Biker Boycotts, Bridge Bashers, and Justice for Jerks

Berkeley mayor and chamber make nice, oil-spill pilot charged, and mortgage fraud perpetrators get jail time.

You know what we can’t get enough of? Bizarre spectacles playing out in front of the downtown Berkeley Marine recruiting station. Last week, Berkeley mayor Tom Bates met with members of the Chamber of Commerce, the placid burghers who have been unsettled by the prospect of mass boycotts stemming from the City Council’s decision to officially insult the Marines, who after all are just looking for a few good men. After weeks of outlandish protests and counter protests, the mayor and the merchants were only too eager to make nice and put the whole mess behind them, And so, at a chamber lunch on March 18, the two parties spent an hour or so sending love notes across the room and promising to restore civility and peace on the streets of Berkeley.

Alas, it was not to be. The very next day, dozens of anti-war protesters clogged the street outside the station and railed against the war, the Marines, and assorted injustices. (Since most of the protesters were Berkeley High students, we’re assuming that list included Scholastic Aptitude Tests.) Professional tearjerker Cindy Sheehan inspired the kids by imploring, “Flip burgers, do not join the military!” Looks like she shares our dim view of the SATs.

A few days later, about four hundred bikers roared into town, waving flags and singing assorted patriotic hymns as they gunned their engines in support of the Marines. The army of weekend thugs were careful to buy their gas and Vitamin Water at stores in Emeryville, and reportedly planned to give the receipts to city officials, as evidence that yes, they will never spend money in Berkeley again. Hollister city leaders are undoubtedly dreaming up ways to insult the Marines in hopes that they will provoke a similar boycott. After all, what could be worse for a city than a biker gang promising never to show up again?

Feds go after boat pilot

Although we will always hold Berkeley wackiness closest to our hearts, the feds have a special place for murdering thousands of endangered waterfowl. That’s why the US Attorney’s office filed charges last week against John Cota, the pilot of the container ship that crashed into the Bay Bridge on November 7. When Cota’s boat smashed into a bridge pylon, a massive gash opened in the side, spilling more than 50,000 gallons of oil into the bay and killing untold thousands of birds. Now, the feds have charged him for two misdemeanors stemming from his decision to zip around the bay at dangerous speeds, sail into a fog bank, and somehow forget to use radar when doing so. Cota, who has surrendered his pilot’s license, pleaded not guilty on Friday and bonded out on $50,000 bail. If convicted, he faces up to eighteen months in prison.

Mortgage fraud bill comes due

One of the nastier sides to the housing market’s boom-bust cycle has been the bumper crop of con men who sucker homeowners into giving up title to their homes or agreeing to catastrophic refinancing deals that result in foreclosure. Now, some of the worst alleged scammers have begun to face justice at last. Last week, federal judge William Alsup sentenced scammers Kurt Johnson and Dale Scott Heineman to more than twenty years in prison for running “the Dorean Group,” a bizarre cult of true believers that convinced thousands of homeowners to participate in a blatantly illegal scheme to invalidate their mortgages. The borrowers were lured into trying to pretend their mortgages had already been repaid by the Treasury Department, but banks around the country thought otherwise and started proceedings to seize their homes. Johnson, who thought up the scheme and pumped it on his blog even while on the run from the feds, is going into the pokey for 25 years.

Meanwhile, state Attorney General Jerry Brown shut down and filed a $20 million lawsuit against seven mortgage refinance companies, accusing them of forgery and defrauding countless homeowners. The attorney general’s office has accused the companies of forging clients’ signatures to mortgage refinance documents that resulted in staggeringly high monthly payments, pocketing thousands of dollars in fees in the process. Many of these homeowners now face bankruptcy and foreclosure. Revelations like these have prompted some lawmakers and activists to call for increased regulation of the financial services industry, which has been rocked by scandal and contraction following years of junk loans that have finally come due.

In other news

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the UC Regents have finally found a new president: University of Texas chancellor Mark Yudof. Yudof will reportedly replace Robert Dynes, a crackerjack physicist who somehow forgot how to do math when it came to calculating salaries for top UC administrators. Here’s hoping the Texan can set things aright when he hangs up his spurs in Oakland.

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