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Catch the Grift?

Rip us off if you must ... just don't embarrass us

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My résumé as a criminal is thin. I've never robbed a bank. I've never swindled little old ladies. Stealing Twinkies as a kid may be my biggest criminal accomplishment. But I feel absolutely certain that I could be a better criminal than the convicted and/or accused alleged criminals I read about.

Take former Congressman Mark Foley -- please. He wanted to sleep with young congressional pages. I suppose if they're 18 and they consent, it might not be technically illegal. But it's unethical, repulsive and downright embarrassing.

So why put the evidence in writing? Foley actually e-mailed his potential victims with explicit requests. The dumbest dumbass in the world knows e-mails are forever ... the Bush administration's current claim that some of its e-mails are missing aside. So here's a helpful hint for would-be scumbags: Don't put anything in writing. A paper trail, even an electronic paper trail, will bite you in the butt every time.

Why do I advise potential criminals? Maybe because it's embarrassing how stupid they are. Embarrassing to all of us who try to get away with stuff. And let's face it: We all do try to get away with stuff. Even if it's just running a red light at night when no one else is on the road. So it just seems a shame when massive stupidity prevents the rest of us from skating on by.

And then there's Twanda. You know, Twanda Carlisle, the Pittsburgh city councilor accused of paying her friends to be "consultants." She's also accused of taking kickbacks. That's when I give you some taxpayers' money, and you give me some of it back, and everybody wins ... except the taxpayers.

I feel for Carlisle. According to prosecutors, she hired some friends as "consultants" to do "work" for her district ... and the "consultants" sometimes took the payment, after which money was deposited in Carlisle's bank account the same day. In other words, if prosecutors are correct, the city cut Carlisle's "consultants" a check, and the same day they cashed it they'd give some of the money to Carlisle.

You don't have to be a criminal mastermind to know this: You shouldn't put the money in your bank account the same day, for chrissakes!

Hide it under your mattress. Or get a friend to open an account. You may live with the delusion that you'll never get caught ... but always assume you might get caught, and be really clever about hiding the evidence.

While you're at it, if you're going to hire friends or relatives to do bogus work, contrive a résumé that at least makes it look like they are remotely qualified. And then ... actually produce the work you're supposedly paying them to do.

Carlisle's troubles began when her mother's boyfriend got paid to compile a report on health problems in Carlisle's district. Most of his report was photocopied from work done by others ... but no one might have noticed if he'd turned it in on time. That would have helped it appear as though it weren't a scam, just a poor choice of consultants.

Instead, the report wasn't released -- and probably was not written -- until the media began asking questions, and the spotlight was glaring.

Here's another handy hint. When you get caught with your hand in the cookie jar, don't keep going back for more cookies.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that even after news of her potential legal problems broke, Carlisle continued to tap her campaign account, which is one of the allegedly illegal activities under investigation. When the DA and the media are all over you like President Bush on Condi Rice, it's time to lay low. At that point, you just stop doing stuff.

These are simple things, but if you want to be a criminal and get away with it, you have to put on your thinking cap.

While we're on the subject, let's give a shout out to the brave and courageous statements by our political leaders about Carlisle's questionable activities.

Should she resign? "That's a decision for the councilwoman to make," Mayor Opie told the P-G. Way to go out on a limb, kid.

I'll be running a series of seminars entitled "The John McIntire School For Small-Time Crooks ... How To Avoid Obvious Pitfalls." There will be a discount for local politicians. Because clearly, they need help.

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