Extra Extra : January 2008

Disclosures show DA dines and drinks with campaign funds

An investigation by John O'Brien of The Post-Standard (Syracuse, N.Y.) discovered Onondaga County District Attorney Bill Fitzpatrick has used $11,633 of his campaign funds for dining and entertainment. His campaign paid the bill 49 times in 2006 and 2007 at restaurants and bars from Portland, Ore. to Amelia Island, Fla., spending far more than other district attorneys' campaigns across the state on food and drink. The story examined campaign finance disclosures that Fitzpatrick had previously not itemized until the newspaper exposed the violation of state election law.

Text messages sink Detroit mayor's sworn testimony

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is under investigation after M.L. Elrick and Jim Schaefer of The Detroit Free Press obtained text messages that contradict the mayor's testimony in a court case filed by a former deputy police chief, who claimed he was the victim of retaliatory firing. (See the chain of events in the case that cost the city $9 million.) The text messages, which the paper first sought in 2004, revealed details of an affair between Beatty and Kirkpatrick, which they denied in court, and damaging comments about the plaintiff's termination. Free Press tech columnist Mike Wendland ... Read more ...

Charities enjoy tax-free profits from "unrelated business income"

An investigation by Grant Williams and Peter Panepento of The Chronicle of Philanthropy found that about half of the nation’s largest charities pay no taxes, even though they generate millions in unrelated business income. Some organizations are claiming a loss on their income — meaning that they are losing money on side ventures. A change in federal tax law now makes it possible for the public to see the IRS Form 990-T, filed by charities that generate money from activities that do not relate to their charitable mission. Williams and Panapento spent the past several months requesting and gathering these ... Read more ...

Gaps in Wisconsin tornado warning system identified

After tornadoes ripped through the southern part of the state earlier this month, Ben Poston of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found that thousands of southeastern Wisconsin residents are out of range for tornado warning sirens. Using mapping software, Poston plotted nearly 75 siren locations in Milwaukee and Racine counties and then overlayed census data to identify gaps in the warning system.

Porn sites exploit photos of high school athletes

An investigation by Scott M. Reid and Dan Albano of The Orange County Register has revealed that photographs of unsuspecting high school athletes are being posted next to pornographic images on Internet sites. Investigators are tracking Web profiles and e-mail trails to determine the source of photos taken at water polo events. The discovery also raises questions about privacy and First Amendment rights.

Drought threatens nuclear power in Southeast

AP's Charlotte correspondent Mitch Weiss identified 24 nuclear reactors located in areas of severe drought that could potentially force reactors in the Southeast to reduce power or shut down later this year. The drought threatens the rivers and streams that supply massive amounts of cooling water. Weiss reports that, while utility officials issue public assurances about the plants' operability, documents reveal warnings about potential shutdowns and the expense of buying power from alternate sources. His analysis and mapping covered 104 nuclear reactors nationwide.

Georgia purchasing cards abused to the tune of $370 million

Andrea Jones and Megan Clarke of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution report that abuse of government purchasing cards cost the state approximately $370 million in 2007. An analysis of over four million transactions showed that the credit cards have been used to pay for such things as pornography, tattoos, concerts, and dating services. In addition to the problem charges, around 2,100 cards have been lost or stolen since 2005. Included in the report is a online database of all the credit card transactions.

Rearrest rate high in felons released on "shock probation"

Jason Riley of The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Ky.) found that many inmates granted "shock probation" were being re-incarcerated in Jefferson County, Ky. The program releases offenders after only one to six months of their sentence and was developed for "first-time, nonviolent offenders who, after getting a taste of prison life, would be so 'shocked' by their experience that they would be deterred from future crimes." Riley's analysis showed that last year, more than 45 percent of felons in this program were rearrested for violent crimes including murder, rape and armed robbery.

Reporter's work leads to review of murder conviction

A report by Christine Young of the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, NY, in a special eight-page supplement and online multi-media presentation, suggests strongly that a New York City man who is borderline mentally retarded was wrongfully convicted of murder in 1989. Thanks to Young's reporting—and a bizarre set of circumstances that thrust her into the investigation 20 years ago— the Manhattan District Attorney's Office is re-opening the case and reviewing the conviction. Young's reporting raises questions about false confessions, sloppy police tactics and raises the prospect that police ignored evidence pointing to a serial killer of ... Read more ...

Racist jokes, porn found on DA's office computer

Community leaders are calling for Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal to resign after Jeremy Rogalski of KHOU-Houston uncovered racist emails and sex videos on the D.A.'s county computer, along with evidence suggesting that Rosenthal used county time and resources in his political campaigns.