Is it unethical for an elected official to hire someone to whom he owes or has owed money? The former head of the ethics board said no when asked by his now boss, District Attorney Larry Krasner, when Krasner wanted to hire a former business partner, Michael Giampietro, who was listed on Krasner's financial disclosure form as a debtor. Giampietro is being paid $160,000 per year to supervise prosecutors.
The hire may be ethical and legal, but the lack of transparency that surrounds the details of the loan between Giampietro and Krasner and wife, Judge Lisa Rau, is disturbing. We don't know the amount of the debt, though we do know it was more than $5,000 — the threshold on the form that required Krasner's disclosure. We don't know if it was a personal or business loan or both, or the circumstances of when or how it was paid off — or if whole or part of the loan was forgiven.
Why does all this matter? Why is this any of our business?
This matters for a few reasons: One of them is named Seth Williams, Krasner's predecessor in the District Attorney's Office and now behind bars for a series of criminal actions involving the exchange of money and favors.
It matters because in addition to criminal justice reform that Krasner campaigned on, one of the priorities of his job is restoring the trust and integrity of the D.A.'s Office, which was badly tarnished by Williams. In which case, Krasner should recognize that a ruling that he was following the law wasn't enough. He needs to recognize that even the appearance or perception of a possible quid pro quo — the question that Giampietro's hiring could have raised — puts the integrity of the office at risk.
Krasner insists there is no one better qualified for the post Giampietro now serves in. But the questions aren't about the qualifications — the district attorney can hire whomever he pleases. The question is why Krasner isn't more forthcoming on the amount of the loan, or how and when it got repaid. His office issued a statement that the "business-related financial obligation has been completely satisfied." The lack of more detail risks the impression that the job was one of the strings attached to declaring the loan paid off.
It's surprising that Krasner isn't more concerned about creating a troubling impression, given the stakes of his stated mission of reforming the office and the criminal justice system. This mission has many supporters, who must be worried that this situation could be putting his reforms at risk — particularly because his reforms have many detractors, too.
It's not a crime or unethical to get a loan from a friend or colleague. But without knowing more details, we can only wonder if this district attorney has the potential to be compromised down the road because of this arrangement. Krasner is now an elected official. He owes it to the citizens he serves to assure them that the DA's office is creating a new legacy — one that acknowledges that passing a legal test is one thing but passing the "smell" test is equally important.