Extra Extra : February 2006

Prep players enroll in questionable schools

Pete Thamel, with contributions from Thayer Evans, Jack Begg and Sandra Jamison, of The New York Times found more than a dozen institutions claiming to be prep schools, some of which closed soon after opening. "All or most of the students were highly regarded basketball players. These athletes were trying to raise their grades to compensate for poor College Board scores or trying to gain attention from major-college coaches." The paper " found that at least 200 players had enrolled at such places in the past 10 years and that dozens had gone on to play at N.C.A.A ... Read more ...

Contractors are invisible casualties in Iraq

Alejandra Fernandez-Morera of the Scripps Howard News Service found there are significant invisible casualties of the Iraqi occupation. Almost 505 civilian contractors have died in Iraq since the beginning of the war. "Another 4,744 contractors have been injured, according to insurance claims by 209 companies on file at the Department of Labor." The investigation found that neither the Pentagon nor American corporations who hire contractors to support the U.S. military in Iraq will identify the Americans and foreign nationals who have died, citing privacy and security reasons. The unnamed civilians have become a significant part of the cost ... Read more ...

Oilman's donation invested in his fund

Stephanie Strom of The New York Times investigated Boone Pickens, the Texas oilman turned investor, to show the $165 million that he gave to a tiny charity set up to benefit the golf program at Oklahoma State University was invested in a hedge fund controlled by Pickens' BP Capital Management. The gift, which helped Pickens get a tax deduction, propelled him into the ranks of the nation's top philanthropists last year. "By giving the money before 2005 expired, Mr. Pickens was able to take advantage of a provision in Hurricane Katrina relief legislation that allowed him a deduction for ... Read more ...

Hawaii's backlog allows many to escape charges

Ken Kobayashi and Jim Dooley of The Honolulu Advertiser used traffic records to show that O'ahu, Hawaii, has an estimated backlog of 61,500 bench warrants, costing the state a potential $20 million in unpaid fines and fees and allowing defendants to avoid charges as routine as running a red light and serious as negligent homicide. The three-part series found that poor coordination among law enforcement agencies and the courts results in long delays in processing warrants, missed opportunities to serve the orders and, in some cases, failure to capture fugitives. "The state sheriff's department — the agency tasked ... Read more ...

Dallas fails to collect parking fines

Dave Levinthal and Molly Motley Blythe of The Dallas Morning News analyzed city records to show that Dallas City Hall, perennially strapped for cash, is owed at least $40 million in unpaid parking fines. As of November, the city had yet to collect on nearly 1 million outstanding parking tickets and their corresponding late penalties dating to 1988. "The money is owed by delivery companies and the federal government; city employees and average residents; and folks from every corner of the state and nation. " The investigation found the information recorded about illegally parked vehicles is inconsistent — several different names for ... Read more ...

High interest mortgages prevalent in rural areas

Geoff Dutton, Jill Riepenhoff and Doug Haddix of The Columbus Dispatch analyzed federal Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data and explored the spread of high-interest mortgages from inner cities to Ohio's suburban and rural areas. They found that risky high-interest mortgages have cost record numbers of people their homes, but not just in the big cities. The investigation found people in rural areas were much more likely to sign mortgages with high interest rates, generally above 8 percent, compared with the average of 5 percent for a conventional loan at the time. (Note: For reporters interested in pursuing similar stories ... Read more ...

Fla. fails to inspect elevators regularly

John McCarthy of Florida Today reviewed reports by local, state and federal agencies to show the state agency that oversees elevators has failed to ensure proper inspections as state law requires, in a three-day series on elevator safety. The newspaper found that in Brevard County, 221 of 1,113 passenger elevators do not have a current operating certificate. " Ten have certificates that expired in 2002. Some have not been inspected for years — as far back as 1998 in one case — despite a state law requiring annual inspections." Among the buildings with delinquent certificates are high-rise condos, hospitals and even government ... Read more ...

Library plagued by serious violations

Chris Halsne of KIRO-Seattle used the internal library database from Seattle's new $169 million downtown library to show it is plagued by some serious security concerns. Hundreds of patrons are kicked out for repeatedly getting drunk, sleeping or more serious matters, like threats, sexual misconduct and assaults. "Records show 491 "code of conduct violations" serious enough to get a patron kicked out. Since June of 2004, documents show 22 incidents of sexual misconduct or public nudity; 60 threats of violence, including loud, racially-motivated or obscene rants; 76 cases of harassment, disruptive behavior, leering, stalking. " Guards documented seven cases of ... Read more ...

Inequities found in property taxes

Andrew Nelson, Bill Dedman and Matt Hersh of The Telegraph used city records to show that thousands of homeowners in Nashua, N.H. are paying too much in property taxes because of wide disparities between sale prices and the city's valuation of properties. Thousands more are paying too little, requiring other taxpayers to pick up the slack. Comparing the sale prices of those homes with the assessor's value, the investigation found 22.7 percent were overtaxed by at least 5 percent, 33.3 percent were undertaxed by at least 5 percent and 44.0 percent were close, pegged ... Read more ...

Demand for pardons creates backlog

Rich Cholodofsky of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review analyzed applications for pardons dating to 2000 and found that as the country's security concerns increased in the wake of 9/11, along with intensified background checks implemented in the late 1990s as a result of the Brady Bill, the number of people seeking to have records of criminal convictions cleared has grown significantly. "In the last five years there have been more than 2,900 applications for clemency filed with the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons. The board has reviewed about 1,900 cases, and Pennsylvania governors have granted relief in about a ... Read more ...