It's kind of comforting that, amid economic collapse and a new political order, Ron Burkle is still a dirty old billionaire luring teenagers onto his jet and caressing distracted girls in clubs. Why, just this weekend he was out with Leonardo DiCaprio again, at Cipriani. Close personal friend Bill Clinton was not in attendance this time, but there's been no public sign of a split. Which, actually, is kind of a problem for president elect Barack Obama, particularly now that another of Burkle's sketchy business ventures has spectacularly exploded in scandal, this one involving large amounts of cocaine.
The connection is pretty straightforward: Obama brought Hillary Clinton into his cabinet; Hillary comes with Bill; Bill comes with Burkle. This is why Mickey Kaus recently called the supermarket magnate "Hillary's gift to the press" before pointing to Burkle's latest investment-screw up. Out in San Francisco, Burkle relived his experience with Rafaello Follieri, the con artists imprisoned for bilking the investor and partner Clinton out of tens of millions of dollars.
This time around, the sketchy character was Jonathan Rogers, who raised tens of millions of dollars, including millions from Burkle, to build a network of "Pay By Touch" fingerprint scanners. Writes Lance Williams at the San Francisco Chronicle:
The investors' suit filed in October claims that after a party in Florida in 2003, Rogers offered cocaine to an unnamed member of the Pay By Touch board... Rogers began missing work - or showing up looking disheveled, the suit claimed, while a prospective deal with American Express fell through after Rogers missed a scheduled meeting and did not show up for days. Meanwhile, a lawsuit filed by former company executive Jon Siegal accused Rogers of advising a female employee to submit a false expense account to pay for drugs.
Additional disarray was reflected in a wrongful-firing lawsuit filed by the company's vice president for personnel, Bernadette Robertson. Starting in 2005, she said, employees began complaining that Rogers was making "sexual comments" to women at work. Robertson also said she was told that Rogers spent company money on "inappropriate entertainment" and was instructing subordinates to give jobs and shares of stock to women he met...
"You are despicable, and have breached all of your duties under law, and before God, to the company, to your friends, and even to your own family," he wrote in one such e-mail [to an investor or company employee]. "You cannot even call yourself a man."
Welcome to the Clinton world, Mr. President Elect!