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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Random Acts of Crime: Snapshots 5

February 2012
Hope Mills, North Carolina

     Evangeline Lucca was either in a hurry or having a serious BigMac Attack when she drove directly up the the McDonald's pick-up window ahead of a line of vehicles in the drive-thru lane. (Cutting off people waiting for McDonald's goodies is like snatching food from the jaws of a starving dog. Not recommended.) With her 3-year-old daughter in the car, the 37-year-old woman wouldn't budge after McDonald employees refused to serve her. Someone, perhaps envisioning a riot, or a McMurder, called the police.

     When confronted by deputies with the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office, Lucca, apparently unwilling to let a couple of cops move her to the back of the line, wouldn't budge for them either. But unlike McDonalds employees, these guys carry taser guns. A deputy administered the voltage, and the hungry, impatient suspect found herself in another line. One that led directly to the county jail. A child protection officer took the little girl into custody as well. Although charged with second degree trespass, Lucca should have been charged with first degree stupid.

February 2012
Chicago, Illinois

     Burglars broke into a Lincoln Park jewelry store by cutting through a wall shared by a sushi restaurant next door. The thieves cut the hole right behind the safe in a small area not covered by security cameras and the motion detecting intrusion alarm. Using a powerful saw, the burglars cut into the safe and removed the gems. To cool the saw blade as it cut into the money chest, the intruders used a bucket of ice-cold beer. Based on the M.O. of this heist, the thieves were operating with inside information. If I were on the case, I'd be checking out former employees, and asking current ones to take polygraph tests.

February 2012
Armada, Michigan

     In March 2011, 25-year-old Mallorie Wilson-Strat waited in a car parked in front of a house in Armada where two men she had hired were supposedly murdering Wilson-Stat's boyfriend's estranged wife. The killing of the 32-year-old murder for hire target didn't happen because the hit men got cold feet and fled the scene. An earlier attempt to murder this woman, orchestrated by Wilson-Stat, had also failed. On her third try, the mastermind hired an undercover cop to do the job.

     In February 2012, following a three-day trial at the County Circuit Court in Mount Clemens, Michigan, the jury found Wilson-Stat guilty of conspiracy to commit first degree murder, solicitation of murder, and aiding and abetting a home invasion. The would-be victim's estranged husband, Kevin Sears, testified that he had not put his girlfriend up to the murder of his estranged wife.

     At her upcoming sentence hearing in March, the convicted woman's attorney will argue that his client was a puppet being manipulated by her boyfriend, Kevin Spears (who has not been charged.) According to the lawyer, she did it--tried to kill a woman three times--for love. The minimum sentence in Michigan for the crimes Wilson-Stat committed is 15 years in prison. The maximum is life. I'm pulling for that one.

February 2012
Lancaster, Pennsylvania

     In November 2010, district judge Kelly Ballentine received a pair of parking tickets and a summons regarding the expired registration on her BMW. The fines totaled $268.50. Rather than pay up like the rest of us, Judge Ballentine accessed the online magisterial district judicial system and fixed her own tickets. The 43-year-old judge had been elected to the bench in 2006. (In Pennsylvania, anyone can be a district judge, all you have to do is run for the office and get enough votes.) Charged with conflict of interest, public records tampering, and obstruction of justice, Ballentine is free on $25,000 bail. (I'd like to hack into the system and raise that to $1 million.) If convicted on all counts, she could be sentenced up to seven years in prison. (That won't happen. I'd be surprised if she gets any prison time.) On paid administrative leave, Judge Ballentine could face disciplinary action imposed by the state supreme court. (Not long ago, a pair of central Pennsylvania judges were convicted of taking kick-backs from a private prison for every kid they sentenced to the facility.)

February 2012
Los Angeles, California

     In Los Angeles, people who are physically disabled can be issued blue placards that allow them to park free all day. The problem is, hundreds of motorists are using cards issued to other people, depriving the city of angels needed revenue. This month, undercover officers with the Los Angeles Department of transportation, ran a sting operation that revealed how badly the system is being abused. Illegal parkers caught in the crackdown were fined between $250 and $1,000. A few could end up in jail for up to six months. (One nice thing about jail--parking is not a problem.) When caught, most of the fraudulent parking card users were not ashamed or remorseful. They were furious.

February 2012
Pasadena, California

     On Sunday night, February 12, Pasadena police were called to the apartment Marston Hefner shared with his girlfriend, Claire Sinclair. Officers took the 21-year-old Hefner into custody when they discovered that his girlfriend had been injured. On Monday, after being charged with domestic assault, Hefner was released on $20,000 bail. Sinclair, that day, acquired an emergency restraining order against Mr. Hefner.

     None of this would have been an event worthy of media attention had the suspect not been the son of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner. Adding icing to this celebrity journalism cake, the 20-year-old alleged victim was 2011's Playmate of the year. (I predict, for Claire Sinclair, a spot on next year's "Celebrity Apprentice.") Two days after Hefner's release from jail (From young Hef we might see a prison memoir based on his hellish incarceration.), Sinclair told reporters she would not press charges if Marston admitted that he had hit her more than once, and sought psychiatric help. (Too many stories like this one and I'll be looking for a shrink myself.)

February 2012
Ozark, Missouri

     Edward Maher, a 36-year-old armored car driver, on January 22, 1993, drove his money truck to a remote spot near Felixstowe on England's east coast, loaded $1.5 million (U.S.) in bills and coins into his car, and disappeared. "Fast Eddie," as he became known in England, fled to America with his 3-year-old son Lee, his wife Deborah, and the money. After living in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, Edward, using the name Michael King, moved his family, in 2006, to Ozark, Missouri, a town of 18,000 in the southwest corner of the state.

     In 2010, the broadband technician with a cable company called Suddelink, was $35,000 in debt, driving an old car, and living with his wife and son in a drab housing complex. That year, he filed for personnel bankruptcy. In 201l, things got better for Michael King when he won $100,000 from a scratch lottery ticket. That year, Michael's 23-year-old son Lee, married an Ozark girl named Jessica. That's when life took a wrong turn for England's "Fast Eddie."

     Lee King, who liked to tell people he had been a decorated military officer, also told his friends that his father had been an infamous English armor car thief who had been on the lamb for twenty years. This story sounded so fantastic, nobody believed him. But when Lee told his new wife the story, Jessica went online to check it out, and sure enough, it was true. When Edward Maher, AKA Michael King, learned that his son had spilled the beans to his new wife, he threatened to kill her if she went to the police. Fearing for her life, that's exactly what she did.

     In February, FBI agents arrested Maher at his home in Ozark. He is currently in federal custody for, as an illegal immigrant, possessing a firearm. He will eventually be extradited back to England where he can still be prosecuted for the armored car heist. Because they are not U.S. citizens, his wife and son will be going back with him. (I find it interesting that in America, an illegal immigrant can file for bankruptcy, get a driver's license, and possess a social security card. I'd also like to know how Maher converted all that money to U.S. currency, then made it to America.) 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Walmartology: Crimes in Consumerland 7

January 2012
Houston, Texas

     The Houston Police arrested three shoplifters, a man and two women, who had walked out of three Houston Walmarts with $20,000 worth of merchandise. The thieves swiped small, high-dollar items such as electric razors and nonprescription drugs and merchandise in the pharmaceutical section of the store such as Prilosec, Rogaine, Whitestrips, and Claritin. The suspects smuggled the loot out through the home-and-garden centers where they passed the items though a hole in the fence to an accomplice. If it hadn't been for the surveillance cameras they may not have been caught. The fact they managed to leave the stores so easily with so much merchandise makes one wonder how many Walmart shoplifters are not apprehended. These were not sophisticated heists.

January 2012
Union Township, Pennsylvania

     In western Pennsylvania not far from the Ohio line, police arrested three shoplifters who had stolen thousands of dollars worth of merchandise from Walmart and two other box stores in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Like the thieves in Houston, they loaded up shopping carts with small, high-priced items, and wheeled the stuff to the closed lawn and garden departments where they passed the loot to an accomplice through broken fences.

       You don't have to be a retail security practitioner to realize these stores have weak loss prevention programs. Customers who take merchandise through the cash out counter instead of holes in fences, end up paying for the shoplifted stuff. As long as stores can pass the cost along to paying customers, there is no incentive to spend money on retail security.

February 2012
Bremen, Georgia

     A security camera in this west Georgia Walmart caught a homicide parolee attempting to kidnap a 7-year-old girl browsing in the toy section of the store. The would-be victim, Brittney Baxter, kicked herself from the grasp of 25-year-old Thomas A. Woods of Austell, Georgia. After the girl broke free, Woods ran out of the store. (He got out of prison in October 2011 after serving time for killing is uncle in 2004.)

     Arrested shortly after the failed abduction (and who knows what), and charged with attempted kidnapping, Woods insisted that he had not committed any crime. While Mr. Woods is presumed innocent under the law, if he is the man in the security video, he is guilty as hell. In his case, parole was not a good idea.

January 2012
Cheswold, Delaware

     On New Year's Day, around 11:15 P.M., two men and a woman entered the Walmart store and removed assorted items of jewelry from a display case. Three days later, the trio returned to the store at two in the morning, and stole more jewelry from the display case. In all, the thieves walked off with $3,000 in merchandise. Again, where was the retail security? Aren't display cases supposed to be locked? Don't they have to be opened from the employee side of the case? Where were the clerks (or whatever they are called at Walmart)? I'm thinking these thieves may have had a little inside help.

January 2012
Portage Township, Ohio

     At 4:50 A.M. on Wednesday, January 18, police and firefighters rolled onto the Walmart parking lot to find an Audi sedan fully engulfed in flames. After extinguishing the blaze, firefighters discovered, on the driver's side, the body of a fatally burned man. The driver's side front door was open, and the victim lay partially outside of the vehicle. While the body was burned beyond recognition, the car registration and other identification indicators suggested that the victim was an employee who was scheduled to start work that morning at 5 A.M.

     Following a fire scene investigation by a state fire marshal, the sheriff of Ottawa County told reporters that the authorities did not suspect foul play. While the Lucas County Coroner had not determined the cause of death, the sheriff referred to the event as a "tragic accident."

     Having taught arson investigation, I know that when a vehicle sitting in a parking lot bursts into flames so suddenly the driver has no time to exit the car, it is a highly unusual fire, one that demands a detailed explanation. Most automobile fires that are sudden and intense, and all consuming, are incendiary blazes aided by an accelerant. Accidental car fires not caused by traffic accidents are usually slow burning, smoldering affairs. In my opinion, immediately ruling out any form of foul play in this case was premature.

January 2012
South Jordan, Utah

     In another strange Walmart parking lot blaze, four 13-year-old boys came upon a woman on the ground next to her car with her foot on fire. One of the boys used his coat to smother the flames. Police, responding to the 911 call, rushed the woman to the University of Utah Hospital's burn unit. She had serious burns on her foot and leg.

     This fire victim, a heavy smoker, had been wearing jeans over a pair of nylons. Once the ash from her cigarette burned through her jeans to the flammable nylons, they ignited and produced a suddenly intense fire.

February 2012
West Whiteland Township, Pennsylvania

     On Wednesday, February 15, a 6-foot-4-inch, 300 pound man from Downingtown named Verdon Lamont Taylor, parked his car in the Walmart lot, climbed out of his vehicle, took off all of his clothing, and entered the store. Customers gave the 32-year-old man wide birth as he casually walked up to a counter and put on a pair of stolen socks.

     Police arrived to take the big, naked man (except for the socks) into custody. When Mr. Taylor refused to go along with the program, and spit on one of the officers, they let him have it with a stun gun. The device did its job, and the big man was led out of the store in handcuffs. (The spitting suggests schizophrenia.)

     Mr. Taylor has been charged with indecent exposure (if there were a felony version of this offense it would be appropriate here), aggravated assault, simple assault (spitting on a cop), retail theft (the socks), and disorderly conduct (shopping while nude). The suspect, who did not post his $50,000 bail, is incarcerated in the Chester County Jail.       

Thursday, February 16, 2012

To Protect and Speed: Cops with Lead Feet

     Nobody likes being pulled over for speeding. It just ruins your day. And I hate it when the cop asks, "Do you know how fast your were going?" If you answer "no," you sound like an idiot. If you answer "yes," you're essentially confessing. Anyway, it really doesn't matter if you knew you were speeding or not because it's an offense that doesn't require criminal intent. (It's what lawyers call a prohibita violation.) One time I had gotten so many speeding tickets I had to pass a written test to hold onto my driver's license. That baby was more difficult than most bar exams. I think I was the only person in the room who passed it. I consider that feat my greatest academic achievement, which says a lot about my history as a scholar. Okay, enough about me.

     The police want us to believe their jobs are extremely dangerous and difficult, you know, war is hell and all of that. But let's face it, besides the good salaries and outstanding benefits (early retirement and generous pensions), there are a lot of advantages to being a cop. Perhaps the greatest joy in law enforcement is that cops don't ticket each other for speeding. They have a license to speed--off-duty, and in their personal vehicles. If I were still teaching, and a criminal justice student asked me why he or she should become a cop, I'd say, "Free speeding!"

Exceeding the Limit in the Sunshine State

     In the state of Florida, police officers, as a group, are the most egregious speeders. A three-month investigation by Sun Sentinel journalists found that 800 cops from a dozen law enforcement agencies were driving 90 to 130 mph to and from work in their take-home patrol cars. Since 99 percent of these officers were not stopped for speeding, how did the newspaper come up with this information? They figured out how fast cops were driving by analyzing state highway toll records. They simply measured the time it took officers to travel from one toll plaza to the next. Moreover, according to the Sun Sentinel investigation, speeding Florida officers, since 2004, have caused 320 vehicular accidents resulting in 19 deaths. Only one of these officers went to jail, and that was for 60 days.

Officer Fausto Lopez

     Last fall, while commuting from his home in Coconut Creek to his job as a police officer with the Miami Police Department, Fausto (or Fasto) Lopez was clocked going 120 mph by a Florida state trooper. The stopped 36-year-old cop offered a familiar explanation for speeding: he was late for work.

     According to an analysis of toll records by Sun Sentinel journalists, officer Lopez is the king of law enforcement speeders. During the year before his October 11, 2011 traffic stop, Lopez averaged 90 mph over a period of 237 days of driving. But don't worry, Lopez's Coral Springs attorney has assured the public that his client is a good driver. Let's hope so. "Certainly," said the lawyer, "he at no time has put any member of the public in any type of danger." Fair enough, but can you see yourself defending a speeding ticket by telling the officer that you are a good driver? Good luck with that. To a police officer, or a judge, driving 90 mph makes you a bad driver. But we are mere civilians, and civilians get speeding tickets handed out by people who are worse drivers than us.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Hellementary Education: Cases for Home Schooling 3

January 1989-May 1992
Scarsdale, New York

     When I was a kid, the vast majority of elementary teachers were women, some mild-mannered and kind, others hard-nosed and borderline cruel. But the notion of an elementary teacher committing a vicious, cold-blooded murder, was simply out of the question. I imagine people thought the same thing about Carolyn Warmus.

     In September 1987, Carolyn Warmus, with a B.A. from the University of Michigan, and a Master's Degree in Education from Teacher's College, Columbia University, landed a job as a third grade teacher at the Greenville Elementary School in Scarsdale, New York. It was there she met and fell in love with a married fifth grade teacher named Paul Solomon. Carolyn, while having an affair with Paul, associated closely with his wife Betty Jean, and the couple's daughter Kristan. At some point in her clandestine relationship with Paul, Carolyn asked him to leave his wife, and marry her.

     Just before midnight on January 15, 1989, Paul Solomon came home to find Betty Jean shot to death. The killer had pistol-whipped then shot her nine times with a .25-caliber handgun. Investigators initially suspected the murdered woman's husband. However, when Paul established an alibi, they began looking at other possibilities.

     Following Betty Jean Solomon's murder, Paul ended the affair with Carolyn Warmus and took up with another woman. This infuriated the school teacher who began stalking him. On one occasion, Warmus followed Paul to Puerto Rico. She also telephonically harassed Solomon's new girlfriend and her family.

     Warmus' pathological behavior caught the attention of the detectives investigating the murder, and she became their prime suspect. They learned of the affair which provided a motive. Moreover, shortly before the homicide, Warmus, using a driver's license she had stolen from a co-worker at a summer camp, purchased a .25-caliber Beretta. Forensic ballistic analysis determined that the fatal bullets had been fired through the barrel of that handgun. At the interrogation following her arrest, Warmus proclaimed her innocence.

     Indicted in February 1990, Warmus went on trial in April 1991 at the West Chester  County Court House. Twelve days later the judge declared a mistrial after only eight jurors voted for conviction. In January 1992, at Warmus' second trial, the prosecution presented new evidence in the form of a bloody crime scene glove that belonged to the accused. This jury, after deliberating six days, found Warmus guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced her to 25 years to life. She is currently serving her time at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women. (The West Chester County prison has been home to several infamous inmates including Amy Fisher (no relation), Jean Harris, Barbara Kogan, Pamela Smart, and the child serial killer, Marybeth Tinning.)

     Carolyn Warmus was one scary school teacher who liked to get her way, and if she didn't get it, watch out.

January 2012
Hercules, California

     It would be interesting to know what it is about elementary education that drains so many school administrators of their discretion, judgement, and sense of proportion. Is it the job, or are people devoid of these qualities drawn to this line of work?

     In Hercules, California, a 6-year-old boy at the Lupine Hills Elementary School, while roughhousing with a male schoolmate during recess, touched either the boy's upper thigh or his groin. The school's principal, Cynthia Taylor, upon learning of this incident, suspended the alleged offender. In her suspension notice, Taylor wrote that the suspect had "committed or attempted to commit a sexual assault or sexual battery."

     The young suspect's mother, thinking that being labeled a possible sex offender was not a good thing for her son, sought advice from an online forum for bay area families called Berkeley Parents Network. When other parents learned of this idiocy, they expressed their outrage. If this could happen to one kid, it could happen to all of them.

     Elementary education experts believe such overreaction is caused by school administrators' concerns over bullying. Fine. In America we are concerned about a lot of things. We are worried about another 911 terrorist attack, but that doesn't justify yanking 92-year-old women out of wheelchairs and bracing them against airport walls for strip searching. We should also be concerned about idiot school administrators, and mindless airport security personnel. Maybe we should overreact to that reality. How about firing this school principal, and dumping half the TSA?

     In the Lupine Hills Elementary debacle, thanks to the firestorm of criticism, the 6-year-old boy was cleared of sexual wrongdoing, and the record of the incident purged. What we shouldn't purge, however, is our memory of what happened, and who was responsible.

February 2012
Redwood City, California

     A teacher's aid at the Roosevelt Elementary School, having witnessed behavior toward students by one of the teachers she considered abusive, called a state child protection agency. Following an investigation, a child protection agent notified the police.

     Alexia Aliki Bogdis, a 44-year-old who taught developmentally disabled and autistic children at the school, had allegedly slapped a 4-year-old boy and twisted his wrist. Bogdis, hired in August 2006 as a tenured employee, was also accused of denying another 4-year-old boy food, and kicking him in the stomach. She also kicked the back of a desk chair that banged into another kid. These events, and presumably others, took place over a period of months.

     After being booked into the San Mateo County Jail on five counts of child cruelty, and four counts of battery, Bogdis made her $5,000 bail and was released. A week later, following an internal investigation by the school district, eight Roosevelt teachers, suspected of abusive behavior themselves, were placed on paid, administrative leave.

February 2012
Cleveland, Texas

     At the Eastside Elementary School, fourth grade teacher Carlos Artieda got into an argument with a fifth grade boy. The confrontation intensified to the point where the teacher choked the student. The boy's parents filed charges, and the police arrested Artieda. He stands accused of causing injury to a child, and is on paid administrative leave. Artieda has been working at the school since August 2006.

January 2012
Kansas City, Missouri

     Matthew J. Nelson, a 33-year-old second grade teacher at the Grain Valley Prairie Branch Elementary School, has been charged with one count of child molestation, and three counts of sodomy. He is incarcerated in the Jackson County Jail under a $250,000 cash-only bond.

     According to witnesses, this teacher fondled young boys in class when they approached his desk for help with assignments. In addition, Nelson allegedly abused students during reading and movie sessions. One of the sexual molestations allegedly took place at a Kansas City Royals baseball game during the 2009-10 school year.

     Nelson, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges, has taught second and third grades at the school for ten years. In 2007, he was honored as the "Teacher of the Year." Since the initial sexual molestation charges were filed against him, four other students have come forward with accusations of sexual abuse.

February 2012
Winona, Minnesota

     On a lighter note, a 9-year-old student at a Catholic school in Winona, was suspended after he grabbed his crotch--Michael Jackson style--at a school fundraiser. The boy, at two previous fund raising events, had entertained approving adults with Michael Jackson moves absent the self-groping.              

Friday, February 10, 2012

Whackademia: Nutty Professors 6

College Education: A Good Investment?

     In his book, "Going Broke by Degree: Why College Costs Too Much," Richard Vedder makes the case that a college education costs too much and delivers too little. On average, tuition plus room and board costs more than $17,000 a year at four-year, state supported universities. The author believes that university presidents pay less attention to students--the customers--than to rich alumni, athletic coaches, big name professors who attract grants, key administrators who can raise money, and politicians. These presidents bribe powerful faculty members with low teaching loads, high salaries, and good parking.

     Today, students who borrow to finance their educations graduate with an average debt of $24,000. More and more college graduates are asking themselves if this money was well spent. Vedder, at least in some cases, doesn't think so. In 2008, 30 percent of flight attendants, 25 percent of retail salespersons, and 18 percent of airport baggage porters, had bachelor's degrees or higher. (To be fair, this doesn't mean that they will always have jobs like this.) More than 17 million college graduates, according to some estimates, were underemployed in 2008.

     Recently, the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, using U.S. Census Bureau data, determined what group of college graduates, according to what they majored in, were the most likely to find employment in their fields. All of the graduates who did find work--from medical technology and nursing, to civil engineering and elementary education majors--held vocational degrees. Students who majored in liberal arts programs--English, sociology, psychology, history, and philosophy--seem to be the most likely degree holders on their way to graduate school, or to employment opportunities at the shopping mall.

     Employers are generally as interested in what a college graduate can do as in what he or she knows. The problem is, how much do they know? And how relevent is it to the job in question? Professor Richard Arum of New York University, and Professor Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia, recently tracked several thousand undergraduates as they worked their way through 24 universities. The researchers found that nearly 50 percent of these students didn't significantly improve their reasoning or writing skills during the first two years of college. After four years, more than 1/3 of the students showed no improvement in these areas.

     In his book, "Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory," New York University Professor Jonathan Zimmerman argues that the nation's colleges and universities have no idea if their students are learning anything. That's because there are no effective measures in place to find out. Students pay all that money for college degrees that designate nothing other than they've killed four years, and put themselves in debt. (Okay, that may be a little strong.)

Phony Prestige

     To stay afloat, many colleges have to grossly overcharge their students, and the best way to get away with that is to convince potential tuition payers they are entering a prestigious institution. It's a lot like buying a bottle of pretentious wine. The fact the bottle is expensive is evidence of its superiority. This is probably true of perfume and other status purchases as well.

     The so-called elite colleges and universities, to prove they deserve their status, flaunt the high SAT scores of their students. In rating institutions according to how prestigious they are, "U.S. News & World Report" uses SAT scores as one of the factors. Recently, an administrator with California's Claremont McKenna College resigned after being caught falsifying SAT scores to "U.S. News & World Report." (The current "U.S News" rankings lists Claremont McKenna as the 9th best liberal arts college in the country.) It will be interesting to see how the college will be rated next year.

Poaching Students

     A survey released in September 2011 by "Inside Higher Education," reveals that public universities have been increasing their focus on recruiting out-of-state students. According to a "Wall Street Journal" report, eight state universities get more than 40 percent of their tuition from out-of-state students. These students are attractive because they pay as much as three times what in-state students pay for the same education. It's about money, and sometimes at the expense of in-state students who don't get in because outsiders have taken their places. Parents have raised such a fuss that some politicians are pushing for laws limiting the percentage of out-of-state enrollment.

From Academic Hero to Heel

     Professors who attract federal research money--and there is plenty of it out there--are considered faculty heroes by university presidents. Between June 2006 and February 2011, Graig Grimes, professor of material science and engineering at Penn State, after acquiring $3 million in grant money from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), established himself as an academic star. (Every year the NIH grants billions in taxpayer dollars to advance medical research.) Professor Grimes suddenly lost that status when the U.S. Attorney in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania charged him with research grant fraud. In addition to making false statements on his grant application, the 55-year-old professor is accused of failing to turn over $500,000 of the grant money to the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. This money, related to detecting necrotizing enterocolitis, a disease that affects infants, was supposed to fund clinical/trials at the medical center.     

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Children Daycare Nightmares

     Millions of children in the United States are being partially raised (or warehoused) in 400,000 or so licensed and regulated child care facilities. Forty-one percent of preschool children whose mothers are employed, find themselves in daycare 35 or more hours a week. In America, daycare has become a big business.

     Suzanne Venker, in an online "National Review" article entitled, "Will America Ever be Ready for the Truth About Daycare?" points out that politicians and media journalists avoid talking about the harm daycare is doing to the nation's children. Politicians don't want to offend female voters, and women in the media rely on daycare services themselves, and are therefore not prone to publicly discuss the issue. Venker, and others, consider daycare one of the greatest tragedies of modern America. They see the phenomena as a growing epidemic of parental abandonment.

     In her "National Review" piece, Venker discusses a recent e-book by May Saubiek called, "Doing Time: What It Really Means to Grow Up in Daycare." According to the author, daycare children receive very little individualized attention, and when they do, because of the high daycare employee turnover rates, it's often from a stranger. Because daycare is a business that relies on customers who believe their children are happy, and being cared for by people who care, parents aren't told how miserable their children really are. On the contrary, parents receive rose-colored reports of how well their kids are adapting and progressing. Parents are often told that the daycare experience helps "socialize" their children. According to Saubiek, Daycare life fosters aggressive behavior by forcing kids into survival mode. If a child wants a toy, he or she learns to fight for it. (This is probably true at home as well, and who knows, might not be a bad thing. But what do I know?)

     Saubiek, who has worked in child care, and has a master's degree in special education, equates children's time in daycare to the institutionalized nature of prison life. Some child care facilities are obviously better than others, and conditions might not be as bleak as this author describes. But it seems to me that, to some degree, a good number of working mothers' children are paying a price for the realities of modern society. Daycare workers are not highly paid, thoroughly investigated, or highly trained. The country is awash in drug use, alcoholism, mental illness, and pedophilia. Who are these rent-a-parents, and what are they doing to America's preschool population? (Some have argued that, in comparison, children are in more danger at home than in daycare centers. If true, how bad is that?)

Ludlow, Kentucky

     A child care facility in this northern Kentucky town, a daycare employee duck-taped an 18-month-old to a mat to calm him down during nap time. The matter didn't come to light until a fellow employee reported the incident to the police. The suspect, 20-year-old Alicia Lyons, was charged with a felony offense that carried a maximum 10 year prison sentence. Lyons, following the state required background check, began working at the facility. The daycare company had been in business three years, and has locations in two other Kentucky towns.

Hopkinsville, Kentucky

     The police arrested a daycare employee named Erica Jones who allegedly left a 3-year-old girl in a company van. The 40-year-old suspect had dropped the vehicle off at a tire company for maintenance. She left the van, and 45 minutes later, when a tire company employee climbed into the vehicle to move it into the garage, found the little girl crying and "very disoriented." Jones was charged with first-degree wanton endangerment of a child. The daycare center was called House of Angels.

Port Arthur, Texas

     An employee of Little Angel's Faith Development Center, left a 4-year-old "angel" in the back of the company van after she had driven home to take a nap. After two hours in the vehicle, the child managed to unlock the door and climb out. The 4-year-old walked several blocks to a major highway. Onlookers rescued the kid as she crossed the highway. The child's mother sued the daycare company for $1 million. The defendant settled the suit for an undisclosed amount. These daycare places are supposed to care for "angels," not make them.

Lodi, California

     Dorothy Bernhoft, 66, ran a licensed child care business out of her home. When investigators with the state Department of Social Services made a surprise visit to Bernhoft's house, they found nine infants, in darkened upstairs bathrooms and closets, strapped into car seats.

Midland, Texas

     Rashawn Rapheal Lewis, an employee of Peppermint Plantation Daycare, was taken into custody on charges he sold two grams of crack cocaine to a user, and made the deal at the daycare facility. He faced up to 20 years in prison. 

New York, New York

     A longtime New York Fire Department inspector pleaded guilty in federal court to accepting bribes from the owners of daycare centers in the city. In exchange for the money, Carlos Montoya, 54, certified that these facilities had complied with fire safety standards.  Six city employees and eight daycare operators pleaded guilty in the $1 million bribery case.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Random Acts of Crime: Snapshots 4

January 2012
Hanford, California

     A Kings County Court Clerk, in October 2011, received a call from attorney Michelle Winspur who said she would be late for her client's trial that day. Because Winspur sounded intoxicated, the 45-year-old lawyer was given a breath-alcohol test when she finally arrived at the court house. The booze test registered more than twice the legal alcohol limit for driving. In December, Winspur failed a sobriety test as she left the court house after representing a client at a hearing. In 2010, she had been professionally disciplined for being drunk during a trial in Montgomery County.

     In January 2012, the state of California suspended Winspur's law license, and the Kings County district attorney charged her criminally with appearing in court drunk. I had no idea that lawyering under the influence was a crime. I can see charging wasted operating room surgeons with drinking while cutting, and airline pilots with flying under the influence. But don't you think this is a little harsh? In the Lindbergh kidnapping case, defendant Bruno Richard Hauptmann's attorney was drunk throughout the six weeks trial. Although Hauptmann went to the electric chair, I think his attorney did a fine job. I would be a lot more concerned if the jurors had been drunk.

February 2012
Gaston, North Carolina

     In 2009, Danny Robbie Hembree, Jr. was found guilty of murdering 17-year-old Heather Catterton. A judge, in November 2011, sentenced Hembree to death. The 50-year-old is currently on death row at Central Prison in Raleigh, North Carolina. In March, Hembree is scheduled to go on trial for the murder of 30-year-old Randi Dean Saldana whose burnt remains were found near Blacksburg, South Carolina in 2009. He has also been accused of murdering a third woman named Deborah Ratchford. Hembree, after confessing to all three murders, recanted with the absurd story he had confessed to these homicides to cover-up a series of robberies he had committed.

     This month, Hembree pulled a stunt that reveals just how arrogant and sadistic a sociopathic serial killer can be. He wrote a taunting letter to his hometown newspaper, "The Gaston Gazette." Lest the community and members of his victims' families thought he was being punished for his murders, Hembree wrote: "Is the public aware that I am a gentleman of leisure, watching color TV in the A.C. [?], reading, taking naps at will, eating three well balanced hot meals a day. I'm housed in a building that connects to the new 55 million dollar hospital with around the clock free medical care...." The death row prisoner assures his readers that the chance of him being executed within the next 20 years is "very slim." Hembree closes his letter with: "I laugh at you self righteous clowns and I spit in the face of your so-called justice system. The state of North Carolina has sentenced me to death but it's not real."

     Perhaps, but what is real is this: Hembree is not free, he has killed his last woman, and he will die behind bars, one way or another.

January 2012
Seattle, Washington

     In July 2010, police in the Bahamas captured 20-year-old Colton Harris-Moore, the so-called "Barefoot Bandit" who had eluded the authorities for two years. The Barefoot Bandit had escaped arrest in stolen cars, boats, and even a plane he crashed in the Bahamas. To taunt the police, he once left chalk outlines of bare footprints at one of his crime scenes.

     In December 2011, Harris-Moore pleaded guilty in Seattle to burglary, car theft, identity theft, and a variety of other property crimes. (He had committed more than 30 residential burglaries.) Under his plea agreement, he will give up profits from book or movie deals stemming from his larger than life crime spree. That money will go to his victims. In January 2012, a federal judge sentenced the Barefoot Bandit to 6 1/2 years in prison. According to his attorney, he will be out in 4 1/2 years at which time he plans to enter college to study aviation. (He's already proven he can take off and fly, he just needs to work on his landings.) A movie is already in the works with 20th Century Fox. By the time he walks out of prison, Colton Harris-Moore will be a celebrity, and an American hero--a modern day Charles Lindbergh.

January 2012
Santa Barbara County, California

     Late in 2009, 51-year-old Eugene Darryl Temkin, asked a friend if he knew someone who would kill Temkin's former business partner, his partner's wife, and one of their business associates. The friend alerted the police who arranged to have an undercover cop, posing as a hitman, meet with Mr. Temkin.

     In a series of meetings in June and July 2010, Temkin furnished the undercover office with details regarding the identities and habits of his intended targets. He also gave the officer $3,000 in cash as a down payment on the $30,000 murder contract. Temkin instructed the "hitman" to extort $15 million from his victims, money to be deposited into a special bank account in Uruguay. Once the money got into the mastermind's bank account, the hitman was to torture the two men, rape the woman, then murder all three.

     Shortly after Temkin's final meeting with the undercover cop, the police took him into custody. Found guilty in federal court, the judge, in January 2012, sentenced Temkin to 6 years in prison. I've looked at hundreds of cases like this one, and this is the lightest sentence I've seen for a murder for hire solicitation  mastermind. Over a business deal gone wrong, Mr. Temkin wanted to kill three people. He wanted to torture them first. Al Capone would have been impressed. The fact this mastermind was talking to a cop instead of a real hitman does not, in my view, mitigate the seriousness of his crime. In cases like this, 35 years is the typical sentence.

January 2012
Syracuse, New York

     Nicole Osbourne was in criminal court as a defendant in a felony assault case. Theodore Murphy, her boyfriend, the victim who had reported the assault, was in the courtroom as well. At Murphy's request, an order of protection prohibiting Osbourne from making any kind of contact with him had been issued by the presiding judge. At the hearing, the prosecutor asked the judge to lift the protection order so that the assault victim could ask the defendant to marry him. The judge lifted the order, the victim popped the question, and the assault defendant accepted the marriage proposal. It's enough to make you puke.

     I don't think you have to be Nostramdamus to predict a bleak future for this couple.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Michael Phelps and the Mysterious Bong

      On February 1, 2009, a British newspaper published a photograph of Michael Phelps, the star of the 2008 Olympics, smoking a marijuana pipe at a party in Columbia, South Carolina. Although the photograph had been taken three months earlier, Leon Lott, the television-friendly sheriff of Richland County, known for his aggressive approach to drug enforcement, opened a narcotics investigation of the famous gold medalist swimmer.

     Sheriff Lott, in September 2008, had overseen the purchase of an Army surplus armored personnel carrier equipped with a .50-caliber belt-fed machine gun. The combat vehicle was used to transport his SWAT team to drug raids. Six days after he had launched the Phelps investigation, a 12-man Richland County SWAT team, guns drawn, broke into a Lake Murray house rented by four University of South Carolina students believed to have attended the November 2008 party. After confiscating less than a gram of marijuana, Lott's deputies arrested the students for drug possession, and grilled them about Michael Phelps.As it turned out, none of the arrestees had attended the party, and were of no help in the Phelps investigation.

     From Lake Murray, Sheriff Lott's SWAT officers traveled to Columbia and raided the party house where they seized six grams of marijuana and the bong depicted in the newspaper photograph. The deputies arrested four more students, and charged them with misdemeanor possession of marijuana. Thanks to the sheriff and his SWAT team, the peace and dignity of the great state of South Carolina was being secured, one marijuana possession bust at a time.

     At a news conference on February 15, 2009, Sheriff Lott announced that his officers had not gathered enough evidence to charge Michael Phelps with a crime. (This must have put fear in the hearts of the good citizens of Richland County.) "We had a photo," he said, "and we had him saying he was sorry for his inappropriate behavior. That behavior [however] could have been merely going to a party....He never said, 'I smoked marijuana.' He never confessed to that. We don't have enough we could go and arrest him."

     When a reporter asked Sheriff Lott why he, in an effort to make a case out of a 3-month-old photograph of an Olympic swimmer smoking pot, had deployed his SWAT team to raid houses occupied by college students suspected of attending the party, Lott, either missing or ignoring the point, said, "As a cop, my responsibility is to enforce the law, not to create it or ignore it. Marijuana in the state of South Carolina is illegal."

     In response to Sheriff Lott's assessment of his law enforcement responsibilities, two reporters for Newsweek wrote: "If cops chased down every kid who took a bong hit at a frat party, the jails would be full, and the lecture halls empty. Half the professors would wind up in the clink, too." But the media's principal take on the story had nothing to do with heavy-handed, militaristic law enforcement. It focused on Michael Phelp's fall from grace, and the loss of millions of dollars worth of product endorsements.

     The news coverage of Sheriff Lott's idiotic SWAT raids would have been different if one of the frat boys, believing the house was being invaded by criminals, had picked up a gun.