Henry Cisneros: It's Hard To Keep A Bad Man Down

Given President Obama's capacity for forgiveness, we should be thankful that he didn't offer a post to former San Antonio mayor Henry Cisneros, the "prominent Hispanic"—to use the term the media uses lovingly in reference to Latino politicians—instead of the tax cheats and campaign finance abusers who have got him admitting: "I screwed up." (Watch his confession here.)

The non-taxpayers: Tom Daschle, Health and Human Services and Chief Performance Officer Nancy Killefer. Both have withdrawn. Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, also caught cheating on his taxes, miraculously survived.

Bill Richardson, Commerce Secretary designate, bowed out for reasons involving campaign payola. Details are still unfolding. But they must be grim because, unlike the others, Richardson departed early and without being pushed.

With Cisneros, of course, there would be a lot to forgive—for starters, his scandalous adultery, the hush money he paid to his former mistress Linda Medlar (AKA Linda Jones) and the lies he told the FBI, leading to his disgrace and departure from the national political scene…for a while.

Cisneros has been back in the news because of his role in the national mortgage meltdown.  And recently he announced a new venture: a non-profit that "will help integrate newcomers to U.S. society by improving their English and expanding their participation in military service and civic activities."[Cisneros Forging Immigration Project, My San Antonio, January 29, 2009]

Cisneros has also just edited a new book: Latinos and the Nation's Future. He says triumphantly that the country's first Hispanic president "has already been born".

Cisneros' long track record of deceit and deception became clear, ironically, when the Clinton administration—much like Obama's team—failed to do due diligence in its investigation on then-HUD nominee Cisneros.

Instead Clinton (again like Obama) decided to "forgive" Cisneros for his past and public sexual transgressions committed in the late 1980s while serving the last of his four terms as San Antonio's mayor.

But when, during his HUD confirmation hearings, an independent counsel led by former Attorney General Janet Reno heard Cisneros' statement that from the period between 1990-1992 he never paid Medlar more than: "$2,500 at a time, and no more than $10,000 per year" it represented a criminal effort to conceal information.

In fact, Reno learned that "…many of his payments were substantially larger, and the yearly totals were between $42,000 and $60,000." [Special Counsel Sought to Investigate Cisneros, by Pierre Thomas and Guy Gugliotta, Washington Post, March 15, 1995]

Reno's findings ultimately resulted in Cisneros' resignation as HUD Secretary  (to the considerable embarrassment of the US Senate that had confirmed him unanimously). Just before the start of Cisneros' federal court trial on 18 felony charges of conspiracy, giving false statements and obstruction of justice, he entered into a plea agreement.

Cisneros' lawyers struck a fantastic deal for him that included no jail time, no probation and the freedom to seek elective office. [Cisneros Pleads Guilty to Lying to FBI Agents, by Bill Miller, Washington Post, September 8, 1999] (Medlar, in contrast, went to jail.)

In 2001, Clinton pardoned his old pal Cisneros.

Why Cisneros who earned Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees at Texas A & M, another Master of Arts at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, a doctor of public administration at George Washington University and subsequently served as deputy chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas thought he could get away with lying to the FBI remains a mystery today.

But years of lies and public infidelity couldn't keep a bad man down.

In 1997, immediately after leaving HUD in disgrace, Univision appointed Cisneros its president and chief executive officer. [Henry Cisneros, Univision's New President and CEO, by Rolando Romero, La Prensa de San Antonio, January 26, 1997]

But after only three years, Cisneros left Univision to form the real estate development firm American CityVista. It was headquartered in San Antonio and was supposed to "target areas ripe for development, and will focus principally on building large distinctive communities in areas where new residential development has not occurred in recent years."[Cisneros Quits Univision, CNN Money, August 7, 2000]

Taking the lead from his old boss, Clinton, who was the first to promote minority home ownership, Cisneros perpetrated his most damaging and far-reaching fraud at American CityVista.

As part of its ongoing series that exposed the major players in the mortgage market's collapse, "The Reckoning," the New York Times fingered Cisneros as one of the nation's worst offenders. [Building Flawed American Dreams, by David Streitfeld and Gretchen Morgenson, New York Times, October 18, 2008]

In a joint venture with KB Home, where Cisneros served on the board, he created Lago Vista, a 428-home development in a run down industrial section of San Antonio. Although Lago Vista translates to "lake view," the area was mostly made up of secondhand car dealerships, light industry and pawnshops.

At one point the "lake"—now fenced off to keep children safe— was a run-off pit for an asphalt plant.

Nevertheless Cisneros, trading on his ethnic ties with the Hispanic community, encouraged many of the unqualified to buy.

But despite Cisneros' assurances to prospective new homeowners, nothing panned out.

According to property records Lago Vista, like many communities born in the housing boom, is reeling from high foreclosure rates.

Today's Lago Vista is quite different than the panacea with jogging tracks and maple trees that Cisneros promised his future buyers. Most homeowners are just trying to get by. Residents say crime has risen, and with association dues unpaid, they cannot hire security.

But his victims' personal anguish hardly affects Cisneros.

For the three years he served as a KB Home director, Cisneros received at least $70,000 in pay and more than $100,000 worth of stock.

In addition, he also received $1.14 million in director's fees and stock grants during the six years he was on the board at Countrywide Financial, another major player in the minority mortgage market.

In all Cisneros earned more than $5 million at Countrywide. Cisneros claims he reinvested everything in his company.

Not surprisingly, Cisneros doesn't come around to Lago Vista much anymore.

Cisneros says his new non-profit venture will offer a "life plan" on how immigrants can "integrate" into American society.

If I were speaking instead of writing, I would say I'm speechless!

That Cisneros, who recently drove dozens of Hispanic families into financial ruin thereby destroying their "life plan," can now pretend to take the high road on immigration is beyond belief.

Here's what a few Lago Vista Hispanics think of Cisneros, his business practices and his partners (as told to the Times reporters Streitfeld and Morgenson):

  • Victor Ramirez and Lorraine Pulido-Ramirez bought a house in Lago Vista in 2002. "This was our first home. I had nothing to compare it to. I was a student making $17,000 a year, my wife was between jobs. In retrospect, how in hell did we qualify? (We) were duped into believing it was easier than it was. The attitude was, 'Sign here, sign here, don't read the fine print.'"
     
  • Hugo Martinez, who qualified for two Countrywide mortgages to buy a two-bedroom house with no down payment, recently lost his job at a car dealership. He has a lower-paying job as a mechanic and can't refinance or sell his house: "They make it easy when you buy. But after a while, the interest rate goes up. KB Home says they cannot help us at all."
     
  • Carlo Lee and Patricia Reyes bought their first home, a three-bedroom house, before Reyes became ill last year and lost her job. Then, they fell behind on their payments. Last month, Lee was laid off from one of his jobs, assembling cabinets. He still works part time at a hospital, but unless the couple come up with missed payments and fees, they will lose their home. Said Reyes: "Everyone isn't happy here in Lago Vista. Everyone has a lot of problems."

Another Lago Vista resident, truck driver Salvador Gutierrez, woke up recently to see four men stealing the tires off his pickup.

Given Cisneros unbroken two decade-long history, it's tough to imagine that his newly created immigration outreach scam doesn't have an angle in it for him.

Since none of Cisneros' Hispanic targets have any money, it can't be a get rich scheme.

They don't vote so Cisneros can't count on them to elect him to office on some future day.

But remember, George H. W. Bush's Treasurer Catalina Vasquez Villalpando once said of Cisneros and then-presidential candidate Clinton "Can you imagine two skirt-chasers campaigning together?".

Maybe the Cisneros "life plan" is be a new way for him to meet gullible women!

Joe Guzzardi [email him] is a California native who recently fled the state because of over-immigration, over-population and a rapidly deteriorating quality of life. He has moved to Pittsburgh, PA where the air is clean and the growth rate stable. A long-time instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, Guzzardi has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.