Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Donald Edgar Lukens: deliniquent girls, delinquent bank book

Image from nytimes.com

The first sex charge against Donald Edgar Lukens emerged when he was nothing more than a college kid. He was investigated for child molestation in 1954, but the parents declined to file charges. That same year, Lukens graduated from Ohio State University with a degree in sociology and joined the United States Air Force. He was 23 years old, having been born in Harveysburg, Ohio in February of 1931. He became a captain and served six-and-a-half years with the service, specializing in criminal investigation and counterintelligence, and was later a member of the Air Force Reserve. Thirty-five years later, when Lukens was well into a political career, an aide revealed the criminal investigation from his past. It was only in relation to another allegation, however, and by that time Lukens was well on his way to getting thrown out of office and into a jail cell.

After his time in the Air Force, Lukens (who nicknamed himself "Buz" out of distaste for his given name) became a minority counsel for the House Rules Committee. In 1963, during a tumultuous convention, he became the chairman of the Young Republicans. Lukens was an ultraconservative, and this post marked one of a series of victories that swayed the party farther to the right at that year's convention. New York Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller, a moderate, even accused Lukens and his compatriots of using the "tactics of totalitarianism" at the convention. At one point, Lukens was accused of promoting biased journalism for advocating the injection of 100 Young Republicans into media jobs. He led the organization for two years, which included active stumping for unsuccessful 1964 GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.

In 1966, Lukens came to the House of Representatives and two years later he was re-elected. He was a staunch advocate of the Vietnam War, speaking at a rally in 1969. Imitating President Nixon's "V for Victory" sign, he said, "no one declares North Vietnam to withdraw from the war, and yet they're the ones that started it." He deemed antiwar protesters "selfish Americans and some of them, let's face it, are indeed cowardly." He opted not to run in 1970, instead trying unsuccessfully to win that year's gubernatorial race in Ohio.

Lukens remained in Ohio and began serving in the state senate in 1971. This service was nearly cut short a few years later. He was barred from consideration in the Republican nomination for governor in 1974 after failing to file a 1972 campaign finance report. Lukens said he had done so and that the document must have gotten lost in the mail. The next year, however, he was nearly banned from running for re-election under a campaign financing law penalizing people who did not file such reports in time. The law was amended in time for him to win re-election in 1976. In 1984, the state board of elections split 2-2 on the question of whether he still complied with the residency requirements of his seat after his divorce. Lukens responded that he'd been living with a friend only a few blocks away, and that the issue was simply harassment by the state's Democrats. Lukens finally left the state senate after 15 years when he was elected to the House again in 1986, as well as re-election in 1988. During this second stint in Washington, he opposed the continuation of sanctions on apartheid-era South Africa and supported continuing aide for Nicaraguan contra rebels.

Lukens' fall from politics was an ugly affair that stretched over several years. It began in February of 1989, when he was indicted on a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the unruliness and delinquency of a child. The charge was only punishable by a maximum of 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine, but it was essentially another child molestation accusation. The mother of a 16-year-old girl had gone to Columbus television station WSYX regarding the matter and agreed to have the station secretly videotape a meeting between her and the representative. The two met at a McDonald's fast food restaurant, where the woman questioned Lukens about past sexual encounters with her daughter. One occurred in 1985, when the girl was 13; the other in November of 1988, when she was 16. The mother found out about the incidents after overhearing a conversation between the girl and her friend. When confronted with the allegations at the restaurant, Lukens said he didn't know at the time that the girl was underage. He then said he would see if he could find a government job for the woman. It was a rather baldfaced effort to keep things quiet, but the FBI determined that there wasn't enough evidence for a bribery charge. Lukens denied the charges when they first came up, suggesting that he was set up and approached for money on a general allegation.

The trial began in May of 1989. The girl testified that she told Lukens she was 19, but that he had laughed it off and responded, "No, you're not." Much to Lukens' discomfort, she described the second time they hooked up. As the girl told it, she and her 19-year-old friend went to Lukens' apartment, where the congressman greeted them wearing nothing but his boxer shorts. Lukens asked them to get changed into black robes (commenting that the white robes he had were for "white people, other kind of people;" both girls were black). They slept together, and Lukens paid her $40 and gave her birthday gifts of a pink lace fan and a silver pillbox. He also gave her friend $30, a bottle of perfume, and a diamond pendant and compensated the duo for cab fare.

The defense attacked the girl's mother as chronically unemployed and desperate for publicity and money, but to no avail. The jury found Lukens guilty after one-and-a-half hours of deliberation. Chalmers Wylie, senior Republican representative from Ohio, called for his resignation immediately. The verdict came down at about the same time as another girl accused him of paying to have sex with her five or six times in 1985, when she was 15. "I refuse to allow the lies and deceit of one delinquent individual to ruin me," Lukens said in a statement responding to the verdict. "I am now fighting for my life." He went on to say that the girl had "fantasies about 'getting even with the establishment.'"

In June, Lukens was sentenced to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine, along with sex offender counseling and testing for sexually transmitted diseases. The sentence was stayed while Lukens appealed, seeking to have the girl's school and juveniles records admitted for consideration by the court. The girl in the case wasn't exactly an angel. A month after the trial, she was in a fight with a man and the preliminary investigation determined that she was a courier for cocaine, money, and guns. In August, her mother had her arrested after a fight between the two resulted in threats and the girl breaking in a door with a crowbar. The judge and prosecutor had clearly had enough on this score, however. Prosecutor Rita Mangini said "her prior unruliness was not a factor in this case." Judge Ronald Solove declared, "The court is particularly struck by the unwillingness of the defendant to recognize that he was not the victim" and the ridiculousness of the idea that he was "somehow seduced by a child." Prosecutors also threatened to pursue felony charges related to Lukens' 1985 conduct if his appeal of the misdemeanor was successful.

The legal fight came at about the same time that Lukens had to go through the normal run for the GOP nomination. The Ethics Committee said it would look into whether Lukens violated any House rules, along with Democratic congressmen Gus Savage of Illinois (accused of molesting a Peace Corps volunteer during a trip to Zaire) and Jim Bates of California (accused of sexually harassing female staffers). Vice President Dan Quayle, in a trademark gaffe, caused snickers at a Young Republicans meeting when he accidentally used Buz Lukens' name instead of Buzz Aldrin when referring to the 20th anniversary of the Moon landing; the St. Louis Dispatch quipped "Quayle Puts Sex Offender on Apollo 11." With the convention approaching, Lukens finally gave a curt mea culpa: "I apologize. I made a dumb mistake. I'm sorry." He came in third place in the May primary, with 17 percent of the vote. The nomination, and subsequent series of elections, instead went to state representative John Boehner.

One month later, Lukens' appeal was rejected by a state court. He finally resigned on October 24, 1990 "for the good of Congress and the integrity of the institution." Even then, it took one last incident to force him out. A few days before, he was accused of fondling a young female House elevator operator. The resignation saved him from an inquiry by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. The committee had opted not to pursue an investigation after Lukens' primary loss, but in light of his remaining few months of office and the recent allegations they were ready to reopen the matter. In November, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld the verdict. Lukens finally began serving his sentence in January of 1991, but only completed nine days of the month-long sentence; the judge agreed to an early release so he could start attending sex offender counseling.

Lukens was not quite out of hot water yet. The girl's mother filed a lawsuit against Lukens, seeking $250,000 in damages, but a judge threw it out in December of 1993 after Lukens could not be located. Then the bribery charges started to poke up again. The House Ethics Committee determined in 1978 that he had received two $500 gifts from South Korean businessman Tongsun Park (later indicted for bribery) during his first four years in office. In July of 1994, Pentagon contractor Edward Krishack was acquitted of 16 criminal charges, including one suggesting that he gave Lukens $5,500 to get access to a congressional committee during his last year in office. Krishack was cleared at trial when it was determined that he gave Lukens the money but that it did not constitute a crime.

Lukens found himself in court again not much later. In February of 1995, he was accused of taking $27,500 in bribes from two businessmen who were trying to keep the Cambridge Technical Institute trade school in Cincinnati in the federal student loan program. One businessman, John Fitzpatrick, was also charged; the other, Henry Whitesell, had been murdered in 1990. The state alleged that the bribery occurred at about the same time that Lukens was struggling to find money to pay his legal bills on the sex charge. The potential maximum penalty was much worse this time around: 65 years in prison and a $1.25 million fine.

In October of 1995, a jury found him innocent of three bribery charges but deadlocked on a fourth charge as well as a single count of conspiracy. Another trial was held in March of 1996. Prosecutors argued that he received $15,000 from the businessmen a week before the 1990 primary, when he was operating on a shoestring. In June of 1996, he was sentenced to the minimum term of 30 months in prison; he began serving seven months later. Fitzpatrick pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of conspiracy in March of 1997 and got two years in prison.

Not much was heard of Lukens after that. He moved to Texas, taught English as a second language courses, and volunteered with the Red Cross. He died of cancer in Dallas in May of 2010.

Sources: The Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, "Only Two Incumbent House Members Meet November 8" in the Times-News on Nov. 3 1966, "Thousands Attend Washington Rally In Support Of Nixon Vietnam Policy" in the Toledo Blade on Nov. 12 1969, "Buz Lukens Asks Supreme Court Action" in the Bryan Times on Feb. 24 1973, "Lukens May Get Relief" in the Daily Sentinel on Mar. 8 1974, "Panel Questions Lukens' Status On Residency" in the Toledo Blade on Mar. 2 1984, "Brown Votes To Certify Sen. Lukens For Primary" in the Youngstown Vindicator on Mar. 22 1984, "Tape Links Congressman To Sex With Teen" in the Pittsburgh Press on Feb. 2 1989, "Ohio Congressman Indicted On Sex Charge" in the Tuscaloosa News on Feb. 24 1989, "Congressman Indicted In Sex Case With Teenager" in the Rock Hill Herald on Feb. 24 1989, "Lukens Defends Himself, Says Sex Charge A Setup" in the Toledo Blade on Feb. 27 1989, "Congressman Denies Morals Charge" in The Telegraph on May 20 1989, "Mother Takes Stand In Lukens Sex Case" in the Reading Eagle on May 24 1989, "Teen Says Congressmen Paid Her For Sex" in the Lewiston Daily Sun on May 25 1989, "Lukens Convicted Of Sex Charge" in the Herald-Journal on May 27 1989, "Congressman Won't Resign Despite Morals Charge" in the Anchorage Daily News on Jun. 2 1989, "Girl In Lukens Case In Fight" in the Portsmouth Daily Times on Jun. 7 1989, "Lawmaker Sentenced To Jail For Sex Crime" in the Union Democrat on Jun. 30 1989, "Lukens May Face Felony Charges" in the Gadsden Times on Jul. 4 1989, "A Quayle Of A Gaffe" in the Times Daily on Jul. 16 1989, "House to Probe Lukens" in the Portsmouth Daily Times on Aug. 5 1989, "Lukens' Accuser Jailed On Charges Filed By Her Mother" in the Reading Eagle on Aug. 16 1989, "Lukens Apologizes, But Will Seek Re-Election" in the Portsmouth Daily Times on May 3 1990, "Lukens Loses After Sex Scandal" in the Free Lance-Star on May 10 1990, "Lukens Will Appeal To State High Court" in the Portsmouth Daily Times on Jun. 13 1990, "Lukens Quits To Avoid New Ethics Investigation" in the Eugene Register-Guard on Oct. 25 1990, "Ex-Legislator Loses Appeal In Sex Case" in the Eugene Register-Guard on Nov. 22 1990, "Lukens Released From Jail" in the Toledo Blade on Jan. 10 1991, "Judge Tosses Out Suit Against Former Congressman" in The Vindicator on Dec. 17 1993, "Man Acquitted Of Bribing Lukens" in the Tuscaloosa News on Jul. 11 1994, "Ex-Legislator Accused of Bribery" in The Hour on Feb. 24 1995, "Ex-Statesman Gets Bribery Mistrial" in the Gainesville Sun on Oct. 20 1995, "Lukens Convicted On Bribery Charges" in the Toledo Blade on Mar. 16 1996, "Ex-Congressman Gets 30-Month Prison Term" in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Jun. 20 1996, "Lukens Begins Sentence For Accepting Bribe" in the Toledo Blade on Feb. 20 1998, "Trade School Operator Enters Guilty Plea" in the Toledo Blade on Mar. 7 1998, "Donald Lukens, 79, Dies" in the Washington Post on May 25 2010, "Donald Lukens, Scandal-Tainted Lawmaker, Dies at 79" in the New York Times on May 25 2010, "Former Congressman Donald Lukens Dies" from United Press International on May 25 2010, The Little Quiz Book of Big Political Scandals by Paul Slansky