Saturday, February 14, 2009

Juvenile Justice Corruption - Audit challenges juvenile center

Judge Mark Ciavarella

A million dollars in consulting fees, a swordfishing trip, college
basketball tickets and a $3,500 suit are among $1.26 million in
expenses being questioned in a state audit of a Butler County juvenile
detention center owned by Pittsburgh businessman Greg Zappala.

The state Department of Public Welfare says those expenses and
others were not allowable costs at the facility, which receives much of
its funding from state and county governments. The results were in the
draft of an audit report of the Western Pennsylvania Child Care
facility issued by the Welfare Department and obtained by the
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Auditors say the facility also sent erroneous bills, violated
contracts by billing for days on which juveniles were discharged,
failed to keep proper records and charged Luzerne County $73,920 for
beds in the facility in Allegheny Township, Butler County -- 260 miles
away -- that were never used.

The facility and a similar one in northwest Pennsylvania also owned
by Mr. Zappala are at the center of a criminal case against two former
Luzerne County judges who are scheduled to plead guilty today in a
fraud case. Former judges Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. and Michael T. Conahan
are accused of accepting $2.6 million in payments to facilitate the
development of the Butler County facility and Pennsylvania Child Care
in Pittston Township, Luzerne. Federal prosecutors allege they steered
children to the center against probation officers' recommendations and
without legal representation.

No charges have been filed against Mr. Zappala or his former
business partner, attorney Robert J. Powell. Mr. Zappala is the brother
of Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. and son of
former state Supreme Court Justice Stephen A. Zappala Sr.

If Western Pennsylvania Child Care had not misspent funds as the
audit alleges, the facility could have reduced its charges to counties.
The facility bills $314 a day for secure treatment and $255 per day for
shelter services, but could have reduced those charges to $249.84 and
$194.81, respectively, if it hadn't spent the questioned costs,
auditors concluded.

Butler County Commissioner James Kennedy has long questioned those charges.

He abstained from a 2005 vote to contract with Western Pennsylvania Child Care because he thought the charges were too high.

"The costs were exorbitant," Mr. Kennedy said in an interview Tuesday. "I couldn't condone going through with this deal."

Similar facilities at the time were charging $180 per day for secure
treatment and $140 per day for shelter care, according to minutes of
the 2005 meeting.

Butler County Controller Jack McMillin is concerned that the county may have been overcharged for years.

He said he was very concerned after reviewing the draft audit, which
yesterday was sent to facility operators, county officials and others.

The county has paid the facility more than $901,000 since it opened
at the end of 2005. Western Pennsylvania Child Care operates a secure
unit for juvenile criminals and a shelter for those waiting to be
adjudicated or who need emergency housing because their parents are not
able to care for them.

Calls to Western Pennsylvania Child Care were referred to company
executive Michael Cummings, who did not return a phone call yesterday.

Among the questionable costs identified in the audit are $1 million
in undocumented consulting fees paid to firms with financial ties to
Mr. Zappala and Mr. Powell; $5,800 for limousine service to three
college basketball games and for a shopping trip to King of Prussia
Mall outside Philadelphia; $4,500 for a charted fishing trip Mr.
Zappala took in Florida; and $3,500 for a custom-made men's suit. The
audit also questioned $51,482 in interest the center paid on a line of
credit that provided interest-free loans to its principals.

Meanwhile, according to the audit, the facility claimed it couldn't
pay its bills because of cash-flow problems and was getting utility
shut-off notices.

Western Pennsylvania Child Care has 60 days to respond to the
findings in the draft audit. Their response will be incorporated into a
final Welfare Department audit report.

Also yesterday, the state Supreme Court appointed Berks County
Senior Judge Arthur E. Grim as a special master to review juvenile
cases adjudicated in Luzerne County.

The court specifically directed him to review cases in which Judge
Ciavarella committed juveniles to the detention facilities owned by Mr.
Zappala and cases in which there are allegations that Judge Ciavarella
denied defendants the right to counsel.

Judge Grim can decide to expunge records, grant new hearings or void
rulings, according the Supreme Court order issued yesterday.

"The goal of this court is to determine whether the alleged travesty
of juvenile justice in Luzerne County occurred and, if it did, to
identify the affected juveniles and rectify the situation as fairly and
swiftly as possible," the order says.


Man dies in custody after being Tased by San Jose Police

On the heels of Oscar Grant, and those who have lost their lives in the hands of police. Another life is taken this week but it’s not the first taken by police using taser guns. Taser guns are no safer than any hand gun. They initially were supposed to be non-lethal weapons, designed to subdue suspects in dangerous situations, however, they are being used more frequently in situations that are non-threatening. They are definitely not safer than a bullet and more and more deaths are being attributed to their use.

Article: Man dies in custody after being Tased by San Jose Police
Thursday, February 12, 2009

A man in his 20s died after a struggle with San Jose police during which he was jolted with a Taser, police said today.

The man, whose name was not immediately released, died in the backyard of a home on the 2200 block of Amador Drive in east San Jose after being jolted with the stun gun, said Officer Enrique Garcia, a department spokesman.

The incident began at 10:24 p.m. Wednesday when two officers on patrol in the area of Story Road and Adrian Way were directed to nearby Amador Drive, Garcia said. It was not immediately known who sent the officers there or why, police said.

When they got there, the officers tried to arrest the man in the backyard, for reasons that Garcia said he didn't know. The man resisted, "a violent struggle ensued" and at least one of the officers shot him with a Taser, Garcia said.

The man soon lost consciousness. One of the officers tried to revive him with CPR, but the man died at the scene.

The officers' names have not been released. One was cut in the face during the struggle and one suffered a leg injury, Garcia said.

The man's death is being investigated by the police homicide and internal-affairs squads as well as the Santa Clara County district attorney's office, which is standard procedure for in-custody deaths.

The cause of the man's death will be determined by the county medical examiner.

According to police watchdog groups, the death is the sixth to result after the use of Tasers by San Jose police since 2004, when all officers in the city were given the stun guns for use on patrol.

Lawsuits are pending in at least two of those cases. In a third case, the City Council agreed in December to pay $70,000 to the family of Jose Angel Rios, a 38-year-old Fresno man whose death in a 2005 confrontation with police was partly attributed to officers' use of pepper spray and stun guns.

Making sense of the Vick rumors

In the past two days, we've received three player updates about Michael Vick. That seems odds because, you know, he's in jail for his role in a dog fighting ring.

But apparently that isn't stopping the Falcons from trying to trade him. Unfortunately for the Falcons, there aren't many teams interested in acquiring a felonious quarterback who hasn't played in two years and is on the hook for over $45 million. I know -- crazy, right? Atlanta must be hoping other teams watch the highlight video below and forget about Vick's "other issues."

Vick is set to be released from prison this summer, and the NFL has said they won't act on reinstatement until he's out of custody. The feeling right now is Vick won't face an additional suspension. Even so, the reinstatement process might drag on well into the season.

No one is really expecting any team to acquire Vick (though that didn't stop the Bucs from issuing a denial about interest in him), nor does anyone expect Vick to have much of an impact next season. Again -- he's spent the last two years away from football, dealing with major issues and doing time. Tough to expect much from someone coming out of that situation.

But Vick's career is likely far from done.

The question is -- how will it all play out? Vick is only 28, so he still has some good years left. But I'd be surprised if he was ever a full-time quarterback again.

As was well publicized when he played, Vick was never a great "passer," so I think he's more likely to come back as a "Wildcat" type of player who takes some snaps, lines up as a running back and lines up as a receiver. His raw athleticism was off the charts, so it's not a stretch to think he can be a productive offensive player in a few years.

Will it ever happen? Right now, there's no way of knowing. It will come down to how well Vick has taken care of himself and how much he's matured. If he stays out of trouble and shows a commitment to working hard and accepting any role, there will likely be another chapter to the Vick story.

Raptors, Heat make long rumored O'Neal-Marion swap

The Toronto Raptors announced Friday they have acquired four-time NBA All-Star forward Shawn Marion, guard Marcus Banks and cash from the Miami Heat in exchange for forward-centre Jermaine O’Neal, forward Jamario Moon and a conditional draft pick.

“I am obviously very familiar with Shawn on both a personal and professional level and feel he will ideally complement our roster and benefit our team in a significant way,” said Bryan Colangelo, Raptors President and General Manager. “As far as his pending free-agent status, this is not a move intended to clear space or predetermine a next move. It will however provide flexibility to both Shawn and the Raptors.

"Marcus will add scoring and defensive punch to our lineup and should benefit from the change of address.

"This is a win-win for both Toronto and Miami and we wish JO and Jamario the best," added Colangelo.

Marion has averaged 17.9 points, 10.0 rebounds, 1.9 steals, 1.3 blocks and 37.7 minutes in 717 regular season games over 10 seasons with Phoenix and Miami. He finished in the Top 10 in the NBA in rebounds and steals on seven occasions. He was named All-NBA Third Team in 2005 and 2006, and a Western Conference All-Star in 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2007.

Marion, 30, averaged double figures in points and rebounds in four seasons (2000-01, 2004-05, 2005-06 and 2007-08). He has averaged more than 9.0 rebounds a game in every season but his rookie campaign. He posted career bests of 21.8 points and 11.8 rebounds in 2005-06, and 2.28 steals in 2002-03. He scored a career-high 44 points versus Boston on February 22, 2006 and grabbed a personal-best 24 rebounds February 25, 2006 versus Charlotte and November 9, 2007 at Miami. His career high for steals came versus Minnesota with eight February 6, 2006.

Marion, 6-foot-7, 228 pounds, has averaged 12.0 points, 8.7 rebounds and 36.1 minutes in 41 games this season with the Heat. He has appeared in 65 postseason games, owning career playoff averages of 17.1 points, 10.9 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks. He helped the Suns to the Western Conference Championship series in 2005-06, averaging 20.4 points and 11.7 rebounds in 20 games. He averaged 12.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.25 steals in his four all-star games.

Marion declared for the 1999 NBA Draft following his freshman season at UNLV and was selected by Phoenix in the first round (9th overall).

Banks, 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, has averaged 6.2 points and 2.2 rebounds in 317 career games with Boston, Minnesota, Phoenix and Miami. He posted career highs of 10.0 points and 3.8 assists in the 2005-06 season with Boston and Minnesota. He recorded career highs of 28 points versus Atlanta on April 14, 2004 and 10 assists at Atlanta on April 5, 2006.

Banks has averaged 2.6 points, 1.4 assists and 10.4 minutes in 16 games with Miami this season. He has appeared 13 postseason contests, averaging 4.2 points and 1.2 assists. He was a 2003 first-round pick by Memphis and dealt to Boston on draft night. He played his final two collegiate seasons at UNLV where he averaged 18.1 points and 4.3 assists in 63 games.

O’Neal averaged 13.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 29.7 minutes in 41 games with the Raptors this season. He was acquired July 9, along with the draft rights to Nathan Jawai, from the Indiana Pacers for T.J. Ford, Rasho Nesterovic, Maceo Baston and the draft rights to Roy Hibbert.

Moon was signed as a free agent in 2007. In his two seasons with the Raptors, he averaged 8.0 points, 5.6 rebounds and 26.9 minutes in 132 games.
Posted by John McMullen at 10:40 AM
Labels: Heat, Raptors

Hillary Clinton Has Message for North Korea

Here is what Hillary Clinton had to say recently about North Korea before heading off on her Asia trip this weekend:

North Korea’s nuclear program is “the most acute challenge to stability in northeast Asia,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday.

But, Clinton said in a 45-minute address to the New York-based Asia Society, the Obama administration is prepared to seek a permanent, stable peace with Pyongyang as long as its government pursues disarmament and does not engage in aggression against neighboring South Korea.

“If North Korea is genuinely prepared to completely and verifiably eliminate their nuclear weapons program, the Obama administration will be willing to normalize bilateral relations, replace the peninsula’s long-standing armistice agreements with a permanent peace treaty and assist in meeting the energy and other economic needs of the North Korean people,” she said.

The United States wants to move forward with the six-party talks, working with China, South Korea, Japan, Russia and North Korea to address North Korea’s nuclear program, she said. However, keeping in line with the Obama administration’s approach of “engaging” its enemies, Clinton said the United States would consider bilateral contacts with Pyongyang. [CNN]

So in other words they are continuing the Bush administration policy with North Korea. So there is absolutely nothing new in that regards.

However, judging by who the Obama administration is looking to make their special envoy to North Korea I fully expect different results. As bad as the Bush administration’s policy with North Korea was at least they didn’t give the North Koreans absolutely everything they wanted with little to nothing in return.

I think it is a distinct possibility that during the Obama administration you will see a peace treaty signed and massive aid given to the North Koreans as Clinton just explained with little to nothing in return as well. However, don’t expect the North Koreans to disarm their nuclear weapons. They will do what they did to the Bush administration, make promises to disarm if the US acts first and after the US does something like remove them from the State Sponsors of Terrorism List, they then reneg on their promises. It works every time.

Also notice how Hillary Clinton mentioned nothing about North Korean human rights abuses?


Orchard Park, New York is where Asshyia Z. Hassen, 37, had her head cut off by her husband, Muzzammil Hassan, 44, Muslim leader.

This is “honor killing” American style, one more time.

“’He came to the police station at 6:20 p.m. [Thursday] and told us that she was dead,’ Orchard Park Police Chief Andrew Benz said” per Gene Warner of The Buffalo News.

She had been at her husband’s Bridges TV office where the police discovered her decapitated body.

“Muzzammil Hassan is the founder and chief executive officer of Bridges TV, which he launched in 2004, amid hopes that it would help portray Muslims in a more positive light.”

“. . .Muslims in a more positive light”?

Obviously, his recent act has sullied the Muslim image throughout America and every descent part of the world community.

The wife had recently filed for divorce from her husband. Obviously, the husband did not consider that honorable. Therefore, he took matters into his own hand to honor the divorce file—cutting her head off.

"’She had an order of protection that had him out of the home as of Friday the 6th [of February],’ authorities said.”

The Muslims spokesman for upright living now sits in the Erie County Holding Center, arraigned before Village Justice Deborah Chimes.

"In Dallas, an Egyptian man is wanted by police, accused of murdering his two daughters, reportedly, because they had non-Muslim boyfriends.

"In Scottsville, N.Y., a Turkish immigrant has been in and out of psychiatric care since he was charged three years ago with killing his wife and beating his daughters because of alleged sexual assault.

"In some honor killings overseas, family members have killed women who've been raped because they're considered to have brought shame on their families."

Judges Sent Juveniles to Prison Receive $2.6 million in Head Count Kickbacks

Eddie G. Griffin (BASG)

I have known for some time that certain judges were getting kickbacks for every head they sent to prison. I just didn’t have the proof, until now.

The juvenile court system in Wilkes-Barre operated like a conveyor belt: Youngsters were brought before judges without a lawyer, given hearings that lasted only a minute or two, and then sent off to juvenile prison for months for minor offenses... Wilkes-Barre judges accused of jailing kids for cash.

Luzerne County Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan took $2.6 million in payoffs to put juvenile offenders in lockups run by PA Child Care LLC and a sister company, Western PA Child Care LLC. Both pled guilty to corruption charges. Ironically, the company has been charged with no wrongdoing, but rather claims itself to be the victim of extortion.

The report says that Conahan shut down the county-run juvenile prison in 2002 and helped the two companies secure tens of millions of dollars in contracts with Luzerne County, most of which were dependent on how many juveniles were locked up in their facilities. PA Child Care landed a 20-year agreement worth an estimated $58 million. The contract was later canceled and described as being "too exorbitant", but not before the two judges became rich feeding the Prison Industrial machine with naive juvenile offenders, many of whom were first time offenders, and many more burdened with exaggerated charges for minor offenses.

This is the classic school-to-prison pipeline for the sake of profit and kickbacks.

Although I scream to the high heavens, some people still do not believe the juvenile justice system can operate like this. It must be an abortion, they think. But we have seen instance upon instances, cases like Kurt Kruger, a teenager charged as a lookout for a friend who stole $200 worth of DVD. And, a 14-year old Paris, Texas juvenile charged with assault on a public servant for barging into the school before permitted, and sentenced up to 7 years of her life. And, a schoolyard fight in Jena, Louisiana, that could netted six black youth up to 80 years. And, in the state of Georgia, a 17-year old has consensual sex with a 15-year old and wound up sentenced to 10 years.

Harsh punishment is not the word. It is a rash motive for locking up some many juveniles for such minor offenses. It is a cash motive that banked the corrupt judges $2.6 million. Justice is bought and sold on the streets like merchandise.

When a man has been on the crooked side of the law, he knows which judges are on the take. He knows which cops will contaminate the crime scene and which will fabricate the evidence. He knows which crooked lawyer will put his feet on the ground and get the case dismissed.

Half the story above has never been told.

Last year, Conahan felt compelled to hold a news conference to answer allegations raised against him in a federal drug trial. A witness had claimed that Conahan introduced him to a drug dealer. And, an attorney referred to Conahan as an "unindicted co-conspirator" in the case. But Conahan denied the allegations, which he said were made by people seeking favor of prosecutors. Therefore, he was never charged by police nor reprimanded by the state’s judicial conduct board.

These things come as no surprise to me. Juveniles get in trouble and find themselves in front of a judge who sees nothing but dollar signs hanging over their heads. And, no matter how many warnings I give them, juveniles will get involved in drugs, not knowing that there is a crooked judge somewhere who knows their deed and identity, and will probably be sitting on the bench when the court serves them up as a turkeys.

In the above case, kids were hailed before the judges, without lawyers, contrary to the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1967 ruling that children have a constitutional right to counsel. The constitution is worthless to a judge on the take.

The Ciavarella and Conahan court was a railroad system. And, people want to ask: Why are so many young people in prison?

It looks like due process of law and smells like justice. But it does not pass the acid test. By the same code and practice, the innocent is convicted and wrongfully sent to prison. Dallas County has exonerated 19 inmates false accused, prosecuted, convicted, and imprisoned. A Texas Tech college student named Timothy Cole was exonerated posthumously. And, yet the beat goes on like business as usual in the courthouse, and nobody knows the better.

Private prison contractors and their corporate investors look for ever-increasing expansion of the detention system, as if there is no absolute maximum. Take for example the story of privateers going to a Texas town later nicknamed Prisonville because it “host to what’s probably the largest concentration of privatized jail facilities in the world.”

The town of is home to a privately run, 1,000-bed state prison; a county-run, 96-bed jail with space for federal inmates; and a private, 500-bed federal jail. Not content with just $129 million in prison-related debt, the Willacy County Commissioners Court voted in 2007 to finance a $50.1 million, 1000-bed addition to the privately-run 2000-bed “Tent City” for immigrants.

The 3,600 prisoners, one-third of Raymondville’s population, who reside in this penal colony represent the heart of the area’s economy.

According to an article written about "Prisonville": Private prison corporations are a good place to put money – if you are interested in making good money from companies that imprison people for profit. As the two leading private prison firms like to tell investors, it’s a booming business these days not because crime rates are rising but because of the new opportunities in immigrant detention.

So it’s not surprising that Vanguard Group, one of the country’s largest mutual funds companies, puts its investors money into private prison firms, including the country’s two largest: Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group (originally incorporated as Wackenhut). Vanguard Group is also a major investor in Correctional Services Corporation.

Willacy County, Texas is the epicenter of the private prison phenomenon that is sweeping the country, fueled in recent years by the immigrant crackdown. Over the past three years, over 3,000 new “prison beds” have come on line in Raymondville, the county seat, as politicians and Texas developers have attempted to cash in on the federal government’s demand for prison space for detained immigrants. The largest operator is the Utah-based Management and Training Corporation, although GEO Group also has prison operations in Raymondville.

U.S. prosecutors in ex-senator's case held in contempt

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Four U.S. Justice Department attorneys were held in contempt on Friday for failing to turn over documents to the legal team representing convicted former U.S. Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan held the attorneys, including the head of department's public integrity section, which prosecutes corruption cases, in contempt for violating one of his orders.

Sullivan last month ordered the Justice Department to turn over all of its internal communications regarding a complaint by an FBI agent alleging misconduct by another agent and by prosecutors involved in the case.

Stevens was convicted at the end of October in Washington on corruption charges for failing to report on Senate disclosure forms more than $250,000 in home renovations and other gifts from an oil executive.

Sullivan said there would be further proceedings later on what sanctions, if any, to impose on the prosecutors. It is rare for government attorneys to be found in contempt.

Stevens, 85, had been the Senate's longest-serving Republican and one of its most powerful, using his authority to steer billions of dollars of federal spending to his home state. He did not attend Friday's hearing.

His conviction helped contribute to Stevens losing his re-election bid in November. His attorneys have been seeking to overturn his conviction.

They have cited a whistleblower complaint filed by an FBI agent who worked on the case that said another agent and prosecutors improperly concealed evidence helpful to Stevens from the court and from the defense.

Microsoft to Open Retail Stores. What will they sell?

PC fans now have a place to spend their hard earned money on their way back home from the office. Microsoft have announced that they will be opening their own line of retail stores.

In 2001, Microsoft did open a store in San Francisco which closed by the end of that same year. This time round, the company have hired David Porter, a 25 year Wal-Mart executive, to lead the effort which will begin with a few smaller stores.

Apple began its retail push in 2001 and now has more than 200 locations in several countries. Microsoft’s venture into the market comes as Apple has begun to slow its retail store expansion.

I wonder what the company plans to sell precisely, will it be XBoxes and Zunes plus software? Ready built machines? Repairs? All of the above?

Flight 3407 images give many views of crash

The first images of the horrific plane crash yesterday of Flight 3407 near Buffalo, NY, came from witnesses at the crash site. These videos were uploaded onto YouTube and by noon had been viewed by tens of thousands of people.

This user-generated content (UGC) is a new way for people to truly understand the devastation of a tragedy like this. These images are far more graphic than traditional media footage because they capture the raw emotion of the crash and the witnesses to it. The various videos show the immediate aftermath of Flight 3407 slamming into a house in the small town of Clarence, NY, and were posted to share the witnesses’ own experience.

Unsurprisingly, the major media channels have been airing these videos on national news feeds as well. This is an example of how UGC will continue grow as a legitimate means of news gathering. The videos also stand as a tribute to the deceased because they will be around long after the news channels have stopped covering the story.