Extra Extra : March 2009

Immigration courts have huge backlog of cases

A report by Brad Heath of USA Today reveals that the nation's immigration courts "are now so clogged that nearly 90,000 people accused of being in the United States illegally waited at least two years for a judge to decide whether they must leave, one of the last bottlenecks in a push to more strictly enforce immigration laws." In the worst cases, immigrants remain in jail until their fate is determined. USA Today reviewed court dockets from immigration court cases completed between 2003 and mid-2008. These records only list completed cases, so it is impossible to know how ... Read more ...

Black market for smuggled cigarettes tops $1 billion in Canada

The latest installment of "Tobacco Underground," an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity's International Consortium of Investigative Journalists exposes how U.S. and Canadian Indian tribes and organized crime gangs are behind a $1 billion black market in smuggled cigarettes in Canada. "Over the last six years, as Ottawa and provincial governments began hiking tobacco taxes to curb smoking and raise funds, the smuggling business has grown 'exponentially,' according to the country’s national police force, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). At a time when a crumbling economy has forced governments into deficit financing, Canadian smugglers — ... Read more ...

Injury reports from Florida's theme parks yield little information

A two-part series by Scott Powers of The Orlando Sentinel explored personal injury litigation against the big Florida theme parks, showing what happens when visitors get hurt and then sue. The findings show ride-related lawsuits at Walt Disney World, SeaWorld, Universal Orlando and Busch Gardens rarely shed light on whether the rides actually hurt anyone. And the streets, shops and walkways of Florida's theme parks generate far more injury lawsuits than the rides. The report also includes a searchable on-line database providing summaries of 477 personal injury lawsuits filed in the years 2004 through 2008.

Vitamin supplement found to contain andro

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the steroid andro in 2004, but the investigative team at WFXT-Boston aired a story that showed the presence of andro in a supplement that is available at many vitamin stores. A Massachusetts laboratory confirmed the presence of andro in pills manufactured and sold by the Illinois-based Ergopharm. The chemist who heads company, Patrick Arnold, is tied to the BALCO steroid scandal through his 2006 guilty plea on federal charges of conspiracy to distribute anabolic steroids. WFXT reported that the Drug Enforcement Administration raided Ergopharm in January and that the investigation continues. In ... Read more ...

Lead poisoning remains a risk for Chicago children

Matthew Hendrickson wrote a three-part series showing how Chicago children continue to be harmed by lead poisoning at alarming rates because of bureaucratic missteps — from kids being screened late to frustrated inspectors not having correct street addresses when tracking down those most at risk. Hendrickson also tested soil samples and found troubling amounts of lead on playgrounds. He wrote the series while a student at Columbia College Chicago and under the supervision of Chicago Tribune investigative reporter Sam Roe.

Felon operates ineffective foreclosure rescue trusts

For an investigation of foreclosure rescue schemes, the San Diego Union-Tribune analyzed all quitclaim deeds filed in San Diego County between January 2007 and October 2008. The investigation led reporter Eleanor Yang Su to Apocalypse and Amerisian trusts, which are ran by convicted felon Edmundo Rubi. According to the article, “In some operations, homeowners quitclaimed – or transferred ownership of their houses – after being falsely told that doing so would help save the homes.” Of the more than one dozen families the paper contacted for the story, not one had received a modified mortgage, and two had their homes foreclosed.

Analysis examines the aging of federal judges

Tisha Thompson at WTTG-Washington, D.C., found more than one-third of federal judges are at least 70 years old, the age at which the majority of states require their judges to retire. One judge is more than 101 years old and still hearing a full case load. Thompson created an interactive Web site with state-by-state comparisons of federal versus ...

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Juvenile center supervisor used staff doctor to get painkillers

A 10-month investigation by producer Lauren Sweeney and reporter Melissa Yeager at WINK-Fort Meyers helped change policy at Florida's Department of Juvenile Justice.  A worker at a juvenile justice center for kids with drug abuse and mental problems blew the whistle on his supervisor for obtaining a prescription for powerful painkillers from the staff doctor. Two separate agencies investigated and substantiated the claim, but the supervisor was not reprimanded or criminally charged because the Department of Juvenile Justice had no policy prohibiting his actions. After the Call For Action investigation, the Department of Juvenile Justice wrote a new policy ...

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Criminals as mortgage brokers

Cary Spivak of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found that hundreds of loan brokers in Wisconsin have criminal records, including ex-drug dealers, armed robbers and a killer. In his latest installment of the ongoing “Easy Money” series, Spivak mined state and court records to find that many of these license holders have gone on to defraud home buyers and sellers.

BankTracker crunches numbers from FDIC reports

An analysis of bank financial statements by the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University and msnbc.com, sheds new light on just how dangerous conditions have become in many banks across the nation. Information is available on the BankTracker site and a related msnbc.com story by Bill Dedman.