“I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”
Editor’s Note: shortly after @BossBird17 completed this story, there were still more developments regarding Collins. The author will shortly do a follow up to reflect the additional scandals.
Imagine my surprise to turn on my television on August 8, 2018 to discover that Trump sycophant, Rep. Chris Collins (NY-27), was arrested for insider trading and wire fraud. Finally, I yelled! Then calls were made to other ecstatic Democrats and my avian companion, Goliath (the real boss bird), and I did our celebratory happy dance. Just in case you’re wondering, yes, my avian avatar can dance up a storm.
The subtitle of this piece may sound a bit pretentious or trite, but I don’t care because the famous quote uttered by Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore in the movie, Apocalypse Now, to describe his feelings about what victory smells like accurately expresses my feelings regarding Chris Collins’s arrest. As an aside, though, I must give Rep. Collins a thank you for ending my writer’s block.
Just in case you’ve been living in a cave for several years, I’ll provide a brief recap of the background to this indictment by the Southern District of New York State (SDNY) against Rep. Collins; his 25-year-old son, Cameron Collins; and Cameron’s fiancé’s father, Stephen Zarsky.
Rep. Chris Collins is known to be the richest member of the House of Representatives. In 2015, his net worth was reported to be $66,414,016 by Open Secrets (https://heavy.com/money/2018/08/chris-collins-net-worth/ or go to https://www.opensecrets.org). He is a business owner and resides in Clarence, NY, which is one of the wealthiest suburbs outside of Buffalo, NY and is located in New York’s heavily gerrymandered 27th Congressional district. In 2014, Rep. Collins purchased 4 million in stocks in an Australian pharmaceutical company, Innate Immunotherapeutic, and also has a seat on the company’s board of directors.
Last year, it was exposed that Rep. Chris Collins had boasted about giving stock tips to people in Buffalo, NY and making them millionaires. In addition, he famously gave tips to fellow members of Congress regarding Innate’s drug to treat secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS). Former Georgia Representative and Health and Human Services Secretary, Tom Price, is the most well-known beneficiary of Rep. Collins’s tip regarding a “privileged sale” (discounted price) to only 20 US investors. These privileged stock tips led to the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate Rep. Collins’s activities in March 2017 and, subsequently, they forwarded their findings to the House of Representatives in July 2017, who started an investigation in August 2017.
Besides giving stock tips to his friends and Republican besties, Collins is well known for being an early supporter of Trump’s candidacy in 2016, served as an executive member of the Trump transition team, and organized a $5,000/person fundraiser in Buffalo, NY for the Trump transition team in January, 2017 where Kellyanne Conway was a guest speaker. Collins has been a frequent guest on various news programs defending Trump and his policies; yet interestingly, as the November election draws closer he has been conspicuously quiet regarding Trump.
Rep. Collins was Erie County Executive in WNY from 2007-2011 when he lost to Democrat Mark Poloncarz. In an odd twist, residents of NY-27th district voted to unseat Democrat Kathy Hochul and elected Collins to the US House of Representatives in 2012. He has been criticized for refusing to hold town meetings and said, “Because what you get are demonstrators who come and shout you down and heckle you.” (https://www.wgrz.com/article/news/local/chris-collins-i-will-never-have-a-town-hall/71-407490083) In addition, he has done nothing to help his constituents in NY-27th (unless you count the millionaires through the Republican Tax Cut) and in 2013, he supported the government shut-down. Despite being a businessman, he had no problem with defaulting on the nation’s debt.
Yesterday’s “napalm” was the revelation that on June 22, 2017 while attending a White House Congressional Picnic, Collins received a board of director’s email from Innate’s Chief Executive that the company’s critical MS drug trial (it’s primary source of potential profits) had failed. Because the company is located in Australia, sales and purchases of Innate’s stocks were halted there prior to the release of the trial’s failure, but this was not the case in the United States. One minute after receiving this news, Rep. Collins called (i.e. wire fraud) his son, Cameron, several times (link for Collins on the phone at the picnic: https://www.wivb.com/news/local-news/video-chris-collins-seen-talking-on-phone-at-white-house-event/1356300128), upon reaching him Collins allegedly notified Cameron of the failure and to sell his 1.3 million shares in Innate. Cameron Collins then notified his fiancé; her father, Stephen Zarsky; her mother, and they in turn notified other relatives to sell their Innate stock. Because Rep. Collins held stock through a broker in Australia, who had halted any sales or purchases of Innate stock and due to the ethics investigation, he was unable to sell his stock to avoid large losses. But, his son and the others acquired their stock through US brokers; therefore, they were able to sell prior to the release of the devastating news. On June 26, 2017, news of the trial’s failure was released and Innate’s stock plummeted 92%. However, Cameron Collins and Stephen Zarsky were able to avoid $768,000 in losses due to Rep. Chris Collins’s insider information (to read the 30 page indictment see this link: https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/4639651/Collins-Indictment.pdf ). According to the indictment, when questioned by the FBI, Rep. Collins lied and claimed he did not disclose the news of the trial’s failure.
Interestingly, it has been reported by The Buffalo News that Lauren Zarsky (Cameron’s fiancée) and her mother, Dorothy Zarsky have settled charges with the SEC for “trading on the basis of material nonpublic information…without admitting or denying the charges that they sold their shares of Innate based on tips they received from Cameron Collins.” (https://buffalonews.com/2018/08/08/what-the-sec-said-about-charging-chris-collins-others-with-insider-trading/?utm_medium=more_stories) After perusing the indictment, several unindicted co-conspirators were not named, but referred to in “code,” such as, “CC-1” or “CC-2.” It is unknown and just my speculation that the unindicted co-conspirators are or will be cooperating witnesses.
Collins was charged with violating Title 15, U.S. Code, Section 78j(b) [Manipulative and deceptive devices] and 78ff [False and misleading statements] and Title 17, Code of Federal Regulations, Section 240.10b-5 [Employment of manipulative and deceptive devices]. Upon my research, if convicted Collins could face a 5 million dollar fine, up to 20 years in prison, or both. (https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/15/78ff)
So, what does this mean for Collins’s candidacy and reelection in NY-27? Under New York State Law, he cannot be removed from the ballot, even though, he has been indicted on serious charges. Collins has publicly stated that he will “remain on the ballot” and looks forward to being “vindicated” on these charges. Currently, he has 1.3 million in “cash on hand” (https://www.fec.gov/data/candidate/H8NY29032/ ) for his campaign while his Democratic challenger, Nate McMurray, has $43,596 in “cash on hand” ( https://ballotpedia.org/New_York%27s_27th_Congressional_District_election,_2018).
The 27th district is heavily gerrymandered toward Republican voters and encompasses the rural counties of Genesee, Livingston, Orleans, and Wyoming and portions of Erie, Monroe, Ontario, and Niagara counties that have more affluent suburban voters. In 2016 Trump won the district by 24 points, which was the strongest margin in New York State. Thus, my opinion is that Collins will win reelection in November and the Republican party will either force him out in 2019 and hold a special election or will wait to see if he is convicted. Uncharacteristically, but strategically for the upcoming election Republican House Leader Paul Ryan denounced Collins’s alleged actions, which is unusual in that other serious ethics transgressions by Republicans have garnered no reaction, “it’s no big deal,” or the usual “blame the Democrats” response. As election day draws closer, the Republican party tactically wants to give voters the appearance that they won’t tolerate unethical behavior from their members to bring disillusioned or swing voters back into the “fold.”
In addition, Collins will win reelection because his wealthy base will be happy with their tax cuts; whereas, rural and/or non-affluent voters will, as usual, vote against their self-interests, but will cast their ballots on local hot button single issues: God, guns, gays, and immigration. Furthermore, if he is convicted I believe that Trump will pardon him because of Collins’s unwavering loyalty and as a way to “stick it” to law enforcement.
Despite my belief that Collins will win the November election, I still consider this as a victory because our criminal justice system worked as intended. Rep. Collins was indicted and will go to court if a plea deal isn’t offered or accepted.
With Collins’s indictment and the revelation of ethics abuses by other members of Congress and Trump Administration officials, a dangerous precedent is being set when criminal, amoral, and unethical behavior is normalized or categorized as “fake news.” How egregious must a politicians’ conduct be before “we the people” hold them accountable at the ballot box? Have we reached the lowest depths of political tribalism that Americans would still support and vote for Trump or any politician in their party, even if, they were to shoot someone as Trump famously stated: “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
I’m scared for our children, who see this behavior being condoned or normalized, and will grow-up thinking it is acceptable to act in this manner whether inside or outside of politics. Are we spreading the seeds and cultivating a generation of sociopaths or will young people listen to their “better angels” and fight against this wave of criminality, amorality, and hatred to spur our nation forward in thinking and actions?
I believe in the rule of law and having scruples. If any politician violates the law or acts unethically, they should be held accountable no matter their party and that’s coming from a Democrat, who is supposed to be soft on crime. As a country, we need to end this political tribalism, hold people accountable for their actions, and remember, “Country Over Party.”