JONATHAN CHAIT JANUARY 18, 2011
Ryan Lizza's New Yorker profile of Darrell Issa has to be read in its entirety. The main upshot is that Issa, the new chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform who is charged with exposing what he sees as massive corruption in the Obama White House, either has a lengthy history as a hardened criminal, or he's been the victim of an extraordinary series of coincidences. Among other tidbits is Issa's involvement (or non-involvement, depending on your view) in a car theft scam:
According to court records, on December 28, 1979, William Issa arrived at Smythe European Motors, in San Jose, and offered to sell Darrell’s car, a red 1976 Mercedes sedan. William was carrying an Ohio driver’s license with his brother’s name on it and the dealer gave William a check for sixteen thousand dollars, which he immediately cashed. Soon afterward, Darrell reported the car stolen from the Monterey airport. He later told the police that he had left the title in the trunk.
The brothers had been together in Cleveland for Christmas, and, after Darrell gave a series of conflicting statements about his brother and whether he himself had recently obtained a second driver’s license, the investigator in the case became suspicious that the two men had conspired to fraudulently sell Darrell’s car and then collect the insurance money.
The brothers were indicted for grand theft. Darrell argued that he had no knowledge of William’s activities; William claimed that his brother had authorized him to sell the car, and he produced a document dated a few weeks before the robbery that gave him power of attorney over his brother’s affairs. On February 15th, with the investigation ongoing, Darrell returned to the San Jose dealership and repurchased his car, for seventeen thousand dollars. In August, 1980, the prosecution dropped the case. Darrell insisted that he was a victim, not a criminal. William had produced evidence that he had the legal authority to sell the car, and the injured party was reimbursed.
Of course, Issa went on to make a fortune in car security devices. But before then, he collected a high (and recently increased) fire insurance settlement from an extremely suspicious blaze at his factory, which raised the question of where he got the money to start this business in the first place:
The insurance company, meanwhile, had found something peculiar about Issa, unrelated to the arson: there was no indication of where his initial capital came from. After interviewing a family member, an investigator reported, “She was unable to advise us as to his financial banking [sic] to become an officer in Quantum Inc.” A second report noted, “We were unable to find the source of his financing for the business ventures he is engaged in at the present time.”
Issa's background also provides a useful context for his deep suspicions of massive criminal behavior in the Obama administration. Ask yourself this: what kind of person would assume that everybody else is involved in routine criminal behavior?