Vernal Utah Police Charge Man Who Paid $25 Medical Bill With Pennies

June 4, 2011

VERNAL, UTAH – City officials say a Uintah County man was recently cited for paying a medical bill with pennies.

According to a release from Vernal City on Friday, May 27, Vernal resident Jason West entered Basin (medical) Clinic prepared to dispute a bill of $25.00 that he allegedly owed.

After asking if they accepted cash, city officials say West dumped 2500 pennies onto the counter and demanded that they count it. The pennies were strewn about the counter and the floor, and when West was advised that the police would be called, he left.

City officials say West was later contacted by the Vernal Police Department and issued a citation for Disorderly Conduct.

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Burning Taxpayer Dollars The Whole Way, Crazed Cheney Washington Prosecutor Julie McKay Took 99 Cent “Theft” Case To Jury Trial – Jury Took 5 Minutes To Return Not Guilty Verdict

April 27, 2011

CHENEY, WASHINGTON – Call it the great hot dog caper. Or maybe the greatly overblown hot dog caper would be more accurate.

One day last December, Eastern Washington University student John Richardson got himself a German sausage at the self-serve counter at Mitchell’s IGA in Cheney. He ate it as he shopped for peanut butter (crunchy), jelly, bread and other items. When he left, he forgot to pay for the 99-cent dog – though he did pay for more than $28 in groceries.

Store managers approached him once he left the store, refused his efforts to pay for it, and held him for the police to arrive when things got heated. Thirteen weeks later, Richardson was found not guilty by a baffled jury with a minimum of deliberation.

“From all the testimony, you’d have to be an idiot to not realize that the guy simply forgot,” said juror Patrick Reeves. “It took the jury about five minutes to come to a verdict.”

Five minutes would have been about the right time to devote to the case, start to finish. Instead, the taxpayers of Cheney paid for the full legal megillah: The officer who arrived, cuffed the protesting Richardson, and wrote a report in which he described the “stolen” property as a “bronze” German sausage; the prosecuting attorney, who said Richardson’s demeanor and a 12-year-old shoplifting charge on his record persuaded her to pursue the case; the public defender; the judge; the jury pool …

“To me it’s an outrage,” Richardson said. “I just think it was a frivolous thing.”

From the perspective of a store owner, a certain zeal about shoplifting is understandable. In the grocery business, margins are slim, and theft takes a big toll. In a family-owned business like Mitchell’s, the owners can take it even more personally. But it’s hard to understand why this zeal wasn’t tempered somewhere along the way.

Cheney Municipal Prosecutor Julie McKay said she simply doesn’t buy Richardson’s claim that he forgot to pay. She said that it isn’t unusual for someone to steal something while purchasing something else, that a lot of people accused of a crime deny it, and that the fact that Richardson was arguing with the store managers after they confronted him influenced her decision.

“Did I want to try that? Certainly not,” McKay said. “From my perspective, he took something without paying for it. … The jury didn’t feel he was guilty. I disagree with that.”

Everyone seems to agree that Richardson offered to pay for the hot dog when he was confronted by store employees outside the store. The one exception to this is the police report, in which a store manager is quoted saying Richardson refused to pay for the hot dog. According to Reeves, Richardson and public defender Don Richter, that was at odds with testimony at the trial from everyone, including store employees.

“When my client was confronted, he immediately said ‘I’m sorry, I’ll pay for it,’ ” Richter said.

To the store owners, the question of intent was beside the point. Someone who leaves without paying for something has stolen. If you let this slide, where do you draw the line? But that’s simply not the way the law works – a person must intend to steal something for it to be theft.

McKay said the reason this ended up before a jury is that Richardson refused to accept a deal. Here’s an example of a deal he was offered: In exchange for the charges being dropped, he’d pay restitution for the sausage, and pay the store owners a $200 civil penalty.

“So now the $1 hot dog was a $201 hot dog,” Richter said.

The case went to trial Feb. 25. Richardson said that he was committed to proving his innocence, and because he knew that the specter of a shoplifting conviction can hang over you – as his conviction as an 18-year-old had done. But he was adamant that he did not steal the hot dog. After he got it, he walked around the store and ate it in full view of everyone, planning to pay for it with his groceries at the cashier, he said. The managers were watching him closely, and he was aware of them watching – which would make him a pretty poor thief indeed, if it wasn’t an oversight. When he was confronted outside the store, he said the store employees taunted and insulted him, and refused to accept either his explanation or his money.

One of them said, “It’s too late now. We got you,” Richardson said. “It was very humiliating.”

Store officials declined to comment, but it’s clear from court records and interviews that they view this confrontation differently, and say that Richardson was uncooperative and instigated conflict rather than trying to resolve it.

I think it’s safe to say that nobody wanted the case to wind up before a jury, but nobody was willing to budge. Richardson wanted to be cleared, and the prosecutor wanted to send a message – or at least not send the wrong kind of message.

In the end, though, the jury wasn’t on board.

“If you really want to send a message,” Reeves said, “get a good case.”

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Florida Caught Pissing Away Taxpayer Dollars Buying Super Hero Capes For The Unemployed

April 19, 2011

ORLANDO, FLORIDA – Florida officials are investigating an unemployment agency that spent public money to give 6,000 superhero capes to the jobless.

Workforce Central Florida spent more than $14,000 on the red capes as part of its “Cape-A-Bility Challenge” public relations campaign. The campaign featured a cartoon character, “Dr. Evil Unemployment,” who needs to be vanquished.

Florida’s unemployment agency director asked Monday for an investigation of the regional operation’s spending after the Orlando Sentinel published a story about the program. State director Cynthia Lorenzo said the spending appeared to be “insensitive and wasteful.”

Workforce Central Florida Director Gary J. Earl defends the program, saying it is part of a greater effort to connect with the community. The agency says it served 210,000 people during its last fiscal year, placing nearly 59,000 in jobs.

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Man Charged By Mason Ohio Police After Barking At Barking Police Dog

April 6, 2011

MASON, OHIO– Police say an Ohio man has been charged with a misdemeanor for barking at a police dog.

A police report says 25-year-old Ryan James Stephens was charged with teasing a police dog in the Cincinnati suburb of Mason.

Officer Bradley Walker wrote that he heard the K9 dog barking uncontrollably inside his patrol car while he was investigating a car crash at a pub early Sunday morning. Walker says Stephens was making barking noises and hissing at the animal.

Walker reported that Stephens said “the dog started it” when asked why he was harassing the animal. The officer said Stephens appeared highly intoxicated.

There was no answer to calls to Stephens’ home in Mason. He is to appear April 21 in municipal court.

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600,000 US Taxpayer Dollars For Gurgling Toad Sculpture?

March 31, 2011

ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA – A $600,000 frog sculpture that lights up, gurgles “sounds of nature” and carries a 10-foot fairy girl on its back could soon be greeting Defense Department employees who plan to start working at the $700 million Mark Center in Alexandria, Va. this fall. That is unless a new controversy over the price tag of the public art doesn’t torpedo the idea.

Decried as wasteful spending that will be seen by just a couple thousand of daily workers who arrive on bus shuttles, foes have tried to delay the decision, expected tomorrow, April 1. But in an E-mail, an Army Corps of Engineers official said that the decision can’t be held up because it would impact completion of the huge project.

The City of Alexandria just announced that there are four works of art being considered and that a final decision needs to be made fast. The artwork was put on display for public comment from March 24 to today. The Alexandria News first reported the hasty announcement to decide a winner.

The schedule surprised some who thought that the costly artwork project was on the “back burner,” according to critic Donald Buch, a member of the mayor’s advisory committee overseeing the Mark Center project. “What’s the rush?” he asked.

Buch says he’s not opposed to art, just high-priced works that won’t be seen by many. He estimates that only 2,500 will see the artwork every day as they use the bus transfer station at the Mark Center. “Who the heck is going to see it,” he asked. “To spend six hundred grand to amuse the same people every day is nuts.”

The Mark Center is one of the facilities that thousands of defense workers will be reporting to as part of the Base Realignment and Closure plan, or BRAC, that is shifting workers around Virginia and Maryland. The BRAC plan itself has been criticized as wasteful.

The four art proposals for the bus terminal include works for a wall and sculpture. But the one drawing most attention is the fairy and frog from artist Cheryl Foster. Her proposals describes the sculpture this way: “A 10-foot fairy, using an American Toad as ‘transportation,’ scurries to the entrance of the station. The interior of the toad is illuminated and the sounds of nature emanate from his throat.” She said that nature inspired her.

Buch suggested instead that the Corps should consider a nature park or water feature, not a toad.

According to the Corps, the artwork was the city’s idea. A city official, however, said that Alexandria officials didn’t demand art, but just asked that public artwork be included in the structure. What’s more, the official said that the $600,000 is federal money, and that no Alexandria funds will pay for the art.

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Feds Admit That 1,825 Miles Of Mexican Border Is Not Under Control Of US Border Patrol – Nothing To Stop Illegal Crossings Between US And Mexico

March 31, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC – Richard M. Stana, director of homeland security and justice issues at the Government Accountability Office (which is responsible for “auditing agency operations to determine whether federal funds are being spent efficiently and effectively”), told the Senate Homeland Security Committee yesterday that the federal government can actually prevent or stop illegal entries into the United States along only 129 miles of the 1,954-mile-long U.S.-Mexico border.

That leaves 1,825 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border where the Border Patrol cannot prevent or stop an illegal entry.

Nonetheless, Stana told the committee, the Border Patrol itself says it has established “an acceptable level of control” along 873 miles of the 1,954-mile-long southwest border. This is because of the way the Border Patrol defines “an acceptable level of control” of the border.

“According to Border Patrol,” Stana told the committee, “an acceptable level of border control is established when it has the capability (i.e., resources) to deter or detect and apprehend incursions at the immediate border or after entry.” [Emphasis added.]

In addition to the 129 miles where the Border Patrol says it can actually “deter or detect and apprehend illegal entries” at the border itself, Stana told the committee, there are another 744 miles where the Border Patrol says it has the capability to deter or detect and apprehend illegal entrants after they have entered the county and penetrated U.S. territory to “distances of up to 100 miles or more away from the immediate border.”

The 3,918-mile-long northern border of the United States is virtually wide open, according to Stana’s testimony. The Border Patrol, Stana said, reports that it has established “an acceptable level of control” along only 69 miles of this border and that of those 69 miles there are only 2 miles where the Border Patrol can actually prevent or stop an illegal entry.

Along the remaining, 3,916 miles of the northern border the Border Patrol does not have the capability to deter or detect and apprehend an intruder.

“As we testified in February 2011 about our preliminary observations on this measure, Border Patrol indicated that in fiscal year 2010, 873 of the nearly 2,000 southwest border miles and 69 of the nearly 4,000 northern border miles between Washington and Maine were at an acceptable level of control,” Stana told the committee in his written testimony.

“Within this border security classification, Border Patrol further distinguished between the ability to deter or detect and apprehend illegal entries at the immediate border versus after entry—at distances of up to 100 miles or more away from the immediate border—into the United States,” Stana wrote.

“Our preliminary analysis of these Border Patrol data showed that the agency reported a capability to deter or detect and apprehend illegal entries at the immediate border across 129 of the 873 southwest border miles and 2 of the 69 northern border miles,” Stana testified. “Our preliminary analysis also showed that Border Patrol reported the ability to deter or detect and apprehend illegal entries after they crossed the border for an additional 744 southwest border miles and 67 northern border miles.”

Stana said that in fiscal 2010 “about $11.9 billion [was] appropriated to secure the entire U.S. border (for personnel, infrastructure, and technology).”

Only about a third of this money was spent to secure the border in the vast territories between the official ports of entry (POE). “CBP reported that $3.6 billion was appropriated in fiscal year 2010 for border security efforts between the POEs,” Stana testified.

Overall, the federal government spent $3.72 trillion in fiscal 2010, according to the White House Office of Management and Budget. That means the $11.9 billion the government spent on securing the entire U.S. border equaled 0.3 percent of federal spending and the $3.6 billion the federal government spent on securing the border between the ports of entry equaled about 0.1 percent.

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Lawrence Massachusetts Director Of Anti-Poverty Agency Worked 15 Hours A Week For $144,000 A Year

March 26, 2011

LAWRENCE, MASSACHUSETTS – The AWOL boss for the city’s leading anti-poverty agency walked out the door with a $9,829.91 check after he quit Wednesday.

Former Greater Lawrence Community Action Council Executive Director Philip F. Laverriere Sr. received the money for his last days worked and unused vacation time. Thomas Schiavone, president of the agency’s board of directors, said Laverriere is not eligible for retiree health benefits because he resigned.

Laverriere, 85, left the agency four days after The Eagle-Tribune revealed he spent as few as 15 hours in the office a week, and earned as much as $144,000 a year. The rest of the work day, Laverriere was found in the Elks Clubs playing card games and video poker and indulging his taste for cigars.

The state Department of Housing and Community Development, which administers $29 million tax dollars to the agency, has brought in the Northeast Institute for Quality Community Action (NIQUA) to review “governance, management, and fiscal issues” at GLCAC. Representatives from NIQUA will be at the agency next week for two days to do an audit and talk to employees. They are expected to file a report on their findings with the state April 4

Schiavone said Laverriere is eligible to collect on the 403B retirement plan the agency offers — which is much like a 401K plan but for nonprofits. According to the agency’s employee handbook, GLCAC matches up 50 percent of an employee’s contribution up to a maximum of 3 percent of the person’s salary.

In the 2009 tax year, Laverriere received a $2,066 match in contributions from the agency.

Laverriere was head of the agency for 37 years. The agency has 310 employees and oversees an array of poverty programs including immigration assistance, heat subsidies, and child care.

Its $30 million budget is funded almost entirely through state and federal money. In the interim, Assistant Executive Director Charles LoPiano will oversee the agency.

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Wetback Who Should Have Been Deported Long Ago Killed Nun In Drunken Wreck – Prior Crimes Never Reported To Feds

March 4, 2011

VIRGINIA – A long-awaited report on the deportation status of a Prince William illegal alien whose alcohol-related head-on collision killed a Richmond-based nun shows repeated instances of a failure to report his crimes to Homeland Security as well as a shift in emphasis by the Obama administration in dealing with illegal aliens.

Judicial Watch, a public disclosure group, said today that it has a received a copy of the report by the Department of Homeland Security that was kept secret after Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano had declared her office would thoroughly investigate the Prince William case and make it public.

The 35-page report deals with the criminal history and legal status of Carlos Martinelly-Montano, 23, whose Aug. 1 collision in Prince William seriously injured two Benedictine nuns and killed a third, Sister Denise Mosier, 66, all of Richmond.

Martinelly-Montano is scheduled to go to trial March 28 on six indictments, including felony murder, maiming resulting from driving under the influence and involuntary manslaughter.

Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, said the report, which his group sought through a Freedom of Information Act request, shows how this country’s patchwork of policies toward illegal immigrants and deportation can “blow up in our faces.”

He called the report “a clear indictment of Obama’s lawless approach to illegal immigration. An innocent person lost her life because local police officers and immigration officials couldn’t be bothered to enforce and obey the law.”

The report details shifting federal policy regarding what level of crimes should result in deportation. It also tracks at the local level in Northern Virginia court and law enforcement systems that don’t uniformly enforce laws or report their outcomes to federal immigration officials.

Corey Stewart, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, said the report “indicates that ICE is, in fact, releasing dangerous criminal illegal aliens instead of deporting them. And in (Martinelly Montano’s) case, they issued him a federal employment authorization permit.”

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ATF’s “Fast And Furious” Operation Knowingly Allowed Hundreds Of Guns To Cross Border Into Mexico

March 3, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC – Hoping to score a major prosecution of Mexican drug lords, federal prosecutors and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives permitted hundreds of guns to be purchased and retained by suspected straw buyers with the expectation they might cross the border and even be used in crimes while the case was being built, according to documents and interviews.

The decision — part of a Phoenix-based operation code named “Fast and Furious” — was met by strong objections from some front-line agents who feared they were allowing weapons like AK-47s to “walk” into the hands of drug lords and gun runners, internal agency memos show. Indeed, scores of the weapons came back quickly traced to criminal activity.

One of those front-line agents who objected, John Dodson, 39, told the Center for Public Integrity that these guns “are going to be turning up in crimes on both sides of the border for decades.” Dodson said in an interview that “with the number of guns we let walk, we’ll never know how many people were killed, raped, robbed … there is nothing we can do to round up those guns. They are gone.”

Dodson has taken his misgivings to the Senate Judiciary Committee as a whistleblower after his concerns were dismissed by his supervisors and initially ignored by the Justice Department’s inspector general.

Sen. Charles Grassley, the panel’s top Republican — who is spearheading a probe of ATF’s actions – said “it’s time to step back” and examine the policy. Two of the guns involved in the sting operation turned up at the scene of a fatal shooting of a U.S. agent.

The Justice Department said today that Attorney General Eric Holder has asked the department’s acting inspector general to evaluate the concerns about ATF’s investigative tactics.

A Change in Strategy

Dodson told the Center he and several of his colleagues wanted to intercept some of the weapons but their objections were repeatedly overruled by ATF supervisors. The supervisors instructed them to simply record the straw purchases in a database, flag them as “suspect,” and monitor the suspected gun runners until evidence piled up about their connections to Mexican drug lords.

The tactics employed in the Fast and Furious case were part of an evolving change in the strategic direction of firearms investigations, ATF officials told the Center.

Mark Chait, ATF’s assistant director in charge of field operations, told the Center he personally decided to change the strategy in September 2010 after years of futile efforts to interdict guns from small-time straw buyers with little hope of dismantling major drug trafficking organizations in Mexico. The agency’s earlier focus on straw buyers was criticized last fall in a review by the Justice Department’s inspector general of ATF’s border effort, known as Project Gunrunner.

In addition, ATF officials have so far been frustrated in efforts to persuade the White House to implement even a simple change in firearm sales reporting requirements to help detect possible gun-running at the border.

“When we look at the complexities of the organizations working around the border of Mexico, just dealing with the lowest level purchaser, the straw purchaser, doesn’t get you to the organizer, the money people and the key people in that organization to shut that down. We found that if we don’t attack the organization and shut the organization down, they will continue to move guns across the border,” Chait told the Center. “It’s kind of a somewhat common sense approach that if you don’t get to the higher-level folks that are making the calls, then guns will continue to cross the border.”

But Chait went on to say that the policy was not set in stone. “I think we have a good strategy,” he said. “I think it needs to be reviewed. We’re taking a look at it right now to see if it needs to be tweaked in any way.”

The Fast and Furious investigation was initiated in October 2009, eleven months before Chait’s formal policy change.

With direct blessing of ATF headquarters in Washington and supervision by the U.S. attorney’s office in Phoenix, a special ATF strike force known as Group VII was given permission to let federally licensed gun shops continue selling weapons to straw buyers already linked to a suspected Mexican gun running operation.

Officials told the Center that ATF allowed about 1,765 firearms over the 15 months of the operation to pass from gun dealers to the suspected straw buyers that were the accomplices of the gun running ring. Another 233 weapons had been bought by the suspects prior to the ATF operation starting, bringing the total number of guns in the case to 1,998.

Of those, 797 of the guns were eventually recovered as a result of criminal activity on both sides of the border — including 195 from inside Mexico — after they were used in crimes, collected during arrests, or interdicted through other law enforcement operations, the officials told the Center.

Understanding the Risks

The risks that some of the guns might end up in crimes was fully understood, memos show.

A case summary sent to ATF headquarters took note of “firearms being recovered in the Republic of Mexico or on/near the US/Mexico border.”

“ATF is attempting to not only secure a straw purchase/dealing in firearms without a license case against various individuals but more specifically to make the bigger connection to the Mexican Cartel/Drug Trafficking Organization (DTO) obtaining these firearms for the best possible case and the most severe charges when it is time to Indict this case,” the memo read.

Dodson said his supervisors seemed pleased when one of the guns the agency had let “walk” showed up in a crime in Mexico. They were “elated every time a gun was recovered in Mexico” because they “saw it as proving the nexus that we were dealing with a real drug trafficking group.”

But the investigation dragged on for 15 months, in part, documents show, because the Justice Department was slow to approve a wiretap and bring prosecutions. Memos reveal that ATF supervisors were frustrated by the delays, but let straw buyers and suspected gun runners continue to move scores, even hundreds of guns a month, internal agency memos show.

An April 2, 2010 memo from the strike force leader to the Justice Department disclosed that ATF watched as targeted suspects purchased 359 guns in the United States in March 2010 alone.
The case summary sent to ATF headquarters in summer 2010 gave a much higher number.

“To date over 1,500 firearms have been purchased since October 2009 for over one million ($1,000,000.00) cash in over-the-counter transactions at various Phoenix area” gun dealers, the memo said.

Some of the field agents became increasingly incensed.

“Nothing happened. We’re monitoring the same buyers buying the same guns from the same dealers at the same rate and we’re not stopping any of it,” Dodson recalled.

Notations in the case files reviewed by the Center show ATF received several “trace” reports of guns they had let pass to straw buyers showing up in criminal cases in Mexico or on the U.S. side of the border.

In November 2009, for example, four 7.62 caliber weapons were recovered in Naco, Mexico only two weeks after one of the suspects had purchased them. Also, in July 2010 a Romanian AK-47 variant was recovered in Navojoa, Mexico, the records say.

Dodson, who told the Center he expects to be fired for speaking out, said four of the seven agents on the strike force had strong reservations about what they were being instructed to do. The three others, he said, backed the approach. Dodson’s biggest fear was that some of the guns would eventually be used against law enforcement.

That fear was soon realized.
A Death Raises Questions

In May 2010, a Customs and Border Protection agent confronted an armed band of gangsters along the U.S. side of the border. The suspects fled but some of the guns they left behind were traced back to weapons purchased by one of the suspects targeted in Fast and Furious, Dodson said.

imageU.S. Border Patrol agent Brian A. Terry was fatally shot north of the Arizona-Mexico border in December while trying to arrest bandits who target illegal immigrants. Two weapons recovered at the scene were traced to the ATF’s Fast and Furious operation, according to Sen Charles Grassley.Then in December, two weapons recovered at the scene of a murdered Customs and Border Protection agent, Brian Terry, were traced to the ATF operation, according to Sen.Grassley.

“This may be a well-intended policy, but when you have agents on the ground for months questioning what’s going on, and a Border Patrol agent is killed, it’s time to take a step back and check to see if the policy has gone awry,” Grassley told the Center.

The ATF said in a statement today that neither gun recovered at the scene appears to be the weapon that killed Terry, and they may simply have been left behind by the criminals. “At this time, we’re not aware of any forensic evidence that would link these guns to the homicide,” the agency said.

Grassley said his committee has interviewed numerous ATF agents, including Dodson, who have come forward to raise concerns about the Fast and Furious operation and the potential danger of ATF’s approach.

“The ATF clearly had plenty of information on the bad guys. The problem wasn’t the fact that the guns weren’t being reported, it was that the ATF didn’t act on the information they had,” the senator said.

“We heard from more than a dozen people who brought forward allegations of wrongdoing at the ATF. What Agent Dobson has done by risking his career in an effort to expose the truth is patriotic. He is guilty of only one thing: committing truth,” Grassley added.

Dodson said he feels responsible for Terry’s death by being part of the ATF operation. He said he saw no other option but to go public — even if meant being fired — because he and his fellow agents’ concerns were ignored by supervisors.

Dodson said after his supervisors rejected the agents’ concerns, he filed a whistleblower complaint both by Web and phone to the Justice inspector general but was never contacted. He then approached Grassley, keeping his current supervisor on a joint terrorism task force apprised of his whistleblowing activities. Eventually, the inspector general contacted Dodson after Grassley intervened.

ATF supervisors told agents who disagreed with the strategy that “if you are going to make an omelet you’ve got to scramble some eggs,” Dodson said. “That was the attitude. I took it to mean that whatever crimes these guns were going to be involved in, those were the eggs, those were acceptable.”

Dodson said that another time a supervisor told him, “’It’s kind of a moot argument. They’re going to get those guns somewhere.’ But my feeling is we shouldn’t be making it easier for them.”

Internal agency memos show ATF supervisors dismissed the objections of agents in the Group VII strike force, insisting the prize of getting permission to run a wiretap and eventually rolling up a major gun or drug gang in Mexico merited the risks. There were even comments interpreted by the agents as veiled threats that they could lose their jobs if they didn’t fall in line.

“This is a time we all need to pull together, not drift apart,” Group VII supervisor David J.Voth wrote to his strike force team in March 2010, acknowledging “there may be a schism developing amongst the group.”

“If you don’t think this is fun you’re in the wrong line of work — period! This is the pinnacle of domestic U.S. law enforcement techniques. After this the tool box is empty,” Voth wrote.

“Maybe the Maricopa County Jail is hiring detention officers and you can get paid $30,000 (instead of $100,000) to serve lunch to inmates all day.”
Plagued By Delay

The operation, however, turned out to be anything but fast and furious.

By spring 2010, Voth appealed to the Justice Department for some “urgency” as the number of weapons ATF let through was growing.

In an April 2, 2010, email to one of his supervisors and an assistant U.S. attorney in Phoenix, Voth wrote there was “no pressure but perhaps an increased sense of urgency.” The strike force supervisor noted that March 2010 was deadliest month in five years in Mexico and also yielded some of the largest movement of weapons from Fast and Furious.

“Our subjects purchased 359 firearms during the month of March alone, to include numerous Barrett .50 caliber rifles,” Voth wrote. “I believe we are righteous in our plan to dismantle this entire organization and to rush in to arrest any one person without taking into account the entire scope of the conspiracy would be ill advised to the overall good of the mission.

“I acknowledge that we are all in agreement that to do so properly requires patience and planning. In the event, however, that there is anything we can do to facilitate a timely response or turnaround by others, we should communicate our sense of urgency with regard to this matter.”

Nine months later, Fast and Furious finally bore some fruit.

On Jan. 25, 2011 — 15 months after the operation was launched and one month after the agent’s death along the border — the primary suspect named in the strike force case file, Jaime Avila, was indicted along with 19 alleged cohorts in Arizona. The 53-count indictment included 35 counts of making a false statement in connection with the acquisition of firearms. Avila has pleaded not guilty.

“The massive size of this operation sadly exemplifies the magnitude of the problems,” said U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke at the time. “Mexican Drug Lords go shopping for war weapons in Arizona.”
When asked for comment on the office’s role in the ATF operation, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Phoenix noted today that federal prosecutors along the Mexican border have been pressing for tougher penalties against straw buyers who traffic arms to Mexico.

imageWilliam Newell, special agent in charge of the ATF’s Phoenix office, announces the indictments that emerged from the Fast and Furious investigation on Jan. 25 in Phoenix. ATF officials say Newell is slated to become the agency’s new attaché to the Mexican government. Credit: Matt York/Associated PressDodson said some of the cooperating gun dealers who sold weapons to the suspects at ATF’s behest initially had concerns and wanted to end their sales. One even asked whether the dealers might have a legal liability, but was assured by federal prosecutors they would be protected, he said.

The case logs show ATF supervisors and U.S. attorney’s office lawyers met with some of the gun dealers to discuss their “role” in the case, in one instance as far back as December 2009.
Concerns about ATF’s approach even extended outside the ATF office in Phoenix.

Grassley’s office said it has gathered evidence and testimony that Darren Gil, the ATF’s then-attache to the Mexican government in Mexico City, also objected to the Fast and Furious strategy. He worried it might be viewed by the administration of Mexican president Felipe Calderon as a misguided approach that only armed drug lords for more violence.

The attache, Grassley said, raised his objections to ATF headquarters but was told supervisors there already knew about the operation. Gil was eventually removed from his job, and retired. His planned replacement is the special agent-in-charge in Phoenix during the operation, William Newell, ATF officials said.

Gil declined to be interviewed.
Behind the Debate

Law enforcement experts said the ATF’s strategy clearly had risks.

Phil Jordan, a former Drug Enforcement Administration administrator who once ran the inter-agency El Paso Intelligence Center, said: “I can’t comprehend how one of our agencies could allow weapons to flow if we knew that they could end up in the hands of the cartels, and then be utilized to kill people.”

A respected former ATF executive, Jim Cavanaugh, conceded that allowing guns to reach the streets may have been a mistake. “But the alternative argument could be, ‘Well I could have got one or two guys. But that would have allowed a ring of 30 to 40 to 50 gun traffickers to operate for two or three more years, and they could have pumped thousands of guns into Mexico,’ ” he said.

What other factors might have influenced ATF to let guns “walk” rather than confiscating them immediately and arresting the straw buyers?

Part of the answer may lie in the sort of frustration experienced by ATF in an earlier Phoenix case against firearms dealer George Iknadosian, who owned a store called X Caliber Guns.

Dozens of Romanian WASR 10 weapons bought by suspected straw buyers at X Caliber were eventually recovered at Mexican crime scenes, but authorities could not make a successful case against Iknadosian in 2009, alleging that he was part of a conspiracy trafficking firearms to Mexico. Federal prosecutors declined to take the case because federal courts were increasingly ruling that purchasers had to be barred from buying weapons in order for a dealer to be prosecuted. State prosecutors stepped in and charged Iknadosian with fraud, conspiracy and money laundering, but a state judge dismissed the case, using similar logic as the federal courts.

imageAfter a deadly shootout with suspected members of the Beltran-Leyva cartel on May 26th, 2008, that left eight policemen dead, authorities seized a variety of guns, including seven AK-47s, as well as 36 magazines, and 500 rounds of ammunition, according to ATF investigative reports. Credit: ATFATF officials were also facing a Justice Department inspector general’s review of Operation Gun Runner — a review which ultimately criticized the agency in November 2010 for not aiming higher in its border gun probes.

“ATF’s focus remains largely on inspections of gun dealers and investigations of straw purchasers, rather than on higher-level traffickers, smugglers, and the ultimate recipients of the trafficked guns,” the report said.

“Because there is no federal firearms trafficking statute, ATF must use a wide variety of other statutes to combat firearms trafficking. However, cases brought under these statutes are difficult to prove and do not carry stringent penalties — particularly for straw purchasers of guns,” the report noted.

“As a result, we found that [U.S. Attorney’s offices] are less likely to accept and prosecute Project Gunrunner cases. And when these cases are prosecuted and convictions obtained, Federal Sentencing Guidelines categorize straw-purchasing-related offenses as lesser crimes.”

The contretemps occurs just as Mexican President Felipe Calderon met today at the White House with President Barack Obama.

The presidential get-together was already expected to be tense, as friction has arisen over leaked American diplomatic exchanges that criticized the Mexican government. The cables, some of them classified secret, were disclosed by the Wikileaks website.

In an interview last week with El Universal, one of Mexico’s leading newspapers, Calderon said that U.S. Ambassador Carlos Pascual’s “ignorance has translated into a distortion of what is happening in Mexico” that has caused “an impact and an irritation in our own team.”

As he has several times, Calderon complained to El Universal that the American government has done little to curb the nation’s demand for drugs or stop the flow of weapons across the border.
“The institutional cooperation ends up being notoriously insufficient,” Calderon said.

Jordan, the former senior DEA official, said the ATF’s policy in Fast and Furious “supports President Calderon’s complaint that the U.S. is not doing nearly all it can to stop the flow of weapons into Mexico.”

Publicly, ATF and Justice have tried to downplay any notion it would let guns knowingly flow to straw buyers to Mexican drug lords.

Newell, the special agent in charge in Phoenix, was asked at a news conference after the Avila indictment whether his agency would ever let guns knowingly cross the border. Newell answered, “Hell, no.” But, he said, suspects under surveillance sometimes elude agents, which could result in guns winding up in Mexico.

Grassley got a similar answer.

In a Feb. 4 letter to the senator, the Justice Department said ATF never “knowingly allowed the sale of assault weapons to a straw purchaser who then transported them into Mexico.” ATF, the letter added, makes “every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent their transportation into Mexico.”

Grassley told the Center he now believes those representations are contradicted by the documents his staff has gathered and the testimony of agents like Dodson. “The Justice Department and the ATF put up a wall to mislead the American people and were less than forthcoming,” he said.

Dodson also believes his agency has been less than forthright, and said that was part of the reason he went public.

“I’m boots on the ground and I’ve seen it done (let guns go through) and I had done it and I was instructed to do it almost every day I was down there. It happened,” he said.

“What we were doing in my opinion was wrong. It’s not what we do and for my agency to openly and publicly come in and deny we are doing it, I can’t even fathom it.”

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SIX Fire Departments And DOZENS Of Police Officers And Boone County Kentucky Sheriff’s Deputies Show Up To Rescue A Dog

March 3, 2011

HEBRON, KENTUCKY – Dozens of police officers, firefighters and even a technical rescue team showed up to rescue a dog that had taken a 60-foot drop off a cliff Tuesday night.

“One minute he’s here, the next second he’s gone and I hear a yelp,” said Abby Hanger, who owns the 14-year-old dog named Jack.

The dog had gone over a cliff at her Hebron home.

“He rolled a lot. I could shine the light down and I could see the glow of his eyes and he was barking at me and I was so helpless,” Hanger said.

She just moved to the Tri-State and didn’t know whom she should call.

Her neighbor loaned her a flashlight and called 911.

“And then I wondered, will they come? I mean, if you call 911, will someone come rescue your dog? Do they do that?” Hanger said.

Apparently they do.

“And then all of a sudden the cavalry arrived, department after department. I was blown away,” Hanger said.

Six fire departments, Boone County Sheriff’s deputies and animal control were all at the scene. One firefighter even rappelled down the cliff to get Jack.

“A lot of people might think, is that a waste of resources? But there were no other emergencies going on in Hebron at the time, and we had the time to spare to facilitate the rescue,” said Mike Fronimos, with the Hebron Fire Department.

“Anybody who gripes about their taxes or the taxes going up, look at what they do for a dog, imagine what they do for your family,” Hanger said.

On Wednesday night, Jack was on an intravenous drip, but Hanger was hopeful he’d make a full recovery.

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U.S. Government Spent Millions On Software So Military Could Manipulate Their Fake Facebook And Twitter Accounts

March 3, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC – Most people use social media like Facebook and Twitter to share photos of friends and family, chat with friends and strangers about random and amusing diversions, or follow their favorite websites, bands and television shows.

But what does the US military use those same networks for? Well, we can’t tell you: That’s “classified,” a CENTCOM spokesman recently informed Raw Story.

One use that’s confirmed, however, is the manipulation of social media through the use of fake online “personas” managed by the military. Raw Story recently reported that the US Air Force had solicited private sector vendors for something called “persona management software.” Such a technology would allow single individuals to command virtual armies of fake, digital “people” across numerous social media portals.

These “personas” were to have detailed, fictionalized backgrounds, to make them believable to outside observers, and a sophisticated identity protection service was to back them up, preventing suspicious readers from uncovering the real person behind the account. They even worked out ways to game geolocating services, so these “personas” could be virtually inserted anywhere in the world, providing ostensibly live commentary on real events, even while the operator was not really present.

When Raw Story first reported on the contract for this software, it was unclear what the Air Force wanted with it or even if it had been acquired. The potential for misuse, however, was abundantly clear.

A fake virtual army of people could be used to help create the impression of consensus opinion in online comment threads, or manipulate social media to the point where valuable stories are suppressed.

Ultimately, this can have the effect of causing a net change to the public’s opinions and understanding of key world events.

‘Classified social media activities’

According to Commander Bill Speaks, the chief media officer of CENTCOM’s digital engagement team, the public cannot know what the military wants with such technology because its applications are secret.

“This contract,” he wrote in reference to the Air Force’s June 22, 2010 filing, “supports classified social media activities outside the U.S., intended to counter violent extremist ideology and enemy propaganda.”

Speaks insisted that he was speaking only on behalf of CENTCOM, not the Air Force “or other branches of the military.”

While he did reveal who was awarded the contract in question, he added that the Air Force, which helps CENTCOM’s contracting process out of MacDill, has even other uses for social media that he could not address.

A series of targeted searches for other “persona management software” contracts yielded no results.

Mystery bidder

While data security firm HBGary Federal was among the contract’s bidders listed on a government website, the job was ultimately awarded to a firm that did not appear on the FedBizOpps.gov page of interested vendors.

A controversy over the HBGary firm, which recently had its inner-workings dumped onto the Internet by hackers with protest group “Anonymous,” was what initially brought the “persona” contract to light.

HBGary, which conspired with Bank of America and the Chamber of Commerce to attack WikiLeaks, spy on progressive writers and use malware against progressive organizations, was also revealed to have constructed software eerily similar to what the Air Force sought.

“This contract was awarded to a firm called Ntrepid,” Speaks wrote to Raw Story. “In addition to the classified activities this software supports, USCENTCOM, like most military commands, does use social media to inform the public of our activities. I should emphasize that such uses do not employ the kind of technology that was the subject of this contract solicitation.”

Ntrepid Corporation, registered out of Los Angeles, bills itself as a privacy and identity protection firm in some job postings, and a national security contractor in others, but its official website was amazingly just one page deep and free of even a single word of description.

In spite of their thin online presence, Speaks said the firm was awarded $2,760,000 to carry out the “persona management” contract.

He added that it was unclear why the contract went to an unlisted bidder, and that he would try to find out and report back.

Update: On Wednesday morning, Speaks issued the following statement: “Federal Business Opportunities is a tool used to advertise Government requirements. When a requirement is posted on the FedBizOpps.gov website, potential offerors can enter their information into the interested vendors section but, they are not required to in order to be eligible to compete. Additionally, an offeror need not have access to the FedBizOpps.gov website in order to compete for Government contracts.”

Privacy? Or something else?

Ntrepid’s chief technology officer, Lance Cottrell, founded the privacy firm Anonymizer, Inc. in 1995, making him a global leader in identity protection and cryptography. He also runs theprivacyblog.com.

Far from just being involved in privacy efforts, Ntrepid is a player in the national security realm and was invited to give a presentation for the US EUCOM i3T conference, which took place in Berlin last week.

Event organizers described the affair as a series of talks “on the challenges to developing technology, demonstrations of advanced technology pertinent to facilitating and/or enabling security and stability, ways and means of analyzing socio-cultural risks and opportunities, and the operationalization and execution of solutions to mitigate or avail issues with U.S. and multinational partners.”

Featured speakers included the US EUCOM director of intelligence, the director of the Air Force Research Labratory and the chief information officer of the Defense Intelligence Agency, among other high-profile names.

While the company is remarkably scarce with information on their website, descriptions of the firm’s goals seem to vary depending on their job openings.

One post seeking a “senior QA test engineer,” filed with corporate candidate tracking firm Catsone.com, describes Ntrepid as “the global leader in online privacy, anonymity, and identity protection solutions”.

But another help wanted ad, seeking an “intelligence analyst” on Appone.com, described Ntrepid as “a leading provider of technology and managed services to national security customers in the areas of cyber operations, analytics, language engineering, and TTL”.

Its customers are both public and private sector, the ad said.

A Linked In profile of the company cited them as providers of “software, hardware, and managed services for cyber operations, analytics, linguistics, and surveillance.” It had at least 30 employees, according to the business networking site, all located in either San Diego or Washington, DC.

Cottrell himself has advocated on behalf of civil liberties, claiming that widespread Internet surveillance tends to provide no real security benefits.

Efforts to contract both Ntrepid Corporation and Mr. Cottrell did not trigger a response by late Tuesday. A phone number could not be located.

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Full Body Scanners At Dallas/Fort Worth Texas International Repeatedly Fail To Detect Handgun

February 21, 2011

DALLAS, TEXAS – An undercover TSA agent was able to get through security at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport with a handgun during testing of the enhanced-imaging body scanners, according to a high-ranking, inside source at the Transportation Security Administration.

The source said the undercover agent carried a pistol in her undergarments when she put the body scanners to the test. The officer successfully made it through the airport’s body scanners every time she tried, the source said.

“In this case, where they had a test, and it was just a dismal failure as I’m told,” said Larry Wansley, former head of security at American Airlines. “As I’ve heard (it), you got a problem, especially with a fire arm.”

Wansley said covert testing by the TSA is commonplace — although failing should be rare.

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First Time Offender Mom Sentenced To 10 Years In Oklahoma Prison For $31 In Pot Sales

February 21, 2011

TAFT, OKLAHOMA – Because of $31 in marijuana sales, Patricia Marilyn Spottedcrow is now serving 10 years in prison, has been taken away from her four young children and husband, and has ended her work in nursing homes.

Three days before Christmas, Spottedcrow, 25, entered the Eddie Warrior Correctional Center.

“I’m nervous … because it’s prison … people I don’t know,” she said.

“People said don’t get too comfortable here or you’ll be here longer. Don’t make too many friends. Come and do your time and get out.”

Marijuana transactions

On Dec. 31, 2009, Spottedcrow and her mother, Delita Starr, 50, sold a “dime bag” of marijuana to a police informant at Starr’s home in Kingfisher, court records state.

Starr handled the transaction and asked her 9-year-old grandson — Spottedcrow’s son — for some dollar bills to make change for the $11 sale.

Two weeks later, the same informant returned and bought $20 of marijuana from Spottedcrow.

The two women were arrested for drug distribution and because Spottedcrow’s children were in the home, an additional charge of possession of a dangerous substance in the presence of a minor was added.

“It just seemed like easy money,” said Spottedcrow, who says she is not a drug user but has smoked marijuana. “I thought we could get some extra money. I’ve lost everything because of it.”

The women were each offered plea deals of two years in prison. But because neither had prior convictions and the drug amounts were low, they gambled and entered a guilty plea before a judge with no prior sentencing agreement.

Starr received a 30-year suspended sentence with no incarceration, but five years of drug and alcohol assessments. Spottedcrow was sentenced to 10 years in prison for distribution and two years for possession, to run concurrently. She will be up for parole in 2014.

‘Cried for days’

Starr claims the cases have been “blown out of proportion” by lawmen and criticizes the sentences as stiff. “It shocked me and we cried for days,” she said. In addition, Starr was fined $8,600 and Spottedcrow $2,740.

“Never in a million years did I think I’d be here 10 years,” Spottedcrow said of prison.

“We were under the impression we would get probation. When I left for court, I just knew I was coming back home. It hit me like a ton of bricks. There were no goodbyes, they took me away right then. How do you tell your children you are going to prison? How do you prepare for this?”

Former Kingfisher County Judge Susie Pritchett, who retired in December, said the women were conducting “an extensive operation” and included children in the business.

“It was a way of life for them,” Pritchett said.

“Considering these circumstances, I thought it was lenient. By not putting the grandmother in prison, she is able to help take care of the children.”

A presentencing investigative report prepared by the Department of Corrections rated Spottedcrow’s risk of re-offending as “high” and recommended substance abuse treatment while incarcerated.

“It does not appear the defendant is aware that a problem exists or that she needs to make changes in her current behavior.”

Spottedcrow was unemployed and without a stable residence when arrested, the report states. The family lost their Oklahoma City home for not paying bills.

“When she needed money … this is the avenue she chose rather than finding legitimate employment,” the report states. “The defendant does not appear remorseful … and she makes justifications for her actions.”

‘Kids are involved’

Pritchett said on first drug offenses, sentences are usually suspended and may require treatment or random drug tests.

Only if there are other more serious circumstances is a first-time drug offender sent to prison, she said.

“When kids are involved, it’s different,” Pritchett said.

“This was a drug sale. When I look at someone in front of me, I’m thinking, ‘What is it going to take to rehabilitate this person?’ We look at their attitude and other factors.”

When Spottedcrow was taken to jail after her sentencing, she had marijuana in her jacket. She pleaded guilty to that additional charge Jan. 24 and was sentenced to two years in prison and fined nearly $1,300. That sentence also will run concurrent with her other conviction.

Spottedcrow has four children — ages 9, 4, 3 and 1 — and is determined to keep her 8-year, common-law marriage intact. “It’s been really hard on my husband,” she said. “I know a lot of things can happen, but he’ll always have my back and be there.”

Her son is aware of what has happened, but the girls have been told their mother is away at college.

“I missed my daughter’s fourth birthday, and I’ll miss her fifth one too. My other daughter just started talking, and I’m not there to hear her,” Spottedcrow said.

“My baby woke up … and doesn’t know where her mommy is. This is the hardest thing to do, and know I can’t do anything about it. I just have to focus on myself and take it day-to-day and plan for going home. I will want to see my kids at some point. I’m trying to take this slow. I can’t get depressed about it.”

Oklahoma’s two prisons for women — the maximum-security Mabel Bassett in McLoud and minimum-security Eddie Warrior in Taft — housed 2,622 prisoners last year.

Of those, 48 percent are serving time for nonviolent drug offenses and 22 percent for other nonviolent offenses such as embezzlement and forgery.

Of the 1,393 women received by Oklahoma prisons last year, 78 percent were identified by DOC as minimal public safety threats.

Most nonviolent offenders are housed at Eddie Warrior, an open campus with a walking track and six dormitories.

‘I’m already changed’

Spottedcrow knows she will need to find a new job skill because her work in the health field won’t be there because of her incarceration. She would like to open a boutique.

“Even though this seems like the worst thing … I’ve been blessed along the way,” she said. “It could have been worse. I’m happy my kids are safe and, ultimately, I’m safe. I’m thankful I still have a family.”

In a year, Spottedcrow will have a review and hopes to shorten her time in prison.

“I’m already changed,” she said. “This is a real eye-opener. I’m going to get out of here, be with my kids and live my life.”

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TSA Employee Charged With Kidnapping And Rape Was Previously Convicted Of Stalking And Harassment And Had Served Time In Jail. Hospitalized Now After Doing The Right – Trying To Kill Himself

November 26, 2010

ATLANTA, GEORGIA – Channel 2 Action News has learned a TSA security worker accused of abducting and sexually assaulting a woman had previously been convicted of misdemeanor harassment and stalking.

Randall King remains hospitalized following a suicide attempt. Police said last Wednesday, King agreed to drive a woman home from the airport. Instead, investigators said King took her to a MARTA station parking lot and placed novelty handcuffs on her.

Investigators said he drove her 50 miles away to his home in Troup County and sexually assaulted her. The woman told police that King gave her a suicide note, his car and let her go, investigators said.

A spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration said privacy laws precluded him from releasing any background information on King.

Channel 2 Action News reporter Tom Regan reviewed court records from Clinton County, Pennsylvania. According to the records, King was charged with nine offenses of harassment and stalking by communication in January 2001. A court clerk told Regan that King pleaded guilty and spent three months in jail for skipping a court appearance.

TSA has a long list of “disqualifying offenses” for employment at the federal agency that operates airport security. Those offenses include felonies, violent crimes, theft, and crimes involving security and transportation. Regan checked the list and found that it did not include misdemeanor offenses of harassing and stalking.

Brent Brown, a security expert who runs a company in Smyrna, told Regan that he believes a job candidate with a record of stalking should not be hired by the TSA.

“This type of misdemeanor, this is harassment. You’re putting a person in a public area. I would say that would disqualify him for employment,” said Brown.

Hogansville police told Channel 2 Action News that they have prepared warrants on the 49-year-old airport security worker but would not specify the nature of the charges.

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Florida HAZMAT Crew Called To School To Investigate Letter Sent To Principal With Feces

November 17, 2010

SANFORD, FLORIDA – A letter sent to the principal of Seminole High School contained what Sanford police believe to be human feces.

Investigators said it’s not clear who sent the envelope to the principal, but it is being turned over to investigators. It was sent through the United States Postal Service.

A hazmat crew responded to the scene, but they were able to determine the contents and clear the scene without having to lock down or evacuate the school.

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Our Tax Dollars At Work: 18 BILLION DOLLARS UNACCOUNTED FOR IN AFGHANISTAN

October 30, 2010

WASHINGTON, DC – Nearly 18 billion dollars earmarked for reconstruction in Afghanistan remain unaccounted for, snagged in a “labyrinth” of contract bureaucracy, a sweeping US government audit has shown.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said 17.7 billion dollars was obligated over three years to nearly 7,000 contractors, but the Pentagon, State Department and US Agency for International Development were unable to say how much money has been spent.

The audit addresses fiscal years 2007 through 2009, but the problems go back to 2002 when the United States began funding Afghan reconstruction, because “much of the data available from the agencies prior to 2007 was too poor to be analyzed,” the report said.

And years into the reconstruction there is still no central government database to monitor the projects from various US agencies and departments, SIGAR found in its report, which was seen Thursday by AFP.

“Prior to this audit report there was no comprehensive study on contractors and the money the US is spending through contractors on Afghan reconstruction,” said special inspector general Arnold Fields in the first such snapshot of the reconstruction contracting environment in war-torn Afghanistan.

“This audit is crucial because if we don’t even know who we’re giving money to, it is nearly impossible to conduct system-wide oversight.”

Reconstruction is a key component in a US-led anti-insurgency effort which seeks to stabilize the volatile south and east of Afghanistan, in part by helping Afghan farmers and improving local government.

Asked about the report, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said it did not come as a surprise and that the administration has been working to improve accountability.

“I don’t think we’re surprised that as we’re going through this, we’re going to have reports like this that show weaknesses,” Crowley told reporters.

He said the report would contribute to “our efforts to improve our cooperation with the Afghan government and improve the ability of the Afghan government to be responsible and accountable for the support that we do provide.”

The SIGAR said its report, addressed to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and US ambassador to Baghdad Karl Eikenberry, “shows that navigating the confusing labyrinth of government contracting is difficult, at best.”

It said the Department of Defense alone has four organizations set up to track Pentagon-funded contracts, but they do not share information. Cross-agency information sharing is also minimal, it found.

SIGAR, mandated by Congress to try and track reconstruction spending, identified nearly 7,000 contractor groups, including for-profit and non-profit groups as well as government agencies involved in Afghanistan.

Among the largest contracts, it said, is a deal worth 1.8 billion dollars to a US-based company to train Afghanistan’s national police forces, and 691 million dollars to an Afghan construction firm to build military facilities.

The future of the reconstruction effort in Afghanistan is believed to be in jeopardy because of President Hamid Karzai’s threatened ban on private security guards, which aid organizations rely on for protection.

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New York State Juvenile Corrections Workers Paid Nearly $90,000 To Do Nothing

October 30, 2010

FULTON COUNTY, NEW YORK – Some state workers make almost $90k to watch over juvenile detention facilities with no kids inside.

Taxpayers shell out about $3 million dollars a year to keep Tryon Detention Center open. Tryon is a juvenile detention facility located upstate New York in Fulton County.

And you can thank the New York State legislature for that bill. NY State Executive Law 501(15) requires the Office of Children’s and Family Services to give at least 12 months notice before closing any facility. So even if the facility has zero kids inside by law it cannot be closed for at least a year.

When asked about it Tryon’s union rep Frank Malagisi said, “No it’s not weird. That’s to look out for people’s families, New York State taxpayers’ families. You wouldn’t want someone to come to you and say you are out of a job tomorrow.”

When it comes to State Detention Facilities the empty Tryon Facility is the rule not the exception.

Commissioner Gladys Carrion tells Fox 5 News, “I inherited a system that has been a failure by any measure.”

Carrion says since 2008 she began reforms that included closing 16 upstate centers and group homes- saving $58 million dollars over a 2-year period.

But still only 661 juveniles are in the state system, and because of union rules and state law 2,134 employees watch over them. That comes to a cost of $228,000 dollars a year per kid in a secure facility and $298,000 dollars a year per kid in a non-secure facility. And all that money does little to keep these kids out of trouble, 88% of kids who leave the system get in trouble again.

Probation Commission Vincent Schiraldi tells Fox 5 News, “The quicker we can close these facilities that are underutilized, that are not good places for kids the more we will save the taxpayer.”

Right now it costs $169 million to run these facilities and New York City pays a big share of that cost- a share that city officials like Probation Commission Vincent Schiraldi want to cut down.

Schiraldi says, “Over the last 8 years we’ve reduced the number of kids in state run facilities by 62%. But the city is still going to pay 24 million more because the state keeps increasing the costs to pay for the staff that watch no kids.”

Commissioner Carrion tells Fox 5 News, “I think I could save a lot more money if I had the discretion to close facilities when we don’t need them anymore.”

But Commissioner Carrion’s cost cutting efforts make her a punching bag for unions that represent civil servants. C.S.E.A.’s representative, Stephen Madarasz says Carrion’s handling of the issue is “simply reckless and irresponsible.” And the unions have the support of many of the local legislators who have constituents that benefit from the relatively high-paying jobs.

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Buffalo New York Taxpayers Screwed Out Of Nearly $9 Million For Teachers Cosmetic Surgery

October 30, 2010

BUFFALO, NEW YORK – The state-appointed authority overseeing Buffalo public school finances says taxpayer-covered cosmetic surgery rung up by the city’s teachers totaled nearly $9 million in 2009.

The Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority reports that last year’s costs for such elective procedures as chemical peels and other skin treatments are up $8 million over the 2004 tab for cosmetic surgery provided under the teachers’ union contract.

School district officials say teachers or their dependents accounted for 90 percent of the approximately 500 people who received cosmetic surgery last year. About 10,000 district employees are eligible for the benefit.

The president of the teachers’ union says the union has agreed to give up the benefit in the next contract.

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New York Joint Terrorism Task Force Pissed Away 5 Months And Over $1 Million On Wild Goose Chase

October 25, 2010

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – A Queens man led the Joint Terrorism Task Force on a wild goose chase for five months about a bogus plot to attack Times Square, tying up dozens of agents and costing the government more than $1 million, authorities said.

Syed Omair Ali, 25, even wore a wire to secretly record conversations with several associates he claimed were plotting to attack targets in New York City.

It turned out he was trying, because of a business dispute, to falsely finger an associate as a terrorist, officials said.

“The FBI took this information very seriously,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Silver said in Brooklyn Federal Court.

Ali popped up on the feds’ radar May 12 when he sent an email to the FBI’s website claiming that he knew of a terrorist plot.

He identified one man who had “ties with the tribal guys back in Karachi, Pakistan, and has been planning on hurting our motherland,” according to the criminal complaint.

Another person he identified planned “to fund those guys back in Karachi, get the appropriate training there and come back and do the maximum damage.”

Silver said the investigation came to a head this month after Ali claimed that one of the plotters was traveling to Pakistan with a large sum of money and would be attending a terrorist training camp to prepare for the Times Square attack.

“I myself spent last Saturday night at FBI headquarters with probably 25 FBI and NYPD personnel and representatives of other agencies, and literally the agents worked around the clock,” Silver said.

But investigators started doubting Ali’s story and confronted him.

He folded like a cheap suit, admitting it was all a lie and that he was motivated in part to get one of the plotters in trouble because of a debt he owed the man, sources said.

Ali, a U.S. citizen, lived alone in Queens Village. His wife is in Pakistan. Unemployed, he formerly worked as a dispatcher for Pakistan International Airlines. He is being held without bail and faces up to eight years in prison for the allegedly false statements.

Defense attorney Kannan Sundaram did not return a call for comment.

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Can Of Cat Pedialyte Closes Xenia Ohio Intersection For Hours As Dayton Bomb Squad Investigates

October 18, 2010

XENIA, OHIO – The Dayton Bomb Squad was called to downtown Xenia early Monday morning after a suspicious package was found outside a bank.

A witness told police he saw someone leaving a container with foil and rubber bands on it outside the Huntington Bank on North Detroit Street.

The bomb squad was called out to investigate and the intersection was shutdown for several hours overnight Monday.

The contents were later determined to be pedialyte for cats, a substance to help keep cats hydrated.

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New York Taxpayers Paying Big Bills For Underused Prisons

October 5, 2010

NEW YORK – It does seem New York taxpayers are “sentenced to pay.” Our investigation found that when prison officials try to save money by closing prisons, they often find themselves fighting political interests.

Hudson Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison in Columbia County, feels like a ghost town: silence in the corridors, not a soul around, in room after room we saw the same thing — empty bed after empty bed, after bed empty bed.

The good news is that this is a New York state prison and there aren’t enough medium-security criminals to fill it. The Corrections Department consolidated, moved some prisoners elsewhere, and shut down Building 201 and Cottage 1A to reduce costs. But the bad news is as long as the prison remains open, the empty rooms cost you money.

Some of these dorms have been closed for more than a year and half, but the state still has to pay to keep them heated and maintained. Electricity still flows here and taxpayers foot the bill.

Two years ago Correctional Commissioner Brian Fisher tried close Hudson and other prisons to pare down his $3 billion budget.

“We’ve advocated in the past two and half years to close prisons that we could afford to give up,” Fisher said.

Hudson has only 265 full time inmates. But it has 229 employees. And five staffers each made over $120,000 in 2009 because of overtime.

The commissioner thinks he could save $15 million a year by closing it and $35 million over five years because the state wouldn’t have to fix-up and maintain the prison.

“The way to save real money is close entire facilities,” he said.

But Columbia County Supervisor Roy Brown said he “fought like hell to keep it open.”

He and others say the town of Hudson and Columbia County (just two hours from New York City) need the jobs and the prison workers.

“Columbia County just can’t afford to take a hit with that many employees leaving the area,” Brown said.

Hudson is a nice place. The town sits on a bluff overlooking the Hudson River. It has spectacular views of the Catskills. But scenery didn’t stop employers, manufacturing plants, from shutting down.

Recently the beauty has attracted new people from the city. They’re fixing up houses and opening shops that draw tourists.

“So it’s important for us to have a vibrant business base and continue to give people a reason to come to Hudson and Columbia County,” said David Colby, the president of the Chamber of Commerce.

A vibrant business base means regulars, locals who spend in the town every day. And they need jobs to do that. With a median income of $35,000 a year, Columbia County long-time locals often scramble for jobs.

Small businesses count on prison employees. So although there are empty beds, and tens of millions of tax dollars could be saved local officials pressured state politicians to keep the prison open.

“I don’t think in an election year right now anyone would say that we should close this prison,”

Right now Hudson is off the closing list. Jobs remain, and so do the costs. Fox 5 asked County Supervisor Brown if it is odd that payers are subsidizing these jobs in a prison that is under-utilized.

“It may be a little odd,” Brown said. “But some of the benefactors are the people who live here.”

There are no apologies because the community is protecting its own. And this isn’t the only community that’s fought to keep a prison open. This year the commissioner wanted to close four upstate prisons and was only able to close one and half because of political pressure.

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Clallam County Washington Sheriff’s Department Investigation Finds Jupiter

October 2, 2010

PORT ANGELES, WASHINGTON — If you see a shiny object in the night sky hovering just above the southeast horizon, don’t worry.

It’s just Jupiter.

The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office responded to a call early Thursday morning from a Blue Mountain Road resident who was concerned about an unidentified flying object spotted on the horizon, said Undersheriff Ron Peregrin.

“We took a look at it through our binoculars,” he said, and determined that it was Jupiter, the largest plant in the solar system.

Peregrin said dispatchers received several more calls that morning from people mistaking Jupiter for a UFO, although he didn’t know how many.

Jupiter last week was the closest it has gotten to the Earth in decades, said John Gallagher, who heads Port Angeles High School’s astronomy club. It passed 368 million miles away, its closest pass since 1963.

Jupiter dominates the evening sky in October, appearing low in the southeast after sunset in the early part of the month, then higher and higher as the month progresses.

Look for the nearly full moon above Jupiter on the evening of Oct. 19.

“Last night was clear and beautiful, so lots of people were noticing it,” Gallagher said in an e-mail on Thursday.

“It will continue to be big, bright and beautiful this fall.”

Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and by far the largest.

Jupiter is more than twice as massive as all the other planets combined (the mass of Jupiter is 318 times that of Earth).

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Navy Pilots Caught Playing In Lake Tahoe With 33 Million Dollar Helicopters

September 25, 2010

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA — Two Navy helicopter pilots from North Island Naval Air Station have been grounded over a YouTube video that allegedly shows them dipping the $33 million aircrafts into Lake Tahoe.

In the video taken Sept. 14, both helicopters hit the water and one seems to spin out of control and crash into the water before its pilot apparently pulls the craft back into the air.

A Navy spokesman confirmed that the video was genuine footage of two MH-60 Romeo helicopters from North Island’s Helicopter Maritime Strike 41 squadron, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

Former Air Force pilot Chuck Grace said after watching the video it was incredible the pilot was able to pull the aircraft out of the water but wondered what they were doing over Lake Tahoe.

“These two pilots shouldn’t have been where they were, shouldn’t have been that low and shouldn’t have been what they were doing, I think,” said Grace.

North Island Naval Air Forces command spokesman Lt. Aaron Kakiel told the newspaper the pilots were grounded pending an aviation mishap board investigation.

Lake Tahoe is not a normal training area for Navy pilots. The helicopters were being flown home to North Island from an air show at Mather Air Force Base near Sacramento, the Union-Tribune reported.

Former naval aviator Jim Kidrick said it would not be out of the ordinary to do some training while on the way back.

“You have a tremendous amount of free air space that is everywhere that you can do certain things so long as it is within the bounds of the legality we fly within,” said Kidrick.

Damage to the helicopters was estimated at between $50,000 and $500,000, according to the newspaper, which reported that the grounded pilots had to land at Lake Tahoe Airport following the incident and a different set of pilots eventually flew the helicopters home.

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Feds And Florida Police Stop Reporter From Digging In Beach Sand Without A Permit – Can’t Dig, Even To Make A Sand Castle

September 24, 2010

FLORIDA – A federal official and a police officer told a local Florida news reporter that digging in the sand wasn’t allowed without a permit.

Reporters for the local news station WEAR ABC 3 were out on the beach shooting a story about oil found below the sand when they were accosted by a federal official and then later a police officer who told them they were barred from digging in the sand because they didn’t have the necessary permits. Even if they wanted to build a sand castle.

This is beyond ridiculous but not surprising in the least bit. From the start of the BP spill, the government and BP have colluded to suppress information every step along the way. The less we know, the better for them.

Most likely they’ll succeed in skirting any responsibility or enacting major reforms. Why? Because the government makes the rules and because people have short memories.

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Los Angeles California Pissed Away Stimulus Funds Creating Jobs – Each Position Cost U.S. Taxpayers Between 1 To 2 Million Dollars Each

September 17, 2010

The Los Angeles City Controller said on Thursday the city’s use of
its share of the $800 billion federal stimulus fund has been
disappointing.

The city received $111 million in stimulus under American Recovery
and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) approved by the Congress more than year ago.

“I’m disappointed that we’ve only created or retained 55 jobs after
receiving $111 million,” says Wendy Greuel, the city’s controller, while
releasing an audit report.

“With our local unemployment rate over 12% we need to do a better job
cutting red tape and putting Angelenos back to work,” she added.

According to the report, the Los Angeles Department of Public Works
generated only 45.46 jobs (the fraction of a job created or retained
correlates to the number of actual hours works) after receiving $70.65
million, while the target was 238 jobs.

Similarly, the city’s department of transportation, armed with a
$40.8 million fund, created only 9 jobs in place of an expected 26 jobs.

The audit says the numbers were disappointing due to bureaucratic red
tape, absence of competitive bidding for projects in private sectors,
inappropriate tracking of stimulus money and a laxity in bringing out
timely job reports.

“While it doesn’t appear that any of the ARRA funds were misspent,
the City needs to do a better job expediting the process and creating
jobs,” she said.

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Pentagon Wastes Billions Of Tax Dollars In Iraq, But Investigation Of Its Own Employees Child Pornography Downloads Fizzled Due To “Lack Of Resources”

September 15, 2010

WASHINGTON, DC – The Department of Defense will reopen its investigation into employees who are alleged to have downloaded child pornography after stopping the reviews because of a lack of resources, a spokesman said Wednesday.

The Pentagon’s Defense Criminal Investigative Service will review 264 cases, according to spokesman Gary Comerford.

Some of the cases may be referred to military criminal investigations, while cases where it appears a criminal investigation cannot be done will be sent to Defense Department leadership for consideration.

The incidents were part of Project Flicker, a nationwide child pornography sting conducted several years ago by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. The Department of Defense released documents pertaining to the sting earlier this summer.

A Yahoo News investigation found that only a fifth of the cases had been followed up by the department after it was informed by federal investigators of employee involvement.

“I have tasked Defense Criminal Investigative Service representatives with reviewing each and every Project Flicker and related referral DCIS received so as to ensure action was taken regarding these allegations involving employees of the Department of Defense,” Deputy Inspector General for Investigations James Burch said in a statement released Wednesday.

Among the employees identified in a series of reports released by the department were some listed as having security clearances at the top secret level or higher. They worked for groups within the department such as the National Security Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office, two of the country’s top intelligence agencies.

Some of the employees are suspected of having used their work computers to view pornographic websites.

Some employees involved in the investigation have pleaded guilty to charges of child pornography, but other inquiries were dropped or are still open. One case against a Defense Department contractor who allegedly admitted to having viewed pornographic material of children was dropped “due to a lack of resources,” according to one of the reports from 2009.

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Stimulus Spending Cost US Taxpayers Over $800,000 For Third World Hellhole Penis Washing Study

September 14, 2010

WASHINGTON, DC – The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), spent $823,200 of economic stimulus funds in 2009 on a study by a UCLA research team to teach uncircumcised African men how to wash their genitals after having sex.

The genitalia-washing program is part of a larger $12-million UCLA study examining how to better encourage Africans to undergo voluntary HIV testing and counseling – however, only the penis-washing study received money from the 2009 economic stimulus law. The washing portion of the study is set to end in 2011.

“NIH Announces the Availability of Recovery Act Funds for Competitive Revision Applications,” the grant abstract states. “We propose to evaluate the feasibility of a post-coital genital hygiene study among men unwilling to be circumcised in Orange Farm, South Africa.”

Because AIDS researchers have been unsuccessful in convincing most adult African men to undergo circumcision, the UCLA study proposes to determine whether researchers can develop an after-sex genitalia-washing regimen that they can then convince uncircumcised African men to follow.

“The aim of the proposed feasibility study is to evaluate the feasibility and acceptability of a post-coital male genital hygiene procedure, which participants will be asked to practice immediately post-coitus or at least 12 hours after,” reads the abstract.

Entitled “Community-Based HIV VCT: South Africa,” the name of the broader umbrella project, the program plans to test how well received the penis-washing regimen is among South African men.

If most of the men in the study wash their genitals after sex, are willing to do so after the study ends, and report that their partners accept the regimen, the researchers will develop another study to see if the “penile cleansing procedure” actually works to prevent HIV infections.

“If we find that men are able to practice consistent washing practices after sex, we will plan to test whether this might protect men from becoming HIV infected in a later study,” the grant says.

The study’s lead investigator Dr. Thomas J. Coates was the fourth highest-funded researcher in the country in 2002 and is currently conducting HIV research on three continents.

CNSNews.com asked both Coates and NIMH the following question: “The Census Bureau says the median household income in the United States is $52,000. How would you explain to the average American mom and dad — who make $52,000 per year — that taxing them to pay for this grant was justified?”

Coates, who was unavailable for comment, directed CNSNews.com to ask grant-related questions of his assistant, Darya Freedman, who did not respond.

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UK Child Banned From Visiting America For Life After Calling Obama A “Prick” In An eMail

September 14, 2010

BEDFORD, UK – A British teenager who sent an email to the White House calling President Obama an obscenity was banned from America for life, The Sun reported Monday.

The FBI asked local cops to tell college student Luke Angel, 17, his drunken insult was “unacceptable.”

Angel said he fired off a single email criticizing the U.S. government after seeing a TV program about the 9/11 attacks.

He said, “I don’t remember exactly what I wrote as I was drunk. But I think I called Barack Obama a p***k. It was silly — the sort of thing you do when you’re a teenager and have had a few.”

Angel, of Bedford, in central England, said it was “a bit extreme” for the FBI to act. “The police came and took my picture and told me I was banned from America forever. I don’t really care but my parents aren’t very happy.”

A Bedford Police spokesman confirmed they had spoken to Angel about the email. Officers will take no criminal action.

Joanne Ferreira, of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said there are about 60 reasons a person can be barred from visiting America.

She said, “We are prohibited from discussing specific cases.”

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US Pisses Away Tax Dollars Targeting Some Canadian Guy Who Sold Pot Seeds – Now, 5 Years Of Imprisonment Added To US Taxpayers Burden

September 11, 2010

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON — Sentenced to five years behind bars, Canada’s Prince of Pot Marc Emery was led off to an American penitentiary Friday repenting his seed-selling sins and professing love for his wife.

“I love you Jodie!” he mouthed silently to her as he was led away.

There may be a place for and time for a debate over the legalization of marijuana the judge told him, but this is not the time or the place — marijuana is illegal.

In a beige prisoner’s jumpsuit, Emery sat throughout the 15-minute hearing with his hands folded under his chin.

His wife Jodie Emery sat stoically the public gallery with about 40 supporters, press and undercover law-enforcement officers.

Seeds traced to grow houses in every region of the U.S. were linked to Emery according to the prosecution, and the original DEA press release called Emery one of the “most wanted international drug trafficking organizational targets — one of only 46 in the world and the only one from Canada.”

Judge Ricardo Martinez, of the western Washington district court, told the 52-year-old Vancouver businessman that he had grown up along the Canadian border and was saddened by what illegal drugs have done to both countries.

“I regret the example we set,” Emery told him, “and I won’t be doing that again.

“I’d like to point out though that it made it sound like I’m a bad guy . . . but I had very good intentions and wanted to be considered a proper participant in our society. I do believe that these prohibition laws create a lot of problems and create organized crime.”

It was a sad emotional end to a 30-year public career by the staunch libertarian most Canadians considered a benign and charismatic political prankster.

The U.S. prosecutors said he was the “largest [pot seed] distributor in North America and at least the largest into the United States . . . .no doubt he sold millions of marijuana seeds that produced millions of marijuana plants in the U.S.”

Outside the federal courthouse, a small group protested his sentence.

Emery said he now realizes that some of the methods he chose to fund his efforts to repeal the marijuana prohibition were “ill-conceived and ultimately destructive.”

In a letter given to the judge prior to sentencing, Emery said he was “over-zealous and reckless” and “acted arrogantly in violation of U.S. federal law.

“I regret not choosing other methods — legal ones — to achieve my goals of peaceful political reform.”

It sounded as sincere as Galileo’s confession.

Emery has been a political activist for three decades — fighting Sunday business-closing laws in Ontario, Canada’s national ban on drug literature and, of course, the marijuana prohibition.

A Canadian citizen and president of the B.C. Marijuana Party, Emery has run for office several times.

In furtherance of his goal of legalizing cannabis, for many years he sold marijuana seeds around the world through catalogue sales.

“This was not a business that operated underground, or even in the shadows,” Richard Troberman, Emery’s lawyer told the court.

“On the contrary, Marc openly operated his seed distribution business (“Marc Emery Direct”) from a storefront in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, as well as over the internet; through telephone sales; direct mail sales; and though other media outlets. Revenue Canada gladly accepted taxes on all of his sales, which were duly reported to the appropriate taxing authorities. Virtually all of the profits from the business went to funding lawful efforts to legalize marijuana in Canada and the United States through the political process.”

Crown counsel in Canada refused to prosecute Emery but under the former Republican presidency the U.S. ramped up its war on drugs and targeted Emery because of his political profile.

“The Attorney General’s true motive — which was to silence Mr. Emery’s political activity — could not be more clear,” Troberman said.

Emery was indicted in Seattle on May 26, 2005 for conspiracy to manufacture marijuana and arrested in Halifax on an extradition warrant a few days later.

He was held in custody from Aug. 2 through Aug. 5, 2005. Emery remained free until Sept. 2009 when a tentative plea bargain was reached and he surrendered himself into custody Sept. 28.

He remained imprisoned in Canada until Nov. 18, when he was released to await the Justice Minister’s final determination of his extradition.

On May 10, Emery was told the minister had refused his last-ditch appeal and went back into jail.

He was transported to the U.S. May 20 and has remained imprisoned since.

Emery admitted selling more then 4 million seeds, 75 per cent to U.S. customers.

He asked to be housed in the federal correctional institution at Lompoc, Calif., so he can continue to be visited by his wife. The judge recommended that.

After his sentencing, Emery’s lawyers delivered a request to the Canadian consul for a prison transfer to Canada.

His B.C. lawyer Kirk Tousaw said that if all went well, Emery could be serving his time in a Canadian institution within a year.

“I received hundreds of letters and emails, most of them favourable to you,” Judge Martinez said.

“One in crayon,” he quipped, “others quite well written, very thoughtful, making some very interesting points. I know five years is a long time. I wish you the best.”

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Army Of Cops To Arrive At Ground Zero Amid Continuing Islamic Efforts To Desecrate Site With A Mosque

September 10, 2010

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – The NYPD has called up “an army of cops” to handle rival protests expected to draw thousands to the site of the planned Ground Zero mosque on the anniversary of 9/11, sources said yesterday.

“We want to keep everyone in their corners. You don’t want the opposing sides to clash,” an NYPD official told The Post. “All eyes are going to be on New York City that day. No one wants to see a fight on Sept. 11.”

With as many as 4,000 riled-up demonstrators expected to pack into two blocks of Park Place between West Broadway and Broadway — the site of the proposed mosque — the department is sparing no expense to keep the peace, the official said.

“There’ll be an army of cops down there,” the official said, estimating the number of officers at several hundred.

The dueling rallies — to be held tomorrow, on the ninth anniversary of the terror attacks — will pit mosque supporters against those who believe that the site shouldn’t be so close to Ground Zero.

The demonstrators will square off on opposite sides of Park Place, the site of the controversial Park51 center, after 9/11 commemorations conclude at noon in nearby Zuccotti Park, off Liberty Street.

But no matter where they stand on the mosque issue, some people questioned the appropriateness of protesting on Sept. 11.

“My own view — irrespective how you feel about the mosque — I don’t think you have it that day. It’s totally disrespectful,” said Tom Acquaviva, 70, of Wayne, NJ, who lost his son, Paul, 29, an employee of Cantor Fitzgerald, in the attack.

But Pamela Geller, a founder of Stop Islamization of America, which is organizing the anti-mosque rally, said 9/11 family members have begged her to soldier on.

Geller said she has urged supporters to carry US flags rather than potentially inflammatory, slogan-emblazoned signs, to show they come in peace.

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FBI Harassed Pastor Who Has Every Right To Burn Qurans

September 10, 2010

GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA – FBI agents visited Thursday with a minister of a small Florida church that plans to burn the Quran on Sept. 11, as public safety became a paramount concern and President Barack Obama added his voice to the chorus of opposition.

Elsewhere, hundreds of angry Afghans burned an American flag and chanted “Death to the Christians” to protest the planned burning of Islam’s holiest text.

Obama urged the Rev. Terry Jones to “listen to those better angels” and call off his plan.

In an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Obama said what Jones proposes “is completely contrary to our values as Americans. This country has been built on the notion of freedom and religious tolerance.”

The FBI spent about a half hour talking with Jones, but church spokesman Wayne Sapp would not disclose what they discussed. Agents leaving the church wouldn’t talk to an Associated Press reporter.

Jones said earlier this week that agents have visited him twice since he announced his plans in July, the last visit about two weeks ago.

Jones will make a statement later Thursday that will address the FBI visit and the president’s statement imploring him to cancel the burning and calling it a “stunt,” his spokesman said.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said he would closely monitor what happens Saturday at the Dove Outreach Center in Gainesville to try to ensure people are safe. U.S. embassies around the world will be doing the same after being ordered by the State Department to assess their security. Officials fear the burning could spark anti-American violence, including against soldiers.

“In addition to being offensive, the Gainesville protest puts at risk those brave Americans who are fighting abroad for the freedoms and values that we believe in as Americans,” said Crist, who is running as an independent for the U.S. Senate.

The international police organization Interpol issued a global alert to its 188 member-countries determining “strong likelihood” of violent attacks if the burn goes forward. Interpol said in a statement that Pakistan’s interior minister, Rehman Malik, called the organization and asked it to warn other police forces around the world of an increased terror threat.

In Afghanistan, local officials in Mahmud Raqi, the capital of the Kapisa province some 60 miles northeast of Kabul, estimated that up to 4,000 people protested the planned burning. But NATO spokesman James Judge said there were between 500 to 700 people. Judge added that the Quran burning is “precisely the kind of activity the Taliban uses to fuel their propaganda efforts to reduce support” for coalition forces.

Despite the mounting pressure to call off the bonfire, Jones said he has received much encouragement and supporters have sent him copies of the Quran to burn.

“As of right now, we are not convinced that backing down is the right thing,” said Jones, 58, who took no questions at a news conference Wednesday.

Jones said in an interview with USA Today that he had not been contacted by the White House, State Department or Pentagon. If such a call comes, he said, “that would cause us to definitely think it over. That’s what we’re doing now. I don’t think a call from them is something we would ignore.”

At Wednesday’s news conference, Jones was flanked by an armed escort and said he has received more than 100 death threats since announcing in July that he would stage “International Burn-a-Koran Day.” The book, according to Jones, is evil because it espouses something other than biblical truth and incites radical, violent behavior among Muslims.

Muslims consider the Quran the word of God and insist it be treated with the utmost respect. At least one cleric in Afghanistan said it is the duty of Muslims to react and that could mean killing Americans.

In Gainesville, police will already be dealing with some 90,000 football fans Saturday and even more tailgaters for the Florida-South Florida game.

Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe condemned the church’s plans and asked residents to watch for suspicious behavior. At least one counter-protest was planned by a University of Florida student group.

City officials were increasing security, but wouldn’t go into detail about how many extra officers will be used, saying only that they were coordinating with other cities and tallying expenses.

“We are sending a bill for services to the Dove World Outreach Center. We’re tracking our costs,” said city spokesman Bob Woods. “I’m sure the cost will be substantial.”

Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, e-mailed The Associated Press to say “images of the burning of a Quran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan — and around the world — to inflame public opinion and incite violence.” It comes as an emotional debate continues over a proposed Islamic center near the ground zero site of the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that the pastor’s plans were outrageous, and along with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, urged Jones to cancel the event.

Not just the Democratic administration has weighed in. Ex-Alaska governor and former Republican candidate for vice president Sarah Palin said in a Facebook post that although people have the constitutional right to burn the Quran, doing so would be an “insensitive and an unnecessary provocation — much like building a mosque at ground zero.”

Conservative radio and television host Glenn Beck wrote in an Internet blog that burning the Quran is like burning the flag or the Bible — something people can do in the United States, but shouldn’t. Legal experts have said the burning would likely be protected by the First Amendment’s right to free speech.

The foreign ministries of Pakistan and the Gulf nation of Bahrain issued some of the first official denunciations in the Muslim world, with Bahrain calling it a “shameful act which is incompatible with the principles of tolerance and coexistence.” Bahrain is home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, which is responsible for naval forces in the Persian Gulf.

The president of Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, has also sent a letter to Obama asking him to stop the bonfire.

In Pakistan, about 200 lawyers and civil society members marched and burned a U.S. flag in the central Pakistani city of Multan, demanding that Washington halt the burning of the Muslim holy book.

“If Quran is burned, it would be beginning of destruction of America,” read one English-language banner held up by the protesters, who chanted “Down with America!”

Jones’ Dove Outreach Center is independent of any denomination. It follows the Pentecostal tradition, which teaches that the Holy Spirit can manifest itself in the modern day. Pentecostals often view themselves as engaged in spiritual warfare against satanic forces.

The Vatican also denounced the protest and a religious watchdog group, Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said it would send a copy of the Quran to the Afghan National Army for every one that might be burned.

Franklin Graham, the son of evangelist Billy Graham, tried to call Jones twice on Wednesday but was unable to reach him and has now written him a letter urging him not to proceed, according to a spokesman.

“It’s never right to deface or destroy sacred texts or writings of other religions even if you don’t agree with them,” Franklin Graham said in a statement.

In 2001, Graham described Islam as evil. The U.S. Army earlier this year rescinded his invitation to speak at a Pentagon prayer breakfast after a religious freedom group raised an objection, citing his past remarks.

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New York City Police Block Street And Waste Over An Hour Investigating “Suspicious” Mercedes Parked Ouside Fancy Hotel

September 2, 2010

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – A suspicious car parked in front of a famed hotel in midtown caused a panic before cops declared the area safe Thursday afternoon, police said.

The black Mercedes Benz – which had a summons tucked on the windshield – was parked for several hours in front of the Waldorf-Astoria on Park Ave. near E. 51st St. before someone called 911 at about 3:30 p.m., cops said.

Bomb squad technicians investigated the vehicle for over an hour, combing through every item inside the car, police said.

Police blocked off the street from E. 50th to E. 57th Sts. just before the evening rush, police said.

Finding nothing inside the luxury sedan, cops opened the streets about 5 p.m., police said.

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Dogs Kill Mobile Alabama Police Department’s Mini Ponies – Tax Dollars Funding Tiny Ponies???

August 31, 2010

MOBILE, ALAMABA – Two miniature ponies owned by the Mobile Police Department were mauled and killed by dogs, police said today.

Around 1:50 a.m. Tuesday morning, an officer on patrol heard dogs yelping and found at least six dogs attacking the ponies, Woggie and Little Joe, at the department’s stable at 1251 Virginia Street, according to spokesman Christopher Levy.

The ponies were taken to a veterinarian’s office, where they later died, Levy said. Police caught three of the dogs, and set traps to catch the others.

Levy said the dogs had killed at least eight cats at the stable in recent months, and officers who worked there regularly tried to keep the dogs away from the stable.

Police believe that someone owns the dogs, but the owners, who could face criminal charges, had not yet been traced.

“These dogs have been running around for a long time,” Levy said. “It’s unacceptable that absolutely no effort was made to keep up these dogs.”

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6 Year Old Dismissed Charge For $5 Worth Of Marijuana Makes Man Unfit To Join U.S. Military

August 29, 2010

CALIFORNIA – All the running and weight-training honed Martin Gilbert’s wiry 120-pound, 5-foot-9 frame into peak condition.

He fully expected to be in Army boot camp by September. He wanted to be ready.

Joining the Army, Gilbert says is something he counted on since he was 8 years old and first got an eyeful of military equipment in a Texas surplus store.

His desire comes from a mix of “love of country,” a deep respect for the military and hearing his politically conservative father express regrets, over the years, at not having served himself.

“I think I have the determination, the will and the work ethic,”

Gilbert said Friday in a Marina home where he rents a room.

At 25, Gilbert has two years of community college, a B-plus grade-average, a resume that contains a mix of retail electronics, construction labor and coffeehouse jobs. He has been out of work a few months — living off savings, selling his beloved camera equipment and getting no response to many job applications. Gilbert figures it was time to make the dream come true.

“I knew I was going into the military,” he said.

But that hope came crashing down Wednesday when an Army recruiter informed him that a minor marijuana case stemming from his senior year at Carmel Valley High School in 2004 has made him morally unfit for today’s Army.

“I had tried it one or two times and got caught with about $5 worth at school,” he said. A random check by sheriff’s deputies with drug-sniffing dogs snared him and another kid. Gilbert had just turned 18.

The misdemeanor marijuana possession charge was dismissed after Gilbert paid a fine and attended drug education sessions. “They told me it would drop off my record,” he said.

But the military burrows into juvenile and adult court records — even those that are sealed, expunged or dismissed — in making background checks on recruits. And current Army rules disqualify anyone with a case involving illegal drugs on his record — dismissed or not.

“They have tightened it up,” said Mark Howell, spokesman for the Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox, Ky.

The 6-year-old case slipped Gilbert’s mind when he first started talking with an Army recruiter in Seaside. But he said he brought it up just to make sure that he couldn’t be accused of hiding anything.

This week, the recruiter told him he couldn’t go in the Army.

“I was devastated,” Gilbert said. “It felt like my life passed before my eyes.”

Gilbert grew up in Big Sur and Marin County, living off and on with parents who divorced when he was 8. He figures he has used marijuana about five to 10 times in his life, and the last time was about two years ago.

Gilbert understands the Army rule, and he knows the military invests a lot of money in each recruit.

But in a country where tens of millions of people have used marijuana and talk of legalizing the drug is common — as with Proposition 19 on California’s November ballot — Gilbert views the Army’s current rules as misguided.

“Their screening process seems flawed … a misdemeanor marijuana charge when I was in high school, it just shocks me,” he said.

Sgt. Richard Teunis, an Army recruiter in Seaside, said he could not talk about Gilbert’s case because of privacy rules. But he confirmed that a case like his would automatically disqualify a recruit in today’s Army.

“The Army considers any adverse disposition just like a guilty plea,” he said. “It’s a discussion we have had many time with the juvenile courts.”

Teunis has seen other young people in Gilbert’s situation. “They are disappointed,” he said. “It’s unfortunate but this is a federal job, and we have to go by those regulations.”

Things are different with military recruiting today — as high unemployment, the allure of job training and benefits, and help with college costs are making many eager to enlist, Howell said.

“It’s a common misperception that the Army is your last resort,” he said. “That was the viewpoint in the 1970s, but it’s not really the case anymore.

“So many people want to join that it’s making it more difficult to get in,” Howell said.

The Army already has enlisted about 61,000 of it 74,500-recruit goal for the year, and basic training for some recruits is being delayed up to 14 months.

“We’re meeting our goals, and at the same time our quality numbers are going up,” Howell said.

It’s not just young men and women coming from high school or junior colleges, but the Army is recruiting more people with four-year college and graduate degrees, Howell said.

Gilbert doesn’t want to abandon his dream. He’s hoping for a waiver, or, perhaps, a change in policy. “I don’t want to give up hope,” he said.

He admits he made a mistake, but a lot of people make mistakes — many of them far more serious than having a tiny amount of marijuana.

“I don’t hold it against them. I just think they are going about it the wrong way,” he said.

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Department Of Homeland Security Giving Up On Thousands Of Immigration Deportations – Back Door Amnesty For Illegals

August 25, 2010

WASHINGTON, DC – The Department of Homeland Security is systematically reviewing thousands of pending immigration cases and moving to dismiss those filed against suspected illegal immigrants who have no serious criminal records, according to several sources familiar with the efforts.

Culling the immigration court system dockets of noncriminals started in earnest in Houston about a month ago and has stunned local immigration attorneys, who have reported coming to court anticipating clients’ deportations only to learn that the government was dismissing their cases.

Richard Rocha, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman, said Tuesday that the review is part of the agency’s broader, nationwide strategy to prioritize the deportations of illegal immigrants who pose a threat to national security and public safety. Rocha declined to provide further details.

Critics assailed the plan as another sign that the Obama administration is trying to create a kind of backdoor “amnesty” program.

Raed Gonzalez, an immigration attorney who was briefed on the effort by Homeland Security’s deputy chief counsel in Houston, said DHS confirmed that it’s reviewing cases nationwide, though not yet to the pace of the local office. He said the others are expected to follow suit soon.

Gonzalez, the liaison between the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which administers the immigration court system, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said DHS now has five attorneys assigned full time to reviewing all active cases in Houston’s immigration court.

Gonzalez said DHS attorneys are conducting the reviews on a case-by-case basis. However, he said they are following general guidelines that allow for the dismissal of cases for defendants who have been in the country for two or more years and have no felony convictions.

In some instances, defendants can have one misdemeanor conviction, but it cannot involve a DWI, family violence or sexual crime, Gonzalez said.
Massive backlog of cases

Opponents of illegal immigration were critical of the dismissals.

“They’ve made clear that they have no interest in enforcing immigration laws against people who are not convicted criminals,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for strict controls.

“This situation is just another side effect of President Obama’s failure to deliver on his campaign promise to make immigration reform a priority in his first year,” said U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. “Until he does, state and local authorities are left with no choice but to pick up the slack for prosecuting and detaining criminal aliens.”

Gonzalez called the dismissals a necessary step in unclogging a massive backlog in the immigration court system. In June, there were more than 248,000 cases pending in immigration courts across the country, including about 23,000 in Texas, according to data compiled by researchers at Syracuse University.
‘Absolutely fantastic’

Gonzalez said he went into immigration court downtown on Monday and was given a court date in October 2011 for one client. But, he said, the government’s attorney requested the dismissal of that case and those of two more of his clients, and the cases were dispatched by the judge.

The court “was terminating all of the cases that came up,” Gonzalez said. “It was absolutely fantastic.”

“We’re all calling each other saying, ‘Can you believe this?’ ” said John Nechman, another Houston immigration attorney, who had two cases dismissed.

Attorney Elizabeth Mendoza Macias, who has practiced in Houston for 17 years, said she had cases for several clients dismissed during the past month and eventually called DHS to find out what was going on. She said she was told by a DHS trial attorney that 2,500 cases were under review in Houston.

“I had five (dismissed) in one week, and two more that I just received,” Mendoza said. “And I am expecting many more, many more, in the next month.”

Her clients, all previously charged with being in the country illegally, included:

An El Salvadoran man married to a U.S. citizen who has two U.S.-born children. The client had a pending asylum case in the court system, but the case was not particularly strong. Now that his case is terminated, he will be eligible to obtain permanent residency through his wife, Mendoza said.

A woman from Cameroon, who was in removal proceedings after being caught by the U.S. Border Patrol, had her case terminated by the government. She meets the criteria of a trafficking victim, Mendoza said, and can now apply for a visa.
Memo outlines priorities

Immigrants who have had their cases terminated are frequently left in limbo, immigration attorneys said, and are not granted any form of legal status.

“It’s very, very key to understand that these aliens are not being granted anything in court. They are still here illegally. They don’t have work permits. They don’t have Social Security numbers,” Mendoza said. “ICE is just saying, ‘At this particular moment, we are not going to proceed with trying to remove you from the United States.’ ”

In a June 30 memo, ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton outlined the agency’s priorities, saying it had the capacity to remove about 400,000 illegal immigrants annually — about 4 percent of the estimated illegal immigrant population in the country. The memo outlines priorities for the detention and removal system, putting criminals and threats to national security at the top of the list.
Up to 17,000 cases

On Tuesday, ICE officials provided a copy of a new policy memo from Morton dated Aug. 20 that instructs government attorneys to review the court cases of people with pending applications to adjust status based on their relation to a U.S. citizen. Morton estimates in the memo that the effort could affect up to 17,000 cases.

Tre Rebsock, the ICE union representative in Houston, said even if the efforts involve only a fraction of the pending immigration cases, “that’s going to make our officers feel even more powerless to enforce the laws.”

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Empty Apartment Surrenders To Boston Police SWAT Team And K-9 Units After 4 Hour Stand-Off

August 23, 2010

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – A Boston Police Department special operations team and dozens of police units stood outside a Mission Hill apartment for four tense hours last night thinking they were engaged in a standoff with armed robbery suspects. But when they finally went into the multifamily last night, no one was inside.

Police responded to a Fenwood Road building around 5:15 p.m. yesterday after a man flagged down a patrol car and said two men had just robbed him at gunpoint inside an apartment there.

Special operations officers responded and surrounded the house. Police received a search warrant before finally entering the home around 9:30 p.m. No one was inside.

“It was just an allegation of a robbery. The suspect was supposedly inside this location. We secured it. SWAT came down, made an entry, the suspects made good with their escape, and it’s under investigation by the detectives,’’ said Police Lieutenant Trent Holland at the scene.

Residents close to the scene were evacuated from their homes.

Jimmy Sledge, 52, said he lives in the house where the suspect or suspects were allegedly barricaded.

“The police came in and they said something was wrong, and get out,’’ Sledge said last night, clutching a blanket while sitting in a wheelchair a block away from his home. “It scared me.’’

Two Boston police K-9 dogs, one of them trained to detect firearms, were seen entering after officers stormed the house.

Holland said the intense police response was standard procedure.

“Anytime there’s an allegation of an armed person within an apartment someplace, we have to mobilize the Emergency Services Unit,’’ he said.

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Taxdollars To Fund Ebonics Experts For US Justice Department

August 23, 2010

WASHINGTON, DC – The Department of Justice is seeking to hire linguists fluent in Ebonics to help monitor, translate, and transcribe the secretly recorded conversations of subjects of narcotics investigations, according to federal records.

A maximum of nine Ebonics experts will work with the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Atlanta field division, where the linguists, after obtaining a “DEA Sensitive” security clearance, will help investigators decipher the results of “telephonic monitoring of court ordered nonconsensual intercepts, consensual listening devices, and other media”

The DEA’s need for full-time linguists specializing in Ebonics is detailed in bid documents related to the agency’s mid-May issuance of a request for proposal (RFP) covering the provision of as many as 2100 linguists for the drug agency’s various field offices. Answers to the proposal were due from contractors on July 29.

In contract documents, which are excerpted here, Ebonics is listed among 114 languages for which prospective contractors must be able to provide linguists. The 114 languages are divided between “common languages” and “exotic languages.” Ebonics is listed as a “common language” spoken solely in the United States.

Ebonics has widely been described as a nonstandard variant of English spoken largely by African Americans. John R. Rickford, a Stanford University professor of linguistics, has described it as “Black English” and noted that “Ebonics pronunciation includes features like the omission of the final consonant in words like ‘past’ (pas’ ) and ‘hand’ (han’), the pronunciation of the th in ‘bath’ as t (bat) or f (baf), and the pronunciation of the vowel in words like ‘my’ and ‘ride’ as a long ah (mah, rahd).”

Detractors reject the notion that Ebonics is a dialect, instead considering it a bastardization of the English language.

The Department of Justice RFP does not, of course, address questions of vernacular, dialect, or linguistic merit. It simply sought proposals covering the award of separate linguist contracts for seven DEA regions. The agency spends about $70 million annually on linguistic service programs, according to contract records.

In addition to the nine Ebonics experts, the DEA’s Atlanta office also requires linguists for eight other languages, including Spanish (144 linguists needed); Vietnamese (12); Korean (9); Farsi (9); and Jamaican patois (4). The Atlanta field division, one of the DEA’s busiest, is the only office seeking linguists well-versed in Ebonics. Overall, the “majority of DEA’s language requirements will be for Spanish originating in Central and South America and the Caribbean,” according to one contract document.

The Department of Justice RFP includes a detailed description of the crucial role a linguist can play in narcotics investigations. They are responsible for listening to “oral intercepts in English and foreign languages,” from which they provide verbal and typed summaries. “Subsequently, all pertinent calls identified by the supervising law enforcement officer will be transcribed verbatim in the required federal or state format,” the RFP notes.

Additionally, while “technology plays a major role in the DEA’s efforts, much of its success is increasingly dependent upon rapid and meticulous understanding of foreign languages used in conversations by speakers of languages other than English and in the translation, transcription and preparation of written documents.”

Appeared Here


Crazed Philidelphia Pennsylvania Tax Collectors Go After Internet Bloggers – Demand They Pay $300 For A Business License

August 22, 2010

It looks like cash hungry local governments are getting awfully rapacious these days:

Between her blog and infrequent contributions to ehow.com, over the last few years she says she’s made about $50. To [Marilyn] Bess, her website is a hobby. To the city of Philadelphia, it’s a potential moneymaker, and the city wants its cut.

In May, the city sent Bess a letter demanding that she pay $300, the price of a business privilege license.

“The real kick in the pants is that I don’t even have a full-time job, so for the city to tell me to pony up $300 for a business privilege license, pay wage tax, business privilege tax, net profits tax on a handful of money is outrageous,” Bess says.

It would be one thing if Bess’ website were, well, an actual business, or if the amount of money the city wanted didn’t outpace her earnings six-fold. Sure, the city has its rules; and yes, cash-strapped cities can’t very well ignore potential sources of income. But at the same time, there must be some room for discretion and common sense.

When Bess pressed her case to officials with the city’s now-closed tax amnesty program, she says, “I was told to hire an accountant.”

She’s not alone. After dutifully reporting even the smallest profits on their tax filings this year, a number — though no one knows exactly what that number is — of Philadelphia bloggers were dispatched letters informing them that they owe $300 for a privilege license, plus taxes on any profits they made.

Even if, as with Sean Barry, that profit is $11 over two years.

To say that these kinds of draconian measures are detrimental to the public discourse would be an understatement.

Appeared Here


New Mexico State Police Officer Tickets Careful Driver For 34 In 40 MPH Zone

August 22, 2010

BELEN, NEW MEXICO – A Valencia County woman who was pulled over for driving too slow said state police went too far.

Jeanette Sedillo said was driving on Reinken Road in Belen, N.M., after 10 p.m. Wednesday when a state police officer pulled beside her and told her to get off the road.

Sedillo pulled into a parking lot, questioning what she did wrong.

Apparently, going too fast was not the problem: the officer wrote her a ticket for driving 6 mph under the speed limit.

“He said, ‘You were going 34 in a 40,'” said Sedillo.

The citation said she violated the statute for minimum speed. Now, she has to pay a $70 fine for what she thought was careful driving.

Sedillo said there was little traffic in the area at the time and that she wasn’t putting drivers in danger. She said state police went too far with the citation and that officers should be going after more serious offenders.

“They’re just out to get anybody,” said Sedillo.

Sedillo is planning to fight the citation in court.

State police wouldn’t give specific information pertaining to the incident, but a spokesperson said every agency can ticket drivers for going under the speed limit, which is impeding traffic.

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Crazed Fairfax County Virginia Fire Investigators And Police File Bogus Charges Against Bartenders – Each Face 45 Years In Prison For Decade Old Tradition

August 17, 2010

HERNDON, VIRGINIA – Two fire-breathing bartenders face up to 45 years in prison each for performing flaming bar tricks.

Jimmy’s Old Town Tavern owner Jimmy Cirrito said his bartenders have been entertaining his customers — by juggling bottles of alcohol and spitting out streams of flames using matchbooks and lighters — for more than a decade and no one’s complained. But shortly after midnight on July 24, two of his longtime employees were hauled out of the Herndon bar in handcuffs and charged with three felonies each plus other misdemeanors

“They were being treated as if they were terrorists, charged as if they intentionally tried to burn down the tavern,” Cirrito said.

Fairfax County fire investigators charged Tegee Rogers, 33, of Herndon, and Justin Fedorchak, 39, of Manassas, with manufacturing an explosive device, setting a fire capable of spreading, and burning or destroying a meeting house. They also were charged with several state fire code misdemeanors.

Both men have worked at the tavern nearly since it opened. They both recently became fathers and are very anxious about facing serious criminal charges, Cirrito said.

Jimmy’s Old Town Tavern bartenders have performed the fire-breathing act for 13 years, at first doing the tricks on special occasions like birthdays or to honor a fallen fireman, police officer or soldier, Cirrito said. By 1999, the fire-breathing bartenders had become a Friday midnight tradition, he said. The bar uses the fire-breathing bartenders on its advertisements.

Cirrito said an investigator told him that the marshals received a letter in the mail with a photo taken of a previous performance at the bar.

Cirrito said he has never received a warning from the fire marshals, and he would have stopped if marshals had given him a warning.

“But I don’t think we’ve done anything wrong,” he said. “There’s a lot of fire in restaurants. I’ve been served flaming desserts, I’ve roasted marshmallows on tables, I’ve seen 75 candles and sparklers on cakes, and I’ve seen bartenders perform the tricks coast-to-coast and no one’s been arrested.”

Appeared Here


Rochester New Hampshire Police Target Those “Loitering” In Area City Converted To A Community Gathering Spot

July 3, 2010

ROCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE – In an ironic twist, police say there has been an increase in complaints about people loitering at Factory Court, the side street converted last year into a community gathering spot.

Police Capt. Paul Callaghan confirmed that through communications with Rochester Main Street and discussions officers on foot patrol have with business owners, the department has fielded numerous complaints about people congregating at Factory Court and staying there for hours on end.

He said police have been asked to disperse unruly groups, but it is a difficult issue because if the people are not committing crimes, police cannot force them to move along.

Some reports have involved disorderly conduct at the site, and Callaghan said police are taking a “zero tolerance” stance against such activities. Since warmer weather hit about six weeks ago, there has been a large increase in reports of littering, boisterous behavior and one case of indecent exposure, he said.

Police are focusing on the area, with officers on motorcycles, bicycles and foot patrols, as well as plainclothes cops, patrolling Factory Court, he said.

“When officers are there it’s fine. It’s when they’re not there that there’s issues,” Callaghan said.

Some have even requested no loitering signs, but Main Street officials note loitering is exactly what the alley off North Main Street was designed for. One such exchange occurred at a recent Historic District Commission meeting. HDC Chairman Nel Sylvain asked Main Street Executive Director Mike Provost about problems with Factory Court and wondered what could be done about the perceived problem.

With the money and effort put into making Factory Court a pleasant destination, said Sylvain, “I don’t want to see a bunch of people sleeping on the benches at night.”

Provost said Main Street is well aware of the issue, but noted, “It’s really hard to throw someone out unless they’re doing something wrong.”

Sylvain said his remarks were in reference to activities that supposedly go on at Factory Court between midnight and 6 a.m., including homeless people sleeping on the benches there. Callaghan said he could not confirm homeless have been using the area to sleep, but noted that complaints come in about different activities going on there throughout the day.

Of the situation with the homeless, Provost said at the HDC meeting, “It’s actually happening around town a lot more than people think it is,” adding, “We’re aware of it (and) we’re working on it the best we can.”

When Factory Court first opened as a pedestrian gathering spot last August, officials lauded it as a place where the community could get together, enjoy live music and take in the downtown. Callaghan, who serves as president of Main Street’s board of directors, said that is still what they want and they do not want to discourage people from congregating there.

“Our mission is to make the downtown a destination and source of pride,” he said, adding Factory Court is one small piece of that. “We’re really going to start seeing the benefits of it next week” when the Brown Baggers concert series starts up.

Provost said Friday that Factory Court was designed to allow people to linger, enjoy a sandwich and take in the downtown. However, he said some people are treating it like “it’s their exclusive backyard patio,” preventing others from using the area as well.

“Some people are overstaying much longer than they should,” he said, adding some will eat there and leave litter lying around for volunteers to clean up.

“The flip side is ‘No Loitering’ takes away the reason to create public spaces in the downtown,” Provost said. “I think people have to remember downtown has to be for everyone … Sometimes (people are) quick to judge by looks, but we are a community and all types of people make up the community.”

Provost said singling out certain people who use Factory Court is a step toward gentrification, which he thinks is not something the city wants.

“My personal view is that’s not something Rochester really wants … I think they want a real, vibrant, live community.”

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City Of Los Angeles California’s Botched Handling Of Fire Department Racism Case Costs Taxpayers Millions

July 3, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – The Los Angeles City Council has approved a $2.5 million payment to two white fire captains who won a racial discrimination case in 2008 involving a black firefighter who was fed dog food.

The City Council approved the payment Friday for fire Capt. Chris Burton and Capt. John Tohill.

A jury initially awarded the captains $1.6 million in 2008. An attorney says the extra costs include attorneys’ fees and interest payments.

The captains sued the city in 2006 claiming they were made scapegoats for the misconduct of a firefighter who laced firefighter Tennie Pierce’s spaghetti with dog food.

In 2007, the city agreed to pay Pierce $1.5 million to settle claims that he suffered harassment and retaliation after co-workers served him the tainted food as a prank.

Appeared Here


Montpelier Vermont Police Officers Piss Away Taxpayer Dollars Tailing Walking Nude Woman

June 30, 2010

MONTPELIER, VERMONT – What better way to beat the heat than…walk naked through the Capital City?

That was one 18-year-old woman’s solution to the humidity on Monday afternoon, a tactic that turned heads and prompted a flurry of phone calls to the Montpelier Police Department starting at 1:26 p.m.

Police identified the woman and spoke with her but said there was little they could do from a law enforcement perspective.

“As long as they’re not exhibiting any kind of overt gestures or communicating any kind of lewd act, then they’re within their rights — if we’ll use that word — to do that,” said Sgt. Neil Martel of the Montpelier Police Department.

Police did not observe the woman doing anything that violated state laws or city ordinances, said Martel.

“We watched her and there wasn’t anything going on that would have violated the ordinance,” he said.

Martel said he had an officer go out and speak with the woman, whom he declined to name. “She just said it was a hot day, I guess, and she was taking a walk,” said Martel.

The woman, who was accompanied by a male, made her way around the downtown, said Martel. She was reported on School Street and Main Street.

The nudity issue has come up in the past for Montpelier city officials surrounding the annual naked bike ride, which is allowed to happen in the city for the same reasons the pants-free pedestrian was allowed to saunter through the city Monday. Under the laws and ordinances, you can be nude outside but can’t disrobe outside, said Martel.

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Dumbass Chattanooga Tennessee Police Officer Delays Woman At Door Of Emergency Room As She Suffered Stroke Conditions, Has Her Husband Arrested For Rushing Her To Hospital

June 20, 2010

CHATTANOOGA, TENNESSEE – A patient, believed to be having a stroke, says an officer with the Chattanooga Police Department blocked her husband from taking her to the emergency room at Erlanger Wednesday night.

Aline Wright is a cancer survivor, amputee and a newlywed. Wednesday night she began to show signs she was having a stroke.

“I started feeling some left arm numbness and a facial droop,” said Aline.

“It appeared to me that I was probably having a stroke.”

That’s when her husband of four days, Jesse Wright, put her in the car and rushed her to the Erlanger Medical Center. Wright knows an emergency. He is a nurse technician at Erlanger.

On the way to the hospital, Aline says Jesse treated two red lights like stop signs. He would stop and then proceed if no traffic was coming. After Jesse ran the second stop light one block from Erlanger, the officer turned on the cruiser’s blue lights and followed the couple into the emergency room parking lot.

“At that point we figured because we were so close to Erlanger emergency department that the police would be aware that’s where we were going,” said Aline.

According to Aline, the officer caught up with the couple as they were attempting to enter the emergency room at Erlanger Medical Center. Aline says her husband was carrying her in his arms because she could not walk. According to Aline, the officer blocked the entrance and demanded answers for running the red lights.

“He picks me up in his arms and the officer continues to block the way into the emergency room,” said Aline.

“He’s standing between Jesse and I, and the emergency room doors.”

Aline says eventually the officer allowed them to enter the hospital, but says he didn’t stop there.

Aline tells Channel 3 Eyewitness News that once the couple was placed in a hospital room, the officer attempted to enter their room to arrest Jesse for evading the police.

Erlanger medical personnel then turned the officer away, informing him that since Aline could not speak Jesse was needed to answer questions for the doctors.

Thursday morning Erlanger security informed the couple that a warrant for Jesse’s arrest had been issued, and suggested he turn himself in. Aline says Jesse went to the Hamilton County Jail to turn himself in that evening. According to Aline, jail employees told Jesse that they had no record of a warrant for him and told him he was free to go.

Jesse returned to his ailing wife’s bedside at Erlanger Medical Center.

“I thought it was over,” said Aline.

“But apparently it wasn’t. I was awakened abruptly by people coming in the room.”

On Friday morning the police were back at the hospital. This time Jesse surrendered to Erlanger Security who arrested him on behalf of the Chattanooga Police Department.

Channel 3 had the only crew there as Jesse was released on $7,500 bond, about eight hours after being arrested. He is facing seven charges related to Wednesday night’s events, including felony evading arrest. He’s due in court on July 9th.

Eyewitness News contacted Chattanooga Police today for their side of the story.

Lt. Kim Noorbergen says the officer was just “doing his job”.

The department will not comment further until a formal complaint is filed with the Internal Affairs Department.

Aline Wright says she plans to file a complaint. The couple has already hired an attorney for a possible lawsuit.

An Erlanger spokesperson tells us by law their security guards are obligated to carry out any arrest warrant related to felony charges. The Erlanger spokesperson says once they learned the warrant for Wright’s arrest was issued, and they learned he was in the building, they had to arrest him.

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Arizona Pisses Away 1.25 Million Taxpayer Dollars To Save 5 Squirrels A Year

June 18, 2010

ARIZONA – Arizona is spending $1.25 million to build bridges for endangered squirrels over a mountain road so they don’t become roadkill and then monitor their health.

The money is being spent, officials said, because cars kill about five of these squirrels each year.

While most suburbanites may be baffled why anyone would protect a pesky squirrel, these are Mount Graham red squirrels, a breed once thought to be extinct. Only 250 of them are known to live near the top of Mount Graham.

The Federal Highway Administration grant will be used to build rope bridges over the lone road through the squirrels’ habitat, according to Arizona Department of Transportation Community Relations Director Timothy Tait. The DOT plans to install 41 of the “canopy tunnel crossings” at a cost of $400,000.

Another $160,000 will be spent on cameras to monitor the bridges, and the rest of the money will fund a project to monitor the rodents.

That works out to about $5,000 per squirrel.

The red squirrels have been the subject of much attention ever since they were rediscovered in the 1970s after many thought they were extinct. They were declared an endangered species in 1987 and are now closely monitored by researchers at the University of Arizona, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Tim Snow, non-game specialist at the Game and Fish Department, monitors the population of the squirrels on a yearly basis. He said the population fluctuates from year to year, but it has averaged 250 squirrels over the last 10 years. In the nineties, the squirrels numbered between 300 and 350.

A variety of factors are responsible for the population decline, Snow said.

“The biggest threat to the squirrel is loss of habitat,” he said. A wildfire in 2000 destroyed a quarter of the squirrels’ habitat, which Snow said is one of two major sources of habitat loss. Insects on the trees are the other major threat.

“The basis of the project is recognizing that traffic on Mount Graham in southeast Arizona is creating impacts on the environment,” Tait said. Each day, an average of 650 cars use the lower, paved portion of the road, and 150 cars travel on the gravel portion of the road.

According to Snow, motorists cause roughly five squirrels’ deaths each year. Assuming the bridges work and no squirrels die, over 100 squirrels could be saved throughout the 20 to 25 year lifespan of the bridges.

Sen. John McCain Is Opposed to Squirrel Bridge

Tait defended the expense of the rope bridges.

“It’s a pretty specialized item,” Tait said. “They are made of military grade nylon. They’re fire retardant and will be dyed a green color to fit in with the environment.”

The bridges also have an easy release mechanism that allows workers to disconnect them from the trees in the event that a tall truck needs to drive up to the Mount Graham International Observatory at the top of the mountain, or in the case of a forest fire.

They are called “canopy tunnel crossings” because they include a mesh tunnel through which only the Mount Graham red squirrels and not other larger squirrel species can fit. The tunnel will protect the squirrels from predators like birds of prey.

The money for the project comes from the Federal Highway Administration and must be used for Federal Transportation Enhancement programs. One part of the enhancement initiative is Category 11, whose goal is to “reduce vehicle-caused wildlife mortality while maintaining habitat connectivity.”

Arizona receives resources each year for enhancement projects like this one as part of their Federal Highway grant money, but it is up to the Arizona Department of Transportation to decide how to use the money.

Community response has been overwhelmingly negative, according to David Kincaid, city manager of Safford, the town nearest to the squirrel’s habitat.

“The community at large is pretty cynical towards the project,” he said. “I think people are thinking, this is just another piece of the government spending that is out of control when it could be spending that money to create real jobs for real people.”

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has repeatedly criticized what he deems wasteful government spending, was asked about the squirrel bridge meeting in the town of Clifton.

“He expressed opposition to the Mount Graham red squirrel preservation effort, saying it puts unreasonable limits on forest resources that could be used to help the community’s economy,” McCain spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan told ABCNews.com.

Squirrel Bridge Takes Precedence Over Regular Roads

Graham County Supervisor Mark Herrington thinks that the money could be better spent elsewhere.

“I don’t think it’s the smartest allocation of resources,” he said. “With all the problems were facing today, with the economy the way it is&that’s a huge expense and how do you guarantee that the squirrels are going to cross the bridge?”

Herrington said he was not consulted about the project. Instead, the Department of Transportation sent him a letter announcing the start of the project a few weeks ago.

“We could have used this money to improve roads for our citizens,” Herrington said. “There are 600 miles of bad roads in Graham County that need to be improved for the people that live here.”

The people of Graham County will have to wait for better roads. For now, it’s the squirrels’ turn.

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Millions Spent On GPS Tracking Devices For Parolees Wasted As State Of California Is Unable To Keep Up With Generated Alerts – 10’s Of Thousands Sex Offender Alerts Ignored

June 17, 2010

CALIFORNIA – Tens of thousands of electronic alerts caused by sex offender missteps have gone unresolved, a situation that the state is trying to correct this week with a massive push to get the backlog under control.

Parole supervisors are following up on more than 31,000 alarms in Southern California, caused by low batteries, lost signals, entry into forbidden zones or severed straps on electronic ankle bracelets.

Parole administrators got their orders June 3, the day after a state inspector general’s report found lax GPS supervision of paroled sex offender John Albert Gardner III, who went on to kill two San Diego County teenagers.

The backlog has developed since March 19, when the department committed to resolve “all alerts and violations” by sex offenders, in response to the Gardner case.

Officials say the backlog grew because they lacked software to run an ongoing report of all unresolved cases. That is, supervisors in Southern California were working only with reports of new alarms, rather than a report showing previous alarms that had not been cleared.

The retroactive reports have been available for the past week, revealing the backlog, Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman Gordon Hinkle said.

“We have stated several times that GPS is an evolving science, where technology and best practices continue to be fluid,” Hinkle said by e-mail. “This is a new policy, and as CDCR leads the nation in GPS development, more improvements will be made.”

Agents and union leaders complain that the new emphasis on GPS monitoring by computer keeps them from performing important work in the field, where they can more effectively track dangerous offenders.

“This policy has created so much busy work that this work cannot get done,” said Melinda Silva, the Parole Agents Association of California president. “The real work of getting out and supervising these people is not getting done.”

Hinkle said the department is reviewing workloads for agents handling GPS cases. Clearing the backlog will help, he said.

“Once this reconciliation process is cleared, case management will become more manageable,” he said.

GPS monitoring can be a powerful tool, judging by the report this month by the state’s independent inspector general, David Shaw. He concluded that Amber Dubois, 14, of Escondido and Chelsea King, 17, of Poway would likely still be alive if agents had done a better job watching Gardner, who served five years in prison and three years on parole for a 2000 molestation conviction.

Among other mistakes, agents failed to check Gardner’s GPS tracks, which showed he broke curfew at least 168 times and visited remote areas near where he later hid Amber’s remains, the report found. GPS data also show he visited a state prison, which could be a felony. GPS data from 2008 show he parked in an area where officials say contraband is smuggled into the R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility on Otay Mesa Road.

A spokeswoman for Shaw said Monday she could not address the unresolved alerts without seeing documentation, but noted the review included proposals to improve monitoring of sex offenders.

“As we said in our report, the Office of the Inspector General recommended strategies that could allow the (corrections) department to more effectively review and use GPS data,” spokeswoman Laura Hill said.

According to records obtained by The San Diego Union-Tribune, unresolved alerts totaled more than 31,000 in Region III, which is Los Angeles , and Region IV, which includes counties from San Bernardino to the border with Mexico.

The problem grew so severe that administrators and unit supervisors held a special meeting last week at Region IV headquarters in Diamond Bar.

New reports documenting alerts will be developed every week by the company that supplies the GPS anklets, administrators wrote, in part because “the district management report is inaccurate.”

The alerts listed on more than a dozen pages of internal documents range from simple low-battery warnings to so-called strap tampers, when a parolee cuts off the buckle and removes the tracking system.

GPS devices need to be charged every 12 hours, creating a challenge for homeless parolees who lack a steady source of electricity.

Records also show thousands of inclusion- and exclusion-zone alarms, when parolees enter or leave restricted areas, as well as “message gaps” and “no GPS” cases, when signals are lost for some period of time.

Peggy Conway, editor of the Journal of Offender Monitoring, said most alerts are inconsequential, like low-battery signals or exclusion-zone warnings when a parolee drives past a school or park.

“What (agents) are going to do is gloss over a lot of them because they know what they are,” she said. “Hopefully there are some that catch their attention and get them to say, ‘Hmmm, we need to take a closer look at this one.’ ”

California spends about $60 million a year tracking 7,000 or so convicted sex offenders with GPS systems.

Nonetheless, the technology’s effectiveness has been questioned by agents, lawmakers and criminal-justice experts because parole officials place so much emphasis on where parolees go rather than what they do.

Retired parole supervisor Rebecca Hernandez said she relied on lower-paid staff to monitor GPS tracks when she oversaw a sex-offenders unit in Huntington Park.

“Interns were awesome in a lot of the stuff they could do, which freed up the agents,” said Hernandez, who retired in January after collecting a $900,000 settlement to a discrimination claim she filed against the department. “As long as you don’t give them personal data, it’s fine.”

Keeping sworn peace officers indoors to read GPS data and constantly respond to GPS alerts is not the best use of the agents’ time, Hernandez said.

“You’re putting community safety at risk,” she said. “It means you’re telling agents not to go out in the field and monitor these parolees.”

Silva said the department took the unusual step last week of approving overtime so agents could resolve the alarms quickly. Even so, her members are overwhelmed with the workload, she said.

“They’re tired. They’re burned,” Silva said. “Most people aren’t about the overtime. They want to do a good job and go home at the end of the day.”

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Government Red Tape In US Sends Latest US Green Technology And Jobs To Red China

June 17, 2010

WASHINGTON, DC – Chuck Provini, a former Marine with no fewer than 19 military decorations, considers himself a “good American and a patriot.”

He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, served as a Marine Corps captain in the Vietnam War and has lived his whole life in the United States. But now that he’s the president of a growing solar technology start-up, he’s finding himself in a difficult position: He must leave the United States behind.

His company, Natcore Technology, based in Red Bank, N.J., holds the license to technology that makes solar panels cheaper, more efficient and less toxic to the environment. He said he tried to commercialize the technology domestically, but while bureaucracy and red tape stalled talks with state and federal officials, conversations with Chinese officials sped ahead.

“The Chinese have a major, aggressive movement to increase the technology in the photovoltaic area,” he said. “They picked up the phone and called us and said, ‘What do you do?'”

At the time of this story’s publication, he’s in Zhuzhou city in China’s Hunan province, on the verge of signing a deal that will commercialize the technology overseas, giving the Chinese economy a boost and Chinese workers more jobs.

Obama: China Is Investing in Clean Energy Jobs That Should Be in the U.S.

“We wanted to do business in the United States and we went to different agencies and we said, ‘Here’s what we have going on in China. Can you help us replicate this?'” he said. “And, frankly, we kind of rang on deaf ears.”

In his address from the Oval Office Tuesday night, President Obama used the backdrop of the massive BP oil spill to push a clean energy agenda.

“The consequences of our inaction are now in plain sight. Countries like China are investing in clean energy jobs and industries that should be right here in America,” he said.

But what is China doing that the United States isn’t? And what do we need to do to keep up?

Provini, whose company licenses technology developed at Houston’s Rice University, said that for about a year, he went back and forth with representatives at the Ohio Department of Development. He said he also worked with a major Washington, D.C., law firm and was told that a $750,000 application fee was necessary just to apply for a specific federal program.

Solar Energy Company: We Didn’t Call China, They Called Us

When he tried to work with elected officials for guidance on how to grow his business, he said he rarely got past staff members.

Lisa Patt-McDaniel, director of the Ohio Department of Development, said she couldn’t comment directly on Natcore, but said that her office supports hundreds of new technology ventures each year.

Provini said, “The Chinese were just so aggressive. We didn’t contact them, they contacted us.”

Officials responsible for developing China’s clean and alternative energy program in the Hunan province learned about Natcore through a mutual contact at the University of Wales and placed a call, he said.

Then they flew Provini to China and helped him find a production partner that will provide capital and manufacturing capabilities. In the next three to six months, he said, they could move into the manufacturing phase, which could create 250-400 jobs.

“They’ve cut through the red tape to be responsive,” he said. “It’s almost embarrassing that whatever you ask for, they deliver it.”

Clean Energy Sector to Reach $200 Billion in 2010

Since 2005, investments in the clean energy sector have grown 230 percent, according to the Pew Environment Group Climate and Energy Program. In 2009, $162 billion was invested in clean energy globally and analysts forecast that investments will climb 25 percent to $200 billion in 2010.

But despite the opportunities in the fast-growing industry, experts say the United States continues to lag behind countries such as China, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Germany and Spain.

“The U.S. is missing the boat,” said Phyllis Cuttino, director of the Pew Environment Group Climate and Energy Program in Washington. In 2009, she said, China attracted $34.6 billion in clean energy investments, more than any other country. The United States attracted $18.6 billion, about half of China’s total, she said.

When you look at the winners in this race, Cuttino said, they all have one key feature in common: a national clean energy policy.

The countries dominating the clean energy landscape have national policies to reduce global warming pollution and provide incentives for companies to use renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, but she said the United States only had a “patchwork” of state policies.

State Development Agencies Promote Small Clean Energy Start-Ups

“We have a well-educated [population], a manufacturing base,” she said. “We basically have all of the necessary ingredients to capitalize on a clean energy policy, but we need a policy.”

The Ohio Department of Development’s Patt-McDaniel said that with investments ranging from $50,000 to as much as $1 million, the Ohio Third Frontier program funds clean energy, biomedical, polymer and other high-tech projects to help them eventually commercialize and create jobs.

“Our partner organizations at the local level … take these kinds of entrepreneurial companies and match them to potential partner investors,” she said. She said development officials could also help small companies find production partners that could take the venture to the next level.

Real Progress Needs Federal Action, Experts Say

But though state development agencies across the country may support small business following Obama’s mandate to develop clean energy, experts say real progress will only come from federal action.

“The clean technology sector is the fastest growing business sector in the global economy and the U.S. cannot afford to lose our competitive edge with China and other countries when it comes to the fastest growing sector in the global economy,” said Howard Learner, president and executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago.

While one small business doesn’t necessarily prove a trend, he said the bottom line is that the United States is running the risk of missing out on the next economic driver.

“Clean energy and climate legislation before Congress would put us on the right track, but it’s been mired in both Republican political opposition and opposition from old economy industries,” he said.

Obama’s decision to enact a series of renewable energy tax credits in 2009 was a good start, he said, but they all expire by the end of this year and should be extended.

He also said that while 30 states have renewable energy standards requiring utilities to purchase an increased percentage of power from renewable sources, Learner, like Pew’s Cuttino, said a national standard is critical.

U.S. Companies Want ‘T.L.C.’

It would not only expand the market across all states and make a level playing field, it would make the market more predictable and reliable over the long-term, which would spur development, he said.

Learner also said that putting a price on carbon is key to driving the market for renewable investment, manufacturing and deployment.

But in the absence of a market created by a carbon cap and other national policies, more and more companies like Provini’s are looking to other shores for opportunity.

“There’s a whole long list of American companies that have gone to China,” Cuttino said. “[And] lots of companies sitting on the sidelines in the U.S. They’re waiting for what they call T.L.C. — transparency, longevity and consistency.”

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Moron At Pennsylvania Prison Releases Inmate The Night Before His Murder Trial

June 15, 2010

PENNSYLVANIA – An accused killer, who became the subject of a Pa. manhunt after a prison worker’s error led to his mistaken release, has turned himself in to police, MyFoxPhilly.com reported.

Taaqi Brown, 21, surrendered at the Philadelphia Police Department’s 35th District with a local television reporter.

Brown was then taken to Upper Darby Police Station to be charged, authorities said.

Upper Darby, Pa., police chief Michael Chitwood confirmed earlier Tuesday morning Brown was set free on the eve of his murder trial in the town that borders Philadelphia.

He was set to be tried after he allegedly emptied a gun into a house full of people, and authorities were saying that he should be considered armed and very dangerous.

“There was a mix-up on paperwork, similar names, similar ages, whoever was processing the individual who was supposed to be released, released our murderer,” Chitwood said at the time, MyFoxPhilly.com reported.

“Right now, we have a manhunt on in Upper Darby.”

Chitwood said prison officials, Philadelphia police, Upper Darby police and federal marshals were all involved in the manhunt.

It took police two months to track down Brown after he allegedly fired a gun 11 times into an Upper Darby home in May 2009, striking not his intended target but another person.

He was arrested July 16, 2009, in Philadelphia near 22nd and Indiana streets.

Sources tell MyFoxPhilly that sometime after 5 p.m. Monday paperwork was received by the Delaware County Prison for a person with a similar name and date of birth. The prison apparently processed the paperwork and released the wrong man.

Brown called his mom and girlfriend, and around 10 p.m. one of the women picked him up, driving off in a black SUV.

Brown’s last known address was in Philadelphia. During the search, authorities described him as a black male, 5 feet 5 inches tall, weighing 150 pounds, often going by the nickname “Fame.”

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Hero Sentenced to 9 Years In California Prison After Killing Man Who Molested Him As A Child

June 15, 2010

UKIAH, CALIFORNIA – A man who said he had been sexually abused by a family friend since he was a child was sentenced to nine years in prison Tuesday for shooting the victim with a Civil War-style pistol and watching him die.

Aaron Vargas, 32, showed little emotion as his punishment was announced in the vigilante killing.

His sister Mindy Galliani noticed his lips were trembling — a sure sign he was about to cry.

“It’s not over. We’re going to appeal,” Galliani said after her brother shuffled away, hands and feet shackled. “It’s clear that the justice system still doesn’t have an understanding of childhood sexual abuse.”

Initially charged with murder, Vargas, of Fort Bragg, Calif., pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter in the death of 63-year-old Darrell McNeill and could have faced up to 10 years in prison.

Lawyers and supporters of Vargas asked for probation.

But Judge Ronald Brown said he imposed the harsh sentence because he believed Vargas had gone to McNeill’s house with the intent to kill him. He also said he could not condone the use of violence to solve problems.

“The circumstances support the conclusion the defendant intended to kill the victim, and the method was intended to make the victim suffer,” Brown said.

Vargas testified that McNeill began molesting him when he was 11 and kept stalking him into adulthood. After the February 2009 killing, about a dozen men, including McNeill’s stepson, came forward to say McNeill had molested them.

Hundreds of Vargas supporters asked the judge for leniency, saying Vargas needed therapy and was not a threat. The Mendocino County courtroom was packed Tuesday, with many people wearing buttons saying, “Free Aaron Vargas.”

Prosecutor Beth Norton, however, said Vargas lacked impulse control and had problems with drinking that led to three DUIs. She also stressed he had shot his alleged abuser to death rather than turning him over to law enforcement.

“There is an angry, violent aspect to Aaron Vargas,” she said. “The risk here is too great.”

Defense attorney Tom Hudson countered that his client was owed a second chance.

“Aaron Vargas has never had a chance to show he can be a regular human being without Darrell McNeill pestering him,” Hudson said. “Humanity needs us to give him that chance.”

The lawyer said the lives of other men who came forward alleging abuse by McNeill had been disrupted by alcohol and drugs. One killed himself. the lawyer said.

Co-workers testified that McNeill looked for Vargas at his workplace, and family members said McNeill tracked Vargas down when he moved, calling him at home up to a dozen times a day even after he and Selena Barnet, his longtime girlfriend, got engaged and had a child.

McNeill even insisted he wanted to baby-sit the child, Barnet testified.

Vargas “was defending himself and his daughter, because the system failed,” Galliani said in court.

Vargas testified he had a drinking problem and needed help. During his 16 months in jail, he had been seeing a therapist and attending anti-alcohol abuse meetings, he said.

“I have all sorts of regrets for that day, previous days and previous years,” he said.

Psychiatrist Donald Apostle said Vargas showed signs of sustained trauma.

“It was a secret shame,” Apostle said. “It devoured him.”

Vargas was unable to break McNeill’s control, and the alleged abuse continued into his adult years, Apostle said.

“It was almost like a learned helplessness,” he said before recommending probation for Vargas. “He’s been in prison his whole life. He needs help, not more punishment.”

Court records state that three days before the shooting, Vargas met and talked with other men who allegedly had been abused by McNeill. Vargas spent the next few days trying to deal with his feelings.

On the night of the shooting, Vargas’ blood-alcohol content was about .15 — nearly twice the legal limit, according to court records.

Vargas testified his memory of the night was faulty. He said he recalled McNeill denying the accusations before Vargas yelled back that McNeill wasn’t going to hurt anyone anymore. Then the gun went off, Vargas said.

The victim’s wife, Elizabeth McNeill, was just a few feet away. She said Vargas kicked and cursed at the dying man while stopping her from seeking help.

Despite the violence, she later attended a fundraiser for Vargas’ defense. In a letter to prosecutors, she said “something having to do with Aaron’s childhood sexual abuse caused Aaron to snap, and do what he did.”

Vargas’ family will consider an appeal and work to get him treatment while establishing a nonprofit in his name to help victims of childhood sexual abuse.

Growing up, Galliani hadn’t understood what made her outgoing, fun-loving brother withdraw and turn to drugs. Only after McNeill’s death did she understand how deeply Vargas had been affected by him.

“It was like I saw my 12-year-old brother again,” she said. “That anger was gone from his eyes. He was just sad. Now he’s more at peace. He’s opened up. He’s back.”

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5 Gallon Pail Of Old Mayonnaise Surrenders To Destin Florida Police, Fire, And HAZMAT Team

June 10, 2010

DESTIN, FLORIDA – As Dill Beaty approached his Bent Arrow Road residence Tuesday evening, he noticed something peculiar — flashing lights and “at least a dozen” emergency vehicles blocking off access to his home.

“All of the vehicles were converged right at my driveway,” he said.

Beaty was stopped from going to his home and a police officer questioned him about who lived in the neighboring residence. Beaty answered the questions and asked if his wife should evacuate their home next door. The officer knocked on Beaty’s door and when his wife answered, “they told her to grab what you need and get out as quick as you can.”

Destin Fire Control District Fire Chief Kevin Sasser confirmed the road closure, saying that the HAZMAT team responded to the residence after receiving a call from two individuals who had reported having trouble breathing and burning eyes. The pair, who complained of the smell, were inspecting the home.

“We didn’t know what we were going to find,” Sasser said of the incident, “so that is why we responded with the HAZMAT team.”

After entering the residence, Sasser said the team had come across a “large barrel” that was left by the previous occupants, and it contained a “five-gallon container” of mayonnaise.

“It had started to degrade, and rot,” he said. “And that is what was causing the problems.”

While the matter was serious at the time, Sasser can laugh about it knowing it was only mayonnaise.

“We thought it was going to be something more than what it was, “ he said jokingly. “We went through a much larger process to find out it was mayonnaise.”

After the closure had forced Beaty out of his home for about three hours, he said the neighbors gathered later “to discuss the incident.”

“They were speculating that it was a meth lab,” he said chuckling, after finding out it was mayonnaise. “I was thinking maybe it was a terrorist cell.”

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