Viewpoint: Street bonds have an odor

Viewpoint: Street bonds have an odor

By Joe Baker

Street bonds have an odor

By Joe Baker

Senior Editor

As you may have read or heard, Rockford aldermen are thinking about trying some different means of financing road work. They are talking about ending separate referenda to pay for these repairs.

Specifically, they are thinking about a city sales tax and maybe a tax on gasoline. It apparently began some time ago when an alderman proposed eliminating the vehicle stickers.

The council, at that time, said it would look at alternatives to pay for road work. Last week they believed was the time to start, so there was discussion.

This proposal is nothing new. It was tried in 1979 and lasted for several years before it was dropped. It was resurrected this time by city Finance Director Andres Sammul.

Sammul said a one-half percent sales tax would produce better than $7 million, roughly the amount of income from the present bond issue. A one-cent tax on gasoline, which is the maximum permitted by law, would net approximately $600,000.

Ald. David Johnson, R-4, would like to see a higher sales tax. He said that would permit the city to forego the gas tax and maybe eliminate vehicle stickers. The stickers bring in about $1.2 million a year.

The mayor has taken no stand on the matter, saying he wants to see a comparison of the options in writing before he decides on a recommendation. No decisions have been made at this point, and it likely may be several months before there is one.

A tax on gasoline seems superfluous. We have enough tax on gas as it is, even though it is state and federal tax. A sales tax would be a fair way to finance street repairs. Everyone would pay it, whereas a percentage of residents who drive on city streets do not live in the city and do not pay for the bond issue.

Speaking of the bond issue approved by voters in the last election, a more interesting question is why is the city playing footsie with the likes of Jackson Stephens?

The broker for the street bond issue is Stephens, Inc. of Little Rock, Ark. It is the largest brokerage firm outside of New York City. It is owned by Jackson Stephens.

Who is Jackson Stephens? In addition to being a close buddy of William Clinton, it was Stephens who staked Sam Walton when he started Wal-Mart in 1970, and he financed Tyson Foods’ takeover of Holly Farms in 1988.

Stephens is known as a “wheeler dealer.” He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy with Jimmy Carter in 1946. Stephens was the man who introduced Mochtar Riady, an Indonesian tycoon who became wealthy through gun running and drug smuggling, to Carter’s friend, Bert Lance.

Riady was set to bail Lance out of trouble by buying his stock in National Bank of Georgia. He apparently changed his mind because he and Stephens bought a bank in Hong Kong instead. Stephens located a new buyer for Lance’s stock.

In 1977, he introduced Lance to Agha Hasan Abedi, founder of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI). BCCI has been described as one of the most corrupt and criminal enterprises ever to reach U.S. shores.

In 1990, BCCI was convicted of money laundering for the Colombian cocaine cartels in Miami. It collapsed the next year, and millions of investors in some 73 countries lost their life savings.

The New York Post, in 1992, reported that Jackson Stephens handled the 1970’s deals that saw BCCI acquire two American banks–First American Bankshares and the National Bank of Georgia.

The Post reported these banks were employed as clearing houses by a group of “the world’s most dastardly crooks, drug dealers, dictators and spies…and Stephens’ ties to principals in the scandal continue to this day.”

Stephens, of course, denies any connection with BCCI and the surrounding criminal activities.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee released an 800-page report on BCCI’s collapse. It said the bank’s activities represented “an international financial crime on a massive and global scale” and that the bank “systematically bribed world leaders and political figures throughout the world.”

As if that isn’t enough, it is well documented that Stephens was allegedly up to his eyebrows in laundering money from the Mena, Ark. drug smuggling operation. He was involved there with Clinton, George Bush, Sr., Ollie North and notorious drug smuggler Barry Seal.

So the question is: Could Stephens be co-mingling our street bond money with other “funds?” Sure would be the perfect, well-concealed laundering operation. The separate bond issue referenda we’ve had for all these years could certainly play into a bad senario.

Why is the city dealing with this guy?

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