big. No surprise. Most post-industrial cities turned taxpayer investment towns are run by political machines whose top dawgs think Nietzsche meant them. Take the Asselins — they knew they deserved to Do The Freddy. Papa Ray, king of the pilfered laundry machines, called his family “the Kennedys of Western Massachusetts.” And after being indicted, Mother Asselin told her brood, “Chins up. Remember, we’re Asselins.”*
The federal indictments the Asselins received involved hundreds of charges. At first, angry defiance spewed from Asselin lips like hot coins from a burgled dryer. But eventually the Kennedys of Western Mass tossed in their towel and copped a collective plea. Several Asselin gals were let off the hook as part of the deal. A former daughter-in-law is in witness protection; she wore a wire for months and caught many priceless family moments, including the groaning and grinding of Ray Asselin’s shredder as he gorged it with incriminating documents.
One by one, the Asselins are being sentenced. Ex-State Rep Chris Asselin was in court on January 18th. His lawyer requested Chris be allowed to hang in a halfway house or wear an ankle bracelet at home, painting Chris as nought but a passive recipient of gifts grafted by Dad. No go. Chris must trade in his jammies for a jumpsuit. The judge gave him 18 months. Chris took the sentence like a man. Declaring “I’m a big boy and I understand you have to make a judgement on me.”
Though the Asselins are unique comic geniuses, there are other Springfield side splitters. Such as former Police Commission Chairman Gerald Phillips, who handed out no-show jobs while heading a job training program aimed at teaching teenage welfare moms the value of work. And Frances G. Keough III, director of Friends Of The Homeless. A former city councilman, Keogh used his friends, the homeless, as free labor to renovate his vacation home, and put his henchman, a convicted violent sex offender and drug dealer, in a position of authority at the homeless shelter run by “The Friends.” Keough himself reportedly extorted sex from homeless women. He also supplied cronies with no show jobs, filled his home with HUD funded furniture and defrauded HUD subsidized rental programs, all while complaining that the government was underfunding services for the homeless.
Then there’s Anthony Ardolino, ex-chief of staff to ex-Mayor Mike Albano. Ardolino’s trial is upcoming. Among the charges are allegations that Anthony and his brother, an ex-cop convicted of mortgage fraud, skimmed money from bars in which they had hidden interests, including the Civic Pub, where pols and players, circa Mayor Mike, would meet and admire each other’s civic virtue.
As for Springfield’s future, the Finance Control Board seems to be doing a decent job. Deficits are down and public agencies have new faces in top slots. Best of all, surveillance cameras are being installed in and around city hall.
Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
* “Plenty of Chin,” Valley Advocate, September 7, 2006
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