One Wild Week

November 14, 2005
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It was a week in which anything could — and did — happen.

Elections put the youngest person in local history into a Grand Rapids City Commission seat, and then put the FBI into Detroit city offices on voter fraud issues. It also was a week in which Michigan Attorney General Michael Cox felt compelled to make public his extramarital affair, while leveling blackmail charges against his announced opponent, Democrat Jeffrey Fieger

Back in Grand Rapids people were dancing, in public. The Progressive Women's Network (given great assistance by former City Commissioner Mary Alice Williams and former Kent County Commissioner Judy Rose) has proven itself to be a political force with savvy in its all-out effort to elect Rosalyn Bliss to the city commission. One might believe there have been precursors to the group, such as the Republican Women's Forum, the 1980s "New Woman'" answer to the Gerald R. Ford Republican Women's Auxiliary. Notice, however, that the GOP has prevailed in these power-women groups. The obvious difference in PWN is that offered by Rose and Williams, a Republican and Democrat, respectively (and respectfully). And while the group is particularly motivated to mentor and assist women into public office, its male membership also proved to be a positive force in championing Bliss. In fact, the city seems to be celebrating Bliss less and more the emergence of a new coalition of political, ethnic, economic and gender diversity, and unabashed in its public embrace of its gay members as well. An all-for-one, one-for-all political action group whose only membership requirement is that its members be pro-choice. It's obviously time to rock and roll in River City.

Those aligned with the cool cities stars will be pleased to know of yet another group of open-minded individuals: the Men's Alliance for Progress. While the group has slowly formed (mostly in Win Irwin's living room), the first, official meeting will be at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 29, in Kretschmer Auditorium on the Aquinas College campus, with an all-star list of founding members. GR Mayor George Heartwell and former Varnum, Riddering, Schmidt & Howlett managing partner (and former Republican House candidate) Robert Eleveld are the featured speakers. The group already includes Stan Greene, Rabbi Albert Lewis, Robert Dean and others from old and new businesses like Model Coverall, Spectrum Health, Grand Valley State University and Blue Water Partners. The meeting is open to "men, women, Republicans, Democrats, independents" — and everyone else, too.

  • Some notable quotes from interviews for this week's story on page 1 regarding CyberNET's legacy.

On CyberNET Group founder and CEO Barton Watson

"He was like George (W.) Bush in his first term. He was a moron, but he put talented people around him. You can run a country if you surround yourself with talented people," said Sean McTaggert, former CyberNET sales director and current principal of Triline Solutions.

"He's a much richer and interesting character than was portrayed in the media at the time of his suicide, not that the accounts were inaccurate … Another penny ante scam, in the mid-90s: He had this PC service department, and if you had, say, a broken network card, he'd go to Best Buy or some other big box, buy a PC, then switch the network card and return it. …There were penny ante scams up to the very end," said James Cameron, a prosecuting attorney in Maine and childhood friend and unauthorized biographer of Watson.

"A bit snobbish, you say — a BIT? I do not know whether to be hurt or offended. I have spent years of effort developing my personality and was at least hoping that at this stage I could be 'rather snobbish' or 'decidedly snobbish,'" posted by Barton Watson on Flyertalk.com in March 2004.

"The IT wunderkind … CyberNET is opening the CyberNET incubator to do 'its part in helping the local IT community,'" wrote a Muskegon-based West Michigan business-to-business publication in January 2002.

On CyberNET executive Krista Kotlarz-Watson, Watson's wife:

"I have this fantasy of going up to her and saying, 'Do you know my name?' Then she says, 'No,' and I say, 'Exactly," and walk away. I worked with her for weeks at a time, and was even at her house quite a few times, and she still referred to me as 'that blonde kid,'" said Jason Shroll, former CyberNET engineer, currently at Trivalent Group.

"She is everything everyone makes her out to be. When she was in the office it was a different place to be. … She says she didn't know anything about what was going on; she knew everything that was going on," said McTaggert.

On CFO David Roepke

"He lived in Holland, and I'd run into him at Lowe's or Wal-Mart or something, and he'd say the funniest things…He literally said, 'I give Barton the books and we'd be a half-million dollars in the negative. He'll come back and we'd be a million in the positive.' I told him, 'Dave, I'm just a salesman and I can figure that out, you're the CFO. It's called cooking the books,'" said McTaggert.

On the raid:

"It was quite a shock, and everybody seemed to know what was going on but us. The FBI. The IRS," said Rob King, CyberNET inside sales, currently SourcIT inside sales.

On unwitting employees:

"They were very good at convincing employees that what looked like suspicious behavior was something perfectly normal. With the blinking boxes (that were supposed to be servers), they were told that wiring the blinkies would save time for when they put in the servers…" said Cameron.

On leaving early:

"My boss told me to get out when he did, but I was making $150,000, so I didn't. … Right after our legal counsel left for ethical reasons, a private investigator showed me a file two inches think. That was pretty much the icing on the cake…" said McTaggert.

"She was hugging everyone that day," said Trivalent Group CEO Larry Andrus, on employee Dawn Simpson, who joined Trivalent from CyberNET two weeks before the raid.

On the lack of criminal charges:

"Krista was certainly not the mastermind and two other culpable people, (President James) Horton and (Paul) Wright, have proffered in anticipation of a deal. Who's the bad guy? He's dead," said Cameron.

"No comment. The investigation is pending," said Special Agent Roberta Gilligan of the FBI in Grand Rapids.    

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