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Tightening the Noose?

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More than two years of intense investigation by state and federal law enforcement officials finally paid off last week. That is, if you call last week's plea deal by former Fletcher Allen CFO Thad Krupka a payoff.

Ol' Thad pled guilty to three measly state misdemeanors for lying to a state agency about the true cost of Fletcher Allen's scandalous Renaissance Project.

What Mary Fanny officials and trustees deceitfully called a $173 million expansion in 2002 now clocks in at almost $370 million. And you, the health-care consumers of northern Vermont, are the ones who will pay the tab for decades to come out of your jacked-up insurance premiums.

Krupka, now living in Minnesota, will not be going to jail for his role in the biggest financial scandal in Vermont history. He will pay a hefty $170,000 fine. If Thad continues to do a good job of singing like a stool pigeon, his future is a bright one.

Krupka's plea deal brings the government one step closer to nailing the Renaissance Scandal's kingpin -- Krupka's former boss, ex-CEO Bill Boettcher. But let's face it, folks, this very expensive two-year-plus federal and state criminal investigation has yet to show any results that justify the money, time and effort.

As pointed out here, one problem investigators have in prosecuting Big Bad Bill on federal felony charges is proving Boettcher personally benefited from the fraud. Take notice that Krupka pled to state, not federal, charges.

And several sources indicate there's a very strong likelihood that Boettcher, like Krupka, will not spend one night behind bars for his ethically flawed Renaissance masterpiece, even if a plea deal is eventually agreed to.

Instead, we're told, prosecutors are pondering what would be a "tough enough sentence" to satisfy the ripped-off Vermont public?

For example, how about a multimillion dollar fine and hundreds of hours of community service?

What if the former Fletcher Allen Liar-in-Chief had to pick up trash along the interstate for a month? Clean toilets at the Waystation shelter? Pop zits with his teeth?

Okay, just kidding about the toilets and the zit-popping.

But the fact is, if Boettcher sails away into the sunset without a felony conviction and time in the slammer, a few somebodies are not going to be looking too good, and they know it.

There are also indications that another reason for the slow progress is the fact that the term of the first federal grand jury panel investigating the scandal has expired. Pros-ecutors would then have to go back to square one with a newly impaneled grand jury.

What a mess!

P.S. Former Mary Fanny trustee Con Hogan contacted us this week from Ireland. Hogan is advising the health services in County Kilkenny, which just happens to be yours truly's ancestral homeland.

Hogan resigned in disgust, we reported a few weeks ago, because the four entities that own Fletcher Allen refused to share any power with the public.

As Con kindly put it, "They have a long way to go."

Hogan's resignation, or rather the fact that his resignation went unreported by both the Freeps and local TV news, has become something of an inside media joke.

Since reporter Steve Kiernan left The Burlington Free Press a couple months back, the paper has dropped Fletcher Allen coverage like a stone. And whenever the Mary Fanny's mentioned by Ch. 3 "medical reporter" Sera Congi these days, it's usually about a philanthropist's donation or a ribbon-cutting.

For some unexplained reason, the local mainstream press has abdicated its watchdog responsibilities.

Fletcher Allen Communications Director Maria McClellan told Seven Days that the Free Press and WCAX don't even cover the scandal-ridden hospital's trustee meetings anymore.

Award-winning journalism, eh?

Superman Lives On -- "That was not happy news to wake up to this morning," said Vermont's senior senator Monday.

Sen. Patrick Leahy was talking about the death of an actor who won fame for playing a superhero on celluloid. But it was the years he lived as a cripple that showed the world how truly super Christopher Reeve was.

"A lot of people would have given up long ago," remarked St. Patrick. "He suffered a lot of setbacks over the years, but he kept right on fighting."

The funny thing is that 20 years ago it was the tall, bald guy from Vermont who inspired Superman.

As a teenager, Reeve first acted at the Williamstown Playhouse and spent time in Vermont long before the Man of Steel's cape ever hung from his shoulders. Reeve knew the difference between cartoon characters and real heroes. The difference between make-believe and the human condition.

Reeve first took a shining to St. Patrick in the mid-1980s.

"He and I had met," recalled Leahy, "and we talked about the fact he had spent a lot of time in Vermont." Then in 1986, "He just called me up out of the blue when I was running for reelection and said, 'I'm right here in Williamstown. Can I come over and help you out?'"

They met in Bennington, where the Leahy Campaign had scheduled an event designed to sign up volunteers.

"It was amazing," said Leahy, "to see the number of volunteers who showed up because Christopher Reeve was going to be there."

He remembered leaving a restaurant with Reeve later, and a few local kids were waiting outside to get Superman's autograph.

One of them asked Chris, "Can you really fly?"

"No, I can't," answered Reeve, as a look of disappointment came over the kid's face.

After they drove away, Reeve confided in the Vermont senator.

"You know, I can't lie," confessed Reeve, "but sometimes I feel like I'm Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. I wish just once I could take off about 1000 feet up in the air and come back down for the kid."

Leahy tenderly remembered Superman as a "very down-to-earth guy," despite his celebrity. The actor was politically active well before his tragic accident.

St. Patrick recalled one meeting at a Senate hearing. Afterward Leahy offered to walk Reeve to his car.

But he didn't have a car, said Leahy, or a limousine like all the other Hollywood types. Superman had taken a cab from the airport.

So Leahy grabbed his keys and drove Reeve back.

As it happens, Reeve's death may well have an impact -- however slight -- on the looming, extremely close presidential election. Last Friday night, two days before Reeve's death, Sen. John Kerry invoked Reeve's name and his cause: the fight for increased stem-cell research and the cures for paralysis it's expected to uncover.

But our current president opposes such research. George W. Bush does so in order to keep his fanatical "pro-life" religious supporters in line. You realize, of course, that there are millions of Bush loyalists who believe our U.S. Constitution should be replaced by their Holy Bible.

Were they in Iraq or Afghanistan today, they'd be called "religious extremists."

In America, however, they're called "good Republicans."

"The last time I talked to Chris," said Leahy, "I promised him that stem-cell funding will pass. We will make sure it does. And when it does, members of both parties will be talking about Christopher Reeve."

Like the immortal cartoon superhero he played on the screen, Christopher Reeve will be with us for a long, long time.

Thanks, Superman.

Speaking of the Bible -- Isn't there a commandment that says, "Thou shalt not lie?"

Well, don't tell Bush's religious fanatics, but their hero did just that last Thursday in Wausau, Wisconsin.

You think we've got a lot of cows in Vermont?

Wisconsin has over 17,000 dairy farms. They've got more cows than people. Dairy is king and George Bush knows it.

That's why he told Wisconsin farmers last Thursday that he supports the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program that Vermont Sen. Pat Leahy helped create. MILC is an adaptation of the old Northeast Dairy Compact and protects farmers from fluctuations in milk prices.

George Bush needs Wisconsin in his column on November 2. And, unfortunately, as was the case with his holy war in Iraq, Mr. Bush will break commandments to achieve his personal goals.

"I know the Milk Income Loss Contract program is important to the dairy farmers here in Wisconsin," Bush told a rally of more than 5000 sign-waving, cheering supporters.

"I look forward to working with Congress to reauthorize the program, so Wisconsin dairy farmers and dairy farmers all across this country can count on the support they need."

Two days later, 48 hours, the House Republican leadership, led by the ethically challenged Rep. Tom DeLay, killed the reauthorization of the MILC program.

Sen. Leahy told Seven Days that the House Republicans had gotten "a very clear signal from the White House" that the president wanted to be able to say he supported MILC in Wisconsin and Minnesota. So DeLay held off until after the campaign trip.

"The last thing in the world [Bush] wanted to do was let it pass," said Leahy. "He wanted to have it both ways. I think it was outrageous. It was about as cynical as you can imagine."

And, it was a lie. A lie to the dairy farmers of the Midwest and a lie to the American people. Clearly his momma never washed his mouth out with soap.

Fortunately, St. Patrick is one very savvy saint. Anticipating the Devil would make the Bush administration do precisely what it just did to kill the MILC reauthorization, Leahy "slipped a little provision" in the bill two years ago that will keep MILC alive and working for another 11 months.

"I figured," said St. Patrick, "that I'd get it past the presidential election and we'd have several more bites at the apple."

A Vermont apple, we trust?

Pat & Pete -- If St. Pat has one more miracle up his sleeve, we know precisely who is on their knees praying to be the beneficiary.

Leahy campaigned with Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Peter Clavelle in Franklin County on Monday. That's Vermont dairy country and Leahy literally walks on milk, er, water in the eyes of the locals.

Transferring Patrick's support to Pedro will take a miracle, since Gov. Jim Douglas has made Franklin County a second home, and has pro-business Frank Cioffi singing his praises and Emerson Lynn writing glowing editorials.

"Peter Clavelle would make a superb governor," Leahy told us. "We've seen what he's done in Burlington. I'd be delighted to see him as governor."

It appears the Clavelle people have stepped up efforts this week to make their campaign about Bush. Moonie's back on the air after last week's cash-saving hiatus. And he's running his big attack ad -- the one that stars Gov. Scissorhands smiling and waving alongside Darth Vader, er, Vice President Dick Cheney.

Obviously, Clavelle agrees

with us -- his hopes for victory depend on the length of John Kerry's coattails. But it's going to take a miracle.

Grave Digging? -- As everybody knows, Sen. Leahy will be easily reelected on November 2 to a seventh term in Washington. About the only person who doesn't realize it is the creepy little Massachusetts nut job who's repeating his 1998 ego-massage act.

That was when Fred Tuttle of Tunbridge was the "miracle" candidate who saved Vermont from a possible infestation of self-annointed stock-market millionaires who wanted to find fame and glory on Vermont's political stage.

Tuttle defeated Jack McAlien, er, McMullen in the GOP primary after teaching him the anatomy of a cow during that most memorable VPR debate.

Fred's since passed away. We all miss him, but he went out on top.

McWeirdo, unfortunately, continues to pursue his bizarre quest to be able to say that he lost a race for the U.S. Senate to Pat Leahy.

Most Republicans shy away from McNutso. Republican Gov. Jim Douglas got out of a tight spot by quietly endorsing McMullen at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning at a senior citizen center in Rutland.

Nice work, Jim!

McMullen may have tons of money but he has no class.

You see, getting Gov. Scissorhands' "endorsement" apparently ignited McCreepy's ego. Seven Days has learned that Mr. McMullen had the self-serving gall to harass Fred Tuttle's widow in hopes of getting her to endorse his lunatic candidacy!

This is one millionaire Masshole, folks, who's gone beyond the beyonds.

Dot Tuttle, Fred's widow, told Seven Days that McMullen called over the weekend. He was seeking her endorsement of his deranged candidacy to be our U.S. Senator.

"I was surprised," said Dot. She said he told her in that spooky deep, slow voice that "out of memory of Fred," he wanted "to show there was no animosity" over his 1998 primary defeat.

Animosity? What animosity?

Mrs. Tuttle told McPsycho she would not be endorsing the likes of him. Instead, she told him she will vote for Patrick Leahy -- again.

"I like Mr. Leahy and I told him that," said Dot. "I just vote for the man who does the best job.

Clear-Cut View -- Last week's clear-cutting of the 25-year-old crabapple trees in front of Burling-ton's Fletcher Free Library came as a shock to many. The trees suffered from a fungus infection. Besides, they were only supposed to last 20 years, said Circulation Chief Lorrie Colburn.

But once folks got over the shock, said Lorrie, eyes widened at the possibilities.

The clear-cut has exposed the distinguished 100-year old library building to public view, and a marvelous new view it is.

Plans to replant with American Elms may be put off, we're told, as more folks discover what a wonderful new open public space has just been created in the heart of Vermont's largest city.

Check it out.

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