| NEWS of the Day - February 29, 2012
|on some issues of interest to the community policing and neighborhood activist across the country
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following group of articles from local newspapers and other sources constitutes but a small percentage of the information available to the community policing and neighborhood activist public. It is by no means meant to cover every possible issue of interest, nor is it meant to convey any particular point of view ...
We present this simply as a convenience to our readership ...
From Los Angeles Times
Partial 9/11 remains cremated, dumped in landfill, Pentagon says
A report says unidentifiable fragments were disposed of by a contractor used by the military's key mortuary, already criticized over its mishandling of remains.
by David S. Cloud, Washington Bureau
February 29, 2012
Reporting from Washington
Partial remains of some people killed in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were cremated and dumped in a landfill, according to a Pentagon report released Tuesday that raised new concerns about the military facility handling most of America's war dead.
Officials at the Dover Air Force Base mortuary in Delaware gave a biomedical waste disposal contractor unidentified human remains recovered after a hijacked passenger jet was flown into the Pentagon, killing 184 people, and another hijacked plane crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pa., killing 40 more.
The contractor incinerated the remains and disposed of them in a landfill, the Pentagon report said. Neither the contractor nor the location of the landfill was identified in the report, and it wasn't immediately clear how many sets of remains were handled in this manner. Nor was it clear whether the remains were of Sept. 11 victims, hijackers or both.
The disclosure is the latest blow to the once-respected Dover mortuary, which has been rocked since last fall by charges of gross mismanagement, lost body parts from dismembered corpses, and reprisals against employees who sought to warn higher-ups about problems.
News reports in November revealed that partial remains of at least 274 American military personnel were incinerated and discarded in a Virginia landfill prior to 2008. It was not previously known that some Sept. 11 remains were handled the same way. But questions remained Tuesday as to whether passengers from the Pennsylvania crash were even sent to Dover.
The Pentagon report was issued by a panel created by Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta to review the Pentagon response to the scandal and recommend improved practices at the mortuary.
The report describes a decade of questionable procedures at Dover. In some cases, Air Force and Army officers in charge of the mortuary investigated and documented problems but did not correct them, said retired Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, who chaired the review panel.
Abizaid described the commanders at Dover as "dysfunctional and isolated."
The Abizaid panel report said that in July 2002, the head of the Army Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Branch directed Dover to begin incinerating partial remains from the Pentagon attack and the Pennsylvania crash site that "could not be tested or identified."
According to the report, mortuary officials had assumed nothing remained after incineration, "but after inquiring they were told that 'there was some residual material and that the contractor was disposing of it in a landfill.' "
Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said during a separate news conference that they first learned from the report about the disposal of Sept. 11 remains, and they refused to comment further.
The decision to incinerate unidentifiable remains from the Sept. 11 attacks was made by senior Pentagon officials, according to a 2002 internal memo provided Tuesday by a military officer on condition he not be identified.
In the memo, then-Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel David Chu, a George W. Bush administration appointee, ordered that remains of non-hijackers that could not be individually identified be cremated and buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Remains of the hijackers went to the FBI, the memo said. Any other "fragmented remains that cannot be further identified" should be incinerated, Chu said.
Forensic analysis was unable to identify some fragmentary remains, leaving open the possibility they could belong to hijackers or victims. It was this category of remains that apparently ended up incinerated and sent to a landfill.
Cremation of partial remains was halted in 2008, and the mortuary began burying unidentified remains at sea, along with partial remains of troops whose families gave the mortuary permission to do so.
Lisa Linden, spokeswoman for the Families of Flight 93, disputed the possibility that the Dover mortuary handled remains of passengers from the United Airlines flight that crashed in Pennsylvania.
"This is impossible to believe," she said, noting that remains were handled by Wallace Miller, the coroner in Pennsylvania's Somerset County, where the plane crashed. "According to Wally, no remains from Shanksville ever went to Dover."
Miller could not be reached for comment. He told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Tuesday that he was mystified by the report's findings since "the only remains that left Somerset County were samples sent for DNA testing to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology" in Quantico, Va.
Pentagon officials were unable to resolve the discrepancy late Tuesday.
Doctor charged in nation's largest healthcare fraud scam
Dr. Jacques Roy of Texas is accused of bilking Medicare of nearly $375 million by recruiting homeless and other fake patients to sign for care that wasn't provided.
by Richard A. Serrano, Washington Bureau
February 29, 2012
Reporting from Washington
Federal law enforcement officials announced charges in the largest healthcare fraud scam in the nation's history, indicting a Dallas-area physician for purportedly bilking Medicare of nearly $375 million after he reportedly sent out "recruiters" to round up patients and get them to sign for treatments he never provided.
The Medicare billings piled up by Dr. Jacques Roy grew so large over the last five years that the situation left outside experts wondering Tuesday why it took prosecutors so long to notice.
"To get that kind of money, you'd need to be treating a million people," said Andrew Selesnick, a Los Angeles lawyer who represents physicians. "You'd have to have 30 locations and tons of people going through them."
The arrest of the Canadian-born doctor, a physician for nearly 30 years, comes at a time when healthcare fraud is sharply increasing, with fewer people able to afford doctor visits and Medicare and other government programs paying less in reimbursements.
That phenomenon has prompted more healthcare providers to cut corners, with more doctors and clinicians looking for new ways to pay off expensive student loans and medical equipment, or just keep afloat in an industry that is burdened with high insurance and other costs.
Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., in testimony Tuesday before a House Appropriations subcommittee, said federal prosecutors were fighting back. In the last fiscal year they recovered nearly $4.1 billion in funds "stolen or taken improperly from federal healthcare programs," he said. "This represents the highest amount ever recovered in a single year."
At the same time, Holder said, the Justice Department opened 1,100 new criminal healthcare fraud investigations, won more than 700 convictions, and initiated 1,000 civil healthcare fraud investigations.
In all, he said, for every dollar spent fighting healthcare fraud, "we've been able to return an average of $7 to the U.S. Treasury, the Medicare Trust Fund" and other government entities.
Roy, 54, was arrested Tuesday at his Rockwall, Texas, home, where authorities found bank statements from the Cayman Islands, a fake Texas driver's license, and passport photos of him with and without glasses and wearing different outfits. In one room was a book titled "Hide Your A$$ET$ and Disappear."
Taken before a federal judge in Dallas and ordered held, Roy faces a maximum sentence of 100 years in prison and at least $18.5 million in fines and forfeitures.
"Dr. Roy engaged in a staggering and long-running fraud scheme," prosecutors said in asking that he not be allowed bail. "He will flout any authority that tries to rein him in."
Authorities allege that Roy and his office manager in DeSoto, Texas, Teri Sivils, who was also charged, sent the healthcare recruiters door-to-door asking residents to sign forms that contained the doctor's electronic signature and stated that his practice had seen them professionally in their own homes.
They also allegedly dispatched more recruiters to a homeless shelter in Dallas, paying them $50 every time they coaxed a street person to go to a nearby parking lot and sign the bogus forms.
The long-running ruse began in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in 2006, and over the last five years collected more Medicare beneficiaries than any other medical practice in the United States.
Also charged were five owners of home health agencies. Health and Human Services Department officials suspended payments worth about $2.3 million a month to 78 other Texas home health agencies.
Daniel R. Levinson, inspector general for the Health and Human Services Department, said authorities were applying new investigative tools to target fraud schemes. "Using sophisticated data analysis, we can now target suspicious billing spikes," he said.
In the Roy case, Levinson noted that "our analysts discovered that in 2010, while 99% of physicians who certified patients for home health signed off on 104 or fewer people, Dr. Roy certified more than 5,000."
Justice Department officials, reacting to questions about how the fraudulent scheme had been allowed to grow so large, said the case's size made it a burdensome, complex and protracted investigation. Even when officials suspended Roy's Medicare license in June, they said, he found a way around that by shifting his business to another company.
"As enforcement actions have ramped up, fraudsters are devising new ways to beat the system," said Sarah R. Saldana, the U.S. attorney in Dallas.
Jack Fernandez, a Florida lawyer who formerly prosecuted healthcare fraud for the federal government, whistled out loud when he heard the dollar amount in the Roy case. But he said the red tape and complex laws and regulations that come with filing Medicare claims made it easy to slip false claims through the system.
"It's easy for someone to run around those statutes," he said. "But the government is going to get its money back."
Slaves helped build U.S. Capitol: The irony is officially noted
by Richard Simon
February 28, 2012.
Reporting from Washington —
Slaves helped build the U.S. Capitol, an irony that was recognized Tuesday with the dedication of a stone marker calling attention to their role in constructing the cherished monument to freedom.
A slave-quarried block of sandstone that once was part of the Capitol was dedicated in the Capitol Visitor Center's Emancipation Hall.
“For too long, the sacrifice of men and women who built this temple of democracy were overlooked; their toil forgotten; their story ignored or denied, and their voices silenced in the pages of history,'' House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco said at the ceremony. "Yet today, we join together to strive to right this wrong of our past, to honor the sacrifice of these laborers, to lay down a marker of gratitude and respect for those who built the walls of the Capitol.''
Legislation also has been introduced calling for the design and placement in the visitors center of an "unknown slave" statue, to further recognize the contributions of slaves in building the Capitol.
Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), the bill's author, said the statue would be "an acknowledgment of truth and an important symbol showing that the United States does not hide from its history, but rather learns from it." A similar Ackerman bill, introduced in the last Congress, never made it to the House floor.
Ackerman also recently wrote President Obama urging him to display in the White House a recognition of the role of slaves in its building.
The block of sandstone dedicated Tuesday was part of the Capitol's East Front portico, which was completed in 1826. It had been in storage since the late 1950s, according to the Architect of the Capitol.
The marker -- along with similarly themed plaques installed in the Capitol in 2010 -- grew out of the recommendation of the congressional Task Force to Study the History and Contributions of Slave Laborers in the Construction of the U.S. Capitol, established in 2000 and led by Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a veteran of the civil rights movement.
It also followed a 2005 report by the Architectural Historian of the Architect of the Capitol on the history of slave labor in building of the Capitol. In 1999, pay stubs dating from the 1790s were discovered, which authorized the Treasury Department to pay slave owners for the hire of their slaves to work at the Capitol.
Ohio school shooting suspect identified, heads to court today
by Michael Muskal
February 28, 2012
T.J. Lane, the teenager being held as the gunman in the deadly Ohio school shooting, is scheduled to have a proceeding in juvenile court on Tuesday afternoon, according to lawyers familiar with the case.
The appearance is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Eastern time in Geauga County Juvenile Court. Lane has been in custody since Monday's shooting spree at Chardon High School, which has claimed two students' lives. The usual procedure is for a teenage suspect to be treated as a juvenile until a decision is made by prosecutors on whether to charge him or her as an adult, one attorney said.
Lane, 17, is being represented by family attorney Robert Farinacci, who identified his client in a statement released to the media overnight, before the second victim died.
“The family wanted me to convey to the citizens of Geauga County and northeastern Ohio that the family is devastated by this most recent event,” Farinacci said. “They want to give their most heartfelt and sincere condolences to the family of the young man who passed and their continuing prayers are with all those who were injured."
“This is something that could never have been predicted. TJ's family has asked for some privacy while they try to understand how such a tragedy could have occurred and while they mourn this terrible loss for their community,” the lawyer said.
Farinacci described Lane as a fairly quiet and good kid.
“His grades are pretty impressive,” Farinacci said. “He's a sophomore. He's been doubling up on his classes with the intent of graduating this May. He pretty much sticks to himself but does have some friends and has never been in trouble over anything that we know about.”
Lane allegedly entered the high school cafeteria on Monday morning and shot five students. Daniel Parmertor died Monday afternoon and a second student, Russell King Jr., was reportedly declared brain dead Tuesday. The three others remain hospitalized in serious or critical condition.
The victims were found in separate areas at the school, said officials who are still investigating the incident.
King was studying alternative energy at nearby Auburn Career Center and, like some of the others who were shot, was waiting for a bus for his daily 15-minute ride to the center.
One Chardon High School student wounded in the shooting, Demetrius Hewlin, was in critical condition at Cleveland's MetroHealth System hospital Tuesday, a spokeswoman said.
Third student dies after shooting in suburban Ohio
by Michael Muskal
February 28, 2012
A third student wounded in Monday's shooting spree at a high school in suburban Ohio has died, hospital officials said Tuesday.
Two students remain hospitalized in serious or critical condition.
Demetrius Hewlin, the third student to die, was among five students shot Monday morning when a teenage gunman opened fire inside the Chardon High School cafeteria. The town is about 30 miles east of Cleveland.
Hewlin's family issued a statement praising their son and asking for privacy.
“We are very saddened by the loss of our son and others in our Chardon community,” the statement read.
“Demetrius was a happy young man who loved life and his family and friends. We will miss him very much but we are proud that he will be able to help others through organ donation. We ask that you respect our privacy during this difficult time,” the family asked.
T.J. Lane, the suspect in the shooting, is scheduled to have a proceeding in Juvenile Court on Tuesday afternoon.
A candlelight vigil is scheduled for Tuesday night at a church near the high school.
Victory, and defeat, in the war on drugs
Colombian cartels settled a pay dispute with Mexican smugglers, and that made Mexican organized crime what it is today — bigger, richer and much more dangerous
by William C. Rempel
February 29, 2012
If the often-frustrating 40-year war on drugs has taught us anything, it is that even success can have dangerous downsides. Here's an example I came across in researching a book on the downfall of the Cali cartel.
It all started in the summer of 1989, in the northeast San Fernando Valley. But first some background:
Throughout the 1980s, Mexican smugglers were traditionally paid as couriers for hire by the Colombian cartels. They transported cocaine across the U.S. border for commissions that started as low as 20% of a load's wholesale value. As the flow of drugs increased, so did pressure to raise that commission to 30%, then 35%, 40% and more, until the Colombians said: " No mas ." No more.
The go-to guy in Mexico for both of Colombia's cartel giants — Pablo Escobar's Medellin organization and his fast-growing Cali rivals — was Amado Carrillo Fuentes in the Tex-Mex border town of Juarez. He was a flashy, vain and hard-drinking crime boss who already had amassed a small fortune moving marijuana across the border.
When the Colombian godfathers refused to raise transportation commissions, Carrillo's gang launched an audacious power play. They clogged the distribution pipeline. Instead of passing the smuggled shipments along to regional traffickers across the country, the Mexicans let it pile up in warehouses. One of those storage sites was in Sylmar.
As one U.S. drug agent told me: "They held the dope hostage."
Obviously, litigation was not an option for either side, so the cocaine stash in the Sylmar warehouse kept swelling as the summer pay dispute continued into early fall.
The financial standoff was still unresolved on Sept. 28, 1989, when a joint task force of local and federal drug agents raided the warehouse. They encountered no resistance and no security, except for a $6 padlock on the front door. Inside, they found $12 million in $100 and $20 bills — and 211/2 tons of individually wrapped 2.2-pound bricks of white powder. To this day, it stands as the biggest cocaine drug bust in history.
Press reports struggled to describe the mind-boggling amount of cocaine that was seized that day:
• Stacked properly, said one account, the kilo packages would approximate the size of two school buses.
• It's not like finding powder on a tabletop, a DEA agent explained in another news story, it's like finding powder covering a football field.
• A New York Times report estimated that the cocaine's wholesale value exceeded $2 billion and its potential street value approached $7 billion.
Both the Colombians and the Mexicans lost a fortune that day, as well as several key operatives. A major smuggling route was compromised and one of Carrillo's top lieutenants went to prison as a result of evidence collected in the raid.
A clear-cut victory for the drug war, yes? Not exactly.
The bust made one thing clear to the Colombians and Mexicans: The pay dispute was very bad for business and had to be resolved. The Colombians decided to stop paying cash to the Mexican smugglers and instead began reimbursing them with product. At first, it was one kilo of cocaine paid for every two or three kilos smuggled across the border. Later, it was one kilo to the Mexicans for every kilo they smuggled.
U.S. drug agents call that decision a game-changer. In many ways, it made Mexican organized crime what it is today — bigger, richer and much more dangerous.
Under the new post-Sylmar compensation scheme, Mexican smugglers suddenly had the inventory to become major cocaine players and an incentive to embrace all aspects of the trade. Instead of making millions in commissions, they made billions as distributors. Soaring profits made lucrative smuggling routes worth fighting over and the fighting hasn't stopped.
In Colombia, both the Medellin and Cali cartels have since fallen to internal warfare and law enforcement crackdowns. Today, remnants of the Colombian crime giants have ceded the U.S. cocaine market exclusively to Mexican cartels.
And how has it affected supply? Not much. More than 22 years after the biggest cocaine bust in history, the biggest change along the front lines of the U.S. drug war may simply be the accents of the traffickers.
William C. Rempel is a former Los Angeles Times investigative reporter and editor and the author of "At the Devil's Table: The Untold Story of the Insider Who Brought Down the Cali Cartel."
From Google News
Airport X-ray machines are safe for passengers, report says
by Bart Jansen, USA TODAY
Full-body X-ray scanning machines at airport security checkpoints use an "extremely low dose" of radiation that's safe for passengers, the Homeland Security Department's inspector general reported Tuesday.
In drawing his conclusion, Carlton Mann, an assistant inspector general, cited previous scientific findings.
They include a Johns Hopkins University assessment in August 2010 that said a passenger would have to be screened 47 times a day for a year to exceed yearly limits of radiation set by the American National Standards Institute.
The Transportation Security Administration has maintained that the X-ray, or "backscatter," machines are safe since it began deploying them in March 2010.
Currently, there are 247 backscatter machines at 39 airports. The rest of the 630 full-body scanners at 150 airports use millimeter-wave technology, which isn't under scrutiny.
"We believe this report fully endorses TSA's extensive efforts to keep the traveling public safe, which is our agency's ultimate priority," TSA Administrator John Pistole wrote in response to the report.
Despite its repeated guarantees, the agency has been dogged by health and safety concerns over the use of the devices.
In November, the European Union banned the use of X-ray machines because of health concerns. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has asked for an additional public-health study to ensure the machines aren't a risk.
Among concerns is whether the TSA properly inspects and calibrates the machines to ensure that passengers aren't exposed to higher levels of radiation.
The inspector general's report said it didn't identify any improperly calibrated machines. However, it urged the TSA to routinely check the machines to make sure they're safe.
Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., says the report confirms the need for the TSA to provide additional training for its officers on calibrating the machines — something the agency agreed with in responding to the report.
The TSA deployed full-body scanning machines because metal detectors didn't find explosives on the so-called underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, on Christmas Day 2009.
Walnut Creek police reorganization: More police downtown, less traffic enforcement
by Elisabeth Nardi --
Contra Costa Times contracostatimes.com
February 29, 2012
WALNUT CREEK -- A reorganization of the city's police department will mean no more dedicated traffic cops, scaled back school outreach and more officers assigned to downtown.
The reorganization, announced Tuesday, is necessary in the short term to better serve the entire community, Chief of Police Joel Bryden said.
"We are trying to be creative with the resources we have and make sure our critical needs are being addressed," Bryden said.
A community policing team will be refocused on the downtown, allowing the city to continue the stepped-up enforcement of the past few weeks after a string of highly publicized violent incidents downtown.
"With a downtown this vibrant and lively, we need to put our resources where they are most needed," he said.
These downtown patrols will not just focus on bars but all issues downtown, he stressed. That will, in turn, keep other officers from being taken off other beats to respond downtown, he said.
"It will allow us to better serve the whole city," Bryden said.
As part of the reorganization, motorcycle traffic officers will be reassigned to patrol. While any officer can make a traffic stop, the change will mean fewer tickets and less traffic enforcement, Bryden said.
The department also will scale back on certain school programs, including Character Counts, in which Walnut Creek police officers go into classrooms and teach certain values and ethics. The graduation for
this program will be held in classrooms this school year rather than at the Lesher Center, Bryden said, and no decision has been made about its return next year.
"Right now we need to reduce the number of things we are doing so we can focus on the number one goal of protecting the community," he said.
The city's Neighborhood Watch coordinator is being moved back to dispatcher. Neighborhood Watch groups will still have a lieutenant they can contact for any of their needs, Bryden said.
Many of these actions are "short-term," likely until July, because the City Council will vote on its two-year budget in June. In the last two-year budget, nine department positions were left unfilled to save money. Because of injuries and other factors, the police department has been short-staffed, making it necessary to shift officers around. Bryden plans to ask the council for more staff but would not say how many or for what positions.
In January, Bryden recommended two new officer positions -- focused on the downtown -- should be added to the budget. But there is already a $2.3 million projected deficit in the upcoming two-year budget.
Mayor Bob Simmons said the city is already looking for ways to cut the budget and that money for new staff must come from somewhere else. He stresses that tough decisions will be part of adopting the budget.
"I think we are going to have some significant challenges when you look at all the services the community does want," Simmons said. "We are used to a lot of nice things."
Councilman Kish Rajan, who for the past two months has been vocal about the need for more police, said he backs the chief's plan but is troubled that such a plan is necessary.
"I am not comfortable in an environment where we are restricting our services," he said. "We need to put the resources in public safety that provide the breadth and reach of services that our community deserves."
In a Facebook post, the Walnut Creek Police Association said it supports the restructuring in general, though some information in its post does not match up with Bryden's plan.
The department will no longer be able to provide proactive services, according to the post, and instead has been "forced into a reactive style of policing" like Antioch, Vallejo and Oakland.
Bryden called that characterization a "gross exaggeration." It's standard for police departments to go through restructurings like this, he said.