Feds Have Nearly 2000 Ongoing Investigations Into Stimulus Fund Fraud – Already Nearly 600 Convictions And Judgements Against Individuals And Companies

October 15, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – The government’s chief spending watchdogs have already secured nearly 600 convictions and judgments against people and companies accused of misusing stimulus funds and have a whopping 1,900 investigations currently open into possible wrongdoing, officials say.

The wave of scrutiny more than three years after the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was passed by Congress early in the Obama administration means the question of how money was managed early in the program is certain to extend well into the next year as many of the current investigations come to conclusion.

The Recovery Board charged with coordinating efforts among than inspectors generals at more than two dozen federal agencies that distributed stimulus money posted an item on its official blog last month claiming the total amount of money lost to fraud from the $840 billion stimulus program was a miniscule $11.1 million so far.

Vice President Joe Biden even made reference to the figure as he defended the stimulus program from attacks from Republican Rep. Paul Ryan during the vice presidential debate last Thursday. But that number only identifies money that is considered lost to fraud and does not include funds still under investigation or those recommended for reimbursement after audits identified misspending, officials said.

And a senior official familiar with the ongoing investigations by inspectors generals at federal agencies told the Washington Guardian the government expects the loss figure to balloon in coming months.

“These cases often take months or years, and we’ve got hundreds open right now across the government so that number is going to go up, probably by a large amount over the next 18 months,” the official said, speaking only on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak to the media.

Since the blog post a month ago that released the $11 million figure, several inspectors generals have announced new convictions, prosecutions or audits, a sign that some of the investigations are growing near decisions and actions.

For instance, the Energy Department inspector general reported last week it discovered the California energy commission collected two duplicate payments under a stimulus program that costs taxpayers $678,000 and and it recommended the money be repaid.

The Health and Human Services inspector general reported recently that a Louisiana group that received stimulus funds for Head Start programs for children had inappropriately spent nearly $1.2 million in federal funds to construct a new building that wasn’t approved by federal officials. The group is contesting the finding.

The Energy Department inspector general also warns in its most recent semiannual report that the Western Area Power Administration, which received $3.25 billion in borrowing authority to help build transmission lines under the stimulus law, is at risk of losing significant money on a transmission project for wind power in Montana that it funded.

“WAPA has significant financial exposure on the project … encountering significant delays and cost overruns,” the IG warned.

And a former superintendent of a Montana construction company was charged last month with making false statements regarding the quality of work his firm performed on federal bridge project in Idaho that was funded with $21.6 million in stimulus money. The company used “nonconforming anchor bolts” for parts of the construction, and tried to conceal it. The bolts had to be fixed, delaying the project.

The Recovery Board’s blog last month hinted at the scope of some of the alleged fraud currently being investigated by inspectors general at various agencies. “The 29 IGs with Recovery oversight responsibility have more than 1,900 investigations under way; convictions and judgments total 598,” it noted.

Many of the problems were uncovered by a special group of analysts charged specifically to look for irregularities in the massive stimulus program.

For instance, the analysts discovered that veterans seeking stimulus related benefits had claimed more than 16,000 dependents with Social Security numbers matching those of dead people, the blog noted

Separately, the same analysts found ore than 150 potential shell companies may have improperly received Recovery funds set aside for the Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business program.

And the analysts had identified more than 400 Recovery Act recipients of funds from 15 federal agencies had previously been terminated for default, most getting the money after falsely certifying they had not been terminated for default.

“We are continually helping agencies review sensitive procurement issues, including some with criminal potential sent to us by the Department of Justice and others in law enforcement,” the Recovery Board said in its blog post.

Appeared Here


Number Of Homeless Families In Washington DC Jumps 18%

October 15, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC — When Janice Coe, a homeless advocate in Loudoun County, learned through her prayer group that a young woman was sleeping in the New Carrollton Metro station with a toddler and a 2-month-old, she sprang into action.

Coe contacted the young woman and arranged for her to take the train to Virginia, where she put the little family up in a Comfort Suites hotel. Then Coe began calling shelters to see who could take them.

Despite several phone calls, she came up empty. Coe was shocked to learn that many of the local shelters that cater to families were full, including Good Shepherd Alliance, where Coe was once director of social services.

“I don’t know why nobody will take this girl in,” Coe said. “The baby still had a hospital bracelet on her wrist.”

In a region with seven of the 10 most affluent counties in the country, family homelessness is on the rise — straining services, filling shelters and forcing parents and their children to sleep in cars, parks, and bus and train stations. One mother recently bought $14 bus tickets to and from New York so she and her 2-year-old son would have a safe place to sleep — on the bus.

As cold weather descends on the region, the need will become increasingly acute, advocates say. That will be especially true in the District, where continued fallout from the recession and lack of affordable housing has contributed to an 18 percent increase in family homelessness this year over last.

The city has recently come under fire for turning away families seeking help as 118 overflow beds that were added last winter at D.C. General — the city’s main family homeless shelter — sit empty. A few places have recently opened up, but 500 families — some of whom are living with relatives or friends — are on a waiting list for housing.

“We’re hoping we can keep pace with those in the more dire situations,” said David A. Berns, director of the city’s Department of Human Services.

Berns said the city is trying to keep the overflow beds open for hypothermia season, which begins Nov. 1. The city is mandated by law to shelter its residents if the temperature falls below freezing. The agency does not have the money to operate the extra beds, Berns said.

D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who has been critical of the agency’s handling of the crisis, wonders why families are being denied help when the District has a $140 million budget surplus.

“Never did I imagine that beds would be kept vacant,” Graham said. “It’s very upsetting.”

Family homelessness around the Washington region has increased 23 percent since the recession began — though the total number of homeless people stayed fairly steady at around 11,800, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, which did its annual “point-in-time” survey of the homeless in January. This included some 3,388 homeless children, the study showed.

“These families are the most desperate because they have young children and have nowhere to go,” said Nassim Moshiree, a lawyer for the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless.

Moshiree spent a good part of the day Friday trying to help a homeless mother of three who Thursday night slept with her children on the steps of a church in Northeast after unsuccessfully asking the city for help. After Moshiree intervened, the city found space for them late Friday.

“It’s a complete abomination,” said Antonia Fasanelli, executive director for the Homeless Persons Representation Project, a Maryland legal services and advocacy group based in Baltimore. She noted that in Baltimore — where homeless families from D.C. sometimes end up — three family shelters have been closed in the past five years, for a loss of about 100 shelter beds. “There is just not enough space.”

Throughout Maryland, Fasanelli said, 38 percent of homeless families are living on the streets. That’s the seventh-highest rate of unsheltered families in the country, according to a Department of Housing and Urban Development study on the homeless released in December.

At the Comfort Suites off Route 7 on Thursday, Helen Newsome, 25, fed her 2-year-old son, Cameron, an orange from the breakfast buffet as her infant daughter Isabella slept on the bed beside her.

Newsome said she became homeless this summer after she was evicted from her apartment in Prince George’s County. Since then, she and her children have slept most nights on a bench or the hard tile floor at the New Carrollton Metro, she said. Although she called several area shelters before she was evicted, she said she could never find one with room.

“I’m not asking for a whole room for myself, as long as I have someplace to sleep, somewhere soft,” Newsome said.

On Thursday, Coe took Newsome to the Loudoun County Department of Family Services, where a social worker helped her sign up for food stamps and other aid and said she would try and help her find a subsidized apartment. Finally, Newsome said she could see an end to her ordeal.

“They’re leaning on me,” she said, gesturing to her kids. “I’m their only hope. It’s okay. Everybody goes through something, some people worse than others.”

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Video: Jewish Youth Center Security Guard Regrets Calling New York City Police After Douchebags Brutally Beat Unarmed Homeless Man 2 Minutes For Sleeping In A Chair

October 15, 2012

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – Surveillance video shows police officers pummeling shirtless man in youth center.

Two police officers repeatedly pummeled a shirtless man in a Jewish youth center in Brooklyn after they roused him from sleeping and moved to arrest him, surveillance video released Sunday night shows.

Cops showed up at the Aliya Institute on E. New York Ave. in Crown Heights on the evening of Oct. 8 after receiving a call about a fight between two men, a community source told the Daily News.

But Zlamy Trappler, 24, a volunteer security guard at the center, said he called cops because he found the shirtless man drunk and sleeping in the lounge of the center, which provides services to young Jewish adults.

Two police officers, one male and one female, found the man sleeping on a couch, surveillance video shows.

The officers awaken the man, identified by CrownHeights.info, which first made the video public, as Ehud Halevi, who is swaddled in a white sheet, the video shows.

As Halevi gets to his feet, Trappler comes in, and Halevi appears to have a heated exchange with the cops and Trappler, who leaves. The exchange between Halevi and the officers intensifies, with the male cop removing a pair of handcuffs, the video shows. Halevi pushes the male officer’s hands away from his body, the video shows.

The officer then charges Halevi, the video shows, punching him in the face, while the female officer appears to pepper-spray him and beats him with what appears to be a truncheon.

After a two-minute beatdown, another eight police officers arrive and handcuff Halevi, who appears to be unbloodied, the video shows.

“I regret making the call. I should have let him sleep. It spiraled out of control,” said Trappler.

Cops charged Halevi with assaulting a police officer, trespassing, resisting arrest and harassment, according to CrownHeight.info.

Police did not respond to requests for comment Sunday night.

The community source said Halevi had been allowed to stay at the Institute.

Sara Feiglin, wife of Rabbi Moshe Feiglin, who runs the youth center, confirmed the account given by CrownHeights.info. The rabbi did not respond to a request for comment.

Appeared Here


War Zone: 5 Dead And At Least 25 Wounded Over The Weekend In Chicago Illinois Gun Battles

October 15, 2012

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – For the second time in her life, a South Side Chicago grandmother learned one of her grandsons was shot to death.

Florine Monroe said she received the call Saturday that her 17-year-old grandson, Richard Modell, was killed. The news came six months after Monroe buried another grandchild, who also was killed by gunfire.

“They’ve got to get these guns out of young people’s hands,” Monroe said, quietly crying.

Police said Modell and his 18-year-old friend were on their way to meet a friend around 9:30 p.m. Saturday when someone shot them in the 6300 block of South Rhodes Avenue. Authorities said Modell may have been targeted because of a fight between rival gangs.

“He was trying to get a scholarship for football,” Monroe said.

The 18-year-old with Modell was shot multiple times and taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in critical condition. Police said they don’t believe he had any gang ties.

The teens were among the youngest shot over the weekend. Since Friday five people were killed and at least 25 people were wounded in separate shootings from Rogers Park to West Pullman neighborhoods.

Early Sunday, a 54-year-old woman was struck in the 700 block of East 79th Street in the Chatham neighborhood, police said. She was walking to a nearby store when someone opened fire. She was taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center, where her condition stabilized.

In a separate incident, gunfire was exchanged around 12:30 a.m. Sunday in Rogers Park, police said, when a 21-year-old approached two men sitting in a van near Morse and Greeview avenues. The shooter was struck in the face and neck, and one of the men was shot in the back.

Appeared Here


Less Than Brilliant Salt Lake County Utah Employee Jed Bogenschutz Used Government Email Address To Send eMail Filled With Facist Remarks To Business Owner

October 15, 2012

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH – The Salt Lake County employee who sent an email filled with racist remarks to a Sandy business owner is making a public apology.

ABC 4 News was the first to tell you about the email sent by the employee using his government email account to Linnaea Mendoza owner of Salsitas Mendoza. After seeing our report the County Assessor called ABC 4’s Kimberly Nelson to set the record straight; the Assessor’s office does not, and will not, tolerate bigotry or abuse of power.

Salsitas Mendoza has been open just a year. Linnaea and her husband sell jars of salsa out of the store, but because they don’t have a kitchen there yet they have to rent one. They’re looking to put a commercial kitchen in their store but still need a $12,000 dollar commercial hood.

In order to raise the funds Linnaea started a Kickstarter page where people could donate money. To promote the fundraising efforts, her sister posted an ad on another website under charity advertisements. The feedback was positive until she got this email from a Salt Lake County government employee.

The email in question was sent by Jedd Bogenschutz and reads, “I respond to people in need in this section that really need it. After reading your ad I had to respond and say are you … f…ing serious?? your ad had to be the most disgusting ad I have ever read, really taking donations so you can finish a kitchen so you south of the borders can get ahead, you can bet I would never buy any of your garbage, I do have some connections, board of health, business license, ect. I will make sure your (sic) on the up and up.”

The words “you south of the borders” still sting, but Linnaea Mendoza says the racial slurs weren’t the worst part about the cutting email. She was worried about how a government employee could use his power in such an abusive way.

Mendoza asked, “How far is there a hatred? How far would it go will you try to revoke my licenses that I worked so hard for? Will you try to damage my business that’s new? You know, we’re all in on this. This is everything to my family.”

Whether or not they were empty threats, when he heard one of his employees had done such a thing Salt Lake County Assessor Lee Gardner was quick to respond.

“Bigotry in any way shape or form has no place in our community,” said Gardner. “Intimidation by anyone in government will not be tolerated, not in my office and it should not be tolerated in any office.”

Gardner continued, “My thought process is when an offense is public then the apology or explanation needs to be done in public. That’s why I’ve not only asked, I’ve requested Jedd to be here to give his explanation.”

Jedd Bogenschutz said, “To be honest not in a million years would I have thought I would have done something so insensitive.”

Bogenschutz says he wrote the email in an impulse. He was upset because he didn’t think the Mendoza’s finishing their kitchen should have been a charitable cause.

“I always felt myself as being an open-minded person willing to accept people’s differences as my own as well and I’m just absolutely embarrassed,” said Bogenschutz.

Kimberly Nelson asked Gardner, “There are many people who want Judd to lose his job over this. If you or I were to do something like this with the very public email address that we would lose our job.”

Gardner responded, “This is an opportunity for education not only to the community but for Jedd and I’m sure there’s none of us who are immune to making some statements. As I’m watching the national debate and campaign, we would not have anybody in government right now. So maybe a little forgiveness and a little understanding that yes, we do make mistakes.” He continues, “I assure you the punishment I’m giving is in no way shape or form is a slap on the wrist.”

Bogenschutz says he plans on apologizing to the Mendozas personally and for the Mendozas that’s enough.

Mendoza said, “I don’t want to cause any long term damage to his family just as I didn’t want his comments to cause any long term damage to my family via my business.”

Appeared Here


Baltimore Maryland Police Officers Runs Down And Kills Pedestrian With Patrol Car

October 15, 2012

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND — Baltimore police are investigating a fatal accident involving a police cruiser.

According to officials, officers received a call of a shooting in the 900-block of Jack Street. While they were driving to the area with lights and sirens, the vehicle hit a pedestrian in the 900-block of East Patapsco.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi identified the man as Leondionas Dias Perez. Guglielmi says Perez, 41, was from South America.

Perez died as a result of his injuries at the hospital.

The Baltimore Police Accident Investigation Unit says it is currently conducting a thorough investigation into this case. Authorities will be doing scene reconstruction and conducting witness interviews, prior to completing a preliminary accident report.

Appeared Here


Study Finds That 100 Largest US Public Pensions Underfunded By About $1.2 TRILLION

October 15, 2012

US – The largest 100 public pension funds have around $1.2 trillion of unfunded liabilities, about $300 billion above the nearly $900 billion they reported themselves, according to a new actuarial study to be released on Monday.

The pension systems reported a median funding level of 75.1 percent. The study by the actuarial firm Milliman, which used different ways to value assets and measure liabilities, finds an aggregate level of funding of 67.8 percent.

But Milliman, one of the world largest actuarial firms took a close look at U.S. public pension funding for the first time, and said the multibillion-dollar difference was good news.

Rebecca Sielman, the report’s author, said results should reassure the public that America’s public pensions in general are accurately reporting their funding shortfalls.

The difference between what public pensions across the United States have reported and what Milliman found wasn’t significant, Sielman said. She noted that a relatively small change in the way the figures are calculated could lead to seemingly outsized results because the funds are so large.

“The numbers really didn’t change that much,” she said. “It really didn’t move the needle.”

Both the pension funds’ reported results and Milliman’s findings fell within the range of previous estimates from other studies of the total size of the public pension shortfall in the United States.

With the study, Milliman, stepped into the debate about whether public pensions are underreporting the size of their liabilities.

That hot-button issue revolves around how much money public employers – and, by extension, taxpayers – will have to contribute to cover future payouts for member benefits. It is a key issue at a time of dwindling revenues and tighter budgets for states and local governments.

Pension funds get money from the returns on their assets and from members’ contributions. States and cities also pay into the funds, but their contributions are discounted based on how much money they think their investments will make over time.

The 100 funds Milliman studied used a median rate of return for their investments of 8 percent. But the recession slashed into the market, dropping actual median returns to just 3.2 percent for the last five years, according to data from Callan Associates.

The difference has prompted critics to claim that the funds are underreporting their unfunded liabilities, or the gap between what they’ve promised to pay retirees in the future and what they’ll actually have on hand to cover the benefits.

Critics have called for public pensions to reduce their assumed rates of return to as little as 5 percent or less, which would cause unfunded liabilities to soar and likely leave taxpayers having to cover the difference.

But without the change, critics say, future generations will be left to deal with a financial bomb.

FINDINGS WITHIN RANGE OF SIMILAR STUDIES

Other studies have tried to measure the overall size of the problem. The Pew Center on the States found that the shortfall is about $766 billion. Moody’s Investors Service said in July that the collective gap would be $2.2 trillion if funds used a 5.5 percent discount rate.

Milliman has studied the health of the 100 largest private pension funds for about a decade. But this is its first study of public plans, conducted specifically to determine whether the systems were using unrealistically high return-rate assumptions as the critics claimed.

“I thought that we would find fairly pervasive use of interest rates that are high relative to current market consensus about future investment returns, and we didn’t find that,” Sielman said.

The firm, which has done actuarial work for nearly all of the U.S. states in the past, examined each individual fund in the study, using market valuations instead of smoothed valuations to measure assets and recalibrating liabilities based on Milliman’s own benchmarks of expected long-term returns.

The firm found that the median discount rate should actually be 7.65 percent, rather than the 8 percent median rate the funds used in aggregate.

A third of the plans were using lower rates than they needed to, Milliman found, according to Sielman.

A small number of plans seriously underreported their liabilities because they use rates that are too high, Milliman found.

Milliman’s study did not name the specific plans that underreported their liabilities. Sielman said the firm was not releasing its results for individual plans.

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