Tag Archives: investigation

Rising Corruption in Maryland Politics

IMG_8086.JPGBALTIMORE (WJZ)– Corruption investigations have jolted Maryland with several rising political stars embroiled in scandals.

One is an ongoing and massive federal bribery investigation and has already lead to a guilty plea from former delegate Will Campos, a founder of Maryland’s Hispanic Caucus.

U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein has handled the case, which involves at least 30 months of wiretaps and lawmakers taking bribes for–among other things–liquor licenses– in Prince George’s County.

Rosenstein spoke one-on-one with WJZ about rooting out corruption.

“Corruption is a top priority for us, obstruction is a even more significant priority, that is people are actively attempting to interfere with federal prosecutors– investigators,” said Rosenstein.

Another powerful long-time delegate, Michael Vaughn, resigned less than an hour before the start of the session citing health concerns. According to published reports, he matches the description of a lawmaker currently under investigation.

“Our goal is to put fear into the criminals out there committing corruption,” said Rosenstein.

Rosenstein would not comment on Vaughn. He has long warned politicians they are not above the law.

Another rising star, Gary Brown Jr., a close aide to Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, is under a separate investigation by the state prosecutor.

His swearing in as a delegate has been cancelled. Brown faces an indictment he illegally funneled 18,000 to relatives–then into the mayor’s campaign coffers–violating the limit for an individual donor. Brown still works for the mayor.

“I always stand on the side that people have the right. You’re innocent until proven otherwise,” said Pugh.

Mayor Pugh answered questions about brown for the first time and says she’s reviewing her campaign finances.

“Let me just be real clear. We know that things happen. We raised over $2 million, and if there is anything wrong with the funds that we received, they will go back.”

via CBS Baltimore

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Pgcps student Amber Stanley killer still at large three years later

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17-year-old pgcps student Amber Stanley was fatally shot on August 22, 2012 by an unknown person.

It’s been three years since a masked gunman kicked down the front door of a home on Chartsey Street in Kettering and fatally shot 17-year-old Amber Stanley while she was in bed.

To this day, county homicide detectives are still looking for her killer.

Stanley’s death on Aug. 22, 2012 shocked the entire community. Not only was she a teenager who was murdered in her own home, but that school year, her fatal shooting became the first in a series of six unrelated deaths of Prince George’s County students. The killings sparked fear and concern throughout the community.

When the gunman kicked in the front door of Stanley’s house, Amber’s older sister and a foster child were also in the house. According to a source close to the investigation, “The gunman said nothing and went directly up the steps to the bedroom. It looked like he knew where to go. He then came down the steps after shooting Amber and fled the scene.”

For the next several days, police and cadets searched the neighborhood for any type of evidence, but nothing was found.

Just a few days after Stanley’s death, Police Chief Mark Magaw of the Prince George’s County Police Department promised, at a press conference at police headquarters, Stanley’s death will be solved and someone would be arrested.

A year passed and no one was arrested.

Then, last year Capt. Jimmy Simms, head of the department’s homicide unit, said “We believe that we are in the best position that we’ve been in the last two years of this investigation. We’re hopeful that as this investigation plays out, we will see a successful conclusion.”

However, three years later no arrests have been made. And now homicide detectives are refusing to answer any questions. They have said in a statement that “it is an ongoing investigation and will continue to follow leads.”

That explanation is not good enough for Amber’s sister, who declined to have her name released in fear of any retaliation.

“It seems like the police are not doing anything about my sister’s death,” Amber’s sister said. “We call them and they have nothing to tell us. We need to move on, but it’s hard.”

Irma Gaither, Amber’s mother, has had to deal with the lack of closure and her frustration continues to grow with each passing day.

“I am frustrated with the police” Gaither said. “We asked them to attend what would have been my daughter’s graduation and pass out flyers, but they refused. They never keep me informed of what is happening. I just wish someone will tell me something. I lost my daughter.”

Charles H. Flowers Principal Gorman Brown recalled his time with Stanley.

“Amber was an honor student here at Charles H. Flowers High School and aspired to attend Harvard University to become a doctor,” Brown said. “Losing Amber is losing one of our future leaders.”

It is said that time heals all wounds. Unfortunately for Gaither, her wound is constantly being reopened.

“At least two or three times a week someone always asks me if I have heard anything. Do I know anything,” Gaither said. “I would like for someone or whoever knows anything to just come forward and help us get the case solved.”

Anyone with information about Stanley’s murder is asked to call the Prince George’s County Police Department’s Homicide Unit at 301-772-4925. Callers wishing to remain anonymous may call Crimes Solvers at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477), text “PGPD plus your message” to CRIMES (274637) on your cell phone or go to http://www.pgcrimesolvers.com to submit a tip online.

via Prince George’s county sentinel

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‘Most famous’ teacher plans class action suit over LAUSD’s ‘teacher jail’.

Rafe-EquithRafe Esquith

If opponents of LA Unified’s controversial disciplinary process known as “teacher jail” were looking for an ideal case to fight it, both in a court of law and in the court of public opinion, they may get it.

High-profile attorney Mark Geragos, representing one of the most famous active teachers in the country, Rafe Esquith, told the Los Angeles Times he intends to file a class action lawsuit on behalf of “scores” of district teachers who say they have been denied due process rights. Geragos said he had filed a legal claim on Monday, which is a precursor to a lawsuit.

The lawsuit could have enormous implications for the district, given the public stature of Esquith, who is a best-selling author, and Geragos, who has represented numerous celebrities and high-profile clients, including Michael Jackson, Winona Ryder and convicted killer Scott Peterson.

Geragos did not state how many teachers may be a part of the possible suit and did not respond to a request for comment. LA Unified General Counsel David Holmquist said in an email to LA School Report that “you would have to talk to [Esquith’s] attorney about his plans for a class action suit to determine if he believes it is a precursor.”

The district has not publicly released any information on the case so far, other than Superintendent Ramon Cortines‘ saying the investigation had raised “serious issues.”

Esquith told the Times that he was put under investigation in April and removed from the classroom for making a joke that referenced a passage from the novel “Huckleberry Finn.” He said he told his class they may have to perform nude like a character in the story if he wasn’t able to raise enough funds, and that another teacher complained about it.

Esquith acknowledged making the joke, and Geragos said that was the extent of the original complaint against him but the district’s investigation expanded to focus on Esquith’s nonprofit, the Hobart Shakespeareans, including its process of permission slips, chaperons and whether it makes clear it is not affiliated with the district, the Times reported.

Esquith is an author of several books on teaching and has worked at Hobart Avenue Elementary School for decades. He has received national recognition for his work with his nonprofit, which raises money for his students to put on Shakespeare plays. His work has been profiled by PBS, the CBS Evening News, Time, People and other national outlets. Washington Post education columnist Valerie Strauss described him as “the most famous teacher in the world.”

Esquith’s case is thrusting the issue of “teacher jail” into the spotlight once again, where it has been numerous times since the Miramonte Elementary sex abuse scandal broke in 2011 and former teacher Mark Berndt was ultimately convicted of multiple counts of committing lewd acts on his students. The Miramonte case also led to the district’s record-breaking $170 million in civil lawsuit payouts.

In the aftermath of the scandal, the LA teachers union, UTLA, complained that the district began investigating teachers at a much higher rate. Hundreds of teachers, sometimes more than 300, have been reported to be barred from the classroom at a time in recent years.

Teachers can fall under investigation for anything from serious accusation of sexual misconduct to a simple violation of district policies. The district used to house all teachers under investigation in administrative offices during working hours, and they were often often given nothing to do, which gave rise to the “teacher jail” term. In 2014, the district switched policy and began sending most of the teachers home, but the term has come to often apply to any teacher that is barred from the classroom with pay while the district investigates them.

The investigations can take months, and teachers are often not informed of the accusations against them. UTLA made the district’s disciplinary process an issue in its negations for a new contract agreement, reached in April, that calls for the district to give teachers under investigation more rights.

“The teacher jail issues, which ballooned under Deasy, was a huge part of our contract negotiations and we got first-time contract language, making sure due process is followed, and time limits are followed in investigations,” UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl told LA School Report. “So we want to make sure that the district is following those very common sense guidelines that are now contractual  language. We want to make sure that they’re following them in this case of Rafe Esquith.”

Caputo-Pearl did say that the speed of teacher investigations has improved under new Superintendent Ramon Cortines.

“Cortines, to his credit, has worked with us on a number of different cases where we were able to cut through some red tape,” Caputo-Pearl said.


Vanessa Romo contributed reporting to this story.

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An Excellent Editorial in the Los Angeles Times about the iPad Debacle

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Karin Klein of the Los Angeles Times wrote an excellent editorial about the disastrous decision to spend $1.3 billion on iPads for every student and staff member of the LA schools. It should be a cautionary tale for every school district that is about to invest hundreds of millions or billions of dollars in new technology.

The District’s Inspector General investigated the purchase and found nothing wrong. But he never looked at the emails that passed between district officials and the winning vendors (Apple and Pearson). The school board never released the results of that investigation. Now a federal grand jury has been impaneled to look at the evidence of possible wrong-doing, and that is a very good thing. The grand jury will also examined the botched computer system that cost millions of dollars and never performed as it was supposed to.

She writes:

When the school board reached a severance agreement with Deasy in October, it issued a statement that board members do “not believe that the superintendent engaged in any ethical violations or unlawful acts” in regard to the emails. That statement was completely inappropriate considering that Bramlett’s investigation into the emails was still underway—as it is now. The board has no authority to direct the inspector general’s investigations—but it can hire and fire the person heading the staff office, and controls his office’s budget. (In fact, just a week or so before the board made its statement, Bramlett’s office pleaded for more funding, according to a KPCC report.) The statement could be seen as pressuring the inspector general not to find wrongdoing; in any case, board members are in no position to prejudge the matter.

For that matter, none of us are in that position. The emails could be perfectly legal and appropriate—or not. It’s unknown whether even a federal grand jury will be able to ferret out the full picture, since many earlier emails were apparently deleted and aren’t available. And if it uncovers ethical rather than legal problems, the public might never know; the grand jury is looking for evidence of crime. Federal crime at that. This might not be the best mechanism for examining the iPad purchase. But the investigation at least ensures that an independent authority is examining the matter, unimpeded by internal politics or pressures.

Yes, the public has a right to know and a right to expect that public officials will act in the best interests of students. As for the huge purchases for technology, we in New York have learned that even the sharpest and most ethical city officials have trouble monitoring the technology purchases. The largest financial scandal in the city’s historyoccurred recently, when a company called Citytime won an IT contract for $63 million in 1998 which ballooned into a $600 million payout; the principals went to jail. The school system’s ARIS project, launched in 2007, was supposed to aggregate data on the city’s 1.1 million students; it was recently dumped because so few teachers or parents used it, at a loss of $95 million. There were other instances where consultants bilked the city, in large part because no one supervised what they were doing.

Is there a moral to the story? Choose your own. Mine is that these multimillion dollar technology purchases must be carefully monitored, from beginning to end, to be sure that the public interest is protected and served. The problem is that many school districts lack the expertise to know whether they are getting what they paid for, or getting a pig in a poke. When even New York City and Los Angeles can be misled, think how much easier it will be to pick the pockets of mid-size and smaller districts.

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