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Published: Fri, 21 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Fri, 21 Oct 2016 19:31:35 -0400


Sexual Harassment and Sex-Based Discrimination Widespread at King County Sheriff's Office, Say Female Cops

Fri, 14 Oct 2016 16:02:00 -0400

Sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination are "pervasive" in the King County Sheriff's Office (KCSO) claim a female sergeant and two former deputies in a lawsuit against the Washington county. The suit—which comes just three years after the county settled for $1 million with female detectives from its sexual assault division over claims of harassment and discrimination—suggests that not only were the women subjected to a hostile work environment but also retaliated against for speaking up about it. One was even subjected to an internal-affairs investigation instigated by Sheriff John Urquhart, the suit claims, even though it's highly unusual for a sitting sheriff to open an investigation. The case, which is slated to go to trial in January 2017, has already been stirring up new scandals, too, as various parties offer depositions and declarations. One involves Chris Barringer, Sheriff Urquhart's former campaign manager and current chief of staff, who showed a "significant response" to polygraph-test questions about whether he had ever solicited or accepted a bribe. The test, administered in 2012, should have disqualified Barringer from being hired by the sheriff's office. It didn't. Urquhart himself signed a document stating that Barringer had passed his polygraph test. And then there's D.J. Nesel, former head of internal investigations. Nesel sought whistleblower status in September after he was allegedly threatened by one of the county's lawyers over his plan to testify in the sexual-harassment suit. Nesel also stated under oath that at meetings, Sheriff Urquhart made disturbing comments about women which revealed "some deeply rooted issues going on there" and affected "his command and ... our department in a negative basis." Nesel would not reveal the exact content of Urquhart's allegedly off-color statements because the county asserted that it was privileged, since county lawyers had been present in the room with Nesel and Urquhart. For more details on the sexual-harassment lawsuit facing King County, and the one they settled three years ago, check out this story I wrote for The Daily Beast. It's full of disturbing details, but I'll just highlight one more: managers in the county's sexual-assault investigation unit allegedly joked regularly about "fantasizing and masturbating to the details of a sexual assault." They were also accused of much more, with at least 10 current and former KCSO employees attesting to their bad behavior as part of the 2013 lawsuit. After the county settled the suit for $1 million, Urquhart sentenced the two managers to one day's suspension without pay. Regular readers might recognize the King County Sheriff's Office as the ones behind the January 2016 bust that took down sex-work advertising forum The Review Board and a slew of Korean escort-agencies under the guise of stopping human trafficking. I dug beneath the spin put on the story by King County law enforcement in a series of September articles: 'This Is What Human Trafficking Looks Like' How Washington Police Turned Talking About Prostitution into a Felony Offense From 'Prostituted Woman' to Human Trafficker In response, Sheriff Urquhart defended his department's work in shutting down the agencies and website, telling Seattle's KIRO Radio that if it meant sex workers sent back to the streets to find clients and work, so be it, because at least street-based prostitution didn't offer a "false sense of security."[...]

Clinton Shows How She Manages to Be Less Trusted Than Trump

Mon, 10 Oct 2016 07:04:00 -0400

During last night's presidential debate, Hillary Clinton bragged about her record during three decades in public life, but she neglected to mention what may be her most impressive accomplishment: She is mistrusted by more Americans than the legendary liar Donald Trump. Last night Clinton's handling of questions about her private email server and her private speeches showed how she managed that feat. More than a year and a half after The New York Times broke the story of what FBI Director James Comey later called Clinton's "extremely careless" email practices as secretary of state, the Democratic presidential nominee has settled on a response that approximates what she should have been saying all along. "I made a mistake using a private email," Clinton said during her first debate with Donald Trump. "And if I had to do it over again, I would, obviously, do it differently. But I'm not going to make any excuses. It was a mistake, and I take responsibility for that." She said something very similar during last night's debate but then could not resist the urge to immediately minimize the significance of her mistake: I think it's also important to point out where there are some misleading accusations from critics and others. After a year-long investigation, there is no evidence that anyone hacked the server I was using and there is no evidence that anyone can point to at all—anyone who says otherwise has no basis—that any classified material ended up in the wrong hands. As Comey pointed out in July, the fact that the FBI did not find evidence of hacking does not mean it did not happen: We did not find direct evidence that Secretary Clinton's personal e-mail domain, in its various configurations since 2009, was successfully hacked. But given the nature of the system and of the actors potentially involved, we assess that we would be unlikely to see such direct evidence. We do assess that hostile actors gained access to the private commercial e-mail accounts of people with whom Secretary Clinton was in regular contact from her personal account. We also assess that Secretary Clinton's use of a personal e-mail domain was both known by a large number of people and readily apparent. She also used her personal e-mail extensively while outside the United States, including sending and receiving work-related e-mails in the territory of sophisticated adversaries. Given that combination of factors, we assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton's personal e-mail account. Whether or not classified material in Clinton's email (material she initially insisted was not there) actually "ended up in the wrong hands," she recklessly took that risk, violating State Department policy (and probably federal law) in the process. But as debate moderator Martha Raddatz pointed out to Clinton, "You disagreed with FBI Director James Comey, calling your handling of classified information, quote, 'extremely careless.'" If that's not the mistake Clinton is finally admitting, what is? As with Trump and his "locker room talk," it seems clear Clinton's only regret is that she got caught doing something that made her look bad. The email scandal illustrates Clinton's tendency to pile lie upon lie instead of coming clean. She seems to be starting down that road with the excerpts from her closed-door speeches that Wikileaks revealed on Friday. In a 2013 speech to the National Multifamily Housing Council, Clinton cited Secretary of State William Seward's backroom lobbying for the 13th Amendment, which included what historian Joshua Zeitz calls "the brazen use of patronage appointments to buy off the requisite number of lame duck Democratic congressmen." That episode was on Clinton's mind because she had recently seen the Steven Spielberg film Lincoln, and this is the lesson she drew from it: Politics is like sausage being made. It is unsavory, and it always has been that way, but we usually end up where we need to be. But if everybody's watching, you know, all of the back room discussions and the d[...]

In Afghanistan, a 15-Year Failure

Thu, 06 Oct 2016 00:01:00 -0400

There is a perverse symmetry on display in Afghanistan right now. Fifteen years ago, American warplanes bombed targets there, beginning an offensive against the Taliban government and al-Qaida precipitated by the 9/11 attacks. This week, they were in action once again. There was, of course, a big difference in the two operations. In 2001, our forces were opening a campaign that would end quickly in victory. Today, they are part of a war that has no victory, or conclusion, in sight. The original triumph came quickly. By the end of 2001, the Taliban had surrendered in the capital; a new, pro-American government was in place; and Osama bin Laden was running for his life. It was a thrilling turn of events. President George W. Bush said of our enemies, "They saw liberty and thought they saw weakness, and now they see defeat." British Prime Minister Tony Blair proclaimed "a total vindication of the strategy that we have worked out from the beginning." Things went so well that the Bush administration felt free to start planning another war, in Iraq. It's hard to believe now, but at the time, we appeared to know what we were doing in Afghanistan. It was an illusion, magnified by faith in our unparalleled military might and righteous mission. Our confidence led us into a fatal error. We committed ourselves to remaking Afghanistan, but not wholeheartedly. Given a choice between a massive commitment of military and civilian resources to serious nation building on one hand and leaving as soon as the enemy was vanquished, we did neither. Instead, we chose a middle course, a limited commitment, which averted the worst outcome but offered no way out. We remain wedded to that option for the indefinite future. Despite sacrificing more than 2,300 lives and some $800 billion, we no longer expect anything but bleak reports from Afghanistan. Even the rare item of good news is bad. On Tuesday, for example, the government said it had reclaimed central Kunduz from Taliban units and was fighting to drive them out of other neighborhoods. What's bad about that? Until last year, the city hadn't fallen to the Taliban since 2001. Then, they seized it and held it for two weeks. Their latest assault on the city—even if it can be reversed—indicates that security is still up for grabs. All this fighting comes at the end of a bloody summer, in which Afghan forces took record casualties from a resilient foe. Only two-thirds of the country is under government control. Unemployment is estimated at 40 percent. Millions of desperate Afghans have given up and fled, turning up as refugees in Pakistan, Iran or Europe. This week, the Kabul government, a perpetual charity case, sent representatives to ask for $3 billion in aid from donor nations at a conference in Brussels. Any money is likely to be wasted. The watchdog group Transparency International rates Afghanistan one of the most corrupt nations on the planet. A unity government that is anything but unified has proved unable to act decisively on any of the grave problems afflicting the country. No one dreamed in 2001 that in 2016, the United States would still be mired in Afghanistan. But some 9,800 American troops remain, along with another 5,000 troops from allied countries. Barack Obama, the anti-war candidate of 2008, can't bring himself to leave. A report last month by the U.S. special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction amounted to a chronicle of folly. It found that pervasive corruption has stymied our efforts, helped the enemy and sapped public support for the government. It quoted an Afghan official who in 2010 argued that "corruption is not just a problem for the system of governance in Afghanistan; it is the system of governance." Ryan Crocker, a former ambassador to Kabul, told the investigators that "the ultimate point of failure for our efforts ... wasn't an insurgency. It was the weight of endemic corruption." The people in the regime we were helping were the true enemy. Looking back, it's clear the U.S. took on a project f[...]

Rape, Nude Catfighting, Prostitution... Your Fall Guide to Officer-Involved Sex Crimes in America

Mon, 03 Oct 2016 17:05:00 -0400

Throughout the summer, police officers from Oakland and nearby California cities continued to come under fire for misconduct connected to teenager Jasmine A., better known by her sex-work pseudonym "Celeste Guap." The scandal started to unfold after the suicide of Oakland officer Brendan O'Brien in September 2015 and has since led to suspensions, firings, and criminal charges for cops from several different Bay-Area agencies. But lest one think that situation is unique, let's take a peek at some other sexual-misconduct controversies brewing at U.S. law-enforcement agencies. Consider this a handy guide to officer-involved prostitution, coerced sex, and sexual assault at the start of autumn 2016. Horry County: Officers Accused of Sexual Assault, Coercing CatfightsFour former Horry County, South Carolina, cops face criminal charges, including several related to sexual assault and inappropriate sexual conduct with female inmates, crime victims, and confidential informants. Allen Large, a 27-year veteran of the Horry County Sheriff's Office, was recently indicted by a grand jury on five counts of criminal sexual conduct in the third degree, along with six counts of "misconduct in office" for allegedly failing to investigate cases. "The indictments allege that Large knowingly used coercion to engage in sexual battery with multiple victims and knowingly engaged in inappropriate relationships with victims of cases he was investigating," according to a statement from the state Attorney General's Office. Large, who was fired by the county in July 2015, is also the subject of multiple civil lawsuits accusing him of activity such as sexual assaulting a woman who came to him to report a sexual assault, sexual harassment, and threatening to interfere with a woman's child-visitation rights if she wouldn't participate in nude "catfight" videos. One woman alleges that the "Horry County Police Department had actual knowledge of Detective Large's inappropriate actions and/or propensity to harm female victims of crime, as other victims of sexual assault had reported his conduct prior to May of 2015," but did not act. Large denies most of the allegations, but admitted to suggesting the nude fighting videos and filming some such videos at his home. Horry County officer Luke Green was indicted for inappropriate sexual contact with a suspect during a prostitution arrest and the same with a confidential police informant. Both he and Large will be arraigned October 4, along with colleagues Daryl Williams and Todd Cox, who are accused of official misconduct for failing to investigate crime reports. Another Horry County cop, Chris Peterson, was not arrested but was fired last summer for alleged texting and "inappropriate conduct" with a woman who filed a police report. Newly sworn-in Horry County Police Chief Joe Hill said last week that "the four indictments that came down are the only indictments that are coming down — that investigation is wrapping up, it's done." Meanwhile... another South Carolina police head, Winnsboro Department of Public Safety Cheif Freddie Lorick Sr., was arrested over the weekend in an undercover prostitution sting conducted by Columbia Police. During the arrest, Lorick suffered unspecified medical issues and was taken to a hospital for treatment. Trenton, New Jersey: Woman Alleges Sex at K-9 Facility With Officer Who Shot HimselfOn September 21, New Jersey police officer Ed Leopardi was found shot to death in what would later be pronounced a suicide. A longtime veteran of the Trenton Police Department, Leopardi was also a Franklin Township Committee-member, the town's former mayor, and a married father of three who spent his spare time coaching Little League and serving as a volunteer firefighter. After his death, the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office would reveal that Leopardi was under investigation for activity with a sex worker at a Trenton police K-9 training facility. Obviously, there's some coercion involved in any situation where[...]

Courage House Claimed to Save Sex-Trafficked Girls. Instead, It Used Them As Funding Bait While Playing Evangelical Christian Missionary

Tue, 20 Sep 2016 09:40:00 -0400

Once girls arrived at the house, they were expected to hand over their cellphones. Internet access was also strictly limited—Jenny's rules. For "her girls" to stay in good graces, they were expected to do as she said, go where she told them to, and be available when she wanted to show them off in photos or at events. It's the kind of controlling, exploitative situation police warn us that runaway teens are likely to end up in at the hands of human traffickers. But in this case, control came via the people ostensibly helping—and accepting a lot of private and government money to help—these girls, under the auspices of an organization called Courage Worldwide. Founded in 2011 by Jenny T. Williamson (on direct orders from God, or so she claims), the Sacramento-based organization provided housing and services for formerly sex-trafficked young women at a California group home (Courage House) as well as a sister site in Tanzania. For her work as CEO of the nonprofit, Williamson paid herself $115,000 in 2015, according to the organization's tax report. The group reported net assets of $1.4 million that year. In addition to accepting donations from numerous local businesses, it received about $9,100 in government support per month per girl it took in. Most of the girls that lived at Courage House were referred by social workers or probation officers. Once at Courage House, the girls were supposed to be able to heal in comfort and privacy. Instead, they found themselves cut off from the outside world, with services and staff lacking (one former employee said she was told there was only money for two of the six girls per month to see a psychiatrist), while being subjected to the invasive publicity demands of Williamson, according to a Sacramento Bee expose on the group. "Public documents show that Williamson voluntarily closed the six-bed facility, effective June 14, amid a flurry of state inspections that found numerous violations, including inadequate staffing levels and no current administrator working at the home," the paper reported in August. "Williamson is appealing many of the citations, and is adamant that the closure is only temporary." So temporary, apparently, that Williamson didn't bother telling her donors about the shutdown until after the Bee contacted them. A former Courage House employee told the newspaper that the group had been cited by the state 16 times between January and June of 2016, for violations including breaching residents' privacy and inadequate staffing. Last fall, it was cited for giving tours of the group home and holding lunches there, for forcing residents to attend Christian church services every week, and for not respecting residents' freedom of religion. In interviews with The Bee, six ex-employees and a former business associate described a volatile environment for workers and high turnover among line staff at Courage House. The former workers singled out Williamson as a temperamental leader with no child-development background who micromanaged her trained staff and became so swept up in her own publicity and expansion plans that the core mission began to falter. The workers described a corporate organization in which staff members were frequently countermanded or abruptly fired for raising questions about "the vision," or for expressing concerns over the corporate office's sharing of clients' confidential information in fundraising or publicity efforts. Several ex-employees said they were upset by the use of identifiable images of Courage House girls on the company's Facebook page. It sounds like Williamson acted more like the proverbial controlling pimp or madam than someone truly dedicated to helping exploited teenagers. Which would be gross enough for the sheer hypocrisy of it, but imagine how much it could also have further messed up these girls, assuming they did come to her because they had been forced or coerced into prostitution. Now the people who "rescued" them are[...]

Oakland Police Follow Up Internal Sex-Crime Investigation by Launching Anonymous Online System for Reporting Prostitution

Fri, 16 Sep 2016 13:00:00 -0400

"If you see something, say something" is how The New York Times characterizes an initiative to get Oakland, California, residents to play sex police in their neighborhoods. But a better slogan for the new program might be "do as we say, not as we do." On Saturday, the Oakland Police Department (OPD)—which you might remember from its officers engaging in prostitution, statutory rape, exchanging legal favors for sex, and covering up coworkers' corruption—will launch a website where people can report the license plate numbers of suspected prostitution clients and describe the alleged sexual activity they witnessed. Police will then send a "Dear John letter" to the address where the vehicle is registered, informing residents that the vehicle was seen driving in a high-prostitution area and that "prostitution is not a victimless crime and is associated with kidnapping, human trafficking, and the sexual exploitation of children." It's an astounding amount of hubris and hypocrisy coming from a department where officers themselves had not only been paying for sex (or trading tips and favors for it) but doing so with with a young woman who was under 18 when it started and said she met her first OPD john (who later killed himself) while fleeing an abusive pimp. That woman, who has been using the pseudonym Celeste Guap, was later sent by the nearby Richmond Police Department to a Florida drug treatment center, arrested and jailed after three days there, and held on aggravated battery charges for 17 days. On Wednesday, she pleaded no contest to the reduced charge of misdemeanor battery and was released from jail. On Thursday, she appeared with her lawyer, Pamela Price, at a press conference at Oakland City Hall, where Price said that 19-year-old "Celeste" now wished to known by her real name, Jasmine. Price also claimed that Oakland "police were engaged in a conspiracy to sexually traffic children. [Jasmine] is not the only one." Even if OPD was squeaky clean, its latest anti-prostitution plan would still stink. The anonymous online system allows anyone who knows a target's license-plate number to easily fabricate shady behavior that will trigger an automatic punishment. The potential for abuse is immense. But even absent outright fraud, the system invites false positives. Anyone idling in an area, circling a block, picking up a young woman, or beckoning someone to their car for whatever reason could find themselves on the wrong end of nosy neighbors' imaginations and police insinuations. And while an insinuating letter might be no big deal for some, imagine the baseless suspicion and havoc this sort of thing could wreak among couples and families. Visitors to the new OPD website,, will be informed that "this website allows you to report vehicles soliciting or attempting to engage in illicit sexual activity. Based on information you provide, the Oakland Police Department will send a letter to the registered owner stating that the vehicle has been observed in an area known to have high incidences of sexual exploitation and trafficking." "This form will take you less than two minutes to complete," police add encouragingly. Oakland tried a similar initiative in 2012, but reports had to be filed via a paper form. In 2005, the city plastered the mugshots of people arrested for soliciting sex on local billboards and bus shelters and also installed surveillance cameras along a busy boulevard known for prostitution activity. As you might imagine, both programs were controversial. And they did little to actually help vulnerable people, said detractors. Nola Brantley, then executive director of a nonprofit agency for sexually exploited minors, pointed out that public john-shaming has negative consequences for the whole families of those in the spotlight. "I think the women and children in their lives have enough to deal with," Brantley told Oakland North. "You can't use shame as a tactic[...]

Lewd Acts and Prostitution Among Charges for California Cops—If Alleged Victim Gets Out of Florida Jail

Mon, 12 Sep 2016 06:45:00 -0400

Seven California police officers will be charged in conjunction with a wide-reaching sexual-misconduct investigation, at the center of which sits Celeste Guap. The 19-year-old claims to have slept with 32 Bay-Area officers, beginning when she was 17 years old, in exchange for cash, protection from prostitution stings, or running police background checks on people she knew. Last Wednesday, the city of Oakland announced that four of its officers had been fired and seven put on unpaid leave related to their relationships with Guap or their role in covering up colleagues' relationships. On Friday, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley reported that seven area officers would face criminal charges, including five (current and former) Oakland cops, a former Livermore police officer, and a former Contra Costa County Sheriff's deputy. The Sheriff's deputy, Ricardo Perez, will be charged with one count of felony oral copulation with a minor and two counts of committed a lewd act in public, said O'Malley at a press conference. The Livermore police officer, Dan Black, will be charged wit two counts of engaging in an act of prostitution and two counts of committing a lewd act in public. Oakland Officer Brian Bunton will be charged with one count of engaging in an act of prostitution and one count of felony obstruction of justice. His colleagues, Giovani LoVerde and Sgt. Leroy Johnson, will be charged with felony oral copulation with a minor and failure to report sexual misconduct against a minor, respectively. Oakland officer Warit Uttapa will be charged with one count of searching a criminal justice system database without authorized purpose, and Terryl Smith with four counts of the same. O'Malley said Smith also engaged in sexual activity with Guap but it happened outside the county's jurisdiction. "I am grateful to District Attorney Nancy O'Malley's office for agreeing to conduct a parallel and independent criminal investigation in this matter," said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff in a statement. "The results of both the administrative and criminal investigations make it clear that misconduct will not be tolerated." That sentiment might be more convincing, however, if Guap hadn't been flown to Florida for drug-addiction treatment on the state's dime and then, while there, booked in county jail for aggravated battery with bail set at $300,000. According to the Martin County Sheriff's Office, Guap was brought in after biting a security guard at the treatment facility. Contra Costa County Senior Deputy District Attorney Doug MacMaster said it was "ludicrous" to think the Richmond Police Department—which helped Guap apply for money from the state's Victim Compensation Fund, and also includes several deputies implicated by Guap—had intentionally tried "to squirrel her out of state." But as long as Guap remains out of state, Alameda County can't proceed with the prosecutions of Black, Bunton, Johnson, LoVerde, Perez, Smith, and Uttapa. So far none of the men have been arrested and no charges have been filed. "If we don't have a witness," said O'Malley at a press conference Friday, "we can't prosecute these cases."[...]

11 Oakland Cops Disciplined Over Prostitution Scandal Involving Exploited Teen

Thu, 08 Sep 2016 14:18:00 -0400

While Celeste Guap sits in a Florida prison on aggravated battery charges, most of the California cops who allegedly exploited her get to carry on with their lives like nothing happened. But in Oakland, where the whole sordid ordeal started, some sort of justice may finally being served. On Wednesday, Mayor Libby Schaaf held a press conference to announce that four Oakland officers had been fired in conjunction with Guap's allegations and an additional seven officers had been suspended without pay. The firings and suspensions should send "a loud and clear message that we hold our officers to nothing but the highest standards of professionalism and integrity," said Schaaf. Better late than never, I guess? The Oakland Police Department (OPD) has been plagued with abuse and corruption going back at least two decades. This latest round started last autumn, when Guap texted the OPD chief claiming to have hooked up with several Oakland cops—starting with Officer Brendan O'Brien—in exchange for either money or protection from prostitution stings. Guap sent a screenshot of the text to O'Brien, who committed suicide a few hours later. O'Brien apparently met Guap—then just 17-years-old—when she was fleeing an abusive pimp. O'Brien "saved me," Guap told CNN. "Instead of taking me to jail, we just kind of started something there, you know." At the time, Guap would have been defined under federal law as a victim of sex trafficking even if no violence or coercion was involved, because she was selling sex while under age 18. But Guap's case wasn't simply statutory sex-trafficking; she claims to have been exploited and abused by a violent individual, too. Yet none of this mattered—Guap (like so many others in her situation) still faced arrest for prostitution, because that's how our "criminal justice" system works. And because she faced arrest for prostitution, she also became vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse by police. Ultimately, Guap claimed that she slept with more than 30 police officers spanning five departments: Oakland, San Francisco, Contra Costa County, Alameda County, and Richmond. Many of these areas, including Oakland, have been extremely active at prosecuting prostitution, shaming "johns," and claiming to crack down on teen sex-trafficking. Regarding Guap's allegations, internal investigations at most of the departments yielded nothing. But activists and civil-rights attorneys have been questioning the impartiality and legitimacy of such intra-agency investigations. They're calling on the state to intervene by consolidating and investigating Guap's claims. For now, only Oakland officers face dicipline—a start, at least. Oakland City Administrator Sabrena Landreth said that each of the four fired officers "was found to have committed one or more of the following offenses: attempted sexual assault, engaging in lewd conduct in public assisting in the crime of prostitution, assisting in the evading of arrest for the crime of prostitution, accessing law enforcement databases for personal gain, being untruthful to investigators, failing to report a violation of law or rules by not reporting allegations of a minor having sexual contact with Oakland police officers, and bringing and disrepute to the Oakland Police Department." The seven suspended officers were found to have accessed law enforcement databases for personal gain, been untruthful to investigators, failed to report a violation of law, and brought disrepute to the department. Criminal charges may be forthcoming. Schaff said District Attorney Nancy O'Malley was still conducting a criminal investigation, but "we have reason to believe she will be making determinations relatively soon." In June, the OPD Police Chief whom Guap had first texted resigned. He was replaced with an interim chief. Then Mayor Schaff removed him six days later and appointed a new new int[...]

How Celeste Guap, California Teen at Center of Oakland-Cop Prostitution Scandal, Wound Up in a Florida Jail

Fri, 02 Sep 2016 17:00:00 -0400

Something doesn't sit right about the recent arrest of Celeste Guap, a 19-year-old California woman who's now being held in a southeast-Florida jail. For the past year, Guap* has been central to a controversy involving officers from at least five Bay-Area police agencies, including Oakland, Richmond, and San Francisco. The daughter of an Oakland police dispatcher, Guap claims she had sex with more than two dozen cops—some while she was still under 18—in exchange for cash or protection from prostitution stings. The first officer she claims to have been involved with wound up killing himself last fall. Last Friday, Guap—a resident of Richmond, California—checked into a residential detox facility in Stuart, Florida, for what her mother described as heroin addiction. Three days later, she was in the Martin County Jail facing felony charges for aggravated battery. Bail was set at $300,000. Guap and her mother both told the East Bay Express that the drug-treatment was funded through the Richmond Police Department (RPD), an allegation that has raised eyebrows among people following the investigation into Guap's prostitution claims (which include RPD officers). "I'm not saying rehab is a bad idea, but there are rehab programs here," said civil-rights attorney Pamela Price, who is leading a call for the state to take over the investigation from individual agencies involved. Talking to ABC-7 reporter Dan Noyes, Guap explained that the treatment money came from RPD's victim's compensation fund. "They said it was a paid vacation," Guap told Noyes, "to consider it a paid vacation." Lieutenant Felix Tan, RPD chief of staff, would not confirm or deny whether the agency was involved with Guap's treatment. "It would be irresponsible and inappropriate for any public agency to comment on anyone's rehabilitation progress," he says. "We are not commenting." Any investigation into California cops' involvement with Guap may now be hindered by the Florida felony-battery case. According to charging documents, Guap told police Monday that she did not remember anything about the incident that led to her arrest. Guap "stated she blacks out when she gets angry," police reported. Guap's alleged victim, a detox-center security guard named Joseph Sanders, claimed Guap was getting (verbally) upset with a facility care staffer so he and two other security guards entered the room. At that point, Guap tried to pull a safe off of the room's countertop and, "when the security officers intervened, [Guap] began resisting, starting a physical altercation," according to an arrest affidavit. Guap began "screaming at the employees then lunged at one of the female security officers. Sanders attempted to restrain" Guap, at which point she bit his right forearm. Security-camera footage of the altercation allegedly backs up Sanders report—except for the biting, which was not caught on video. The sheriff's office has not yet seen the footage, Public Information Officer Christine Weiss said Friday afternoon. After Guap refused to talk to police Monday, she was handcuffed and placed in the back of a squad car. After slipping out of the handcuffs, Guap began to repeatedly bang her head against the window and was then placed in a police hobble, according to the incident report. In the Express, Guap's mother wonders why a detox and recovery center would call the police on someone for acting-out in the throes of drug withdrawal. It's a fair question. An aggravated battery charge for this incident also might seem harsh—the charge is supposedly reserved for assault involving a deadly weapon or attacks that cause "great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement." In Guap's arrest affidavit, officer Michael Trent McCarthy reports that he observed "teeth marks" on Sanders' arm but mentions no bruising or bleeding. But according to We[...]

Bribery Convictions Won't Shut Off Chicago's Red Light Cameras

Fri, 02 Sep 2016 13:50:00 -0400

A former Chicago city official is heading to prison after getting caught taking $2 million in bribes from a red light camera company. John Bills, former deputy commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation, was sentenced on Thursday to 10 years in federal prison for taking bribes from Redflex Traffic Systems, an Australia-based company. Bills was found guilty in January of having accepted cash, a new Mercedes car and an Arizona condo from Redflex in return for helping the company secure a $100 million contract with the city of Chicago. "Every bribe that is taken, every kickback that is tendered or received, every amount of cash that is pocketed further erodes the rule of law," U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall said, according to the Chicago Tribune. "It erodes faith in our government, and that takes years to rebuild." The Tribune said the sentence was one of the toughest ever handed down to a non-elected public official convicted of corruption. Bills will soon have company behind bars. Martin O'Malley (no, not that Martin O'Malley), a personal friend of Bills' who admitted acting as a "bagman" to deliver Manilla envelops full of cash to Bills on behalf of Redflex, is scheduled to be sentenced for his role in the scheme later this month. Also convicted and awaiting sentencing is former Redflex CEO Karen Finley. Before the contract was terminated by the city in 2013 (after the Tribune exposed the how Redflex had bought influence from city officials), it was the most lucrative red light camera deal in the country. At one point, Chicago's red light cameras provided 20 percent of Redflex's revenue, even though the company operated similar automatic enforcement devices in dozens of American cities. Redflex also benefitted from the publicity of having a contract with Chicago and used that deal to help convince other cities to acquire similar programs, prosecutors said when they brought the case against Bills in 2014. The bribery convictions won't stop Chicago from using the lucrative red light cameras. In 2015 alone, Chicago made more than $285 million from more than 2.2 million tickets issued by the red light cameras installed at 149 intersections across the city. Chicago also has more than 300 speed cameras that bring in about $15 million in revenue each year. Even though city officials say the cameras are meant to improve safety at dangerous intersections, there's little evidence they actually do that. A Chicago Tribune investigation published in 2014 found that 40 percent of the cameras installed during Chicago's decade-long contract with RedFlex were actually increasing the frequency of traffic accidents and resulting injuries. Studies in other cities—including Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Portland, Ore., and elsewhere—have found a similar uptick in rear-end crashes at intersections with red light cameras, likely caused by drivers who are slamming on the brakes to avoid a ticket instead of proceeding safely through the intersection. That's just what happens when the cameras are working properly. An apparent malfuction affecting some of Chicago's red light cameras in the summer of 2011 resulted in huge spikes in the number of tickets issued—one camera spit out 560 tickets in 12 days after issuing just 100 tickets in the previous six months. The city's traffic court tossed out about half of those tickets, but the whole incident was made more suspicious by the fact that Redflex did not notify city officials that anything unusual had happened (officials claimed they learned about the problem when reporters asked about it). Bills isn't the first person to go to jail for helping red light camera companies grease the skids. John Raphael, a lobbyist for Redflex, was sentenced to prison last week for soliciting bribes to city councilmen in Columbus and Cincinnati, Ohio[...]

The Clinton Foundation Was Clearly an Avenue of Access to Hillary

Tue, 23 Aug 2016 16:20:00 -0400

(image) This is what "wrong within normal parameters" looks like in Washington, D.C. The Associated Press reports today that more than half of the non-government folks who met with Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state gave donations to the Clinton Foundation.

The AP counts 85 out 154 people who either had meetings or phone conversations with Clinton as either donating themselves or through companies and groups. And this isn't chump change either. The total to the foundation from these people: $156 million. Here's what the AP found:

Donors who were granted time with Clinton included an internationally known economist who asked for her help as the Bangladesh government pressured him to resign from a nonprofit bank he ran; a Wall Street executive who sought Clinton's help with a visa problem and Estee Lauder executives who were listed as meeting with Clinton while her department worked with the firm's corporate charity to counter gender-based violence in South Africa.

The meetings between the Democratic presidential nominee and foundation donors do not appear to violate legal agreements Clinton and former president Bill Clinton signed before she joined the State Department in 2009. But the frequency of the overlaps shows the intermingling of access and donations, and fuels perceptions that giving the foundation money was a price of admission for face time with Clinton. Her calendars and emails released as recently as this week describe scores of contacts she and her top aides had with foundation donors.

The latest round of released emails prompted accusations of "pay to play" at the State Department. The response has been that providing "access" is not the same as actually providing "favors." The problem with such an argument is that "access" is in itself a favor. It's not like any of us proletarians could have gotten a meeting with Clinton.

Do keep in mind that the amount of money Paul Manafort, formerly of Donald Trump's campaign, is accused of funneling to U.S. lobbyists on behalf of interests in Ukraine and Russia is a pittance compared to the amount of money directed toward the foundation.

This shouldn't be taken a defense of Manafort's behavior or any of the lobbying went on back then. But rather it's a reminder of how this looks like outside the beltway. When the "normal parameters" look as bad as this, no wonder there's a significant number of Americans willing to ignore Trump's own form of awful financial behavior. And it helps explain why Clinton had such a hard time shaking off the likes of Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Donald Trump Call For Immediate Shutdown of Clinton Foundation

Mon, 22 Aug 2016 09:25:00 -0400

(image) Donald Trump called this morning for the Clinton Foundation to be "shut down immediately," describing it as "the most corrupt enterprise in political history" in a Facebook post.

"Hillary Clinton is the defender of the corrupt and rigged status quo," Trump wrote. "The Clintons have spent decades as insiders lining their own pockets and taking care of donors instead of the American people."

Over the weekend, the Clinton campaign insisted the Clinton Foundation would stop accepting donations from foreign countries. They did not explain why such a suspension did not happen when Clinton served as secretary of state.

Critics have pointed to a number of State Department-facilitated deals that involved foreign parties that had made donations to the Clinton Foundation. The 'Clinton system' involves selling access to bad guys.

"What they were doing during Crooked Hillary's time as Secretary of State was wrong then, and it is wrong now," Trump wrote.

Earlier this year, the FBI reportedly wanted to open an investigation of the Clinton Foundation after receiving an alert from a bank about suspicious activity by a foreign Clinton Foundation donor, but the Department of Justice (DOJ) nixed it, claiming their own investigation after the book Clinton Cash (now a documentary)was released could not substantiate those allegations the DOJ focused on.

Brickbat: Louisiana—Come for the Food, Stay for the Corruption

Thu, 11 Aug 2016 04:00:00 -0400

(image) Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, Sheriff Jerry Larpenter says he was tired of someone posting anonymously on the Internet accusing him of corruption. So he sent deputies to raid the home of a Houma police officer he suspected of making the posts, seizing computers and cellphones from the home. Larpenter got a judge to sign a warrant because of potential criminal defamation violation.

Pennsylvania Blew $600 Million on Pension Fund Managers and Doesn’t Have Much to Show for It

Mon, 08 Aug 2016 10:55:00 -0400

When a professional sports team spends big bucks on a superstar who is supposed to take them to the top of their league, fans tend to get pretty upset when the performance doesn't match the promise. Taxpayers and pensioners in Pennsylvania should feel the same sort of expectations for—and disappointment with—the highly paid men and women managing the retirement funds for state employees. At least that's what Auditor General Eugene DePasquale thinks. Okay, bear with me here. No white collar worker at the state's Public School Employees Retirement System (or PSERS, the larger of Pennsylvania's two public pension funds) is going to generate the same excitement or angst as the performance of the Philadelphia Phillies' Ryan Howard—perhaps the poster boy, at least in Pennsylvania, for an overpaid, underperforming professional athlete. But DePasquale is going for the analogy anyway. And it actually works. "Imagine paying Kevin Durant's free agent salary or LeBron James' free agent salary, and getting me showing up at training camp," he said, referring to two of the National Basketball Association's best and highest-paid players--each makes more than $20 million per year playing for the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, respectively. "I mean, the fans would rightfully be outraged," he said. Minus the outrages, that's basically what has happened in Pennsylvania. During fiscal year 2015, PSERS and the smaller State Employees Retirement System reported paying a combined $610 million to private investment managers to manage the $78 billion in assets held by the two pension funds. For the record: that's about 26 times more than LeBron James made last year. Despite that, neither fund is doing very well. For the same fiscal year, PSERS posted a positive return of 3.04 percent while SERS earned just 0.4 percent. During the same period—from July 1, 2014, through June 30, 2015—the Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed by better than 6.5 percent, and other stock market indices performed similarly well. Why pay all that money to underperform the market, asks DePasquale. "We have to examine whether that is worthy of taxpayer and pensioners' money," he said last week. "When we're paying that tens of millions and they're not even beating a conservative stock index fund, we have to question what are we getting for that money." All this should matter to taxpayers—yes, even more than the performance of professional baseball or basketball players—because of how public sector pension plans work. They're funded with a combination of tax dollars, contributions from public sector employees, and the returns from investments. But the contributions from public workers are locked in place by contracts, so if the investment returns come up short of expectations—each fund has its own "target" but PSERS assumes a 7.5 percent annual return—taxpayers have to make up the shortfall. Already, taxpayers in Pennsylvania are staring at the prospect of paying off more than $60 billion in debt the two pension funds have piled up. For their part, the two pension funds point out they've taken steps to reduce fees to outside investment firms in recent years. Fees paid by PSERS have declined from $588 million in 2013 to $455 million in 2015, according to the fund's annual report, while SERS has seen a similar decrease. Pennsylvania's pension funds aren't the only ones paying investment managers for less-than-stellar returns. A recent study from the Maryland Public Policy Institute found 33 states spent more than $6 billion on pension fund management fees in 2015. States that spent more did not outperform those who spent less, and pension funds using professional managers did not outperform stoc[...]

Brickbat: Road to Ruin

Mon, 01 Aug 2016 04:00:00 -0400

(image) Former Colfax County, New Mexico, sheriff's deputy Vidal Sandoval has pleaded guilty to drug trafficking and theft of government property. Undercover agents sent to investigate him for shaking down down motorists not only caught him doing that but also offering to allow drug dealers to move drugs through the county for a piece of their money.