Weld’s college try

An obscure school in Kentucky may cost Bill Weld an election — and maybe more

BILL WELD Could Decker College be his undoing?Bill Weld has hit rocky shoals in his attempt to become the first person since Sam Houston to get elected governor of two states. Five months after he announced his candidacy, a statewide poll finds that more New Yorkers hold unfavorable views of him than favorable ones — and that three-quarters don’t even know enough to have an opinion. Where once the Republican field was considered cleared for Weld, serious challengers have emerged to vie for his party’s nomination — and even if he gets it, he would still face  New York’s hugely popular Democratic Attorney General, Eliot Spitzer, who’s making a gubernatorial run from the other side of the aisle.

But much of Weld’s problem, improbably enough, lies in the collapse of an obscure vocational school in Louisville, Kentucky. Decker College’s implosion last year amid allegations of fraud has become fodder for the New York media and Weld’s opponents — because Weld was on Decker’s board of directors and, when the wheels came off, its CEO.

Thus far, Weld has fought gamely through the controversy, signaling through campaign-staff hires and fundraising that he has no intention of quitting the race.

But Decker may yet prove much more than an electoral hindrance for Massachusetts’s former governor. The many lawsuits and investigations under way include an inquiry within the US Attorney’s office for Western Kentucky, which could very easily end in criminal charges against Decker officials — possibly including Weld.

Although a Weld attorney in Kentucky has claimed that Big Red is not a target of the investigation, the prosecutor heading the investigation says that nothing — and nobody — has been ruled out. “Nobody in this office advised Mr. Weld’s attorney that he is not a target,” says Marisa Ford, chief of the criminal division for the US Attorney’s office, in Louisville. “Anybody that was in a management position at the company is considered a subject.”

Ford would not provide details of how her office is working the case, but if there is anyone who could make an educated guess, it would be Weld himself. He honed many of the most creative prosecutorial practices here in Boston, when he was US Attorney going after similar prey.

Past as prologue
Weld became US Attorney in November 1981, and inherited two ongoing and related investigations involving long-time Boston mayor Kevin H. White. That May, a canceled birthday party for the mayor’s wife, Kathryn White — involving a spate of suspiciously generous birthday checks — had led to charges of illegal campaign fundraising and money laundering, spurring the Massachusetts Ethics Commission and US Attorney Edward Harrington to action. Then in October, a sting operation had nabbed Boston Redevelopment Authority official George Collatos for accepting a bribe.

Throughout his nearly five years in office, Weld pursued corruption within the White administration aggressively. He obtained convictions of a number of City Hall workers and political insiders for lying to investigators, and then attempted to turn them against higher figures, hoping eventually to get to the top of the pyramid, the mayor himself.

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FAQ: How did Weld get into this mess? By David S. Bernstein and Harvey Silverglate