Return to blog

Vintage Summer Reads: Jeffrey Robinson’s Book Bag

REPRINTED FROM THE DAILY BEAST

By

Jeffrey Robinson, author of the new novel Trump Tower, picks his favorite throwback beach reads, those classic big summer books where big characters lived big stories

 

 

A common pursuit of old men is the rekindling of those days when life was yet to be conquered. The scent of the woman who lived up the stairs. The sound of the crowd at the end of that 90-yard run. The taste of tears when the train finally pulled away.

Somewhere, too, at least for this old man, is a slightly-out-of-focus black-and-white photo of lazy days under an umbrella, with sand mixed into egg salad sandwiches, while a story unfolds between the tawdry covers of a 50-cent paperback that we didn’t want to end.

I wrote Trump Tower to be a throwback to that—an adventure in those big summer beach reads where big characters lived big stories.

My dear friend in heaven, Lino Ventura—the French cinema version of Humphrey Bogart—used to tell me, “There are three things that make for a great film. The first is a great story. The second is a great story. The third is a great story.” I insist that the same is true for a great summer beach read. Accordingly, I offer Trump Tower and six that came before.

The Carpetbaggers (1961)
By Harold Robbins


robinson-bookbag-carpetbaggers

 

At one point in the 1970s, selling 25,000 books worldwide per day, Harold told me that he was the Charles Dickens of the 20th century. And while one critic described his books as “Pornographic Muzak,” that’s not quite fair. He wasn’t Dickens, but he was a great storyteller. And this book, supposedly modeled on the life of Howard Hughes, is a fabulously told story.

Hotel (1965)
By Arthur Hailey


robinson-bookbag-hotel

 

Here are five days in the lives of a dozen characters living or working in a New Orleans hotel. Had it not been for Hailey and Hotel, there would have been no Dallas or Dynasty. Great storylines. Great characters. Great dialog. Come on, how could you not love a book where a character says, “You know, in Des Moines, we could get arrested for this.”

The Best Of Everything (1958
By Rona Jaffe


robinson-bookbag-the-best-of-everything

 

This is the tale of five female employees in New York publishing who have sex with various people in the decade before anyone even invented sex. It’s pre-lib lib, and the novel that set the stage for Valley of the Dolls. It even got a shout-out recently in Mad Men, with Dan Draper reading it in bed. Albeit, above the sheets.

The Valley Of The Dolls (1966)
By Jacqueline Susann


robinson-bookbag-valley-of-the-dolls

 

Just as The Best of Everything set the stage for this book, The Valley of the Dolls set the stage for Sex In The City. Three women discover the insides of show business—the tinsel, the corruption, the lies and the egos—as tinseled, corrupt, lying ego maniacal men discover the insides of these three women. Often listed as one of the best-selling American novels of all time, Susann told stories from her own experience. She was married to a press agent and, supposedly, had an affair with Ethel Merman. Go figure that one. Despite Truman Capote’s opinion, “She doesn’t write, she types,” what she did here was type a really great summer beach read.

The Chapman Report (1961)
By Irving Wallace


robinson-bookbag-the-chapman-report

 

What Wallace did so well was take headlines—in this case the famous Kinsey Report—decide who should be doing what to whom, and weave it all together into a page-turning story. I bumped into him once in a bookstore in London. In fact, there were three of us in the shop. He was in one aisle, the Israeli statesman Abba Eban was in another, and I was moving between the two. All three of us were doing what authors always do in bookshops: rearranging the shelves to put our latest in a more visible position. I thought it was cool to be doing that, just like Wallace. I suspect Wallace thought it was cool doing that, just like Eban. I have no idea what Eban was thinking.


The Other Side Of Midnight (1973)
By Sidney Sheldon


robinson-bookbag-other-side-of-midnight

 

The lives of two very different women intertwine in the beds of the men they love: the ‘70s could never have been the ‘70s without Sydney Sheldon, at least not for most college coeds. Required reading about passion, vengeance, power, greed and sex, he captivated readers with a storytelling technique he developed in television, having first given the world The Patty Duke Show and I Dream of Jeannie. Forgiving him for that, he went on to become the seventh best-selling American writer of all time, largely because of this story.

 

Jeffrey Robinson is the author of 26 books, including biographies, investigative non-fiction, and novels. His latest novel, Trump Tower. He also wrote several books on money laundering, including The Laundrymen, The Merger, and The Sink. He’s also the author of The Takedown: A Suburban Mom, A Coal Miner’s Son, and the Unlikely Demise of Colombia’s Brutal Norte Valle Cartel.

Secret Service Still the Best and the Brightest

 US Secret Service agent stands by President Obama's limousine at Fort McHenry in Baltimore in 2010.

US Secret Service agent stands by President Obama’s limousine at Fort McHenry in Baltimore in 2010.


By Jeffrey Robinson, Special to CNN
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri April 20, 2012


STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jeffrey Robinson: Bad behavior of 11 Secret Service agents has caused uproar over whole force
  • Time for a reality check, he says; president was not in danger
  • He says most agents proud, serious, willing to make big sacrifices for job
  • Robinson: Agents in scandal were stupid; now people playing politics

Editor’s note: Jeffrey Robinson is the co-author of “Standing Next to History – An Agent’s Life in the Secret Service,” the autobiography of former United States Secret Service Special Agent, Joseph Petro. (St. Martins/Thomas Dunne Books. Available in both Kindle and Nook.) Follow him on Twitter @writingfactory.

 

(CNN) — So a bunch of guys away from home, who should know better, take off their wedding rings, mix testosterone with alcohol and hookers — an appalling combination — argue over the price of a lady’s company and, all of a sudden, the entire culture of the U.S. Secret Service is thrown into question.

All of a sudden, this is the worst disaster for the Secret Service, ever. All of a sudden, the Secret Service is out of control. All of a sudden, anything might have happened, like one of the 11 agents could have been blackmailed to open a door for a sniper or to look the other way as a bomb-carrying terrorist walks up to the president.

All of a sudden, the men and women of the Secret Service are no longer the best and the brightest. Especially the men.

All of a sudden… Stop!

 It’s time for a reality check.

The 11 agents who were sent home from Colombia in disgrace before the president even left Washington were there in a support role. Whether they were manning metal detectors or handling dogs that sweep rooms, whether they were part of a sniper team or standing post at 3 a.m. along a barricaded street, they were not members of the Presidential Protective Division (PPD). They were not on the president’s shoulder. At no time was the president’s security in danger.

What damage did their stupidity do? Obviously, a lot to their personal lives, their marriages and their careers. Obviously, also, a lot to the image and reputation of the Secret Service.

The legislation creating the Secret Service was sitting on Abraham Lincoln’s desk, waiting to be signed, on April 15, 1865, the night he was assassinated. In those days, the Secret Service was housed inside the Treasury Department, and its job was to protect and defend the currency and monetary instruments of the United States. It didn’t get the supplementary duty of protecting the president and vice president until after William McKinley was assassinated in 1901.

All these years later, no agent I have ever met was hired for his sense of humor. These are very serious men and women who do their jobs very seriously.

They have always been the best and the brightest.

And they still are.

You can see it in the way they stand a little taller and walk with a different gait than others in law enforcement. You can see it in their pride. Frankly, I can’t think of any other law enforcement agency where pride counts as much as it does with the Secret Service. It’s the same pride that is always so visible with the U.S. Marines.

That’s the reason why this scandal matters. Not because someone thinks the agency is out of control. It’s not. Not because of wildly exaggerated threats of blackmail. No, Chicken Little, the sky is not falling. It matters because the idiotic actions of 11 agents who forgot who they are and what their badge stands for deeply affects every active duty agent and tens of thousands of retired agents. Pride has been dented. And agents are, rightly, furious.

These are men and women who have made — and continue to make — huge personal sacrifices for their share in that pride. The divorce rate among agents is high. That’s not because they party with hookers, but because for the privilege of wearing that special five starred badge, they abandon any thoughts of their time being their own. They miss birthdays and Christmas, Little League games, graduations, school plays, first teeth, first steps, first words.

When the president travels, especially overseas, it’s a flying circus with 800-1,000 people, limousines, helicopters, communications equipment, big guns, small guns, sometimes food, and often 20-30 planes.

As an integral part of this, Secret Service agents have two main concerns: To create and to maintain a tightly controlled environment in which the president can do his job safely and to bring everyone home at night.

Anything short of that is, the way the Secret Service defines the word, failure.

Just as those two things are true, so are these: What happened with those 11 agents is defined as stupidity. They will be dealt with quickly by the Secret Service. The president’s opponents will pretend that there are political ramifications and invent whatever capital out of this that they can to embarrass the president. It will take a long time before pride is fully restored. And, if this ever happens again, it will definitely not be soon

SCANDAL PUTS SECRET SERVICE CULTURE IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Jeffrey Robinson Talks with Neal Conan, host of NPR’s Talk of the Nation, Tuesday April 17.

 

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I’m Neal Conan. The U.S. Secret Service has a long and storied history. These days, agents are in the news for alleged misconduct in Colombia in advance of a presidential visit there. The agency was actually established in 1865 to combat counterfeiting, a huge problem in the years following the Civil War.

It wasn’t until President William McKinley’s assassination in 1901 that the agency took up its second and now its most pressing mission: to protect the president. We’d like to hear from you about – if you have questions about the current scandal and what it says about the culture and duties of the men and women of the Secret Service, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That’s at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Joining us now, Jeffrey Robinson, co-author of “Standing Next to History: An Agent’s Life Inside the Secret Service.” He joins us from our bureau in New York. Nice to have you with us today.

JEFFREY ROBINSON: Neal, it’s always a pleasure. How are you?

CONAN: I’m good, thanks. And as you hear about this scandal in Cartagena, is this something that you regard as a one-off, something anomalous, or is this something that’s part of a pattern?

ROBINSON: Unlike Mr. Kessler, I do not see the sky falling in – Chicken Little, Chicken Little. No, no, no, no. This has all got to be put into perspective. First of all, it should not be politicized. This is not a political event. It had nothing to do with the president. At no time whatsoever was presidential security breached. There was no threat directly or indirectly to presidential security.

These 11 guys, you know, when you get 11 guys together with a lot of testosterone, things happen. It happens in the Secret Service, it happens with the New York Yankees…

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROBINSON: It happens in fraternities. I suspect it would happen in the House of Representatives.

CONAN: And yet let me be the first to say that the Yankees and the fraternities are not tasked to protect the president of the United States…

ROBINSON: You’re absolutely right about that, but this…

CONAN: As Mr. Kessler said, one of these could have been a double agent. There could have been blackmail. There could have been a bug.

ROBINSON: Yeah, right. And Elvis is alive, and the Earth is flat. Listen, these guys were supplementary. They were in support of the operation. When the president travels, there are 800 to 1,000 people who travel with him, including a huge contingent of Secret Service who have been on the ground for a long time.

As I understand it, some of these guys were uniformed officers. Those are the people who handle magnetrons, you know, the metal detectors. They handle the dogs. They handle support services. They were not part of the official advance team who had been there for 10 days. They had nothing to do with presidential protection directly.

The PPD, the Presidential Protective Division, is in charge of the president, and they completely and totally control the environment in which he functions. These guys, I find it very difficult to believe that they could have done anything even if one of them had been blackmailed and wanted to. That said, businessmen who go to Colombia, and I wrote a big book about drug trafficking down there, the Secret Service, anybody going to Colombia puts themselves in a certain amount of risk when you start fooling around with prostitutes. That’s true.

But to draw a line from that personal risk all the way back to a possible assassination attempt on the president of the United States is stretching one’s imagination a little too much.

CONAN: So members of the Secret Service but not members of the, if you will, the A-Team.

ROBINSON: Well, listen, the Secret Service are a great bunch of men and women. They really are. They are very, very special people. The A-Team, that Presidential Protection Division or the Vice Presidential Protection Division, which is exactly the same, are really the cream of the crop, and you don’t get there, it’s not a direct route, just because you join the Secret Service.

Most of your work, in fact for the first five years, usually you’re in an office somewhere, a field office, doing counterfeit investigation. So, you know, presidential protection is a secondary job for most Secret Service people. They may stand post when the president comes to town. These guys were in a secondary situation. They were not directly involved with the security of the president.

And again, to politicize it, I think, is really unfortunate. Is it an embarrassment? Yes. And I’ll tell you something about that: When you get to know Secret Service agents, there is a certain amount of pride that reminds me of the Marines. Now, I was in the military back in the ’60s, I’m sorry that I’m that old, and I did have a top secret clearance, and I didn’t know that that entitled you to go to prostitutes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Well, we had – interesting, we had an email about that from David, who said: The man who said prostitution is part of military culture is wrong. The people in my unit…

ROBINSON: It wasn’t part of mine.

CONAN: If I could just finish this email: The people in my unit who I trust with my life are the ones who are loyal and devout to their family. Saying it’s part of our culture is degrading to the military and the American people. So yeah.

ROBINSON: Yeah, well, it’s also personally degrading, but that said, you’ve got a lot of testosterone with these people, and we know about the wheels-up parties. That’s one thing. Before it happens is an embarrassment to the agency. And as I was saying…

CONAN: Well, the other phrase, we heard you mention wheels-up parties, and that’s after the president leaves.

ROBINSON: That’s after the president leaves.

CONAN: But we also heard about wheels up, rings off.

ROBINSON: Listen, you know what? If married guys want to fool around like that, they have to answer to their wives or their own conscience. That has nothing to do with me or presidential security. What can I tell you? No, it’s not unique.

CONAN: Does it have to do with a culture of a Secret Service that is, you mentioned testosterone, very male-dominated?

ROBINSON: Well, it’s not. There are many, many women agents. And, you know, the president’s got women protection. Does it have to do with the culture of the Secret Service? No, I think it has to do with the culture of 28-year-old guys who are in a – you know, who have played football and are athletic and are macho and are – share that kind of pride.

And what I wanted to say about the pride that they share with the Marines, that’s what’s so upsetting about this, especially to the agents that I’ve spoken to since this broke. They are all saying how dare they, not because of any threat to the president but because of the damage they’ve done to the reputation of the Secret Service, and these guys hold that very highly.

CONAN: Let’s get to a caller. This is Robert, Robert with us from San Antonio. Robert, are you there?

ROBERT: Hello?

CONAN: Robert, you’re on the air, go ahead please.

ROBERT: Yes, sir, this is Robert. I’ve done 22 years in the Army and I still work now as a Department of the Army civilian. But all military and civilians, they go down range, especially in this hemisphere, they have to undergo training, specific training on what are the do’s and don’ts. And one of the things that we are chartered with is not supporting activities that propagate the exploitation of woman and children. And that’s mandatory training.

So we know we’re not supposed to engage in those activities.

CONAN: I think he’s right, Jeffrey Robinson. I’m sure these Secret Service agents were trained that way too. You mentioned that culture of the elite, like the Marines. These are very special people in a very special job. Are – after a while, given that mentality, do they come to believe the rules don’t apply to me?

ROBINSON: No, because they’re also team players. This is – you know, these are not individuals. These are team players, which is one of the reasons, for example, that the Secret Service really likes football players, because they understand that team mentality. And like the Marines going into an operation, you are very dependent on the guy next to you. So the rules do apply because they are so highly trained, especially when you’re dealing with presidential protection, where concentration is so vital.

The rules do apply because the result of a failure is inacceptable. I mean, they – Joe Petro, the guy I wrote about in “Standing Next to History,” wrote the book with – Joe, who’s my old college buddy, would often say that our job is to bring the president home safely, and there is no acceptable alternative to that.

CONAN: Robert, if you’re still there, could you tell us why you think people might come to disregard that training?

ROBERT: Well, I think it’s not a norm. You always have your occasions, once in a while, that somebody breaks the rules. And when they do that, obviously, and we find out about it, and we investigate, and we take action, because you know, first of all, it’s designed for your safety and the safety of others, and of course you don’t want to compromise the mission. So all of those three factors are the basic premise behind it.

And you know, so if it happens – again, it doesn’t happen as a norm; you’re always going to have a renegade or two, or people tend to find themselves, come together, and they form a clique perhaps, and they do engage in such activity. And it’s a matter of time before they get caught.

CONAN: Robert, thanks very much for the phone call, appreciate it.

ROBINSON: Neal, Neal, can I add something to what Ron Kessler said about the – Joe Biden throwing out the first pitch?

CONAN: Yeah.

ROBINSON: He’s being slightly, slightly misleading and doing that on purpose, I fear. When the president or the vice president goes to throw out the first pitch – and there’s a story in “Standing Next to History” of Joe taking Reagan to throw out the first pitch in Baltimore – first of all, the visit is usually unannounced. Even the Orioles, when Joe took Reagan out there, did not know he was coming. He had – they gave him an hour’s notice.

People filling up in the ballpark don’t have to go through a magnetron because they have no idea that the president’s going to be there. In fact, the whole visit was decided two hours before opening. Joe took Reagan there, and because of the way – he didn’t want Reagan out on the pitching mound, that was too exposed. So he threw the first pitch from the third-base coach’s box.

But a really interesting story is, as you know, the Secret Service controls the president’s food. At one point, Reagan turned to the owner of the Baltimore Orioles and said: How would you like a hot dog? Which threw Joe into a slight turmoil because they don’t really want him eating just anything.

So he said to one of his guys up in the stands, he says: Go find a really old hotdog salesman, you know, one of the old guys, and bring him down here. And they brought him down into the dugout, figuring the chances of this guy having poisoned a hotdog on the odd shot that he would give it to the president was pretty remote. The neat part of it was that Reagan bought three hotdogs, pulled out a $5 bill and handed it to the guy.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: He hadn’t been to a ballpark…

ROBINSON: And the guy…

CONAN: …for quite a while.

ROBINSON: That’s right. And the guy said I’m sorry, Mr. President. They’re 3.50 each. Reagan didn’t have more than five bucks in his pocket. He had specifically put the five bucks to buy the hotdog, because he knew he was going to do that.

CONAN: Yeah.

ROBINSON: So Michael Deaver slipped him the money for the hotdog…

CONAN: Well…

ROBINSON: …very discreetly. He paid it.

CONAN: You talk about poison.

ROBINSON: And that’s…

CONAN: You talk about poison. I’m not – no comment on the Camden Yards hotdogs. So…

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Let’s see if we can get Teresa on the line, Teresa with us from Jacksonville.

TERESA: Thank you for having me, Mr. Conan. It’s a real honor.

CONAN: Thank you.

TERESA: I am taking offense to the boys-will-be-boys testosterone excuse, because I know many outstanding men in their 20s and 30s that would never dream of sleeping with prostitutes and blaming it on their hormones. And my father was in the Navy, and he would never dream of sleeping with prostitutes or doing anything of this sort, because I think as human beings – man or woman – we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard and really demonstrate character, especially if you’re going to be in the Secret Service or any other branch of the military. We can’t just blame it on a culture or blame it on hormones.

CONAN: Jeffrey Robinson.

ROBINSON: I absolutely agree with you that we have to be responsible for ourselves, and that’s what happens. These men were not responsible for themselves, and they deserve what they’re getting. They’re all probably looking for work as of right now. They certainly will never rise higher in the Secret Service. But I don’t honestly think that they, at any time, exposed the president to any sort of real danger. I think it was simply boys being boys, and I’m afraid boys will be boys. I know, because I was one. I still am, I guess.

TERESA: Well, I appreciate the response, but keep in mind I don’t get to say girls will be girls. You know, I don’t blame PMS or my hormones on my behavior. So I really think it’s time that we hold men to a higher standard. And thank you for…

ROBINSON: Well, that’s what – and they’re being held to a higher standard. They’re probably going to be fired.

CONAN: What’s the – thank you very much for the call, Teresa.

TERESA: Thank you.

CONAN: And what’s the process now? I mean, this investigation is underway. It’s an internal investigation run by the Secret Service itself. Obviously, Congress has great interest. But what’s going to happen?

ROBINSON: Well, these men are going to have to face those men who were insulted by this incident. I mean, they have a very rough road to go, because with the pride that they have – and it’s facing senior Secret Service officers, who are very proud of the agency – and the damage that they’ve done, I don’t think they stand much of a chance of keeping their jobs.

CONAN: We’re talking with Jeffrey Robinson, co-author of “Standing Next to History: An Agent’s Life Inside the Secret Service,” co-authored with Joseph Petro, a longtime friend, and former assistant special agent in charge of the Secret Service’s Presidential Protection Division. You’re listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. Ken’s on the line, calling from Chicago.

KEN: Hello?

CONAN: Ken, you’re on the air, Ken. Go ahead.

KEN: Yes. I also take offense at Jeffrey’s comments. I have a top secret security clearance working for a different agency. I went through the whole process to become a special agent, and I was offered a position. Part of the interview process, you sit down with several agents in a panel interview.

CONAN: Offered a position in the Secret Service?

KEN: That’s correct, as a special agent.

CONAN: OK, go ahead.

KEN: Part of the interview process, you sit down with the panel and interview with several agents. And I was very dismayed. My superior academic, my character, my leadership qualities were less of a concern to them as if I could participate with the boys’ club, with the wheels-up-type parties, and so forth.

CONAN: Really? And how did that get communicated to you?

KEN: The question – you sit in a room with several agents for several hours, and there’s many questions that they ask you. And that was the – not only the impression, but it was part of the conversation among them.

CONAN: Can you recall any specifics?

KEN: I won’t give them, sorry.

CONAN: I’m not asking for people’s names. I mean, it’s – what kind of questions were you asked that led you to that conclusion?

KEN: (unintelligible) as your guest is suggesting, that they compare it to football parties and some of the things you would see in inappropriate college parties, and so forth.

CONAN: So frat boys?

KEN: Correct.

CONAN: All right. Jeffrey Robinson.

ROBINSON: Was it an invitation to party, or was it a will-you-party kind of question?

KEN: It was will you party.

ROBINSON: That’s right. And I suspect if you said, yes, I will, you wouldn’t have gotten the job.

KEN: I said it wasn’t something that I thought I felt comfortable with. And I told them what interest that I had in the agency.

ROBINSON: Yeah. Well, listen, I can’t speak for that interview. I wasn’t there. I don’t know, you know, the people involved or what happened. But I do know that that – the kind of behavior that those 11 men exhibited in Cartagena is not tolerated.

CONAN: Ken, thanks very much for the call. This email from Ruby: The president should not just say I’ll be angry. It should be: These men protect my wife and children and should be fired outright if they have so little respect for the law, my office and for women, most of all. On the other hand – I’m sure we’re getting a lot of emails like that. On the other hand, the president needs to await the results of an investigation, no?

ROBINSON: Well, I would suspect that what he said in public had nothing to do with what he said in private. And I would honestly believe that he let it be known he was furious that this happened, all the more so because it overshadowed whatever was being done in Cartagena.

CONAN: This email is from Wendy: I think this issue is a classic case of hubris. As Wikipedia reminds us, hubris means extreme pride or arrogance. Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality, an overestimation of one’s own competence or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power. How is this any different than the type of thinking that led to the whole Wall Street fiasco?

ROBINSON: Hubris, perhaps. Perhaps. But that doesn’t mean that hubris is pandemic within the Secret Service. It may very well have been these 11 guys at that time who felt – yeah, it doesn’t apply to me, or isn’t this fun, or we’re away from home and let’s party. Again, the agents I know, especially the ones who have been with PPD and are with PPD, would never ever, ever tolerate this kind of behavior.

CONAN: And you mentioned earlier they like to hire people who played football at…

ROBINSON: Yeah.

CONAN: …various levels. And I was particularly interested: Why?

ROBINSON: Because football players are used to working in patterns and in plays. And if you watch the president, if you watch him work a rope line, for example, you’ll see that there are positions taken up by the agents around him. There’s always one in front of him. There’s one behind him. One’s got his hand on – usually his hand on the president’s back. They’re there. And then the agents around are working the crowd, looking for hands and eyes. And they will say that. If they see someone in the crowd and they can’t see their eyes, they’ll say, may we see your hands? May we see your hands, please?

They’re looking for the guy on a perfectly sunny day who’s wearing a heavy raincoat. People, when they see the president, regardless of political bent, are happy. I mean, the guy’s a rock star. All presidents are rock stars. You want to shake his hand. You want to wave. You want to get some recognition from him. They’re looking for the person who is not reacting that way to the president. And they’re all in a position. They like football players, because football players understand how to play a position.

CONAN: Jeffrey Robinson, thanks very much for your time today. Appreciate it.

ROBINSON: Anytime. It’s always a pleasure, Neal.

CONAN: The author of more than 25 books, including “Standing Next to History,” Jeffrey Robinson, joined us from his home – excuse me – from his office in New York.

-----

Copyright © 2012 National Public Radio®. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to National Public Radio. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR’s prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.


Where Dictators Hide Their Money

AUTHOR’S NOTE: THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN AND PUBLISHED BEFORE GADDAFI AND HIS SON SAIF WERE ARRESTED. AT THE TIME, NO ONE KNEW WHERE THEIR MONEY WAS. TO DATE, NONE GADDAFI’S CACHE OF GOLD AND GET-AWAY CASH HAS BEEN FOUND. THE BULK OF HIS FORTUNE, STOLEN FROM THE PEOPLE OF LIBYA AND HIDDEN OUTSIDE LIBYA, IS BEING TRACKED. SAIF’S PRESENCE IN THE CITY OF LONDON IS A CLEAR SIGN THAT SOME OF IT — OR MUCH OF IT, OR EVEN ALL OF IT — WENT THROUGH THERE. YET, TO DATE, NO ONE IN LONDON HAS BEEN CHARGED — OR EVEN ACCUSED — OF AIDING AND ABETTING MONEY LAUNDERING OR VIOLATIONS UNDER THE RULES GOVERNING POLITICALLY EXPOSED PERSONS (PEPs).

 THE DAILY BEAST – Aug 26, 2011


During the first week of “Dictators’ School,” they teach you that cash is king, and gold is pretty good too, except gold is heavy.

It’s a lesson the world’s despots take to heart. Witness Ferdinand Marcos leaving Manila in 1986 with 24 suitcases of gold bricks. And, more recently, Tunisia’s Ben Ali fleeing with a ton and a half of gold.

In March, the Financial Times reported that Muammar Gaddafi’s stash was worth $6.5 billion. Yet, when the rebels seized his compound last week, there were no reports of huge gold or cash finds. The headline was Gaddafi’s scrapbook of Condoleeza Rice photos. So the question has to be, was Gaddafi playing hooky during his first week at Dictator’s School?

Hardly. This is a guy who spent 42 years using the Central Bank as his personal checking account. Supposedly worth in excess of $90 billion, he’d clearly hidden enough gold and cash to pay his mercenaries.

Being a despot under pressure is an expensive business. And therein lies one of the clues to where Gaddafi might be headed. Some of those mercenaries are from Zimbabwe, members of Robert Mugabe’s presidential guard regiment. As Mugabe has been reported to have offered Gaddafi safe passage, it’s a good bet that gold has been shipped to Zimbabwe to sweeten the welcome.

 
Gaddafi
(MacDougall / AFP-Getty Images)
Gaddafi’s other invitation for exile comes from Venezuela’s dying president, Hugo Chavez. Moving gold hidden offshore behind a duck blind of shell companies to Caracas is even easier, when you know how.

However, the bulk of Gaddafi’s fortune seems to be tied up in the Western banking system. Normally, bankers should be on the lookout for accounts in the name of M. Gaddafi, last known address Tripoli. Under the guise of U.N. sanctions, the U.S. has already frozen $37 billion, the British $19.6 billion, and the Germans $10.5 billion.

Some of that was bedded down by the Libyan Investment Authority. Little more than a Gaddafi front, it was used by the dictator to acquire real-estate holdings, shares in at least two European banks, shares in several blue-chip companies, and a stake in the Italian soccer club, Juventus.

But obvious assets are not what his future is about. In the end, it hangs on the years his son Saif spent in Britain.

Ostensibly there to coerce a Ph.D. out of the London School of Economics—he got it, handed the LSE a $2.5 million gift, a scandal ensued, the money was returned, the LSE director who accepted it resigned, and Saif’s now been accused of plagiarizing parts of his thesis—what he was really doing was learning the ways of the City of London.

Just like his pal Gamal Mubarak—Hosni’s son, who spent two years figuring out how to launder family money while working his day job at the Bank of America—Saif was a man with billions to spend.

The City of London, being one of the world’s major banking capitals, maintains an aura of propriety while being one of the world’s primary money-laundering sinks. Foreign bankers are plentiful, competition and greed is rampant, and regulation is lax. The Financial Services Authority, which is supposed to take a dim view of these things, is funded by the banks and has become so incompetent that there are plans to abolish it.

The biggest hurdle Saif had to overcome is the much talked about, little enforced statute that deals with “PEPs” or “politically exposed persons.”

The statute was put into place to prevent despots from looting their own treasuries, so anyone with the last name Gaddafi is a poster child PEP. Which means that bankers in London who met with Saif should have reported any sums involved, and frozen them.

But this is London and all Saif had to do was explain that these funds were not his father’s, then double-talk his way through the details of some dubious corporate structure. At that point, every banker would ask himself, if I do the right thing and report my suspicions, how much will that cost me in fees?

When the guy in front of you is looking to hide billions, and your fees are rapidly ticking into the tens of millions, it’s Hobson’s choice.

The Brits learned this from the Swiss, who were the original masters of plausible deniability. For years, they’ve talked a good game, while having shown no shame about turning a blind eye to dirty money. In contrast to Gaddafi’s billions frozen in the U.S., Britain, and Germany, the Swiss have only come up with a paltry $817 million. But then, Switzerland is for yesterday’s despots.

Enter here a new player. Especially for the Arab world… Dubai.

Today, Dubai is the money-laundering heart of the Muslim world.

 That city-state rocked in the ’90s, and banks sprung up like palm trees. At least one planeload of Russians bearing wads of fresh U.S. $100 bills landed in nearby Sharjah every day so they could launder drug money through Dubai’s huge gold souk.

Then came the crash. Property values went through the floor and even the Russians stopped coming. The banks needed to do something, so they turned themselves into the Switzerland of the Gulf. Today, Dubai is the money-laundering heart of the Muslim world. Three times more dirty money goes back and forth between Dubai and Pakistan via the paperless “hawallah” network, than through normal banking circles.

The BBC is reporting that Gaddafi had offered 25 tons of gold to whoever would assure his freedom. Getting that much gold out of Libya with $2 million on his head—dead or alive—and no air traffic, ain’t easy. But sources in the U.K. say that he’d long ago managed to get as much as $3 billion in cash and gold out of Libya and into London.

The groundwork done, Saif would have had no problem moving those assets to Dubai and on to—why not Caracas?—without any serious controls.

Saif’s old man now merely has to pull off his Houdini act.

If he somehow manages that, Dictator School textbooks won’t have to be rewritten.

 

(C) Jeffrey Robinson 2011, 2012

What Does Health Care Fraud Look Like? - From The NHCAA

The National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association (NHCAA) is the leading national organization focused on the fight against health care fraud. They are a private-public partnership, whose members comprise more than 100 private health insurers, public-sector law enforcement and regulatory agencies with jurisdiction over health care fraud.

Their website, always a good source for information on the subject is:   http://nhcaa.org/eweb/StartPage.aspx

And this comes from that:

=========================================================================

 

What Does Health Care Fraud Look Like?

 

The majority of health care fraud is committed by organized crime groups and a very small minority of dishonest health care providers. The most common types of health care fraud include:

  • Billing for services that were never rendered—either by using genuine patient information, sometimes obtained through identity theft, to fabricate entire claims or by padding claims with charges for procedures or services that did not take place.
  • Billing for more expensive services or procedures than were actually provided or performed, commonly known as “upcoding”—i.e., falsely billing for a higher-priced treatment than was actually provided (which often requires the accompanying “inflation” of the patient’s diagnosis code to a more serious condition consistent with the false procedure code).
    Performing medically unnecessary services solely for the purpose of generating insurance payments.
  • Misrepresenting non-covered treatments as medically necessary covered treatments for purposes of obtaining insurance payments—widely seen in cosmetic-surgery schemes, in which non-covered cosmetic procedures such as “nose jobs” are billed to patients’ insurers as deviated-septum repairs.
  • Falsifying a patient’s diagnosis to justify tests, surgeries or other procedures that aren’t medically necessary.
  • Unbundling – billing each step of a procedure as if it were a separate procedure.
  • Billing a patient more than the co-pay amount for services that were prepaid or paid in full by the benefit plan under the terms of a managed care contract.
  • Accepting kickbacks for patient referrals.
  • Waiving patient co-pays or deductibles and over-billing the insurance carrier or benefit plan.