Extra Extra : November 2005

D.C. officials violate spending laws

Dan Keating and David S. Fallis, with contributions from Bobbye Pratt, of The Washington Post used District of Columbia purchasing records to show that of $2.5 billion in purchases last year, the city spent roughly $425 million in unauthorized payments and no-bid contracts. "District officials routinely violate city spending laws by avoiding competitive bidding, masking purchases under unrelated contracts and paying vendors without contracts or legal authority. "Studies of no-competition contracts elsewhere indicate that the city is overpaying by $50 million a year. The examination found problems that go far beyond sloppy paperwork as employees skirt the laws designed ... Read more ...

Thousands of dollars collected in per diems

Steve Neavling, formerly of The Bay City Times, reviewed records to show that Bay County paid more than $350,000 to citizens and politicians for serving on its boards in the past four-and-a-half years. Many of these meeting lasted less than 15 minutes and dozens lasted less than five minutes. "A bulk of the per-diem payments — $260,000 — came from boards and committees for three agencies: The Bay Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Bay-Arenac Behavioral Health Authority and Region VII Area Agency on Aging. " Often times per diems went beyond meeting payments, with some board members getting paid for signing checks, visiting ... Read more ...

Lack of federal oversight of theme park rides

Florida Today and WKMG-Orlando used data from a 3-axis accelerometer and data collection device to test the effects of Central Florida's G-forces on theme park rides. They also examined figures on estimates of injuries and deaths involving fixed-site rides and found that state and U.S. agencies only inspect and regulate mobile amusement rides, the kind that travel to county fairs and church festivals. "But, apart from dictating construction and safety standards, they do not directly monitor fixed-site rides in Florida, such as those at major theme parks. " The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that from 1997 through 2004 ... Read more ...

Terrorism funded by organized criminal activity

David E. Kaplan, with Bay Fang and Soni Sangwan, of U.S. News & World Report found that Dawood Ibrahim, a world-class mobster and engineer of the 1993 multiple bomb blasts in Bombay, is on Washington's radar screen for lending his smuggling routes to al Qaeda and supporting jihadists in Pakistan, based on interviews with counterterrorism and law enforcement officials from six countries. Sheltered by Pakistan, he is the alleged godfather of strong-arm protection, drug trafficking, extortion, murder-for-hire — all stock-in-trade rackets. " He is far and away India's most wanted man, his name invoked time and again by Indian officials in their discussions of terrorism with U.S. diplomats and intelligence officers. " The investigation reveals growing U.S. concerns over how increasing numbers of terrorist groups have come to rely on the tactics — and profits — of organized criminal activity to finance their operations across the globe. Read accompanying stories on Dawood Ibrahim and how U.A.E. serves as the region's criminal crossroads.

FOIA request reveals media's use of FOIA

Editor and Publisher reports that The Associated Press leads news organizations in using the Freedom of Information Act to obtain documents from the Pentagon. A log of such requests from 2000 to early 2005 was compiled by a San Francisco-based activist. The AP filed 73 such requests, followed by the Los Angeles Times with 42 and The Washington Post with 34. Trailing far behind among major newspapers was The New York Times with 21, USA Today with nine and The Wall Street Journal with six. On the TV side, CBS News led with 32 queries; Fox News followed with 22 ... Read more ...

Students misuse low-income housing

Lee Rood of The Des Moines Register found scores of students are paying little or nothing to live in low-income projects in college towns in every region. Loopholes enable students — including scholarship athletes who already receive housing money — easily qualify for apartments in the Section 8 program. "Last year, during a probe into students' use of Section 8 at Pheasant Ridge Apartments in Iowa City, the newspaper also located students who used the housing assistance in Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania. " Under the housing department's current rules, student financial aid does not count as income which gives virtually any ... Read more ...

Rogue tow truck drivers

ABC News reports on "bandit" tow truck drivers who pretend to be from companies hired by auto clubs and then overcharge drivers. The rogue drivers then tow cars to a shop that pays them a bounty. Some may not report that the car has been towed in order to rack up extra storage charges. Some have even been known to remove a car from private property without proper authorization. "The Los Angeles Police Department has been cracking down on rogue tow truck drivers. " Even though California has some of the toughest towing regulations in the country, sometimes people pretend to ... Read more ...

'Guest workers' suffer from exploitation, neglect

A nine-month investigation by Tom Knudson and Hector Amezcua of The Sacramento Bee "has found pineros [Latino forest workers in the United States] are victims of employer exploitation, government neglect and a contracting system that insulates landowners — including the U.S. government — from responsibility." The report, "based on more than 150 interviews across Mexico, Guatemala and the United States and 5,000 pages of records unearthed through the Freedom of Information Act" shows responsibility for these "guest workers" is spread among several federal agencies and private contractors with no effective oversight. Part two shows the government has been aware of ... Read more ...

Ky. economic incentives fall short

A series of Lexington Herald-Leader reports from John Stamper and Bill Estep, with contributions from Linda J. Johnson, computer-assisted reporting coordinator, reporter Linda Blackford and news researcher Lu-Ann Farrar, examines Kentucky's expensive efforts to recruit industries and failures in the program. "Instead, at a cost of $1.8 billion, Kentucky's main economic-incentive programs have overburdened taxpayers and left citizens on the losing side of a high-stakes game with hard-bargaining corporate interests."

Innocent man likely executed in Texas

Lise Olsen of the Houston Chronicle reports that a witness now says he was influenced by police to identify Ruben Cantu, then 17, as the killer in an alleged murder-robbery. Cantu, who claimed to have been framed in the capital murder case, was executed in August 1993. "A dozen years after his execution, a Houston Chronicle investigation suggests that Cantu, a former special-ed student who grew up in a tough neighborhood on the south side of San Antonio, was likely telling the truth." The judge, prosecutor, head juror and defense attorney have acknowledge that Cantu's conviction seems to have ... Read more ...