Magazine article Insight on the News

A State of Corruption

Magazine article Insight on the News

A State of Corruption

Article excerpt

People who know are now talking about the money, sex and lies of the Clinton era in Arkansas.

Arkansas is like a foreign country. They do things differently there. Of course, Arkansans don't like to hear such comments from outsiders -- Ross Perot's 1992 characterization of the place as "the chicken-shit state" infuriated them. Privately though, the more thoughtful recognize that all is not well there and hasn't been for some time. The feeling is very much that the old patronage and corruption machine that has dominated the state since Reconstruction never will recover fully from the combined onslaught of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's Whitewater probe and ongoing media inquiries.

Involuntary perestroika is coming. But don't expect it to be preceded by glasnost. When the crash comes, it is going to be as sudden and unexpected as the fall of the Berlin Wall or the collapse of Kremlin communism. Slowly but surely, however, more and more people in the know are beginning to speak quietly, and more often than not anonymously, of money, girls, sex and drugs, of the favors and the lies, and of the general corruption that flows inevitably from one-party domination.

Take the Arkansas State Police. For years the force has been an Ozark equivalent of the KGB, a praetorian guard of the political and business nomenclatura. Gov. Orval Faubus used the Arkansas National Guard in 1957 to defy the U.S. Supreme Court and block black students from entering Little Rock's Central High School. In much the same way, members of the redneck ancien regime over the years have turned to the state police -- and assorted sheriffs and other law-enforcement officers -- to protect them and to iron out or overlook any little wrinkles in their generally smooth-running if graft-filled lives.

During the 1980s, Dan Lasater, Little Rock bond daddy, convicted cocaine distributor and Friend of Bill, or FOB, always could rely on his tame cop, Trooper Mike Mahone, or employees of the Pulaski County sheriff's office to let him know whether his partying and drug dealing were catching the eye of the feds or of honest officers at state police headquarters. The extent of Mahone's friendship was outlined in a 1986 deposition by a former Lasater business partner, George Locke, who was also Clinton aide Patsy Thomasson's onetime lover. During a Lasater-paid trip to Chicago, Mahone "discussed the ongoing drug investigation surrounding Dan Lasater and [Locke]." The trooper warned the pair "to be circumspect in the use of the telephone as the telephones may be tapped." And, "at this meeting in Chicago, Mahone gave Dan Lasater a beeper with which [Mahone] could contact Lasater in case an emergency arose."

How did this obliging cop come into Lasater's orbit? According to Locke, Lasater "developed his relationship with Mike Mahone through his friendship with Roger Clinton or Roger's mother, Virginia Clinton," who frequently invited Mahone to enjoy her box at the Oaklawn racetrack in the gambling resort of Hot Springs. And was Mahone ever prosecuted for his disloyalty? No, of course not: Arkansas is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

The mafia have omerta, their blood-curdling code of silence. The good ol' boy (and girl) Arkansas elite also has been able to rely on its members to keep mum. Not that breaking ranks would lead to a swampy grave or a concrete coffin underneath a highway pylon. Rather, group disloyalty here is punished by social ostracism and being denied access to the back-scratching, deal-making network and the almost constant bucolic scams. As Arkansans never tire of telling you in a way that sounds menacing, "This is a small place." Claustrophobic is more like it.

But at long last the Whitewater independent counsel is finding disgusted state troopers ready to break the code of silence that traditionally has protected the bosses. Between 40 and 50 cops have been interviewed in the Starr chamber and about 11 of them are cooperating. …

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