Extra Extra : March 2006

N.C. drinking water safety in doubt

In a three-part series, Pat Stith of The (Raleigh, N.C.) News & Observer shows the "state's regulation of drinking water reveals disregard for safety of private wells, weak regulation of public water systems and widespread problems with lead testing." The series includes an interactive map and a sidebar about how the state closely followed Stith's investigation and began responding to problems before the stories were published. "Stith, along with reporters Catherine Clabby and Wade Rawlins and database editor David Raynor, examined a stack of paper records 8 feet high and acquired databases from the state Department of Environment ... Read more ...

U.S. planes have no defense against shoulder-fired missiles

Brian Ross, Jill Rackmill and Eric Longabardi report for ABC News that "experts say that shoulder-to-air missiles can be bought for only a few thousand dollars on the black market. But U.S. commercial aircraft still have no defense system against these portable missiles." Last November last year, an American Airlines pilot taking off from Los Angeles International Airport reported that a rocket might have been fired at his plane. "The federal government still has no definitive plan to protect U.S. commercial aircraft, even though two companies have developed systems that they affirm will defeat the missiles."

Nev. rural emergency services face challenges

Reporters Steve Timko, Jason Hidalgo and Jim Sloan of the Reno Gazette-Journal examine rural emergency services in Nevada. Timko used data from the Department of Transportation's Fatal Accident Reporting System to identify Nevada's deadliest roads. Other stories in the series look at ambulance response times — finding they are the worst in the country &mdash and the aging equipment used by EMS crews. (Editor's note: For those interested in doing similar stories using FARS data, it is available to journalists through the IRE and NICAR Database Library.)

Public records request frightens workers

Tamara Koehler of the Ventura County Star reports on the paper's public records audit showing that 40 percent of county government agencies failed to comply with requests. "Ventura Unified School District employees feared for their lives when a young man walked into the office, asked for public records and refused to give his name."

High salaries, free spending at N.Y. agency

Michelle Breidenbach of The (Syracuse, N.Y.) Post-Standard looks into the "high salaries and free spending of the public's money at the New York Power Authority," the state's publicly owned power generator. "NYPA's six trustees oversee a $2.2 billion budget that accommodates the patronage and pork-barrel spending that come with a state public authority as well as the pampering that comes with a private business. As a state public authority, NYPA's policies, practices and profits are separate from the rest of New York state government." After the stories were published, N.Y. Gov. George Pataki ... Read more ...

Mortgage industry employs felons

Geoff Dutton of The Columbus Dispatch continues to follow the predatory lending business and practices in Ohio. He finds that "leaders of the brokers association have urged lawmakers to reject new proposals designed to crack down on predatory lending and increase state oversight. The mortgage industry, they argue, can police itself without new state regulations." But Dutton finds those leaders have employed felons and some of their businesses are scrutinized by regulators.

Builders, nonprofit have close ties

Reese Dunklin of The Dallas Morning News reports that "The low-income housing builders at the heart of the FBI's corruption investigation at City Hall created a nonprofit organization, stocked it with friends and political allies and used it to obtain more than $3 million in tax-free subsidies that earned their companies millions more in profit." The builders and the nonprofit failed to disclose their ties to the IRS and described the money as loans, "although a nonprofit official says there's no intention to repay."

IRE Award winners announced

Toxic dumping, public corruption investigations among winners
Investigative stories about deceit in Cleveland's public school district and an environmental disaster in New Jersey won the top prizes in the 2005 IRE awards, Investigative Reporters and Editors announced today. Those were among 15 prizes awarded by IRE. Other stories honored included a 17-year body of crime reporting that unmasked the killer in the 1963 murder of civil rights worker Medgar Evers, investigations into fraud and abuse in two federal agencies and stories documenting troubles with the pharmaceutical industry. In addition, IRE recognized one of the youngest journalists it has honored ... Read more ...

Federal fines go uncollected across the nation

Martha Mendoza and Christopher Sullivan of The Associated Press used federal records to show that the amount of unpaid federal fines has risen sharply in the past decade, in an investigation that examined federal financial penalty enforcement across the nation. Individuals and corporations regularly avoid large penalties for wrongdoing — sometimes through negotiations, sometimes because companies go bankrupt, sometimes because officials fail to keep close track of who owes what under a decentralized collection system. "The government is currently owed more than $35 billion in fines and other payments from criminal and in civil cases, according to Justice Department figures." This ... Read more ...

Car donations to charities thwarted by salvage companies

Dave Savini of WBBM-Chicago used a computer database of vehicle identification numbers to show criminals are cashing in on vehicles donated to charity, in a series that exposed how two unlicensed Illinois towing and salvage companies cheated nearly 200 charities nationwide. The companies were run by convicted felons. The investigation revealed how they ripped off 5,000 cars with an estimated street value of $2 million. "No one was monitoring how these private towers and salvage yards handled car donation money." The reports have lead to police raids, grand jury investigations and proposed legislation that would ban felons from operating ... Read more ...