Mike Miner's excellent "No Questions Asked" [September 10] is a sad and instructive primer on what an opportunist does to get ahead. However, Mr. Miner misstated two important facts. James Thompson prosecuted Otto Kerner for a deal that was neither secret nor for $300,000. It was for $125,000 that Kerner openly declared as a capital gain in his 1967 income-tax return but that Thompson argued should have been reported as bribery income.
Thompson has recently claimed that he didn't take the audit chairman job at Hollinger in 1998 thinking Black and Radler were crooks. Cute. Two weeks after he took the U.S. district attorney job from Nixon that launched his career in 1971, Thompson indicted Kerner. That Thompson may have given Black and Radler the benefit of the doubt he denied Kerner explains nothing of the $400 million--95 percent of Hollinger's profits--snatched day after day from under his nose for five years.
Prosecutor Thompson's argument that Kerner defrauded Illinois citizens of an "intangible right" to honest service as governor was eventually held invalid by the U.S. Supreme Court. Ironically, Congress has since made Thompson's "intangible right" invention against Kerner the law governing all fiduciaries, including Thompson himself.
Anton Cermak Kerner
Michael Miner replies:
After I received the above letter Anton Kerner and I corresponded. I cited the following passage from Thompson's opening statement in Otto Kerner's trial: "In support of this Count, the evidence will show that Kerner, while governor of Illinois, and [Ted] Isaacs, his closest friend and confidante, knowingly accepted a secret promise of shares of racing stock having an ultimate value of over $300,000 from Mrs. Marjorie Everett, who was the owner or landlord of several racing associations in Illinois."
The $300,000, then, represents the sale price of the stock, which was evenly shared by the two men. The discounted cost of the stock had been $50,000. The difference, divided by two, brings us to the $125,000 that Anton Kerner cites as the value of the deal to his father. Though Otto Kerner's 1967 tax declaration did not, of course, retroactively make transparent a business interest not generally known while he was overseeing the state racing board, Anton Kerner contends that "Thompson's allegation of secrecy was nothing more than [an] effort to suggest that my father had something to hide." Because every bribery count of which Otto Kerner was convicted was reversed on appeal, and because the "intangible right" doctrine that Thompson found in the mail fraud statutes of that day was later overturned by the Supreme Court, Anton Kerner does have grounds for insisting that his father concealed nothing illegal.