$330,000 In Tax Money Went Towards AIDS Program Opening Washington DC Strip Club

August 31, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC – D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan has accused a District HIV/AIDS service provider of spending nearly $330,000 in federal tax dollars to open a strip club.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday, Nathan said Miracle Hands Inc. promised the city it was using the cash to renovate a warehouse in Northeast for use as a job training center for residents with HIV/AIDS. Instead, the warehouse was turned into the Stadium Club, a strip club that continues to operate, the suit says. Miracle Hands shares an address with the club, according to the company’s website. Nathan asked in the suit that the city be awarded at least $988,959 in damages.

D.C. Councilman David Catania requested in a February letter to Nathan that the attorney general open an investigation into Miracle Hands and its relationship with Stadium Club.

“I am pleased that the attorney general has decided to take action regarding this egregious impropriety,” Catania said Tuesday.

Attempts to reach Miracle Hands owner Cornell Jones were not successful. Jones is a self-described former D.C. drug kingpin with convictions for narcotics distribution on his record.

In 2009, federal authorities told the Washington Post they had started an investigation into how the money was spent. On Tuesday, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the status of the investigation.

The grants for the renovations to the warehouse at 2127 Queens Chapel Road NE, were first given to Miracle Hands in 2006 by the District’s HIV/AIDS administration. Earlier this month, an inspector general’s audit of the administration found that during the four-year tenure of the agency’s former director, Debra Rowe, little attention was paid to how dollars were spent by service providers, even as the city’s HIV/AIDS rate reached epidemic levels.

When Rowe was fired in 2008, she went to work for Miracle Hands as its executive director. She could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

In November 2006, nearly one year after Miracle Hands first won its grant to renovate the Queens Chapel Road warehouse, a city grant monitor visited the site and found little work had been done toward meeting a March 2007 deadline, the lawsuit said.

The monitor advised Rowe that Miracle Hands’ funding should be cut. But Rowe, called a “close friend of Jones” in the lawsuit, reportedly said the project was on pace and kept the funding in place. By then, though, Jones had already transferred a liquor license from a strip club he owned in Southeast to the Miracle Hands warehouse in Northeast, the suit said.

In March 2007, “the renovation work … was at best, many months from completion,” the lawsuit said. In April 2007, HIV/AIDS administration gave Miracle Hands an additional $139,000 to continue the renovations, adding another year to the nonprofit’s deadline.

In the middle of that year, Miracle Hands informed the administration that it had decided to open the job training center at a different warehouse and it would be applying the funds to that project, the suit said. A job center never opened at either location. Stadium Club opened in early 2010.

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Drunk Washington DC Police Officer Kenneth Furr Crashed Into Car, Opened Fire On Transsexuals

August 30, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC – The D.C. police officer accused of drunkenly shooting at transgendered people has been punished at least twice before for alcohol-related incidents, records and sources said.

Charging documents released Monday described how Kenneth Furr crashed his Cadillac into another vehicle early Friday morning, stood on the hood of the victims’ vehicle and shouted, “I’m gonna kill all of you.”

There were five people in the other vehicle, police said. One person suffered multiple gunshot wounds to the arm and hand, and two others were hurt in the attack.

Police said Furr, a 20-year-veteran, blew a 0.15 on an alcohol breath-test machine after the shooting — nearly twice the legal limit for drivers in D.C.

He remains held on charges of DWI and assault with a deadly weapon. His first court appearance is scheduled for Tuesday, and he has been segregated from the other prisoners.

Furr’s attorney said he could not comment about the case or Officer Furr, who police say is on paid leave.

According to charging documents, Furr got into an argument with several transgendered people outside the CVS pharmacy at 400 Massachusetts Avenue at about 4:40 a.m. Friday. He pulled a gun on one of the victims, who then reported the incident to an off-duty D.C. police officer working security at the pharmacy, charging documents said.

The CVS officer determined that Furr was an “off-duty officer, and therefore no further action was necessary,” the charging document said.

The victims later saw Furr driving his Cadillac and followed him in their car, police said.

Furr got out of his vehicle, pointed the gun at the driver. The sequence of the events that followed is unclear is unclear. Patrol officers nearby said they heard the cars crash and then rapid gunfire. The victims said Furr fired first and then the cars struck.

Officers found Furr standing on the hood, pointing his off-duty service weapon at the windshield. Police recovered five shell casings that matched Furr’s weapon.

A spokeswoman said she could not comment about whether police are looking to see if Furr might be connected to the two early morning shootings of transgendered people in Northeast Washington earlier this summer.

It wasn’t the first time Furr has gotten into trouble.

He was arrested in 2004 for driving while intoxicated and operating while impaired, according to court records. He pleaded no contest and the charges were dropped after he completed a diversion program.

He was suspended for between 30 and 90 days in that case, according to city records.

On Christmas Day 1996, Furr and another officer were on duty when they got into a drunken argument with a mother and son. Police brass placed Furr on administrative leave and tried to fire him, but he was reinstated in 1998 after a change in police chiefs.

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ATF Head Kenneth Melson Gets The Boot Amid Investigation Into ATF Operation That Armed Mexican Drug Cartels

August 30, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC – The head of the ATF has been removed after months of speculation about his role in a botched gun-tracking operation that could have contributed to the death of a Border Patrol agent.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced on Tuesday that acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Kenneth Melson was being replaced. Melson is being transferred to the Office of Legal Policy, where he will be a senior adviser.

U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota Todd Jones will take over as acting ATF director, according to the Department of Justice.

In a simultaneous move, the U.S. Attorney for Arizona, Dennis Burke, announced his resignation on Tuesday. Burke oversaw the legal aspects of the Fast and Furious operation, providing advice to agents involved.

The Fast and Furious gun-tracking initiative has been in Congress’s crosshairs for the majority of this year. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) led an investigation of the gun-tracking operation, which oversaw the sale of thousands of firearms to known and suspected straw purchasers for Mexican drug cartels.

Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, called for Melson’s resignation in June; two weeks later he backed away from those demands when Melson came to Capitol Hill during the July 4 holiday with his own personal lawyer to conduct a transcribed interview with Issa and Grassley’s staff.

Melson’s reassignment and Burke’s resignation represent the first major investigative victory for Issa, who said he would continue to probe Justice and its botched gun-tracking operation.

“While the reckless disregard for safety that took place in Operation Fast and Furious certainly merits changes within the Department of Justice, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee will continue its investigation to ensure that blame isn’t offloaded on just a few individuals for a matter that involved much higher levels of the Justice Department,” Issa said in a statement.

“There are still many questions to be answered about what happened in Operation Fast and Furious and who else bears responsibility, but these changes are warranted and offer an opportunity for the Justice Department to explain the role other officials and offices played in the infamous efforts to allow weapons to flow to Mexican drug cartels.”

Grassley said the administration’s announcement represented an admission that “serious mistakes were made” and was a step in the right direction. In a statement, he added that there’s blame to go around.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see more fall out beyond the resignations and new assignments announced today,” Grassley said.

Rep. Lamar Smith (Texas), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he was concerned that Melson could be taking the fall for the incompetent decisions of others, and that Congress needs to probe further into the matter to identify and hold responsible any remaining key players.

“This move by the administration indicates that Director Melson may be being used as a scapegoat for a much larger problem within ATF and DOJ,” said Smith in a statement.

“It appears that other senior officials at DOJ may have been involved in this deadly operation. The American people and Congress will not be appeased until we have the whole truth about how and why Operation Fast and Furious was authorized. Congress will not ignore an agency so out of control that its decisions and operations cost American lives.”

The Fast and Furious operation came under congressional scrutiny after whistleblowers within the ATF brought it to Grassley’s attention. ATF agents said they were told to monitor the sale of thousands of guns in the Southwest with the hope of tracking them back to Mexican drug cartels and dismantling their trafficking networks.

But agents were often told to abandon surveillance of the weapons, allowing them — and the straw buyers — to disappear, according to testimony from numerous agents before the House. The only remaining hope for agents to track the guns was if other agencies found them at a murder scene or during a drug raid and identified them by the serial numbers on the guns.

Officials linked two weapons found at the Arizona murder scene last December of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry — according to testimony, they are terrified that some of the thousands of guns still at large will be used to kill more innocent people.

Melson has never been implicitly indicated as approving the tactic of letting the guns “walk,” but Issa has argued that as the head of the agency, he should have been aware of the operation.

Attorney General Eric Holder heralded the promotion of Jones, saying he will provide the ATF with the necessary leadership to strengthen the agency.

“As a seasoned prosecutor and former military judge advocate, U.S. Attorney Jones is a demonstrated leader who brings a wealth of experience to this position,” Holder said.

“I have great confidence that he will be a strong and steady influence guiding ATF in fulfilling its mission of combating violent crime by enforcing federal criminal laws and regulations in the firearms and explosives industries.”

He also lauded Burke’s career, focusing on his role in bringing the alleged shooter of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) to justice. Giffords was shot in the head in January while speaking publicly at a shopping center.

“The office’s quick response to the devastating shootings in January that claimed the lives of several people and critically injured Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was crucial in arresting and charging the alleged shooter,” said Holder in a statement.

The DOJ inspector general is conducting its own investigation of the operation. Both Holder and President Obama have declined to comment in any detail about the program until the investigation is completed.

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Arizona U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke Quits Amid Investigation Into ATF Operation That Armed Mexican Drug Cartels

August 30, 2011

ARIZONA – Dennis Burke, U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona, has delivered his letter of resignation to President Obama – effective immediately.

The move comes amid fallout from Operation Fast and Furious, that was designed to track gun buyers and major weapons traffickers along the border. One of the guns was linked to the death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry last year.

“My long tenure in public service has been intensely gratifying. It has also been intensely demanding. For me, it is the right time to move on to pursue other aspects of my career and my life and allow the office to move ahead,” Burke said in the letter.

Burke was appointed U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona in 2009.

Burke’s departure comes the same day as the transfer of ATF acting director Kenneth Melson to a new post.

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Federal Court Okays Photographing Police Officers In Public – After Crazed Boston Cops Arrested Bysander With A Camera In Public Park

August 30, 2011

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – Remember that nutcase cop who arrested a bystander for recording a public crime scene? Yeah, that was a violation of the First Amendment, according to the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston. This is great news.

The ruling originates with a suit filed by Boston attorney Simon Glik, who was arrested for recording another arrest in the middle of the Boston Common. You know, the enormous, oldest public park in America. A pretty public place.

The cops had cuffed Glik and taken his phone on the basis that his recording was “secret”—a violation of state wiretapping laws. This should be patently ridiculous, but it worked at the time. Until the feds stepped in. The Harvard-affiliated Citizen Media Law Project cuts right to the juiciest, most First Amendmentlicious excerpts from the court’s ruling:

“[I]s there a constitutionally protected right to videotape police carrying out their duties in public? Basic First Amendment principles, along with case law from this and other circuits, answer that question unambiguously in the affirmative.”
“Glik filmed the defendant police officers in the Boston Common, the oldest city park in the United States and the apotheosis of a public forum. In such traditional public spaces, the rights of the state to limit the exercise of First Amendment activity are ‘sharply circumscribed.'”
“[A] citizen’s right to film government officials, including law enforcement officers, in the discharge of their duties in a public space is a basic, vital, and well-established liberty safeguarded by the First Amendment.”
“Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting ‘the free discussion of governmental affairs.'”

In other words, the cops were out of line, and filming them with your phone is not only fair game, but strong a constitutional power of the citizenry. Although this is a district ruling, and it’d take the Supreme Court to make okayed cop-filming the law of the land, this is a terrific victory for the free use of technology, transparent society, and sanity.

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Denver Colorado Police Officer Jeremy Olive Caught Giving Toddler Alcohol In Restaurant

August 30, 2011

DENVER, COLORADO – Jeremy Olive is a decorated Denver police officer. In 2007 the department awarded him a purple heart.

He is now on the other side of the law facing potential felony child abuse charges after restaurant patrons say they saw him feeding his child liquor last week trying to subdue her.

“Cute, darling little girl,” said the woman who witnessed the incident. Her identity is not being released because she is an active part of the investigation.

On the patio outside the Fish City Restaurant, you’ll find the perfect ambiance. Even so, last week one of the restaurant’s youngest patrons wasn’t exactly eating at their tables.

“(I) kind of noticed they weren’t paying much attention to the little girl because she was eating off the ground,” said the woman.

She says over the course of two hours she witnessed the little girl virtually ignored by the two people eating over her … one of them, Denver Police Officer Jeremy Olive.

She claims Olive tried to subdue the child as her behavior worsened.

“Dad picks up the little girl puts her on the lap and starts feeding her straws of margarita,” the woman said. “The bartender came back and I was like I hate to make a fuss about it, but I don’t think this is right for this little girl. She’s like we totally agree but I guess he’s a cop though.”

The woman called Lone Tree Police and witnesses say Olive played his police card and put up a struggle.

The woman says she knows she did the right thing even knowing what Olive does for work

Her thoughts are with his little girl.

“To be just sitting outside in an open bar and you’re giving your kid margarita when clearly it’s because their fussy.” It was just sad.

Olive was arrested and cited with a misdemeanor. Lone Tree police are investigating and just turned the case over to the Arapahoe County District Attorney’s Office. They tell the woman they are investigating Olive for felony child abuse.

Denver police say unless that happens, Olive will remain on active duty

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Los Angeles California Police Waste Tax Dollars Investigating Painting Of A Bank

August 30, 2011

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – Standing before an easel on a Van Nuys sidewalk, Alex Schaefer dabbed paint onto a canvas.

“There you have it,” he said. “Inflammatory art.”

The 22-by-28-inch en plein air oil painting is certainly hot enough to inflame Los Angeles police.

Twice they’ve come to investigate why the 41-year-old Eagle Rock artist is painting an image of a bank building going up in flames.

Schaefer had barely added the orange-and-yellow depiction of fire shooting from the roof of a Chase Bank branch when police rolled up to the corner of Van Nuys Boulevard and Sylvan Street on July 30.

“They told me that somebody had called and said they felt threatened by my painting,” Schaefer said.

“They said they had to find out my intention. They asked if I was a terrorist and was I going to follow through and do what I was painting.”

No, Schaefer said. He explained that the artwork was intended to be a visual metaphor for the havoc that banking practices have caused to the economy.

A terrorist certainly would not spend hours on a public sidewalk creating an oil painting of his intended target, he told the officers.

The police took down his name, address and telephone number on a form — Schaefer declined to provide his Social Security number — and departed.

“They were friendly. They weren’t intimidating,” he said. “I figured that when they left, they probably decided the episode was stupid and they’d just wad up the form and throw it away.”

Wrong. On Tuesday, two more officers showed up at Schaefer’s home. This time they were plainclothes detectives.

“One of them asked me, ‘Do you hate banks? Do you plan to do that to the bank?’ ” Schaefer again explained what his painting symbolizes.

He is actually doing a series of paintings depicting banks ablaze, he said. His first one two months ago featured a Burbank Chase branch, and he has a Bank of America painting in progress, he said. He will feature other large banks’ branches as well; he does his own banking at a small community bank, Schaefer said.

“The flames symbolize bringing the system down,” he said. “Some might say that the banks are the terrorists.”

Although police elsewhere have occasionally challenged photographers taking pictures of things like refineries and governmental buildings in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, questioning an artist slowly creating an oil painting “is a horribly Orwellian act,” said Andrew McGregor, a photographer who sometimes displays his work alongside Schaefer’s.

A graduate of Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design, Schaefer usually paints portraits, cityscapes and lush landscapes. He acknowledges that the bank series has overt political overtones.

The finished paintings will be displayed in a show called “Disaster Capitalism,” scheduled for February at Inglewood’s Beacon Arts Building, he said.

As Schaefer put the finishing touches on his Van Nuys bank painting, passersby stopped to admire his work.

“I like it. It is social justice,” said Travis Stobbe, a Van Nuys apartment building owner.

Albert Acevedo, a salesman from Oxnard, snapped a photo of the painting with his cellphone. “This is great. I’m going in and withdrawing all my money out now,” he joked.

Gary Kishner, a spokesman for Chase Bank, said his institution isn’t sure what to make of Schaefer’s work.

“It’s a situation we don’t take lightly. Hopefully, this is not what his actions are. It’s kind of scary — you don’t know what other people are thinking. We have to look out for the safety of our customers and employees,” he said.

Schaefer said he has been surprised by the hubbub his burning bank has caused.

“I’ve only had two experiences with the police in my life, and these were both of them,” he said. “I have this feeling I’ll get different treatment at airports from now on.”

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