Best and Top of Everything : Top 10 Scandals of 2012

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Top 10 Scandals of 2012

10. Football’s ‘Bountygate’


With all the recent evidence that brain injuries from tackle football can lead to dementia or even suicide, the news that a group of New Orleans Saints players pooled their money to reward anyone who successfully inflicted injuries on opposing players was met with disdain. After a two-year investigation, the NFL reported that defensive coordinator Gregg Williams created the pay-for-pain program upon his arrival to the franchise in 2009 and that it involved at least two dozen players. According to the league, Williams and others paid players $1,500 for knockouts and $1,000 for “cart-offs.” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell responded by fining the Saints; suspending Williams, head coach Sean Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis, assistant head coach Joe Vitt and four current and former Saints players; and forcing the team to forfeit its second- and third-round draft picks. But in September, an appeals panel overturned the suspensions of the players on a technicality: that Goodell could punish players only for “conduct detrimental” to the league (a new date for the appeals hearing has yet to be set). While it seems the Saints escaped the debacle relatively unscathed, their performance has suffered, with the team starting the season 0-4.

9. Banks Sued for Rigging LIBOR

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Another year, another banking scandal — this time involving the London interbank offered rate (LIBOR), the average interest rate the world’s big banks pay when they borrow money. This figure, according to TIME’s Christopher Matthews, is used to “price hundreds of trillions of dollars’ worth of financial instruments, from high-yield corporate debt to student loans,” and are thus an important financial factor in the U.S. and abroad. So when it was revealed earlier this year that banks were manipulating LIBOR at the expense of citizens, outrage was heard round the world. It all started with Barclays, when officials admitted that the bank rigged LIBOR to benefit its bottom line. The bank was forced to pay both U.S. and British regulators a total of $450 million. But the scandal got worse. In October, U.S. homeowners banded together to file a class action against the likes of Bank of America, Citigroup, UBC, JPMorgan Chase and, of course, Barclays. The suit cites statistical evidence showing that the banks falsely inflated LIBOR at the beginning of every month in order to increase homeowners’ mortgage rates over the course of 10 years. As many as 100,000 plaintiffs are expected to join in the lawsuit, and if they succeed, each could be paid big. Forbes estimates that the banks earned hundreds of millions, if not billions, off the rate manipulation; the banks deny the allegations. In the meantime, British banking officials have worked to overhaul the way LIBOR is regulated. The question is whether the new rules will work.

8. Bo Xilai Falls from Power

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Chinese politics are significantly shielded from the public, but that didn’t stop the Bo Xilai affair from becoming one of the most talked-about scandals of the year, both in China and abroad. In March, the rising political star was removed from his post as secretary of Chongqing’s Communist Party just months before the nation’s first leadership transition in a decade — a transition in which he was expected to play a big role. Bo’s downfall was set in motion when a former deputy, Wang Lijun, visited the U.S. consulate in Chengdu to reportedly pass on suspicions that Bo’s wife Gu Kailai was involved in the murder of British businessman and family friend Neil Heywood. Gu was promptly arrested, while Bo’s career was effectively derailed. According to Chinese state media, Gu didn’t contest the murder charges during a closed trial in August that lasted only seven hours. Officials maintained that Gu and a family aide, Zhang Xiaojun, poisoned Heywood over a business dispute. Gu believed that Heywood was a threat to her son Bo Guagua, who supposedly received assistance from Heywood while studying at Oxford University. While Gu and Zhang await sentencing (they could face the death penalty if convicted), Bo is being detained for “violating party discipline,” a charge that could include obstruction, abuse of power and corruption, and is expected to be tried in the Supreme People’s Court. While the government’s secrecy and media censorship make it difficult to determine what really happened, it seems that all parties involved are assumed guilty.

7. The Secret Service and Its Prostitutes

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What happened in Cartagena didn’t stay in Cartagena. A dozen Secret Service agents who were tasked with securing the area before President Obama’s arrival for the Summit of the Americas were busted for bringing prostitutes to their hotel rooms after a night of binge-drinking in the Colombian city. The April 11 incident brought attention to the Secret Service’s propensity for partying on overseas government trips — they don’t call it the “secret circus” for nothing — and raised questions about the President’s security. The scandal came to light when one of the agents refused to pay his escort — later identified as 24-year-old Dania Suarez — the full amount for her services. Following the incident, 11 agents were expelled from Colombia and placed on administrative leave, and eight of those agents were fired. Four of the former agents later argued that their behavior wasn’t “out of the ordinary” and didn’t warrant dismissal. This only led to more questions for Secret Service director Mark Sullivan, who defended the agency’s culture during a Senate hearing in May and reiterated that the actions of the group did not compromise national security. Perhaps to prevent this kind of embarrassment from happening again, the Secret Service promptly issued new rules of conduct that ban heavy drinking and bringing  “guests” to hotel rooms on work trips.

6. The Boy Scouts’ Hidden ‘Perversion Files’

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In October, a law firm in Portland, Ore., released files on more than 1,200 scoutmasters and volunteers who were accused of pedophilia or sexual abuse that the Boy Scouts of America had kept hidden. These so-called perversion files spanned 20 years — from the mid-1960s to the mid-’80s — and are thought to be just a small portion of a vast record of sexual-misconduct allegations involving as many as 100,000 children. The files were kept secret under a protective order until the Oregon Supreme Court ordered their public release following a sex-abuse lawsuit brought by six former Boy Scouts. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times found that the organization had failed to report allegations of sexual misconduct to the authorities. Dozens of the accused were even able to slip back into the organization in other states, according to the Times, perhaps leading to more instances of abuse. Boy Scouts president Wayne Perry admitted in October that in some cases, the organization’s response to the incidents was “insufficient, inappropriate or wrong.” As more victims step forward, the Boy Scouts of America could be expected to pay significant damages to those who have been affected.

5. Penn State, Part 2

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The Penn State sex-abuse saga continued to unravel in 2012, with more victims, resignations and sordid details after more than a year of investigations. In October, Jerry Sandusky, the former assistant football coach who was charged with sexually assaulting at least 10 underage boys, was found guilty on 45 of 48 counts of child sexual abuse and was sentenced to a minimum of 30 years in prison. In July, former FBI director Louis Freeh released an in-depth report on the scandal and concluded that top administrators not only knew about Sandusky’s indiscretions but also attempted to conceal them, thereby putting the welfare of many children at risk. Shortly after the report was released, the NCAA imposed severe penalties on the football program, including a $60 million fine, a four-year postseason ban and a void on all victories from 1998 to 2011. Meanwhile, three top-ranking officials who were forced to resign — ex-president Graham Spanier, former athletic director Tim Curley and retired vice president Gary Schultz — now face charges including perjury, obstruction, conspiracy, endangering the welfare of children and failing to report suspected abuse (their trials are set for January 2013). As if it couldn’t get any worse, civil lawsuits against Sandusky and Penn State are slowing rolling in. While the horrors of the far-reaching scandal may be over, its repercussions will be felt for a long time.

4. Chick-fil-A and Gay Marriage

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It all started with a statement from Chick-fil-A president and COO Dan Cathy on The Ken Coleman Show: “I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.’ I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.” Chick-fil-A has long been known for its owner’s view on marriage, but the comment set off a series of protests and counterprotests — Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day was helmed by former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, while Same-Sex Kiss Day was supported by LGBT activists — that had everyone from citizens to mayors and even the Muppets picking sides. But while Cathy’s statement was enough to grab headlines and incite fierce debate over social media, the controversy also opened up criticism of the company’s nonprofit organization, the WinShape Foundation. A 2011 report from Equality Matters uncovered that WinShape, which is almost entirely financed by Chick-fil-A profits, had donated about $5 million to anti-gay organizations, including Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council and Exodus International, since 2003. The revelation led many people to question whether the company was able to separate its business operations from its owner’s beliefs. Cathy continues to insist that while the family supports traditional families, “we have no agenda against anyone.”

3. Lance Armstrong Is Stripped of His Titles

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 Talk about a fall from grace. After years of denying that he had any part in the doping scandal that rocked the sport of cycling, Lance Armstrong finally succumbed to the overwhelming evidence gathered by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. In October, the USADA published a 1,000-page report that implicated Armstrong for not only using performance-enhancing drugs but also for helping run “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen” on his U.S. Postal Service and Discovery Channel teams. Armstrong’s sponsors, including Nike and Anheuser-Busch, dropped him, and the cyclist was forced to resign as chairman of the Livestrong Foundation before severing all ties with the cancer-fighting foundation in November. While Armstrong still hasn’t publicly discussed the USADA report, it appears the fight may have gone out of him. “The toll this has taken on my family and my work for our foundation and on me leads me to where I am today — finished with this nonsense,” he stated in August. But the question is whether the legal system is finished with him. According to TIME’s Sean Gregory, perjury charges could be next for the former hero.

2. Susan G. Komen Defunds Planned Parenthood

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Politicians aren’t the only ones who can flip-flop. In January, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the nation’s leading breast-cancer organization, announced that it would stop funding Planned Parenthood for its breast-health services, cutting about $680,000 in grants to the nonprofit. As the news spread over social networks, women across the country became outraged that Komen might have responded to pressure from anti-abortion groups. As the vitriol toward Komen reached a fever pitch, Nancy Brinker, the organization’s founder and CEO (she announced her intention to leave her post in August, along with president Liz Thompson, but will remain at Komen until a new leader is chosen), apologized and announced that it would continue to fund grants for Planned Parenthood. The reversal was seen as a victory in the fight for access to women’s health care, but Planned Parenthood emerged as the biggest winner, having raised more than $3 million from donors in just three days. “With the outpouring of support over the past week, even more women in need will receive lifesaving breast-cancer care,” Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said after Komen backed down. The Komen foundation, meanwhile, suffered dearly for the controversy, with participation and fundraising for its Race for the Cure events down across the country, including a 25% decline for its biggest race in New York City.

1. The General’s Mistress: David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell

T. Ortega Gaines / Charlotte Observer / MCT / Getty Images

 Just a few days after Barack Obama was re-elected as President of the United States, General David Petraeus — the highly respected director of the CIA and former commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan — announced his resignation, citing an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. But that’s where the story begins. Within days, a half-dozen other characters emerged: a Tampa socialite and her identical twin, a dogged FBI agent and another high-ranking general are all being investigated for breaches of security. Meanwhile, members of Congress asked why they were the last to know of the scandal, and conspiracy theorists questioned the timing of the general’s resignation, as it occurred just before he was slated to testify before Congress on the Benghazi consulate attack (the general testified a week later). The Senate Intelligence Committee is investigating the affair to determine if Broadwell did indeed have knowledge of classified information and how she obtained it.