With the media overload regarding the death of former President Gerald Ford, it’s good to also remember a certain Lester Matz. Ford, as far as I know, never met Mr. Matz, but the latter profoundly influenced the former President’s life and thus the entire history of the world.
Lester Matz was a building contractor living and working in the suburbs of Baltimore, Maryland in the 1960s and ‘70s, and as such was forced to pay out kickbacks to local politicians and bureaucrats to get his permits and other paperwork done on time. One of these corrupt pols was one with a future. His name was Spiro T. Agnew.
Agnew was not only corrupt, he was greedy, a county councilman, he started putting the squeeze on Matz and others because the job didn’t pay very well. When he became county executive in 1962, he continued his wicked ways, and one would think that he would have gone on to bigger and better sources of graft when he was elected Governor of Maryland in 1966, he did, but he still was blackmailing his former sources with exposure and collecting the loot, when two years later he was chosen by Richard Nixon to be his running mate in 1968.
One would have thought, with such a large raise in pay, and all those government perks, Vice-President Agnew would have left his former marks alone, at last. But no. he demanded cash as late as the fall of 1972. Giving the VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES envelopes full of cash in the Old Executive Office Building traumatized Matz, and when he heard that federal prosecutors were investigating corruption in Maryland, something that at the time was endemic in the state, he decided to get immunity and tell all.
In the spring of 1973, Spiro Agnew was the front-runner for the 1976 presidential race, and as what he did with and to Lester Matz and others was unknown to all but a very few people. As far as we knew, Spiro Agnew was a creepy Republican shit, but at least he had integrity. As the Watergate scandal grew exponentially people began to prepare themselves mentally for an Agnew presidency. Now I know, that such a thing is almost inconceivable. PRESIDENT AGNEW?!? Ewww. But as the Ervin hearings dominated the television and the existence of the tapes and the fight over them began, such a thing was well within the realm of possibility.
But Lester Matz changed all that. The Agnew/Matz scandal, though unrelated to Watergate, gave the Nixon administration an even sleazier taint than it already had, and Nixon’s "life insurance" was about to expire. From August to October 1973, when Agnew copped a plea and resigned, it looked like that Congress might have to impeach everybody.
Without Lester Matz, Gerald Ford would never have become Vice President, and later President. Things would have been, most likely a lot worse in 1974, and ’75 had he not come clean.