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Crime



All Reason.com articles with the "Crime" tag.



Published: Sun, 23 Jul 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Sun, 23 Jul 2017 15:06:04 -0400

 



Brickbat: Need to Know

Mon, 17 Jul 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) A Palm Beach County, Florida, sheriff's deputy has pleaded guilty to using information he got from law enforcement databases to steal the identities of dozens of people. Frantz Felisma used the databases to look up personal information on people who drove expensive cars.




GOP Pushes Bad, Punitive Anti-Federalist Immigration Bills Through the House

Fri, 30 Jun 2017 14:20:00 -0400

House Republicans overwhelmingly voted in favor of two bad immigration-focused bills yesterday that potentially punish those in the United States illegally with new harsh prison sentences and attempts to push cities into helping federal authorities deport people. The first bill, popularly known as "Kate's Law," adds new criminal penalties and federal prison sentences to any immigrant who returns to the United States after being deported for criminal behavior. But it also threatens up to 10 years in federal prison for illegal immigrants who repeatedly return to the United States after being deported, even if they've committed no other crimes. It also forbids the immigrant from challenging the legitimacy of any prior removal orders. The second bill, the "No Sanctuary for Criminals Act," attempts to push cities, particularly so-called "sanctuary cities," into cooperating with federal immigration officials to detain and eject those in the country illegally. President Donald Trump (and many, many other Republicans) made a big deal about fighting sanctuary cities—which generally don't ask residents or people who interact with government officials about their citizenship status—on the campaign trail. But after Trump took office, his Department of Justice was faced with an awkward truth: Most sanctuary cities are not defying federal laws at all, and there's not much the government can currently do about them. Federal laws do not require that cities and local law enforcement assist immigration officials by detaining people the feds want to deport. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can ask cities to hold illegal immigrants for in "detainer orders." But they're requests. Cities have their own rules about when they'll comply with such orders (often requiring court orders or a warrant for cooperation). Ultimately after the Department of Justice started threatening federal grant money to sanctuary cities, they ended up discovering that really only a handful of governments (eight cities and one county) are behaving in a way that was even remotely in defiance of federal authority. What the "No Sanctuary for Criminals Act" does is forbid municipalities from stopping local law enforcement officials from helping federal immigration officials by complying with detainer orders. In areas of immigration enforcement, it overrules the ability of cities to control the behavior of their own law enforcement officers. The act also classifies specifically which grants the federal government would withhold from sanctuary cities that defy them. Previously the administration through executive order threaten to withhold all sorts of federal grants, but the courts have previously ruled such behavior unconstitutional. The grants have to be connected to enforcing the laws themselves. This act specifically defines which grants could be denied sanctuary cities. The votes fell mostly across party lines—Republicans in favor of the two bills and Democrats against them. More Democrats were willing to cross the aisle to vote in favor of harsher criminal sentences for illegal immigrants than to cut federal grants from sanctuary cities, so make of that what you will. Only one Republican voted against both bills, libertarian Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan. Amash tweeted his reasons why. He found both bills to significantly violate the Constitution and the concept of federalism: I voted no today on two bills that together violate the 1st, 4th, 5th, 10th, and 11th Amendments. I will always defend our Constitution. — Justin Amash (@justinamash) June 29, 2017 A spokesperson for Amash's office told Reason, "Rep. Amash supports securing our borders and has voted to defund sanctuary cities, but these bills go far beyond that and are unconstitutional." Though the legislation passed the House, it has a challenge getting through a Senate where Republicans hold just a slim majority. As it stands, Republican Senators have their own ideas on what this legislation should look like, and they're combining Kate's Law with other punitive im[...]



Teen Found Guilty of Manslaughter for Texting Suicidal Boyfriend

Fri, 16 Jun 2017 18:15:00 -0400

On the night of July 12, 2014, 18-year-old Conrad Roy III killed himself by inhaling carbon monoxide in a Kmart parking lot in Fairhaven, Massachusetts. His 17-year-old girlfriend, Michelle Carter, was miles away in Plainville. (*) Yet today Carter was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for Roy's death. She faces up to 20 years in prison. Why? Because Carter had repeatedly texted Roy prior to his death, "you just need to do it." Bristol County Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Moniz declared this illegal, even though there is no law in Massachusetts against encouraging suicide. This was a bench trial, so the judge rather than a jury determined the verdict. His ruling threatens the very core of how our legal system approaches speech. The law has traditionally treated some sorts of speech, such as defamation, as a type of nonviolent harm. And in some crimes, such as incitement or conspiracy, the law says speech can be a proximate cause of violence. But this ruling treats speech itself as a form of literal violence—as the immediate cause of death. As the American Civil Liberties Union put it in a statement, the prosecution's theory is that Carter "literally killed Mr. Roy with her words. This conviction exceeds the limits of our criminal laws and violates free speech protections guaranteed by the Massachusetts and U.S. Constitutions." A month before Roy took his life in June of 2014, Carter had attempted to talk her depressive boyfriend out of killing himself. Roy had already attempted suicide before; when he considered another attempt, Carter texted, "I'm trying my best to dig you out." But by July Carter's texts had taken a turn for the perverse. She told him repeatedly that suicide was the only way out. On July 12th, when Roy got sick from carbon monoxide and stepped out of his car, Carter texted him to "get back in." What motivated Carter to do this? The prosecution painted a picture of a teenager who wanted attention for her recently deceased boyfriend. The defense maintained Carter struggled from an eating disorder and depression and, at the time of Roy's death, was "involuntarily intoxicated" with antidepressants. Neither scenario matters. Whatever her motives or her poor choices, the important legal question is whether her words actually caused Roy's death. And it was carbon monoxide poisoning that killed Conrad Roy, not Michelle Carter's messages. Carter's punishment does not fit the crime. Involuntary manslaughter is a conviction for a negligent surgeon, for an abusive husband who unintentionally kills his spouse, for a drunk driver who accidentally runs someone down. A reckless text is not a reckless, swerving car. Words are not literal weapons, and the moral turpitude of Carter's comments does not change that. Some legal experts have speculated that the judge's ruling was an attempt to convince lawmakers to pass legislation making people liable for their online speech. But even if such a bill were a good idea, you shouldn't convict someone for committing a crime that doesn't exist in the hope that lawmakers will someday pass a law to fit the crime. This isn't how our judicial system works. Let's hope an appeals court strikes it down. As Reason's Elizabeth Nolan Brown asked when the charges were first brought, "Do we really want to charge teens as killers for reacting imperfectly to loved ones' pain and mental illness?" (* Correction: This post originally stated that that Roy killed himself in Fairhaven, Kansas; in fact it was Fairhaven, Massachusetts.)[...]



Bail Reformers Seek to Keep the Poor from Being Stuck Behind Bars

Mon, 12 Jun 2017 14:40:00 -0400

Should poverty keep a citizen in jail after an arrest but before conviction, even if the defendant poses no further risk of harm or flight? There is a push on to change the way bail works so that it's less punishing to the poor. The Connecticut legislature passed a bill (at the governor's urging) last week to make bail less oppressive. A measure in California is temporarily stalled while opposing sides hammer out details. The conflict pits civil rights and criminal justice reform advocates against law-and-order politicians who campaign on tough stances and the bail industry which is financially dependent on the revenue generated by the bail process. After some compromise with the bail industry in Connecticut, Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy has ushered in modest reforms. Connecticut's bill bars judges from setting cash-only bail and restricts judges from setting bail in many misdemeanor cases, though they can do so for those with a history of not showing up in court or who are flight risks. The law also attempts to hasten the timeframe for bail review hearings, attempting to cut the deadline from 30 to 14 days, so indigent defendants are not stuck in jail as long. Malloy has noted that when poor people are stuck in jail cells solely for having been arrested, it can have huge impacts on their livelihoods, even before they've been convicted or even tried for any crimes: "The fact is that being incarcerated for as few as a couple of days can have a dramatic effect on that person's ability to maintain housing, employment, and contact with their family – all of which are keys to ensuring people lead productive lives and that the cycle of crime and poverty does not perpetuate. This legislation builds upon our dramatic successes in leading the nation towards creating a fairer and more just criminal justice system." Even broader bail reform legislation passed California's Senate but has been held up in the state's Assembly after significant resistance from some legislators and heavy lobbying from the prison industry. The California bill would introduce a county-level pretrial service that would evaluate and help courts determine which criminal defendants are actual flight risks and attempt to create a system through which people are not stuck in jail awaiting trial because they cannot afford to pay bail. The goal: Get nonviolent offenders back home and reduce chances they lose their jobs, housing or face other negative consequences simply because they are merely accused of crimes. Such a change necessarily means an industry dependent on people seeking out financial assistance to make bail is going to take a hit. And they're not remaining quiet about it. According to KQED, insurance companies for the bail industry have spent more than $170,000 lobbying lawmakers over the past few months. While debating the bill, Sen. Jeff Stone (R-Temecula) warned that people would lose their jobs, and reducing bail demands would "decimate an industry dominated by women and minority owners, and it will cost the state millions of dollars annually in lost taxes." Stone's complaint that defendants should be forced to seek out bail or rot in prison cells in order to keep people in the bail industry employed may not be a particularly compelling argument to many, but California lawmakers do seem concerned about costs. The California Assembly's analysis of the legislation notes that it's going to impose hundreds of millions in costs to create these new county-level pretrial services that the state will be obligated to fund. Yet the analysts don't seem to be able to put any sort of price tag on how much counties will save by having fewer people in their jail cells, labeling the prospect as "unknown but significant." Connecticut is calculating its more modest bail reform will save the state $30 million over two fiscal years. In California, nearly 60 percent of people awaiting trial are behind bars, according to statistics provided by the American Civil Liberties Union's N[...]



Cops Have Lost Control of Their Sex-Trafficking Panic, and It's Beautiful

Mon, 12 Jun 2017 12:36:00 -0400

Be still my little libertarian heart, there's just something beautiful about a cop-created moral panic slipping beyond their control. For years, U.S. police have been using tall tales about an American "sex trafficking epidemic" to scare citizens into giving up civil liberties (or at least offering up the rights of sex workers and their clients) and go about the government's typical types of thuggery. But now the narrative is getting away from them. So sure are Americans (despite all evidence) that sophisticated criminals are waiting to snatch up our girls and women at every opportunity that people are now inventing sex-trafficking rings of their own...and berating police for not taking action. The latest example comes from Glendale, WI, where local police had to fend off rumors that "girls as young as 12 are being snatched up from two local malls and sold into prostitution rings." Someone who said they had attended a banquet where "a Detective from [the Milwaukee Police Department] spoke" and told them "Mayfair Mall and Bayshore Town Center are very popular spots for human trafficking" posted the story on Facebook. After the bit about girls being snatched up, they warned neighbors to "be careful letting your girls go out alone" and asked that "if you shop in or frequent these areas keep your eyes open, you could make a huge difference." So what's going on here—someone with an activist or attention-seeking agenda? A well-meaning poster who garbled the story? A detective doing the usual hype with some local flair? Whatever the case, there's no truth to reports of trafficking-related abductions at the Bayshore Towne Center, according to local police. While "you should always remain aware of your surroundings, we have had no reports of this at Bayshore nor are we currently investigating anything related," the Glendale Police Department posted to Facebook. src="https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FGlendaleWiPD%2Fposts%2F1419622221447872&width=500" width="500" height="281" frameborder="0"> The Town Center also denied any such activity. And "per review of the Wauwatosa Police crime reporting software now available, there is no data supporting human trafficking concerns at Mayfair Mall," according to the Historic East Tosa Community Association. But rather than relief, commenters on the police post expressed skepticism. Some saw the whole thing as confirming what could take place, even if it hadn't yet. "Could happen here. Scary," one woman posted. "While I agree that scaring the public is never a good thing," wrote another, "human trafficking is very real and keeping an eye out in public spaces like this that are potential areas of activity is never a bad idea." "Just because there have been no reports of this sort of thing at Bayshore, does not mean it is not happening," suggested yet another, asking police to "please investigate this as a possibility because it IS happening, and turning a blind eye does not save these young women." Other commenters quibbled about the specifics of the imaginary story ("in fact, as young as 12, should read, 'of any age.' Don't know specifics about these locations, but children of both sexes-and all ages-are vulnerable. That is a fact"). Any posters who sided with the police (and reality) on this one were upbraided by the others for being obtuse. "I frequent Bay Shore Mall and have not seen anything of that order when I was there ... I always feel safe and am treated with care," said one cheerful commenter. She was greeted with an admonition that "the problem [is] already there, ignoring it won't change that." "Did anyone read the article? 'There have been no reports,'" noted someone on the local Fox story about it. Response: "You all should know it's all over and at any given time... Protect your kids and be aware." It would be easy to chalk all this up to stereotypical suburban "soccer mom" fears, but their reactions reveal an effect that'[...]



Congress Wants to Let Cops Wiretap Sex Workers, the CDC Study Them, and Homeland Security Screen Them

Fri, 09 Jun 2017 15:30:00 -0400

So far this year, federal lawmakers have introduced more than 30 bills related to "sex trafficking," which many in government now define to mean all prostitution. This week alone brought three new efforts. And following the familiar pattern of the drug war, these measures mostly focus on giving federal law enforcement more "tools" to find, prosecute, and punish people for actions only tangentially, if at all, connected to causing harm. One such measure would expand state and local government authority "to seek wiretap warrants in sexual exploitation and prostitution cases" (emphasis mine) and mandate the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institute of Justice conduct a "study on the long-term physical and psychological effects of the commercial sex trade." It would also give the Department of Homeland Security a mandate to develop protocols "for implementation across federal, state, and local law enforcement" on how to screen people "suspected of engaging in commercial sex acts" for the possibility that they have been trafficked. The screening process would also be applied to people suspected of working in violation of any labor regulations, including occupational licensing rules. Homeland Security would also train crimefighters nationwide on how to investigate prostitution customers for their alleged "roles in severe trafficking in persons." And Attorney General Jeff Sessions would be required to instruct law enforcement across the land that their efforts to fight human trafficking must "include a demand reduction component"—i.e., must target prostitution customers. Sessions would also have to declare "that commercial sexual exploitation is a form of gender-based violence," opening the way for possible hate-crime enhancements for anyone who tries to pay for sex. This bill, known as the Abolish Human Trafficking Act (S. 1311), was introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R–Texas) on June 7 and already has 12 co-sponsors, including such prominent politicians as Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). In a statement, Rep. Klobuchar invoked a rise in the number of calls received by the National Human Trafficking Hotline—a government-funded telephone service that fields everything from unfounded anonymous tips about suspected streetwalking to general requests for information, with a vast number of calls coming from government officials—as evidence that the supposed sex trafficking epidemic is growing. A companion bill (H.R. 2803), sponsored by Republican Reps. Ted Poe of Texas and Ann Wagner of Missouri, was introduced in the House on Wednesday. A statement from Rep. Poe said his bill would stop "modern slavery" by giving law enforcement the tools to stop "dastardly criminals from exploiting others, whether they be the buyer or seller." The official soundbites from almost all of these bills' co-sponsors mention the benefits for cops and prosecutors, showcasing our government's lopsided approach to sexual exploitation. While lip service is paid to the "victims," it's law enforcement agencies that get all the consideration and tools—tools that help them conduct ever more intrusive investigations in the service of less and less deserving targets, wring whatever money and assets they can from defendants, and collect laurels as they ship convicts off to fill federal-prison beds. Here are a few more key things that S. 1311 and H.R. 2803 would do: Add sexual abuse, human trafficking, and "transportation for prostitution or any illegal sexual activity" to the crimes which could establish someone as part of a "criminal street gang." Enhance maximum penalties—not for folks who actually force others into sex or other work, mind you, but for those who transport people for "immoral purposes," anyone who interferes with or impedes a sex trafficking investigation in some way, and anyone who entices, persuades, or induce[...]



Brickbat: The Cover-Up

Fri, 09 Jun 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) The Sarasota County, Florida, sheriff's office has fired a deputy who has been charged with obstruction of justice and tampering with evidence. Carson Lee Plank was one of the first officers to arrive after a woman called to report another deputy tried to kill her. But she did not report the woman's detailed account of the crime, nor her injuries or other evidence of a crime. She later texted the other deputy "I got you."




'Immigrants Are Responsible for Substantial Economic Growth'

Wed, 07 Jun 2017 09:50:00 -0400

President Donald Trump may be resolutely anti-immigrant, but he is also studiously wrong about the positive impact that immigrants have on the U.S. economy. Far from taking "our" jobs, causing crime, and slurping up government handouts, immigrants are more likely than natives to create billion-dollar companies, work in the high-tech industry, and help create a bigger, better American future. That's the inescapable conclusion of "The Economic Impact of Immigration in the U.S., a massive (and massively documented) study from the Mass Technology Leadership Council (MassTLC), a trade nonprofit, that grew out of the group's efforts to blunt Trump's immigration bans. As of January 1, 2016, "[i]mmigrants have started more than half (44 of 87) of America's startup companies valued at $1 billion dollars or more and are key members of management or product development teams in over 70 percent (62 of 87) of these companies." More than half of Silicon Valley's corporate founders are immigrants. The integral role that immigrants play in the technology industry is one of job creation, innovation, and leadership. Far from taking jobs, immigrants are creating jobs for the native-born population and helping meet the needs of an industry constrained by a lack of skilled workers. By 2020, for example, projections indicate that 1.4 million computer specialist positions will be open in the United States, but domestic universities will only produce enough graduates to fill 29 percent of those jobs. In Massachusetts today, there are seventeen technology jobs for every person who graduates with a college degree in computer science or information technology. Immigrants are responsible for substantial economic growth. This is true of the U.S. economy where, in 2015, immigrants contributed $2 trillion to the U.S. GDP, representing 11 percent of the country's total GDP. It is also true of the Massachusetts economy, where one study found that if half of Massachusetts' 3,608 advanced level graduates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) related fields, studying on temporary visas, remained in Massachusetts upon graduation, then 4,726 new jobs would be created for U.S.-born workers by 2021. Research indicates that immigrant students are disproportionately more likely to get their degrees in a STEM field – an area of critical domestic talent shortages – and that international students make up over 30 percent of the post-baccalaureate degrees in STEM fields. Furthermore, individuals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen – the six countries subject to the President's revised Executive Order – are more likely to have a bachelor's degree, approximately twice as likely to have a graduate degree, and four times as likely to have a doctoral degree relative to the native-born population. In addition to this population being disproportionately educated and skilled, they are also part of a population making immediate impacts on the U.S economy. During the 2015-16 academic year alone, international students contributed $32.8 billion to the U.S. economy and supported more than 400,000 jobs. The study notes that according to national surveys by Pew, Gallup, and others, majorities of Americans believe that immigrants (particularly illegal immigrants) increase crime rates. The actual correlation runs in the other direction: As the immigrant share of the population has risen, crime has gone down: While immigrants are more likely to be the victim of a hate crime, they are no more likely than native-born Americans to be radicalized, according to the database Profiles of Individual Radicalization in the United States (PIRUS). It's notoriously difficult to have a fact-based, rational argument over immigration policy, especially when elected officials such as Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and the president are attacking the basic humanity of im[...]



This Florida Prosecutor Campaigned on Reform and Fairness. Now She’s Ratcheting Up the Drug War.

Wed, 24 May 2017 14:30:00 -0400

When Melissa Nelson was elected as a state attorney in Florida last fall, unseating the controversial prosecutor Angela Corey, she spoke of bringing fairer outcomes to the justice system, developing diversion programs to keep juveniles out of jail, and creating a unit to go through old cases to look for wrongful convictions. (Read Reason's interview with Nelson here.) But now it's 2017, everybody's in a panic about increases in opioid fatalities, and Nelson's office is bragging about charging an alleged drug dealer with first degree murder over a young woman's overdose death. Both the sheriff's department and the state's attorney's office for Clay County, Florida, are making a big deal out the indictment, with press releases and press conferences. The sheriff's office says this is the first time it's ever charged someone with murder for a drug overdose. One slight problem: It's not entirely clear under what legal authority they've brought this charge. On Tuesday, Clay County officials announced that Trumaine Devone Muller, 32, had been indicted by a grand jury for murder in the overdose death of Ariell Jade Brundige, 18. Brundige died last November after trying what she apparently believed to be heroin but was actually the opioid fentanyl, according to Nelson's office. Florida's laws allow for drug traffickers to be charged with first degree murder when one of their customers dies of an overdose, but only when certain drugs are involved. Heroin is on the list, but fentanyl and some similar opioids are not. Florida lawmakers have, in fact, passed a bill to add fentanyl to this list (and to impose mandatory minimum sentences on fentanyl traffickers), but it's not law yet and it does not appear to apply to Muller. Muller's indictment does not mention fentanyl, claiming that he killed Brundige by distributing "opium or any synthetic or natural salt, compound, derivative, or preparation of opium." Fentanyl mimics opium's effects, but it is not a synthetic derivative or preparation of opium. Officials also announced manslaughter charges against Brundige's friends Tyler Hamilton, 26, and Christopher Williams, 32, for their role in procuring the drugs for her. The arrest report for Williams notes that he was the one who actually called 911 when Hamilton found Brundige unresponsive. Williams told police he attempted CPR on her but was unsuccessful. To be clear here: Police and prosecutors are charging the guy who called 911 to report the overdose with manslaughter. That would seem to violate the spirit of so-called Good Samaritan laws, which are intended to protect citizens from drug-related arrests when they report overdoses. These laws exist so that people feel safe calling 911 in a situation exactly like Brundige's: If they fear they'll get locked up, they're less likely to call an ambulance and overdose victims are more likely to die. Florida, remarkably, already has a Good Samaritan law, but it only protects against prosecution for basic possession. Prosecutors accuse Hamilton and Williams of buying the drug from Muller and supplying it for Brundige. Drug policy reformers have warned for years about the consequences of harsh criminalization measures. Now the panic over opioid overdoses is fueling a return to the same "lock them all up" rhetoric that utterly failed to make lives better. Reporting about the case for the Florida Times-Union, Dan Scanlan contacted drug policy experts to remind folks that this behavior does not help: Leo Beletsky, a Northeastern University professor researching the use of murder charges for drug overdoses, said prosecution like this can actually hurt. "These kinds of prosecutions, I believe, run counter to efforts to encourage people to seek help in all of this," Beletsky said. "...We misappropriate public funding toward things that are counterproductive instead of toward things t[...]



HBO Ignores Madoff's Victims in Favor of Family Drama

Fri, 19 May 2017 15:00:00 -0400

The Wizard of Lies. HBO. Saturday, May 20, 8 p.m. Sorry, guys. Showtime has decided not to offer advance screenings of its reboot of the milestone of television weirdness, Twin Peaks, which premieres this weekend. This is either a canny make-'em-beg marketing strategy or a desperate effort to conceal an epic bomb. So instead of an incisive analysis of boogalooing and backwards-talking midgets, I can offer only the observation that every criminal breeds his own cult. Just as there are women who want to marry Charles Manson, there are people anxious to buy Bernie Madoff's underwear. And Madoffian salirophiliacs compose much of the audience for The Wizard of Lies, HBO's windy new docudrama on the decline and fall of the all-time Ponzi champ. The $65 billion collapse of Madoff's smoke-and-mirrors trading empire in 2008 would seem to offer great dramatic potential. Unlike the largely faceless, institutional banking collapse around the same time that triggered the Great Recession, the Madoff scandal had an easily identifiable villain driven by evil intention rather than carelessness. And his betrayal was breathtakingly personal; the thousands of victims included most of his friends and even his in-laws. There was even a potential hero: Harry Markopolis, an investment officer at a rival firm who for a decade fruitlessly warned that Madoff's returns were too good to be true. All these elements are present in Wizard, not to mention a marquee cast headed by Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer, with frequent Oscar nominee Barry Levinson producing and directing. Yet it all comes together with much more fizzle than sizzle. Much of what's wrong with Wizard can be traced to Levinson's decision to go with a script by three relatively inexperienced writers (including his son Sam) that begins relatively late in the story—the day before Madoff's chicanery was exposed—and concentrates mainly on the damage he did to his own family. That precludes any real examination of any of the characters on their way to the top; all we see is their precipitous fall. Madoff's fraud is believed to have begun in the 1970s. His sons Mark and Andrew were both traders for the company, and his wife Ruth its bookkeeper in the early days. But they all denied any knowledge of his scheming, a claim grudgingly accepted by investigators (who never charged any of the three with anything), if not the public. Wizard follows Mark (Alessandro Nivola, American Hustle) and Andrew (Nathan Darrow, House of Cards) as they're bullied to the line of sanity and ultimately beyond it, alternately by their parents for disloyalty—the boys were the ones who revealed the fraud to federal authorities, then refused to help raise bail money for their father—and by friends who were wiped out. More fascinating, in a bug-under-the-magnifying-glass sort of way, is the case of Ruth (crisply played by Pfeiffer), cagey enough to give away a small fortune in jewelry before the cops can seize it, but utterly oblivious to the cracks in her cocoon of wealth and social standing until the mounting rage of her friends-turned-victims gets her kicked out of her regular beauty salon. Despite the mounting toll, she can't break away from her husband of more than five decades. As they lie in bed, awaiting for the effects of what will turn out to be a botched mutual attempt at a suicidal overdose of sleeping pills to take effect, Bernie murmurs a poignant goodbye: "We had a wonderful life." Without even a glance, she replies: "Yeah ... until you ruined it." This is all well and good, and might have made a good episode of Showtime's barbarous Wall Street drama Billions. But, having expressed every cogent thought in its head in the first 50 minutes, Wizard drags along for another tortuously repetitive hour and half, a long day's journey into utter banality. De [...]



Police Investigate a Cult Killing; It Turns Out to Be a Rock Video

Fri, 12 May 2017 12:01:00 -0400

(image) "It all began one peaceful Michigan morning," narrator Rafael Abramovitz explains, "when a farmer named Robert Reed woke up to check on his corn field. Farmer Reed looked up towards the sun that morning and saw something strange floating across the sky. It wasn't the usual flock of Canadian Geese. It looked more like a UFO, if you ask him."

So begins the tale of the time the FBI investigated the death of a man who was in fact still alive, as told by the tabloid show Hard Copy. It was 1989. The UFO turned out to be some weather balloons with a Super 8 camera attached. After they landed on his farm, Reed turned his find over to the police, thinking it might be a surveillance camera searching for marijuana. When the cops developed the film, they discovered what they took to be a cult murder or some similarly grisly crime.

A yearlong investigation followed, and in the course of it the FBI was called in. Eventually, the police figured out the truth: The supposed snuff film was actually lost footage from a Nine Inch Nails video. The crew had attached the camera to the balloons to get some low-tech aerial shots, and their helium cinematographers then blew away. The "murder victim" was Trent Reznor, and he was very much alive. Indeed, he was somewhat famous.

In the Hard Copy report, Reznor is amused by the whole thing. The cop they spoke with also seems a little amused. The one person trying very hard not to seem amused by the mistake is Abramovitz, the reporter, who's intent on making Reznor the villain of the piece, blaming him for a "wasted year of police work that could have gone into solving some real crimes." And if Abramovitz had anything to do with the tongue-in-cheek "reenactments" that accompany his narration, I suspect that deep down he was chuckling about it too.

The report aired in 1991, complete with some closing comments about the alleged dangers of rock videos. It is a work of art:

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/5gV8yQc0m7g" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0">

(Via Dangerous Minds. For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)




Brickbat: What a Trip

Fri, 28 Apr 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) Police in Pennsylvania have charged Mt. Lebanon High School teacher Christian Stein with stealing almost $5,000 from students who were planning a trip to Germany. Stein, who has been suspended from his job, said he did it because he was having financial problems.




Baylor’s Corrupt Athletics Program Takes Center Court in Disgraced

Fri, 31 Mar 2017 14:15:00 -0400

Disgraced. Showtime. Friday, March 31, 9 p.m. Last month, Baylor women's basketball coach Kim Mulkey, having just won her 500th game, felt secure enough to let everybody know how she really felt about the rape scandal that has swept through the school's athletic department like a tidal wave for the past 18 months. "I'm just tired of hearing about it," Mulkey told an arena full of fans, then added her remedy: "If somebody [is] around you and they ever say, 'I will never send my daughter to Baylor,' you knock them right in the face." As the fans roared, Mulkey triumphantly dropped the microphone. Presumably the targets Mulkey would like to punch out include the 17 women whose reports of rapes or assaults by Baylor athletes that school officials have admitted covering up since 2011. (Astonishingly, those may turn out to be low-ball numbers; a lawsuit filed in federal court by one victim says there were at least 52 rapes by 31 football players.) Mulkey seemed surprised that, outside the arena, not everybody was cheering. In the uproar that followed, she had to apologize, sort of. ("Knock them right in the face," she explained, was just a metaphor, though she didn't say for what.) But, if the history of Baylor intercollegiate athletics offers us any lesson, there was no need. When it comes to vicious, criminal behavior, the memory of the school's administration, coaching staff and fans can be measured in nanoseconds. Nobody, for instance, remembers Queso, the friendly alley cat who became a sort of informal mascot of Taco Cabana, a little Mexican-food joint just off the Baylor campus that was the hangout of a lot of the school's athletes. In 2011, two Baylor baseball players shot Queso with a pellet gun, beat him with a golf club and finally decapitated and skinned him. Penalty: suspension from the team for a little less than a month. Two years after that, one Baylor basketball player murdered another, a crime that triggered a deluge of revelations about cars, cash, and other goodies provided to the school's athletes by their coaches, under the table and massively in violation of NCAA rules. In an attempt to contain the damage, Baylor's then-basketball coach Dave Bliss tried to frame the murdered player as a drug dealer whose sideline explained his lush lifestyle. When one of the assistant coaches took exception to the frame-up, Bliss threatened to fire him, which turned out to be a catastrophic misstep: The assistant began wearing a wire, and the resulting tapes sank not just Bliss but the entire basketball program. The basketball scandal, too, has been little-mentioned in connection with the rape cover-up, though the parallels—an athletic department that considers itself above not only NCAA rules and state laws but even the standards of human decency—are obvious. That, however, may be about to change with Showtime's airing of Disgraced, a superb documentary that recounts the implosion of Baylor's basketball program in damning detail. At heart, the crisp and intense Disgraced is a true-crime documentary set against a backdrop of big-time college basketball. Better known as a bastion of Southern Baptist morality—dancing was banned on campus until 1996, and homosexuality was on its list of sexual misconduct as late as 2015—than as an athletic factory, Baylor decided in the late 1990s to end decades of basketball ineptitude. In 1999, ignoring hints that he'd flouted NCAA rules while coaching at nearby SMU, Baylor hired Bliss, who in a quarter of a century had amassed more than 450 wins in major-college basketball. Casting his nets far outside the sleepy boundaries of sleepy Waco, Bliss had startling success as a recruiter. And after three mediocre seasons, it looked as if his 2003-04 team might hav[...]



Enough Stranger Danger! Children Rarely Abducted by Those They Don't Know

Fri, 31 Mar 2017 12:30:00 -0400

Missing and abducted children have been a big news topic lately, spurred by a host of high-profile conspiracy-theories and falsehoods that began slithering their way through social media. A casual observer could be forgiven for thinking we're in the midst of a child-abduction epidemic. But the truth is that American children today are no more likely to be kidnapped than they were decades ago, and much more likely to be returned safely when they are. According to an estimate from the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), there were just 105 "stereotypical kidnappings" in America between late 2010 and late 2011, the last period for which we have data. (For reference, there were about 73.9 million children in America that year.) Just 65 of these kidnappings were committed by strangers. Less than half involved the abduction of a child under age 12. Only 14 percent of cases were still open after one week, and 92 percent of victims were recovered or returned alive. In the previous OJJDP survey, from the late 1990s, there had been an estimated 115 stereotypical kidnappings and just 60 percent of victims made it home. The Department of Justice (DOJ) defines stereotypical kidnappings as those in which 1) the victim is under 18-years-old, 2) the kidnapper is either a stranger or a "slight acquaintance," 3) the abduction involves moving the victim at least 20 feet or detaining them for at least one hour, and 4) the victim is either held for ransom, transported at least 50 miles, detained overnight, held with an intent to keep permanently, or killed. In other words, these are "the most serious" sorts of child abductions, as DOJ puts it. However, not all of the 105 cases in this category are quite as stereotypical or serious as the others. DOJ defines slight acquaintance as someone the child or their family have known for less than six months, someone they've known for longer than six months but see less than once per month, or someone who might be recognizable to a child or their parents but not known by name. In one "stereotypical kidnapping" case DOJ highlights, a 16-year-old girl ran away to live with an adult boyfriend, who is defined as a "slight acquaintance" because she had only been seeing him a few months. So the number of stereotypical kidnappings that the general public would consider stereotypical is actually lower than the feds' estimate. Both the 2011 and the 1997 data come from the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children (NISMART). By surveying law-enforcement agencies in a representative sample of U.S. counties, OJJDP came up with estimates for the prevalence and characteristics of stereotypical kidnapping overall during the study periods. The latest NISMART survey covers incidents that occurred between October 1, 2010, and September 20, 2011. The previous survey covers incidents that occured in 1997. Here's an overview of what the federal surveys found. Number of "stereotypical kidnappings" in America, October 2010 - September 2011: 105 perpetrated by strangers: 65 perpetrated by slight acquaintances: 40 Are stereotypical kidnappings up or down? Down, maybe—there were 115 incidents defined as stereotypical kidnappings in the '90s NISMART survey, compared to 105 in more recent research. But because these estimates are based in part on weighted data, the DOJ considers the two numbers "statistically equivalent." However, 2010-2011 victims were much more likely to make it home safely than their 1990s counterparts. In the 90s survey, only 60 percent of stereotypical kidnapping cases ended with the child being recovered alive. In the 2010-2011 survey, it was 92 percent. Ages of victims: More tha[...]



Brickbat: Coming and Going

Tue, 28 Mar 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) The Carlsbad, California, city council has voted to use license plate cameras to record every vehicle that enters the city. Council members said the move might deter criminals from breaking the law in Carlsbad.