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Preview: Reason Magazine - Topics > Corruption


All articles with the "Corruption" tag.

Published: Wed, 28 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Wed, 28 Sep 2016 22:10:37 -0400


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 employing the same sort of isolating and controlling techniques they escaped, treating them more like Courage[...]

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—it doesn't change behavior." Meanwhile, in nearby Richmond—where officers were also implicated by Jasmine[...]

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 interim chief. In late August, Guap flew to Florida to seek treatment for drug addiction at a residential facilit[...]

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 Weiss, aggravated battery is the standard charge in cases that involve biting. Weiss also said that the $300,00[...]

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. Shawn Brown, former mayor of Saint Peters, Missouri, served a year in prison after taking a bribe from Redf[...]

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 stock market averages over a five year period, the study found. Last month, DePasquale's office launched a wide-[...]

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.

Clinton Cash

Wed, 27 Jul 2016 10:25:00 -0400

This week, as Democrats fawn over Hillary Clinton, I'm struck by how both Clintons continue to thrive despite their remarkable record of sleazy dealings. The just released documentary Clinton Cash, based on a book by Peter Schweizer, explains how they make big money by selling access to themselves. On my TV show, Schweizer said the Clintons use "speaking fees" to get around bribery laws. "If somebody gave a politician or family member money for a favor, that's breaking the law. But if you say it's a speaking fee, and you pay double or triple the normal rate, that seems to be legal." Since Bill Clinton left office, he's earned more than $126 million giving speeches. Nothing wrong with that. Bill likes to talk, and if people want to pay big bucks to hear him or just to say they were near him, so be it. It's their own money. But what suggests influence peddling, says Schweizer, is that before Hillary became secretary of state, Bill's usual fee was less than $200,000. But after Hillary became secretary of state, he made as much as $750,000 per speech. That's "evidence that people paying him expect to get something in return," says Schweizer. "She becomes appointed secretary of state, a friend of the president of Nigeria suddenly offers (Bill) $700,000 apiece for two speeches. An investment firm in Moscow that's tied to the Kremlin who had never paid for him to speak before suddenly gave him $500,000." Those are just two of many examples cited in Clinton Cash. Sometimes the Clintons launder the money through the Clinton Foundation. It's collected more than $2 billion to "improve global health and wellness." But Sean Davis of The Federalist examined Clinton Foundation records and concluded only about 15 percent of the money goes to actual charity work to help needy people. Most is spent paying Clinton cronies and other well-connected people to schmooze with governments and charities, which supposedly helps those governments and charities help people. I doubt it helps much. Even the earthquake in Haiti became a moneymaking opportunity for the Clintons. After the earthquake, the Clinton Foundation announced that it would work with governments and businesses to help rebuild Haiti. Actual rebuilding has been meager. A Clinton Foundation press release promised an industrial park that would create "up to 60,000 jobs." Just 7,000 jobs have been created. What the Foundation has managed to do is help Clinton "friends." One, Irish billionaire Denis O'Brien, runs Digicel, a company that wanted a grant to build Haiti's cellphone network. "Four weeks after their application," says Schweizer, Digicel sponsored a speech for Bill Clinton in Jamaica and "paid him $225,000. Within four months of that speech, Digicel would receive the first installment of that grant money." Hillary Clinton's brother, Tony Rodham, even managed to cash in. The Haitian government awarded an exclusive gold mining contract to a company called VCS mining. VCS, says Schweizer, "has no experience in mining, very little experience in Haiti, and it raises the question, of all the companies out there, why did the Haitian government pick this one company?" The Clintons will tell you that it had nothing to do with the facts that Hillary's brother got a job with VCS and the chairman happens to be a Democratic donor. The worst example in Clinton Cash, says Schweizer, is the Ericsson telecom deal. The Swedish company Ericsson was in trouble with the State Department because it sold telecom equipment to repressive regimes. Says Schweizer, "WikiLeaks cables show the State Department sort of busting up the Swedish foreign minister, saying you need to get Ericsson into line. Ericsson decides that this would be a great time to sponsor a speech by Bill Clinton. They had never done so befo[...]

Clinton and Lynch—Corruption, Not 'Optics'

Fri, 01 Jul 2016 00:01:00 -0400

Attorney General Loretta Lynch tells us that her meeting with Bill Clinton aboard a private jet on the Phoenix airport tarmac was "primarily social"—you know, just two Democrats swapping stories about their grandkids and whatnot. The nation's top law enforcement official and the former president and husband of the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee—who is under federal investigation—had a talk. Rather than conceding that such a private encounter is at the very least a conflict of interest, Democrats preemptively complained about the "optics." Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del), for instance, told CNN that Lynch "should have steered clear" and that the meeting "sends the wrong signal." What signal is that? Do Coons and every other politician "groaning" about the optics of the meeting understand that they're arguing for Lynch to recuse herself from the Clinton investigation? As Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.)—who's been pushing for a special counsel for a while—pointed out, there is a clear ethical duty for attorneys general to recuse themselves at the mere appearance of impartiality—a standard that this little meeting clearly meets. As stated in the U.S. Attorneys' Manual, "The requirement of recusal does not arise in every instance, but only where a conflict of interest exists or there is an appearance of a conflict of interest or loss of impartiality." Acknowledging that the meeting was bad "optics" is a way for Democrats to intimate that while some rubes might get the wrong idea, there's really nothing unethical about it. But they can't know that's true, can they? One of the parties involved is Bill Clinton, who has already been impeached for lying under oath and obstructing justice. The other is Lynch, who has politicized virtually every major case under her watch. David Axelrod, Obama's chief political advisor, tweeted: "I take (Loretta Lynch) & (Bill Clinton) at their word that their convo in Phoenix didn't touch on probe. But foolish to create such optics." And it's Axelrod's prerogative to take the two at their word. "All I can say is Loretta Lynch is one of the most outstanding human beings I've ever known," Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters. "Her ethics are above reproach. No one could ever question her strong feelings about the rule of law, and her ethics are the best." Sen. Chuck Schumer added: "So, you have two choices, to say this didn't matter, or she is lying. I think it didn't matter." Lynch might be Mother Teresa for all we know, but we still have ethical codes for a reason. Any truly impartial attorney general would have said to the former president, "Why don't we table this meeting until after the high-profile, politically charged criminal investigation of your wife is over." Would that really have been so difficult? Moreover, it's not like these two randomly bumped into each other shopping at the grocery store or picking up dry cleaning. People don't have a lot of "impromptu meetings" in private jets sitting on airport tarmacs. As ABC15 Arizona reported, Clinton arrived to the airport to depart, heard Lynch was en route to that airport and then waited for her arrival. Maybe it was just dumb luck that this happened only a day before the Benghazi report was released by Congress, and a few days after the Associated Press published another 165 pages of emails then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent via her unsanctioned and unsecure private email server and did not want anyone to see. Or perhaps, as his wife's stories are becoming increasingly impossible to believe, Bill Clinton felt the need to say a few words to the attorney general overseeing the criminal investigations? Whatever the case, the appearance of a conflict of interest or loss of impartiality is clearly p[...]

Kentucky Sheriff's Deputy Performed Illegal Traffic Stop on Business Rival, Lawsuit Alleges

Thu, 30 Jun 2016 17:28:00 -0400

(image) Jason Crigger, an EMT and ambulance driver for the Kentucky-based Arrow-Med Ambulance alleges in a lawsuit that he was "verbally harass[ed]" by Breathitt County special deputy Darrell "Steve" McIntosh, who Crigger says "activated his emergency lights and siren" and detained him for several minutes while a patient returning from a dialysis treatment lay in the back of the ambulance. A fellow Arrow-Med employee recorded the traffic stop and gave the footage to WYMT-TV.

Crigger told WYMT that McIntosh "Never gave me a reason that he pulled me over," adding that during the five minutes he was detained, McIntosh "never accused me of any traffic violations or anything of the sort. It appeared to me he just pulled me over to try to threaten and intimidate us."

McIntosh, who is also a Jackson (Ky.) city councilman, owns a rival ambulance company and is currently engaged in a lawsuit he filed against Arrow-Med alleging fraud and overbilling. Crigger's lawyer, Ned Pillersdorf characterized the traffic stop to U.S. News and World Report as a "pretty flagrant civil rights violation," adding "You're not allowed to use your official position to detain people and argue with them about a civil suit, which is what happened."

In an interview with U.S News, Crigger says that he makes $9.50 an hour, but that the lawsuit isn't about the money, it's to hold McIntosh accountable for "following us around for months in his little police car":

"He's a bully and I hate bullies," Crigger says. "I've been poor all my life, and I'll probably be poor for the foreseeable future. I just want him to leave me and my guys alone and let us work. We don't do this for the money, we do this to help people and now we have to worry about rogue deputy sheriffs pulling us over and harassing us."

David Drake, the patient in the back of the ambulance who was spent and stressed from four hours of dialysis treatment, told U.S. News that McIntosh "intimidated me too in the process, whether he meant to or not." Drake added, "He really dumped some anxiety on me. I was strapped down in the back. I can't run, I can just pray to God he won't go psycho."

Breathitt County's Sheriff Department consists of the sheriff and one paid deputy, plus four unpaid volunteer deputies, a group which includes McIntosh.

Sheriff Ray Clemons told U.S. News that he asked McIntosh about the incident and he claims "they made some kind of allegations at him or something or other, stuck their fingers up at him or something, that's pretty much what he said."

Oakland Cops Uncover Dead Colleague's Fling With Underage Sex Worker, Make Sure to Get Her Number for Themselves

Wed, 29 Jun 2016 12:47:00 -0400

The young woman at the center of a scandal shaking multiple California police departments has revealed new and damning facts about the situation. Celeste Guap, 18, claims to have had sex with more than 30 Bay Area police officers in exchange for cash, tips about upcoming prostitution stings, and protection from prosecution. Things allegedly started when she was still a minor and met Oakland officer Brendan O'Brien in the course of fleeing an abusive pimp.   According to Guap, she and O'Brien began having sex in February 2015. "We [would] tell each other you're my only, you know, like that, but he knew what it was," she told ABC 7 in a recent interview. O'Brien's wife had died the previous year in what had been ruled a suicide but some suspected O'Brien of being involved in.  Guap told the TV station that in September 2015, she celebrated her 18th birthday by traveling to Puerto Rico, where she found herself alone in a "rough area" and called O'Brien for help. He didn't pick up. She threatened to expose him for sleeping with her when she was still 17 and, when he still didn't respond, she did it, sending a text to a commanding officer at OPD detailing her relationship with O'Brien and several other OPD officers. She then sent a screenshot of the text to O'Brien.  A few hours later, O'Brien committed suicide.  "Guap appears to have some guilt about this, and perhaps some anger toward the dozens of other officers who contacted her for sex over the ensuing months," SFist reports.  I don't know about you, but if my colleague had killed himself after being threatened with exposure by a teen sex worker, my impulse would be, at least, to avoid her. OPD officers, however, thought otherwise. Not only did those alerted to O'Brien and Guap's relationship not report it, they began allegedly contacting Guap—the daughter of an OPD dispatcher—for sex themselves. Guap said she eventually began sleeping with cops from neighboring areas, too, including Alameda County and San Francisco. She turned over an array of cell phone records to various departments to corroborate her claims.  Since these allegations came out, two OPD officers resigned and three more were placed on administrative leave pending investigation. The Alameda County Sheriff's Office investigated four offiers, but determined that because Guap was 18 at the time they slept with her and they did not pay her in cash, no wrongdoing was involved.  In total, Guap claims to have slept with 32 members of local law enforcement, although she claims only three paid her. The rest she slept with for information and protection from arrest, said Guap, who mostly did street-based sex work.  I don't mean to deny Guap's agency, but when your choices are have sex with someone or get thrown in jail... It might not be rape as we commonly think of it, but it's sure as hell—if nothing else—an abuse of authority. It's coercion. And it's a direct result of the criminalization of prostitution, a system that seems to benefit no one but corrupt cops and violent sex traffickers.  While all of this was happening with Guap, the Oakland and Alameda County police departments were very public crusaders against prostitution. In the first six months of 2014, Oakland police made 295 arrests related to prostitution and conducted 30 prostitution stings. "We don't have a lot of resources," said OPD Luitenenant Kevin Wiley at the time. "But the ones we have, we dedicate 110 percent."  The city even ran billboards featuring the mugshots of men who were arrested for attempting to pay for sex. Another series of recent Oakland city billboards featured slogans such as: "Buying a teen for sex is chil[...]