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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Kenneth Konias: Pittsburgh's Armored Truck Killer Captured

     On Tuesday, April 24, a few minutes before midnight, a small army of law enforcement officers with the FBI, Broward County Sheriff's Office, and the South Florida Violent Crime Task Force, approached a one-story, white house in a run-down Pompano Beach neighborhood. The officers had come to arrest 22-year-old Kenneth Konias, Jr., the former Garda armored truck driver who, on February 28, 2012, had murdered his partner, Michael Haines, and run off with $2.3 million in small denomination cash. (About two trash bags full of bills, mostly $20s.) Since the robbery and murder, committed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Konias has been the subject of a national manhunt.

     When no one answered the door at the Pompano Beach dwelling (a suspected crack house), the officers kicked it in and entered with their guns drawn. In the house they arrested Konias without incident.

     From this shabby house, and a nearby storage facility, police recovered $1.3 million of the stolen Garda money. They also seized Konias's Garda-issued pistol, and another handgun. (One of these firearms will probably be the murder weapon.) In the fugitive's rented bedroom, the officers found stuffed animals, a pack of cigarettes, and a half-empty bottle of whiskey.

     Two weeks before Konias' apprehension, he had rented the room from a stripper who goes by the stage name Summer, a woman he had met online. She became his girlfriend and the recipient of lavish gifts in the form of jewelry and clothing. A week later, after they had a falling out over another woman, Konias locked Summer out of this room. She broke in and stole a duffle bag containing $30,000.

     Because Konia had been walking around in jeans and a polo shirt with two guns tucked into his waistband, used his real name, and bragged about the armored truck heist to a motley crew of pimps, prostitutes, strippers and crackheads, a lot of people, including his ex-girlfriend Summer, knew what he had done back in Pittsburgh. After Summer told another ex-boyfriend about Konias, he Googled the fugitive's name, saw his photograph, and read about the robbery murder. At nine o'clock Monday night, Summer's ex called the Pittsburgh Police Department.

     Based on Konias' behavior in recent weeks, he is either extremely stupid, or simply wanted to be caught. (Another woman who lived in the Pompano Beach house, Shewona Flowers, thought Konias was depressed. He recently told her he was thinking of traveling to Jamaica.) According to a 31-year-old prostitute named Cathy, she had traded sex with Konias for $800 worth of cocaine. She thought he was "nice."

     Kenneth Konias has waived extradition, and should be back in Pittsburgh in a week or so. He is currently being held in a federal detection center in Miami. The police have not found his tan Ford Explorer, the vehicle he had used to flee Pittsburgh after the robbery and murder. (He got around the Pompano Beach area by hiring cabs. Konias had been in Florida about eight weeks. After committing the crime in Pittsburgh, he drove straight to the Miami area in his Ford Explorer.)

     It will be interesting to see how many people helped Konias remain at large, and if any of them will be charged as accomplices after the fact. (For background on this case, see: "The Pittsburgh Armored Car Robbery/Murder Case," March 9, 2012.)

The Garda Loot

     Konias stole $2.3 million, and before fleeing to Florida, stashed $300,000 between his parents' house in Dravosburg, and his great-grandmother's grave site in Munhall. When the police arrested him in Pompano Beach, Florida, they recovered $1.1 million. That leaves $900,000 still unaccounted for. Since Konias couldn't have spent that much money during the 55 days between the crime and  his arrest, there must be a stash of money hidden somewhere in Pennsylvania or Florida.

Michael Haines

     After his arrest, Konias told FBI agents that he shot Michael Haines when the 31-year-old Garda guard pulled his gun to stop the heist. Konias could be tried in state or federal court, and though it's doubtful, could face the death penalty.  

The FBI v. NYPD: The Joint Bank Robbery Task Force Dispute

     In the United States each year, in 5,000 bank robberies, robbers walk off with roughly $43 million. While in the past few years, the U.S. bank robbery rate has increased a bit, there are far less bank heists today than the years 1967-1990. In New York city, there were only 26 bank robberies in 2010, a record low. Last year 44 banks were hit in the Big Apple, still an amazingly small number.

     While bank robbery is both a state and federal crime, the FBI is usually the principal investigative agency in these cases. As a result, most bank robbery suspects are tried in federal court, and if found guilty, go to federal prison. Compared to crimes like burglary, street mugging, and arson, bank robbery solution rates are traditionally high. One reason for this is that bank robbers usually don't stop after their first job, and eventually get caught. Also, a lot of them are either drunk, drugged up, or stupid.

     In New York City, over the past 32 years, bank robberies in the five boroughs have been investigated by the Joint Bank Robbery Task Force staffed by FBI agents and detectives with the NYPD. The city contributed one sergeant and six investigators to the unit. Last year, the FBI only solved one-third of its New York City cases. In 2010, members of the task force solved 80 percent of the bank robberies.

     In explaining the poor case solution rate, an FBI spokesperson blamed the NYPD for withdrawing from the task force in March 2011. Officials with the NYPD, while denying that the personnel shift explains the poor investigative results, say they cannot justify wasting the manpower on so few cases. These officers are needed elsewhere. When the task force was formed in 1980, hundreds of banks were being robbed in the city every year.

     The behind the scenes inter-agency sniping over this issue has heightened tensions between the FBI and NYPD already in a turf war over a couple of terrorism cases. In law enforcement, it's an unfortunate reality that professional jealousy and rivalry has always existed between federal and local, city and county, and state and municipal agencies. Within the federal government, there is tension and conflict between various agencies within the Department of Homeland Security. And the FBI and CIA have never worked well together.

     While inter-agency friction is understandable within a criminal justice system comprised of so many levels of government, it will continue to be a problem that can't be fixed by simply rearranging organizational charts, or adding more layers of bureaucracy.



Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lt. Andriani and the Hoboken SWAT Scandal

     It all started in November 2007 when dozens of photographs surfaced in the New Jersey media showing members of the Hoboken Police Department's SWAT team partying with Hooter waitresses in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Some of the shots were mildly racy, and others featured the Hooter girls handling various SWAT weapons, and clowning around with the officers. The photographs had been taken in the fall of 2006 when the officers, during one of several trips to Kenner, Louisiana, on Hurricane Katrina humanitarian missions, stopped over in Tuscaloosa. No one explained exactly how Louisiana's hurricane victims were served by a New Jersey SWAT team.

     One of the more disturbing photographs featured the commander of the SWAT squad, Lieutenant Angelo Andriani, wearing a napkin with eye holes cut out meant to look like a Ku Klux Klan hood. A month before the photographs became public, five Hispanic Hoboken police officers had filed a lawsuit against Andriani accusing him of creating a racist and hostile work environment. In November 2007, public safety director Bill Bergin permanently disbanded the SWAT team.

     The Jersey Journal, in February 2008, acquired a videotape showing Lieutenant Andriani's gun being passed around at a party in New Orleans hosted by a Louisiana developer and his wife. When the weapon came back around to Andriani, he slipped the magazine out of the gun and distributed the bullets to partygoers. Chief of Police Carmen La Bruno can be seen laughing as the Lieutenant's gun is being passed around.

     The New York Times, in March 2008, ran a story based on an internal police report leaked to the media. According to Hoboken Police Department's internal affairs investigators, SWAT team members had each been contributing $20 a month to an equipment and gear fund controlled by Lieutenant Andriani, and that Andriani had diverted and misused the money. The report also included allegations that Andriani had forced off-duty police officers to work at his home in Verona, New Jersey. Regarding the Hoboken paramilitary unit, the author of the internal affairs report had written that the "SWAT team had provided virtually no meaningful service to the city." A few days after the article appeared, the public safety director placed Lieutenant Andriani on paid administrative leave. Nine other members of the former SWAT squad, while kept on regular duty, received a variety of "behavior unbecoming" citations.

     Hoboken police chief Carmen La Bruno, after 37 years on the job, retired on July 1, 2008 with a $525,000 cash payout, and a $148,000 pension for life. (This does not include benefits.) A year later, the public safety director placed Andriani on an $11,000 per month, two-year suspension, essentially a paid vacation mandated by his employment contract. The lieutenant, insisting that he had done nothing wrong, accused his accusers of being politically motivated.

     In January 2010, Angelo Andriani was back in the news after reportedly creating a disturbance at Tampa International Airport by allegedly flashing his badge and berating airline employees for allowing a flight crew to move ahead of him in a screening line.

     In May 2011, the city of Hoboken settled the lawsuit against Andriani by the five Hispanic police officers. The $2 million in damages would be split evenly among the defendants.

     Before the $2 million dollar settlement, and after Andriani's two-year suspension, he was fired. He challenged the termination, and in October 2010, an administrative law judge ruled that Andriani should have been suspended without pay for three months instead of fired. In March 2012, the civil service commission amended the ruling to a six-month suspension.

     Firing a police officer is like firing a public school teacher, it can take a lot of time, and cost a bundle. And quite often, after all that time and money, the employee ends up back on the job.


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Three Executions

Robert Brian Waterhouse

     In 1966, 19-year-old Robert Waterhouse, during a home burglary on Long Island, New York, murdered a 77-year-old woman. He pleaded guilty to second degree murder, and was  sentenced to life in prison. But in the state of New York, a life sentence doesn't always mean a life behind bars. In 1975, after serving just eight years, Waterhouse was granted parole, and walked out of prison.

     Four years later, after leaving a St. Petersburg bar with 29-year-old Deborah Kammerer, Waterhouse beat and raped her on the beach, then dragged her body into Tampa Bay where she drowned. In 1980, based on the victim's blood, hair, and other trace evidence found in Waterhouse's car, a jury convicted him of murder. A judge imposed the death sentence. (Waterhouse admitted having sex with the victim that night, but denied killing her.)

     Scheduled to die in 1985, Waterhouse appealed his sentence. Three years later, the Florida Supreme Court invalidated his death sentence because jurors at his sentence hearing  had not been presented evidence that may have mitigated his guilt. At a second sentence hearing before another jury in 1990, jurors recommended the death penalty by a 12 to 0 vote. Waterhouse returned to death row.

     On St. Valentine's day, 2013, after living on death row for 31 years, the 65-year-old double murderer died by lethal injection at the Florida State Prison in  Raiford. Waterhouse was the 72nd inmate to be put to death in Florida since 1972.

Mark Wiles

     In 1983, Mark Wiles, a 22-year-old farmhand, was sent to prison for stealing cash and property from his employers, the owners of the Klima family horse farm in Rootstown, Ohio. Although Wiles had been stealing from the family for some time, Mrs. Klima wrote a letter to the parole board in support of his bid for early release. In October 1984, Wiles left prison on parole.

     Mark Wiles, a serial thief and sociopath, returned to the northern Ohio farm on August 7, 1985 to burglarize the Klima house which he believed was at the time unoccupied. In the dwelling, while helping himself to his former employer's property, Wiles encountered 15-year-old Mark Klima. To eliminate a witness who would have sent him back to prison, Wiles stabbed the boy 24 times, leaving the kitchen knife stuck in his back.

     A panel of three judges, in 1986, found Wiles guilty of capital murder. Notwithstanding testimony on the defendant's behalf that 12 days before the murder Wiles had suffered a head injury that affected his impulse control, the judges sentenced him to death. (If head injuries destroyed impulse control, every person who ever played football would end up in prison. Many do, but not because of head injuries.)

     Following numerous appeals, hearings, and delays, the 49-year-old inmate died by lethal injection on April 18, 2012 at the Southern Ohio Facility in Lucasville. Wiles was the 47th prisoner to be executed since Ohio re-instated the death penalty in 1999.  

Shannon Johnson

     On September 24, 2006, 22-year-old Shannon Johnson shot and killed Cameron Hamilin as Hamlin sat in his car in downtown Wilmington, Delaware with Johnson's ex-girlfriend. The woman managed to flee the scene without injury. Two months later, Johnson tracked her down, but when he tried to shoot her, his gun jammed. Once again, his intended victim escaped death.

     In 2008, a jury found Johnson guilty of capital murder, and recommended the death penalty. The defendant's lawyer argued that because his client was mentally retarded, he was not eligible for execution. (Victims murdered by people with low IQs are just as dead as people murdered by geniuses.)  The Delaware Supreme Court rejected the argument, and upheld the sentence. At that point, Johnson waived his right to further appeals.

     Shannon Johnson, on April 20, 2012, died of lethal injection at James T. Vaughn Correction Center in Smyrna, Delaware. Before dying a few minutes before 3 AM (the execution deadline), the condemned man uttered a few words in Arabic. He was the second  inmate in Delaware to be executed during the past twelve months.  

Saturday, April 21, 2012

From A Mother's Arms: The Verna McClain Kidnap Murder Case

     The kidnapping of infants (birth to six months) is not a common crime. From 1983 through 2011, of the 282 infants abducted by strangers, only five are still missing. Most of these babies were taken from their homes, seventeen from pediatric clinics. In 2011, there were eight infant abductions. All of these children were recovered unharmed.

     As vocational nurse, 30-year-old Verna McClain provided basic nursing services under the direction of registered nurses and doctors. Employed at a contract staffing agency, she lived in Houston, Texas. Her estranged husband, Theo McClain, resided in San Diego, California. The couple's three children were being raised by a relative in Houston.

     Engaged to be married, Verna had recently suffered a miscarriage, and was desperate to have a baby. On Tuesday, April 17, at 3:40 in the afternoon, Verna, in search of a baby to abduct, drove her blue Lexus to the Northwoods Pediatric Center in the Houston suburb of Spring. Verna had told her sister, Corina Jackson, that she was going to adopt a child.

     Kala Golden, the 28-year-old mother of four children, pulled her red pickup truck in to the Northwoods Pediatric Center's parking lot with her 3-day-old son, Keegan. Kala was there for the baby's first checkup. Verna watched Kala park her truck, then pulled up next to her. As Kala alighted from her vehicle, and leaned in to lift Keegan and his infant carrier out of the truck, Verna pulled out a pistol and shot Kala eight times.

     As Verna McClain placed the baby into her Lexus, the dying mother, yelling, "My baby! My baby!" lurched at the car. As Verna pulled away with the baby, she hit Kala with the Lexus, knocking the severely wounded woman to the ground. A witness picked up the cellphone lying next to the bleeding woman's body and called the victim's mother.

     Linda Golden, who was babysitting one of her daughter's children, rushed to the clinic where she saw paramedics trying to save Kala. A few minutes later, the bullet ridden mother was on her way to the hospital in an ambulance. She died shortly thereafter. In the meantime, police were looking for a black woman with a white baby in a blue Lexus.

     Not long after the fatal shooting and abduction, Verna McClain called her sister Corina and told her that she had adopted the baby, and was bringing the infant to her house. After leaving Keegan with her sister, Verna drove off in her blood-splattered car.

     Later that evening, after police officers spotted Verna's blue Lexus parked in front of her Houston apartment, they called in the SWAT team. Verna was not home, but before the officers left the scene, she returned to the apartment on foot and spoke to detectives. About this time, an anonymous tip came in directing the police to Corina Jackson's house.

     At 9:40 that evening, the officers recovered Keegan, unharmed. At the police station, Verna confessed fully to the murder and the abduction. The next morning, the prosecutor charged her with capital murder. If convicted, Verna McClain could be sent to death row.

     The baby is being cared for by his father, Keith Schuchardt.  

     In October 2012, the Montgomery County District Attorney announced that he would be asking for the death penalty at the upcoming Verna McClain trial.


Friday, April 20, 2012

The Pitt Bomb Threat Case: The Odd Couple

     People who make bomb threats are rarely terrorists, or even criminals who lay down bombs. Terrorists intending to blow up buildings full of people seldom call ahead to warn their victims. The vast majority of bomb threats are hoaxes perpetrated by disgruntled workers, customers, clients, patients, ex-employees, high school kids, and college students. The intent is to harass, disrupt, and frighten. Bomb hoaxers are bored, angry, insane or emotionally unstable folks who get a thrill out of seeing emergency vehicles, flashing lights, and people being evacuated out of buildings. As serial offenders, if not caught quickly, they can cause a lot of havoc.

The University of Pittsburgh Bomb Threat Case

     Since February 13, 2012, the University of Pittsburgh's main campus in the Oakland section of the city has received more than 60 bomb threats. While a few have been delivered in the form of handwritten notes, most have been emailed to area reporters through an anonymous remailer that bounces off servers in other countries. As a result, the origins of these threats are virtually impossible to trace.

     The Pitt bomb threats have achieved the goals of the person or persons who have made them. More than 110 campus buildings have been evacuated, and students are frightened. The confusion and inconvenience have also created a lot of excitement and publicity. The case is being investigated by a regional Joint Terrorism Task Force comprised of federal, state, and local law enforcement personnel. Making a bomb threat is a federal offense.

A Couple of Odd Suspects, Or Just An Odd Couple?

     One of the persons who has come under suspicion in the Pitt bomb threat case was born a man (and biologically still is) but lives and dresses as a woman. His/her partner was born as a woman, but lives and dresses up like a man. (In referring to these people, the pronouns "he" and "she" will correspond to their sexual identifies rather than their biological gender.)

     In November 2011, a 22-year-old junior computer science student attending the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown named Seamus Johnston, a female living as a man undergoing hormone treatments, was arrested by campus police and charged with indecent exposure, defiant trespass, and disorderly conduct. Mr. Johnston had repeatedly defied the school's edict not to use men's restrooms and locker rooms. According to the rules, students must use these facilities in accordance with their biological gender, not their sexual identifies. Mr. Johnston, believing that gender identification should be the determinant, challenged the school's restroom policy. (I guess the day will come when colleges and universities have separate sets of restrooms and locker rooms for transgender students. Maybe they will get special dormitories, and an academic department devoted to transgender studies.)

     Mr. Johnston and his partner, Ms. Katherine Ann McCloskey, a 55-year-old man going around as a woman, reside in an apartment in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Ms. McCloskey, a Pitt-Johnstown alumnus, has been living as a female for about a year.

     Pitt administrators, in January 2012, expelled Johnston from the university. Seeking re-instatement, Mr. Johnston has filed a complaint with the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Rights. (Where I presume he will get a sympathetic ear.)

     On April 11, 2012, FBI agents investigating the bomb case questioned Johnston and McCloskey as "potential suspects" in the making of three dozen bomb threats. The agents asked the couple to voluntarily surrender their computers. On the grounds of personal privacy, the suspects refused.

     The day after the interviews, Mr. Johnston and Ms. McCloskey received subpoenas to appear before a federal grand jury investigating the case. Pursuant to the subpoena, the couple must bring their computers to the grand jury hearing.

     On April 17, the day of their grand jury testimony, Johnston and McCloskey refused to have their fingerprints taken. They also refused to provide samples of their handwriting. Within an hour of their refusals, they found themselves standing before federal judge Nora Barry Fischer who threatened to hold them in contempt if they did not comply with the terms of the subpoena. The defendants agreed to cooperate.

     In speaking to reporters, Seamus Johnston said, "I wasn't involved in any of the bomb threats. Personally, I feel the fact they [FBI] continued to investigate me is nothing short of retaliatory on the University's part. I feel they are wasting valuable resources in finding whoever is responsible for threatening the safety of my friends at main campus."

     On the day of the couple's grand jury appearance, FBI agents raided their apartment and seized two computers, CDs, a router, and a cable modem. That day, agents also seized a computer server from a New York internet host through which at least three bomb threats had been made.

     On April 18, the day after Johnston and McCloskey testified before the grand jury, eight University of Pittsburgh buildings were evacuated following a pair of bomb threats.

(Material in this blog is based upon reportage in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.)


     As of May 26, 2012, Johnston and McCloskey have not been charged in the bomb hoax case. In a typical politician's response to a difficult problem, Senator Bob Casey has proposed a new law, the Campus Security Act. At the cost of $2.75 million, the Department of Justice would operate a center that trains, conducts research, develops emergency protocols (we don't have these now?), and enhances cooperation between campus police and local law enforcement. Who in their right mind believes that a new federal law, and another layer of bureaucracy will solve anything?


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Secret Service Scandal: Federal Law Enforcement's Embarrassments and Foul-Ups

     In recent years there have been foul-ups and crimes involving agents with the FBI, ATF, ICE, DEA, and Border Patrol. Federal agents have shot each other, murdered civilians, blown cases, engineered cover-ups, stolen government money and property, taken bribes, invaded privacy, committed perjury, and behaved in conduct unbefitting law enforcement officers. Federal law enforcement in this country is becoming a national disgrace.


     Historian Kevin Baker, in the April 1, 2012 issue of The New York Times Book Review, writes about Tim Weiner's new book, Enemies: A History of the FBI. The following are passages from Baker's review:

     "[Author Tim] Weiner lays bare a record of embarrassing, even stunning failure, in which the bureaus' lawlessness was matched only by its incompetence....Botched confrontations with cults and right-wing radicals left a trail of blood from Whidbey Island to Ruby Ridge to the Branch Davidian Compound in Waco. The bureau was penetrated again and again by double agents from Russia, China, Cuba, and even Al Qaeda....FBI turncoats like Robert Hanssen and Earl Pitts went undetected for years, costing hundreds of millions of dollars, and the lives of a 'dozen or more foreign agents who worked for the bureau and the CIA.'...

     "The best terror informant the bureau actually had was dropped for fear he might be a double agent, while as late as 2002, only eight agents cold speak Arabic. The FBI remained a 'pyramid of paper,' mysteriously unable to create a decent computer system; by 2000, 'the average teenager had more computer power than most FBI agents.'...

     "It's infuriating to read of how FBI agents investigating Al Qaeda were stymied from stopping the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, thanks to a bureau misinterpretation of a Justice Department directive about sharing evidence...."

(See my blogs: "FBI: Tarnished Badges, January 3, 2012 and "The FBI Crime Laboratory: The Dark Years," January 30, 2012.)

The Secret Service

           Up until recently, if there was one federal law enforcement agency that had not been tarnished by incompetence, failure, and scandal, it is the Secret Service. There was an embarrassment in November 2009 when a couple of reality show types, Tareq Salahi and his trophy wife Michaele, crashed a state dinner in the White House. Three Secret Service Agents were disciplined, and the White House social secretary, Desiree Rogers, lost her job. In August 2011, a Secret Service agent doing advance work in anticipation of Obama's midwestern bus tour, got arrested for drunk driving in Iowa. In the scheme of things federal, these were small embarrassments.

Secret Service Agents and their Columbian Prostitutes

     President Obama's plan to discuss trade policies at the Sixth Summit of the Americas held on April 15, 2012 in Cartagena, Columbia, did not include the oldest trade of them all, prostitution. (In Columbia it's legal.) Roughly 7,600 police officers, and thousands of military personnel were on hand to provide security for the 30 or more heads of state coming to the city. (Think of the money saved if these politicians talked by phone, and didn't have to look important to voters back home.) Security measures included keeping homeless people and prostitutes out of certain parts of the coastal city.

     President Obama's advanced civilian security detail consisted of 20 or so uniformed and plain-clothed Secret Service agents. Several of the agents were members of the elite, impressively titled, Counter Terror Assault Team (CAT). These CAT agents, known for their heavy drinking and love of partying, are separate and somewhat estranged from the more disciplined president's protective detail. The uniformed and CAT agents, along with members of the White House staff, and press corps correspondents, were staying at the beachfront Hotel Caribe. (The correspondents, instead of filing boring stories about the summit, were treated to a juicy law enforcement scandal.)

     On Friday the 13th, CAT and uniformed Secret Service agents, as part of their Friday night partying at a Cartagena brothel called the Pley Club, invited at least 20 prostitutes to their rooms. Under Hotel Caribe rules, visitors to a guest's room must leave before seven the next morning. People who visit hotel guests have to register at the front desk. At seven in the morning on Saturday, a hotel employee noticed that one of the guests had not signed out of the hotel. When the manager went to the room to investigate, he was denied entry. The manager called the police which led to the discovery that the guest in question was a prostitute. The prostitute said she was not leaving the hotel until the agent paid for her services. The agent said he didn't know she was a working girl. (Sure.) The Cartagena police called the American Embassy, and that's when the pie hit the fan. If the Secret Service agent had just paid his $47 bill. (If this had been a GSA operation, the government would have paid for the girls, some of whom might be underage.)

     The initial inquiry into this international embarrassment has revealed that at least 20 Secret Service Agents are involved in the scandal, including two supervisors. Also in hot water are at least 10 military personnel assigned to the security detail. These military service members are explosive experts and dog handlers from the Navy and the Army. Eleven of the Secret Service agents were immediately sent back to the states, and the military people were confined to their quarters. The disgraced agents were gone when Obama and his people rolled into town Saturday evening. The Pentagon and the State Department have launched investigations.

     New York Congressman Peter King, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he didn't think any crimes had been committed by the Secret Service agents. However, King did consider the alleged behavior a "dereliction of duty." No doubt congressional hearings will be held, and other than a few politicians getting a chance to grandstand on TV, nothing will come of this national embarrassment.

     Ronald Kessler, a former reporter with the Washington Post who has written a book about the Secret Service that details how cutbacks and corner-cutting has seriously attenuated the agency's effectiveness, has called the affair the biggest scandal in Secret Service history. Kessler believes the offending agents should lose their top secret security clearances. (Agents involved in the scandal had President Obama's schedule in their rooms.) Without security clearances, these men cannot remain with the agency. Kessler also believes that Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan should step down. (I doubt this will happen. Presidents hate to fire these people, and they rarely, on their own volition, go quietly into the night. To wit: Attorney General Eric Holder and the Fast and Furious scandal.)


Monday, April 16, 2012

CEO Kenneth Melani and his Fellow Executive Bad Boys

     Married Highmark CEO Kenneth Melani recently lost his job after punching out his mistress' husband in a Pittsburgh suburb. The 58-year-old executive's squeeze, 28-year-old Melissa Myler, worked at the heath insurance corporation as a $40,000 a year sports marketing manager. Dr. Melani had hired her in October 2011. The affair, punch-out, Melani's arrest, and the CEO's prompt dismissal from the company, created a major scandal in western Pennsylvania. Dr. Melani was a bad boy.

     In the past, were business leaders and captains of industry bad boys who just didn't get caught? Were they nerds and geeks who couldn't get chicks until they became rich and powerful? Is this why these guys claw their way to the top? Is it to get women who otherwise wouldn't give them the time of day? Is this what it's all about? (Not long ago I read an article about some guy who thinks it would be a good idea for companies to provide their male employees with in-house prostitutes. According to this expert, it would boost morale, eliminate sexual harassment suits, and pump up production.)

     Are there women CEO who are bad girls? Martha Stewart was a bad girl CEO, but all she did was lie to federal officials about stocks she had sold. Big deal.

     Lately, besides Kenneth Melani, several bad boy CEOs have gotten into trouble over women. These stories are much more interesting than stock fraud, and other corporate white collar crimes. A few examples:

Mark Hurd

     In August 2010, Mark Hurd, CEO of Hewlett-Packard, resigned a few weeks before an internal corporate investigation into expenses he had incurred for meals and travel with a marketing contractor named Jodie Fisher. (No relation.) Fisher later quit, and hired the TV friendly, male unfriendly, Gloria Allred who filed a sexual harassment case against Mr. Hurd and the company. (The name Gloria Allred must strike fear in executive suites across the nation.) After resigning from Hewlett-Packard, the former CEO settled with Fisher for an undisclosed sum. But don't feel sorry for Mr. Hurd. His golden parachute departure from Hewlett-Packard cost the company $30 million.

Randy Michaels

     On October 6, 2010, The New York Times published an unflattering portrait of The Tribune Company's (Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times) CEO Randy Michaels and his management style. The article, by David Carr, portrayed the CEO as the ringleader of the type of bawdy, profane, sexual behavior one might find in an unruly college fraternity house. In January 2008, the former radio executive and disc jockey, while accompanied by several of his top executives, offered the waitress at the InterContinental Hotel in downtown Chicago $100 to show her breasts. According to reporter David Carr, "Mr. Michaels and his executives' use of sexual innuendo, poisonous workplace banter and profane invective shocked and offended people throughout the company." A woman who held a senior position at the Tribune Company told the journalist that Michaels and one of his top executives held a loud conversation on an open balcony above a work area about the sexual suitability of various employees.

     During a top-level Tribune Company management meeting, a bad girl executive offered to bring in her assistant to perform a sexual act on one of the executives who seemed to be in a bad mood. In December 2008, the board of directors received an anonymous letter detailing a hostile work environment and a pattern of hiring based on personal relationships.
Two months after The New York Times article, Randy Michaels resigned as CEO. Asserting that he had been forced to quit, Michaels demanded an exit payment of $900,000. (In the CEO world, you get bonuses for quitting under pressure or being fired.) The company agreed to pay Michaels $750,000. Compared to Hewlett-Packard, they got off cheap.

Brian Dunn

     Brian Dunn, the married 51-year-old CEO of Best Buy, the electronics retailer, had been with the company 28 years. Described as a "tech gadget junkie," Dunn became CEO in 2009. Recently, the CEO was accused of misusing company assets to finance a relationship he was having with a female subordinate who worked at the firm's headquarters in Richfield, Minnesota. On April 2, 2012, a week after the company began its probe of the allegations, Dunn resigned. The unnamed employee is still working for Best Buy at its leadership training institute located in Richfield. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Former Highmark CEO Kenneth Melani a Victim!?

     After Dr. Kenneth Melani punched-out the husband of his mistress, the married insurance executive lost his $4.3 million a year job as CEO of Pittsburgh's Highmark corporation. The physical confrontation in Oakmont, Pennsylvania on March 25, the punch heard around the state, was obviously behavior unbecoming the head of a giant corporation. (I'm going to stick my neck out here and speculate that very few physicians ever get into fist fights with anyone. A few have murdered their wives, but that's another story.) The highly publicized altercation, and the tawdry (but juicy) circumstances that led up to it, at the very least has caused the non-profit, Blue Cross company tremendous embarrassment. By any objective standard, Dr. Melani's prompt dismissal (executives are dismissed, professors are retrenched, and ordinary folks are fired) was the only appropriate corporate response.

     Melani's 28-year-old squeeze, Melissa Myler, began working for Highmark in October 2011 as a $40,000 a year sports marketing manager. A few weeks before her husband and her lover punched it out in Oakmont, the company's board of directors told the CEO that they would appreciate it if his mistress found work elsewhere. Dr. Melani denied having an affair with Myler. As a result, she did not resign. (As of this writing, she is still with the company, and planning a PGA golf event to be held at the Fox Chapel Country Club. I don't know about you, but I can see this woman on Donald Trump's "Celebrity Apprentice.")

     On April 3, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala, Jr. announced that if Dr. Melani completes some kind of counseling program (Anger management? Utilizing common sense? How to live in the real world?) the criminal charges against him will be dropped. (Really, does a former CEO need some counselor to tell him that having an affair with a married employee, then punching-out her husband, is unCEO-like behavior?) According to the prosecutor, Dr. Melani's preliminary hearing has been postponed.

Here Come the Lawyers

     High profile scandals involving big companies with deep pockets attract lawyers like a corpse draws flies. Dr. Melani has two attorneys: one to handle his Highmark termination, and the other to deal with his problems with the law. Sam Cordes, Melani's employment issues attorney, who also represents Melissa Myler, is no stranger to high profile firing cases. According to Cordes, "What Highmark did to these two people is wrong...."

     Regarding the board of directors' attempt to nudge the mistress out the door prior to the middle-aged slugfest in Oakmont, attorney Cordes is exploring the possibility of a sex discrimination, retaliation, or breach of contract suit. The lawyer has pointed out that getting rid of the woman was the corporation's first instinct. "The problem is that how she has been treated says a lot about the treatment of women," he said. (I would argue it says a lot about how much easier it is to dump a $40,000 a year nonessential employee than it is firing the CEO. Moreover, while sex is clearly an element in this case, I don't see the discrimination part. Remember, they ended up firing him.)

     According to an "executive coach" (they need coaching?) from Ann Arbor, Michigan, Dr. Melani was suffering from what they call "CEO's disease." Oh boy. And how do corporation leaders catch this illness? Well, according to the coach, they get it from being isolated from real life, and from hanging out too much with their suck-up yes-men. While I'm not an executive coach, I beg to differ. I think these guys are just sociopathic. (Here's an idea, maybe Highmark should cut out the middleman and replace Melani with an executive coach!)  

     Dr. Melani's criminal attorney, Robert Del Greco, Jr., has told reporters that his client is "upset and disappointed." But the lawyer didn't say who Melani is upset and disappointed with. The company? His mistress? His wife? The police? Whoever it is, I'm sure it's not with himself. That would be very unCEO-like.

Pittsburgh's Armored Truck Fugitive: Where is Kenneth Konias?

     I'm surprised that fugitive hunters who have the resources of city, county, state, and federal law enforcement behind them, have not found Kenneth Konias, the man who murdered his armored truck partner, and ran off with $2.3 million. Konias, on the lamb since February 28, was even featured on the nationally broadcast true crime show, "America's Most Wanted." His parents have been on television pleading with him to surrender, and the armored car company has posted a $100,000 reward. Why hasn't this young man been caught?

     I had assumed that Konias hadn't made sophisticated post-crime arrangements regarding how to lay low for an extended period of time. I thought he'd be caught within a week of the murder. Perhaps he would be arrested in his tan Ford Explorer, or picked-up boarding a bus or a train, or trying to cross the borders into Canada or Mexico. Maybe he'd get in touch with a friend or relative, or call attention to himself by buying a car with a large sum of cash.

     Since Konias hasn't been found, I'm guessing he's hiding in one place rather than moving about the country. If he's being harbored, it's probably by someone doing it for a generous cut of the stolen cash. So, where is the hideout? And where is his Ford Explorer? If Konias' accomplice-after-the-fact is a trusted friend, he might still be in the Pittsburgh area.

     In murder cases, the more time that passes without an arrest, the less likely the homicide will be solved. In fugitive investigations, the passage of time can enhance the chance of an arrest. After awhile, the fugitive has to come out of hiding, and try to get on with his normal life. This includes acquiring a place to live, opening a bank account, getting credit cards, securing a cellphone, and buying a car. Eventually, most fugitives reach out to close relatives, and old friends. Although the police like to catch their high-profile fugitives as soon as possible, finding them can end up becoming a waiting game.

     Although Konias has remained at large longer than I thought he would, I think he will be caught sooner rather than later.      

(The material in this blog is based upon reportage in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

George Zimmerman: Watchman or Vigilante?

     While 28-year-old George Zimmerman may have used excessive force when, on February 26, 2012, he shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin to death, he was not, according to the true definition of the term, a vigilante.

Citizen Watch Groups

     In the United States, millions of citizens volunteer their time as members of neighborhood watch groups. Their principal objectives are to watch each other's property, report suspicious activity, and encourage citizens to come forward as witnesses to crime. Although some volunteer watchmen (and women) receive a little basic law enforcement instruction, they are unarmed, and do not perceive themselves as cops, or even security officers. They know their role, and their place in the criminal justice system.

     In 1979, 13 members of a watch group called the Guardian Angels started riding New York City's crime-ridden subways. By 1981, more than a thousand of these unarmed volunteers were patrolling the streets of Chicago, Pittsburgh, Boston, and Cleveland. At first, the police didn't welcome the Guardian Angels, but urban dwellers weary of crime, did. Fears that the Guardian Angel movement would evolve into vigilantism never materialized.

     Citizen self-protection isn't new. From colonial times to the mid-19th century, there was no such thing as professional, government provided law enforcement. (The New York City Police Department wasn't established until 1844.) During this period, citizen volunteers patrolled the streets. They were no match for the criminals, and by 1859, every major city in the country was unsafe.

The San Francisco Vigilante Movement

     During the period 1860 to 1906, the citizens of San Francisco were terrorized by dozens of hoodlum gangs. (A problem that exists today in every city in America.) The most notorious mob, a Chinese outfit called the Tongs, ruled the opium trade, extorted protection money, imported child slaves, ran gambling operations, and controlled prostitution. The city's leading merchants, aware that high crime was bad for business, established, in 1851, the 700-member San Francisco Vigilance Committee. In its first month, members of the vigilante group arrested 90 people. Four suspects, without the benefit of trials, were hanged, and a dozen run out of town.

     In 1856, merchants in San Francisco formed a second vigilance group. This time, 8000 people joined the committee, making it the largest group of its kind in American history. The vigilantes conducted illegal searches, and arrested hundreds of criminal suspects. Dozens of people went to prison on little or no evidence, 25 were deported, and four died at the end of a rope.

     The San Francisco vigilante movement had little effect on the city's crime. The Tongs, and other criminal organizations, continued to flourish. The great earthquake and fire of 1906 put an end to the San Francisco gangs. The Vigilance Committee, however, had gained significant political and economic power, controlling the mayor's office, the new police department, and local politicians.

The Cattle Wars

     In 1892, the large cattle companies in Wyoming formed a vigilante group to run the smaller ranchers out of business. The vigilantes accomplished this by falsely accusing these ranchers of cattle rustling. Like their counterparts in San Francisco, the vigilantes in Wyoming were motivated by money and politics. Their actions had nothing to do with law enforcement or self-protection. In the American west, between 1849 and 1902, there were 210 vigilante movements. In the south during this period, vigilantes murdered almost 2,000 black people. That's vigilantism.

     Members of neighborhood watch groups are not vigilantes. They are not law enforcers, nor are they politically motivated. The only economic interest they have involves the protection of their own property.

     Regardless of why George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin, the watchman gained nothing, politically or economically, from Martin's death. The fact he had no business carrying a gun, was perhaps undertrained, and may have used excessive force, does not make Mr. Zimmerman a vigilante. If convicted of criminal homicide or some lesser crime, Zimmerman will not be guilty of vigilantism.

     Those who are portraying George Zimmerman as a vigilante, and calling for his head, are acting like the vigilantes of old.  


Monday, April 2, 2012

Highmark CEO Kenneth Melani: Punch-Out in Pittsburgh

     Kenneth R. Melani has lived most of his life in southwestern Pennsylvania. He was born in New Kensington, attended Springdale High School, and graduated from Washington and Jefferson College with a degree in chemistry. After earning his degree in medicine from Wake Forest University, Dr. Melani returned to Pittsburgh in 1979 to complete a three-year residency at West Penn Hospital. Ten years later, Dr. Melani became the chief medical officer at Highmark, the health insurance company headquartered in downtown Pittsburgh. When he took over as CEO in 2003, the 14 billion a year corporation, with millions of policy holders, had become Pennsylvania's largest heath insurer.

     In 2009, Dr. Melani, his wife Tracy, and their three children were living in Fox Chapel, a suburban community along the Allegheny River just northeast of downtown Pittsburgh. That year, the 54-year-old CEO met a 24-year-old knock-out named Melissa Myler, a graduate of Knock High School, and Slippery Rock University. She worked as the operations manager of the Mylan Classic Golf Championship at Southpointe Golf Club, and had a job with the Washington County Economic Development Company. Recently married, Melissa and her husband Mark golfed with Dr. Melani, and attended sporting events with the CEO. In October 2011, the Highmark executive hired Melissa as the sports marketing manager. (I'm not sure what this has to do with health insurance.) Three weeks after bringing her onboard, the CEO and his new employee began having an affair. This would turn out to be a bad executive decision.

     Tracy, Dr. Melani's wife of 19 years, learned of the affair in January 2012. She kicked her husband out of the apartment, and notified Melissa's husband Mark Myler. After being found out, the CEO and his mistress moved into a luxury apartment in O'Hara Township near Fox Chapel. But the lover's honeymoon had come to an end. Not only was Dr. Melani's marriage in ruins, he was starting to worry that his young squeeze was cheating on him. Apparently unaware of the irony in this, and perhaps the justice, Dr. Melani hired a private investigator to check on Melissa's fidelity. Perhaps his mistress was having a clandestine affair with her husband. Outrageous. At this point, virtually everyone who worked at Highmark knew that their CEO was living with a woman, an employee, who was not his wife.

     On Sunday, March 25, 2012, Melessa returned to Mark's apartment in Oakmont, a suburban community just east of Fox Chapel. She went there to speak to her 49-year-old husband. Dr. Melani (or his PI) must have been following her because he showed up at the Myler apartment, and accused his mistress of cheating on him. She asked him to leave, but instead of walking away, Dr. Melani confronted Mark Myler. (Usually it's the wronged husband who confronts the man having an affair with his wife. But if the lover is a CEO of a giant corporation, the norlmal rules of engagement don't apply.)

     The cheated-on husband and his wife's lover started yelling at each other. Next came the pushing, then the punching. (Too bad someone didn't video this fight.) Someone called 911. (While a knock-out was unlikely, one or both of these guys could have gone down with a heart attack.)

     When the police rolled up to the scene, the fight had ended. Both men had swollen faces and a lot of bruises. There was a little bleeding as well. Dr. Melani, however, was still furious. He told the officers that his private investigator had dug up a lot of dirt on his mistress, and the whole mess was about his money. He pulled a Rush Limbaugh and called Melissa a "slut." Sometime during all of this, Dr. Melani phoned his lawyer and was overheard telling him that if the police hadn't arrived, he would have killed Melissa and her husband. (This was reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.) Wow, this guy must have been great to work for.

     Melissa, on the other hand, told the officers that she was not planning a reconciliation with her husband, Mark. Moreover, she did not intend to break up with Dr. Melani.

     On Wednesday, March 28, the Allegheny County District Attorney's office charged CEO Kenneth R. Melani with criminal trespass and simple assault, both misdemeanor offenses. Mark Myler, the presumed victim, was not charged.

     Shortly after the criminal charges and the embarrassing publicity, the Highmark board of directors relieved the CEO of his duties, and placed him on unpaid leave. On Sunday, April 1, one week after the fist-fight in Oakland, the board of directors fired Kenneth Melani, their $4 million-dollar-a-year CEO. Normally when CEOs are axed, resignations are negotiated that involve golden parachutes. But in Dr. Melani's case, there will apparently be no soft landing. For Highmark, this is risky. By throwing Dr. Melani out of the plane without a parachute, there will probably be a costly, and embarrassing lawsuit. (That's what I'm hoping for.) Any guy who would put in jeopardy a $4 million-a-year-job by punching out the husband of his lover, will not slink quietly into the night. This soap opera has just begun.

(The material in this log is based upon reportage in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)


     On June 6, 2012, the prosecutor dropped the assault charges against Melani in return for his promised to take 16, one-hour anger management classes.