Andy Kroll

Andy Kroll

Senior Reporter

Andy Kroll is Mother Jones' Dark Money reporter. He is based in the DC bureau. His work has also appeared at the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, Men's Journal, the American Prospect, and TomDispatch.com, where he's an associate editor. Email him at akroll (at) motherjones (dot) com. He tweets at @AndyKroll.

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Prisoners Scored $9 Mil in Housing Tax Credit

| Wed Jun. 23, 2010 12:45 PM EDT

More than a thousand prisoners, 241 of whom were behind bars for life, pocketed more than $9 million in tax breaks as part of Congress' highly popular first homebuyer tax credit. All told, the housing tax credit, which has propped up the US' wounded housing market for months, has lost nearly $30 million to fraud, according to a new Treasury Department report.

Here's CNN Money on the report:

According to the report, 4,608 state and federal inmates filed for these tax credits, and that fraudulent refunds were doled out to 1,295 of them.

The inspector general's report said the most "egregious" fraudsters were 715 prison lifers, including 174 who filed with the help of paid preparers. From this group, 241 lifers were awarded $1.7 million.

The problem was particularly bad in Florida: 61% of the lifers who got credits were incarcerated in the Sunshine State.

The homebuyer tax credit program was very specific about the time period in which homebuyers were allowed to participate, though this rule seems to be the most widely violated. The credit was for home purchases that happened after April 8, 2008, with a cut-off date that was eventually extended to May 1, 2010.

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Oil Spill Paranoiac Wins GOP Candidacy

| Wed Jun. 23, 2010 10:39 AM EDT

The conspiracy theory wing of the Tea Party scored a substantial victory last night, with Bill Randall prevailing in a runoff for the Republican candidacy in North Carolina's 13th Congressional district. In case you missed it, Randall has suggested that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf wasn't precipitated by non-existent safety inspections, a culture of self-regulation, a federal regulator in bed with the industry, etc., etc. Instead, Randall believes, the BP and federal government may have colluded to cause the Horizon rig to explode, crumble into the water, and begin spewing millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf each day. Last month, Randall had this to say about the spill:

Personally, and this is purely speculative on my part and not based on any fact, but personally I feel there is a possibility that there was some sort of collusion. I don't know how or why, but in that situation, if you have someone from a company violating a safety process and the government signing off on it, excuse me, maybe they wanted it to leak.

Now, Randall isn't the only public figure to claim to smell something funny about the spill. Former FEMA chief, Michael "Heckuva job, Brownie" Brown claimed Obama wanted the Deepwater spill to occur so he could shut down offshore oil drilling, and bloviator-in-chief Rush Limbaugh voiced his approval. But unlike his paranoid cohorts, Randall isn't a washed-up bureaucrat or a talking head—he's now the GOP's top candidate for a US representative.

Randall's defeat of moderate GOPer Bernie Reeves comes as somewhat of a surprise, but his chances this November against Democratic incumbent Brad Miller aren't that great. That is, unless he can convince North Carolinians that one of the biggest environmental catastrophes in US history was an inside job.

Sen. Vitter's "Women's Issues" Aide Attacked Girlfriend. With a Knife.

| Wed Jun. 23, 2010 8:23 AM EDT

File this story in the so-outrageous-it-can-only-be-true folder. An veteran aide to Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), whom Vitter has tapped to handle women's issues, turns out to have pled guilty in 2008 to charges relating to a knife attack on an ex-girlfriend. Brent Furer, ABC News reports, was accused of threatening to kill the woman, putting his hand over her mouth, and cutting her hand and neck. Nonetheless, ABC says, Furer, who also has an open warrant in his name in Louisiana for a driving while intoxicated charge, still collects his $54,000, taxpayer-funded salary through the Senate.

For "Diaper Dave" Vitter, who was exposed in 2007 as a client of the DC Madam, the revelations about his women's issues aide again highlights the gulf between the senator's statements and his actions. Vitter's office told ABC that Furer was put on leave from the office while a court handled the 2008 case, and that "further significant disciplinary action" had been taken as well. Still, Furer did eventually return to work in the Louisiana senator's office.

Really Rich Back to Being...Rich

| Tue Jun. 22, 2010 11:26 AM EDT

The housing market is still a mess; foreclosures are mounting; unemployment hovers near 10 percent; and, as Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said just today, "Our economy is still going through an incredibly difficult period." All of this stems from one of the worst financial crises in US history, a meltdown of epic proportions from which the country and the world has yet to fully recover.

That is, unless you're really, really rich. Bloomberg reports today that the super wealthy's riches have all but returned to their swollen, pre-meltdown levels, according to a report by Capgemini SA and Merrill Lynch. Of the 10 million people globally with $1 million or more to invest in whatever they want, their wealth rose nearly 19 percent in 2009, to $39 trillion. In 2007, just before the train sped off the cliff, that wealth was $40.7 trillion spread among 10.1 million really rich people. (Let's not mention 2008—these 10 million people's wealth amounted to only $32.8 trillion. A down year, there.)

Here's more from Bloomberg:

The U.S. had 2.87 million millionaires, more than triple second-ranked Germany with 861,500, the report said. The number of millionaires in China soared 31 percent to 477,400, keeping the country ahead of the U.K. with 448,100.

Ultra-high net worth individuals with more than $30 million to invest saw their wealth rise by 21.5 percent in 2009, faster than other millionaires, according to the report, which attributed the gain to a "more effective re-allocation of assets."

Huzzah! Now here's a recovery you can believe in.

Crackdown Looming for Subprime Student Lenders

| Tue Jun. 22, 2010 10:11 AM EDT

Last month, I reported on a glaring omission in the Senate's 1,500-page financial reform bill: private student lenders, once described by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo as the "Wild West" of lending. These lenders, like juggernaut Sallie Mae, who often cater to subprime borrowers, saw the dollar amount of their loans grow from $7.2 billion to $15 billion between the 2003-04 and 2007-08 academic years. Over that same period, the percentage of students with private loans climbed from 5 percent (935,000 borrowers) to 14 percent in 2007-08 (nearly 3 million). Accompanying that growth, though, have been rampant predatory lending complaints, from peddling usurious interest rates to targeting the homeless and other people obviously without the means to pay off tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

Last night, top House lawmakers announced that private student lenders' exemption is all but dead. The House's conferees, who together with top sentators are trying to merge the chambers' two financial reform bills, offered new rules that would subject private student lenders—along with payday lenders, check cashers, and money remitters, among others—to oversight under a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. What's more, House conferees want to mandate that private student lenders get certification from a student's college before giving that student a private loan. This certification ensures that students are actually eligible for loans of any kind, and if so, that they've exhausted all options for receiving federal loan money, which carries lower interest rates and is generally safer than private loans.

These changes proposed by the House would go a long way toward to cracking down on abuses in the private student loan business, while letting the honest lenders who provide a necessary service to students go about their business. Now, it's up to the Senate, who left these lenders off the hook in the first round, to get on board.

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