Monday, April 28, 2008
T.J. Waconia: Let The Punishment Fit The Crime (Like That Movie "The Super")
First of all, "Johnny Northside" was conceived in partial response to T.J. Waconia. Yes, I first began using that moniker in the chat threads at Behind The Mortgage Dot Com, in discussion and information digging (not all of it successful or smooth) about Thomas Balko, Jon Helgason, your whole "T.J. Wack" cast of characters.
Initially, I was just looking for a deal on a house, and I thought houses involved in mortgage fraud might be a good buy as "damaged goods" because title might be messy. So I thought. Things didn't quite work out that way, though, because...
...I discovered T.J. Waconia and other fraudsters were the tip of the metaphorical iceberg, and mortgage fraud is as common to North Side culture as, well, discarded 40 oz. beer bottles on the lawns of vacant houses. Also, once the banks get the houses back, title isn't THAT much of an issue. Problems like that have not, it appears, manifested. I hope they never do.
But I did make some useful contacts, even sorta friends, as a result of those initial forays, and I became incredibly interested in the phenomenon of mortgage fraud...but more so in its impact upon communities.
So! Consider, if you will, Thomas Balko and Jon Helgason. They've taken a plea bargain and simply await sentencing for what happened to all those North Side homes, like about 160 properties, though more like 140 falling into the hands of Minneapolis.
(I have yet to figure out how that could work if all the properties are in foreclosure and beyond redemption periods)
Sheesh! So they're probably going to the federal prison in Yankton, South Dakota.
Unless, that is to say, there might be an opportunity to get creative.
Consider the movie "The Super." Based on a real incident that happened in New York (or was it New Jersey or somewhere else? Hmmm) a slumlord is sentenced to live in one of the properties where his tenants were forced to endure his neglect. Naturally, through the magic of Hollywood, he becomes a decent person and grows a heart.
Here is what I suggest. Don't send the T.J. Waconia fraudsters to prison in South Dakota. I've lived in North Dakota, and first off let me say forcing somebody to live in the Dakotas against their will is automatically cruel and unusual punishment and therefore contrary to the United States Constitution.
Instead--if lawyers and defendants are open to such "creative sentencing"--I say have them live in one of their own properties and pour their considerable skill and energy into fixing up the North Side which they helped to mess up with all their fraudulent flipping.
Naturally, it might be fun to put them in the worst and most awful of their houses, in the most dangerous neighborhood. However, the safety of prisoners in accordance with modern western standards of civilization and simple human decency should trump such an urge.
No, there are a lot of houses to choose from, some of the houses decent and habitable. The particular house could be negotiated with the prosecution, I would hope.
"Tom and Jon" should stay in and near the house...maybe an ankle monitor could restrict them to an area of a certain number of square blocks, including an adequate grocery store within that perimeter...and they can have certain agreed upon tasks, like putting up boards which have been ripped down, planting flowers, calling 911 on prostitutes and drug dealers...
Yeah, basically all that stuff I've been doing. Get in there and do some good, you flippers and fraudsters.
I can't call myself their harshest critic, though. Oh, believe me, there are people who are fighting to stake THAT particular claim, and I don't want to get in the middle of the brawl. In fact, I've often tried to be a voice of moderation in the chat threads about this subject, saying, "Really, don't say mean stuff about their kids" and so forth.
Click here for the T.J. Waconia victims blog.
I think such "creative sentencing" would be a classic case of "let the punishment fit the crime" but, more so, "Tom and John" would be doing useful labor HERE IN MINNESOTA instead of out in the wretched, godforsaken Dakotas, a place so desperate for human inhabitants prisons are probably part of their settlement strategy, like was once the case in AUSTRALIA.
Out in the Dakotas, their crimes would be forgotten and fade from the public mind. But by keeping them here in Minneapolis, they would be a constant reminder of what happens to mortgage fraudsters. And isn't deterrence of others a big part of why they should be punished, anyway? Given how much politics plays into the prosecution--and I don't say that in a bad way, it's just they're Public Enemy No. 1, which is automatically political--wouldn't a rather "political punishment" make sense?
Internal exile, as it were?
Of course, such creative sentencing would require the willingness of the defendants. So, you might ask, what do "Tom and Jon" have to gain?
Tom would be able to see his children more often. Maybe they could even spend some "quality time" planting flowers. Furthermore, there is an outside possibility their sentence, if tackled with cheerful willingness, might help them to regain a piece of their public reputation, so they wouldn't be pariahs or (as one online pundit dubbed them) "the number one civic villains of the Twin Cities."
Try putting THAT on your resume.
As the mortgage fraud victims love to say on the T.J. Waconia victims blog, "Taco Bell."
All things considered, including the fact there is some legal precedent for this kind of thing as concerns bad property management (albeit, not in this judicial district and purely as a "precedent of public knowledge," probably not actual binding LEGAL precedent at all) I think this kind of punishment would be more socially useful than sending them away to Yankton, South Dakota.
It would also give certain politicians another feather in their cap as concerns this case, to not only get a conviction but A CREATIVE AND HIGHLY SYMBOLIC SENTENCING. The Mayor could drop by and pose with "Tom and Jon" like trophy fish as they grub at the soil and plant pansies.
But it's not all punishment and spectacle. "Tom and Jon" could be socially useful in this role. They could even have more than a snowball's chance of redeeming their public rep, just a bit.
The victims might show up in lawn chairs and chant "Taco Bell," but I'm sure that wouldn't last for more than a few days. There are so many other fun outdoor activities!
All in all...let the punishment fit the crime, and let North Minneapolis be their prison.