Villains and other matters

How crooked can you get? Henry A. Fellela, Jr., spouse of a Johnston state legislator, should have the book thrown at him. He finally admitted, in the face of overwhelming evidence, that he had fraudulently collected $58,000 in social security benefits for eight years, claiming that he was unable to work due to mental illness. He had previously applied for supplemental benefits in 1999 but they were terminated after he was convicted of credit card fraud and mail theft. After his release from the hoosegow he applied within weeks for the benefits again while feigning homelessness. He, of course, was in residence with his wife, Rep. Deborah A. Fellela.

Then, the Senate Judiciary Committee “held the bill” on the abolition of the “master lever” since some members needed more time to study it. They must be very slow learners since the legislation has been perennially on the docket.

The owner of the so-called Superman Building now wants close to $40 million to renovate his property. Since when should entrepreneurs have the state and city bail them out for their improvident business judgment? The public hasn’t heard how much the company made during the good ole’ days when the Bank of America was renting there and, given the $24 million tax write-off the company logged on its tax returns, they probably broke even. As usual, the owner brought out the old chestnut about how many jobs would be created by the renovation. This argument makes about as much sense as authorizing the construction of a pyramid or catacombs in Burnside Park because it would create construction jobs.

Meanwhile, the pension settlement was nixed by a group of police officers and that was supposed to kill the deal. So, in typical Rhode Island fashion, the rules changed and now the judge has them in negotiation settlements behind closed doors where the ca-ching sound emanates to the detriment of everyone, including taxpayers. Here’s a novel idea; decide the constitutional issue.

One good thing last week was the settlement with the federal Justice Department that will get some disabled citizens out of shelters and into community work where they can earn a decent wage. Governor Lincoln Chafee deserves credit for doing the right thing. Hats off to the feds.
The settlement brought me back to the days when I was an attorney at RIPAS (Rhode Island Protection and Advocacy System). A federal lawsuit to stop the heinous conditions at the Ladd School (where residents’ teeth were being pulled without Novocain and they lay in their own feces in dorms that were actually warehouses) had stalled in federal court, so the parents and the ARC (Association of Retarded Citizens) decided to change attorneys. They asked executive director Peg Tormey if RIPAS could take over the suit. Within a year a settlement was reached, which led to the group homes and independent living of today.

Throughout the litigation the state threatened to withhold RIPAS funding because of RIPAS’ rigorous prosecution of state officials. At risk of her job, Peg Tormey would not be intimidated. Hundreds of parents of handicapped children, whom RIPAS had aided along with Ladd Center parents, protested — and funding was restored.

I often am comforted by the fact that with all the shenanigans in the state, it’s people like Peg Tormey who are its heart and soul.

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