We are wearily accustomed to political corruption in Los Angeles. Seldom does a week go by without some new scandalous revelation or criminal indictment involving a city councilman or some other scrounger at the local public trough. Right on schedule recently came the news that Mark Ridley-Thomas, a career politician currently serving on the L.A. city council, was indicted for bribery for alleged acts he committed while sitting on the L.A. County board of supervisors. One of his council colleagues, Jose Huizar, is already under indictment for bribery, and he has adopted the brazen defense that the $1.5 million in “gifts” he received from real estate developers doing business in Los Angeles were not really bribes. (Good luck with that. These “gifts” included private jet travel, casino gambling, and liaisons with prostitutes.)
Granted, when measured for municipal corruption, Los Angeles cannot yet compete with Chicago, where it is practiced with a great and longstanding pride. But a new controversy in L.A., in which local pols not only plan to enrich a friend (and by extension themselves) but do so at the expense of their foes, looks to be a corruption two-fer even the crooks in Chicago can envy.
Last week in this space, I wrote about the vaccine mandates being imposed in some states and cities and how they were being resisted in some quarters, notably by police officers and firefighters. In Los Angeles, for example, a minority but nonetheless significant number of members of both the police and fire departments have declined to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. The city has offered an alternative in the form of twice-weekly testing, which sounds reasonable until you learn the details of the arrangement.
The city has awarded a $3 million contract for COVID-19 testing to a company called Bluestone, which is partly owned by Pedram Salimpour, a Los Angeles doctor. By the most remarkable of coincidences, he also sits on the commission that oversees the city’s fire and police pension plan. And, by another of the most unlikely of coincidences, Salimpour is one of those deep-pocket players who donate lavishly to Democratic candidates, including former city councilman Mitch Englander, who earlier this year was sentenced to 14 months in federal prison, and the above-mentioned Mark Ridley-Thomas, who may soon be Englander’s cell mate.
After entertaining no competing bids, the city council awarded Bluestone the contract for the twice-weekly testing to be required of city employees who decline to be vaccinated. Employees will be dunned $65 per test, or $520 every month, to be extracted from their paychecks. Only tests from Salimpour’s company will be accepted, this despite the presence of several lower-cost testing services available in the L.A. area.
The city said in a statement that “[Bluestone] was the only company that was able to offer the variety of needed services at a competitive rate.”
And it gets worse (or better, from Dr. Salimpour’s perspective). If the stream of testing customers falls below 1,000 per month next January, the city is obliged to pay Bluestone a “software maintenance fee” of $125,000 per month. That must be some really sophisticated software, Doctor Salimpour.
So the pols in L.A. have devised a scheme to take money from the pockets of cops and firefighters (on whom, as I wrote last week, they look with contempt) and funnel it to a political ally, who will in turn recycle it in the form of campaign contributions to those very same pols, or at least those not in prison.
Beat that one, Chicago!