September 10, 2009

Howard Kaloogian_95bbf.jpg

This reminds me of that old joke about the guy who killed both his parents and then threw himself on the mercy of the court because he's an orphan...

Lindsay Beyerstein did some great reporting on this. Don't miss the hypocritical Republican punchline!*

One of the featured corporate sponsors of the Tea Party Express had to pay millions of dollars to settle lawsuits for its role in a bus fire that killed 23 elderly nursing home residents fleeing Hurricane Rita in 2005.

The BusBank, a Chicago-based charter company, a "Tour Partner" of the Tea Party Express, a rolling protest sponsored by the Our Country Deserves Better PAC under the supervision of former Republican state legislator Howard Kaloogian, now a PR exec for the GOP-linked firm Russo, Marsh & Rogers.

BusBank is also arranging to ferry Tea Baggers to their 9/12 march on Washington to voice their demands for unfettered capitalism. (Update: Commenter Casual Observer asks if there's a Dick Armey connection here. There is. Dick Armey's FreedomWorks Foundation is the premiere sponsor of the 9/12 march; and Kaloogian's OCDB PAC is a "Gold Co-Sponsor.")

In 2005, a bus carrying seniors fleeing Hurricane Rita burst into flame outside of Dallas, immolating 23 nursing home residents. Investigators later found that the bus was: driven by an undocumented migrant without a valid U.S. driver's license, lacking adequate fire extinguishers, and not registered to operate in Texas. When the bus had mechanical problems before the crash, the driver took it to an unqualified mechanic who failed to notice the critical fault--an unlubricated axle that eventually melted and caught fire.

BusBank (aka Global Charters) hired the subcontractor, Global Limo. BusBank boasted on its website that it had a "rigorous operator certification process" to ensure the safety of contracted bus drivers. BusBank used Global even though the subcontractor had a long record of federal and state safety violations, had entered bankruptcy, and was being sued.

BusBank's association with Global appears to have been more than a one-off, Global Limo's owner Jim Maples even listed Global Charters as his employer when he gave $5000 to the RNC in 2004.

*BusBank CEO Bill Maulsby blamed insufficient federal oversight, "We're not safety experts," he said. "We clearly need to depend on the federal government."

In November 2006, a federal court convicted Maples and sentenced him to five years' probation for failure to maintain his buses. Investigators found 168 violations in Maples' four-bus fleet.

The following month, US Fed News reported that BusBank had been awarded a Homeland Security contract worth up to $55 million.

In June, BusBank and Global Limo settled out of court for a total of $11 million, a pittance when split between the families of the 23 victims and the patients who survived the crash. BusBank's legal troubles are far from over. According to one report, more lawsuits are getting underway this month.

The firm filed for bankruptcy in Delaware in August.

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