Serial killer Eddie Lee Mosley killed 10 women and children after police arrested an innocent man in connection with earlier killings.
The arrest of Jerry Frank Townsend on Sept. 5, 1979 ended the hunt for a brutal serial killer and rapist who had terrorized a predominantly African-American neighborhood in northwest Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
But it began an enduring miscarriage of justice.
Townsend spent 22 years of his life in prison until he was exonerated by DNA tests that did not exist when he was arrested. Eddie Lee Mosley remained free to continue to rape and kill until his 1987 arrest and confinement in a state hospital for the criminally insane.
Now, relatives of three of those victims are calling on longtime Broward State Attorney Mike Satz – who is up for re-election – to finally investigate the actions of police detectives whose testimony convicted Townsend.
“It matters a hell of a lot,” said Clarice Tukes, 72, whose 20-year-old daughter, Arnette, was raped and strangled five months after Townsend’s arrest. “My daughter would still be alive if they hadn’t arrested the wrong man.”
“I want this reopened,” said Jacquelyn D. Miller, the daughter of Geraldine Barfield, whose body was found in a field adjacent to the Immanuel Church of God in Christ near Sunland Park on Dec. 19, 1983. She was 35.
“I’ve carried this with me 28 years. I want Michael Satz to tell me why he allowed this to happen, why a killer was allowed to remain on the streets,” she said.
Compared to Jack the Ripper Satz was in his first term as Broward’s top prosecutor when Townsend was arrested.
The case captured the public’s imagination: A black serial killer compared by police to Jack the Ripper. Townsend, they said, had admitted to wanting to “rid the world of prostitutes.”
The victims, however, were not prostitutes.
Jerry Frank Townsend pleaded guilty in 1979 to a string of rapes and murders in Broward County, Fla., that he did not commit. Prosecutors set aside those convictions after learning in April 2001 that DNA evidence cleared him of the crimes.
Townsend, a grown man with the mental capacity of a child, was led by detectives to confess to a string of rapes and murders he did not do. He was convicted of six murders and a rape in 1980 and sent to prison for life.
In 2009, eight years after DNA proved his innocence, the Broward Sheriff’s Office agreed to pay $2 million over five years to settle a civil rights lawsuit alleging that its detectives fabricated evidence, concealed exculpatory evidence, tampered with witnesses and coerced false confessions out of Townsend.
Miami, where city detectives were accused of similar wrongdoing against Townsend, paid $2.2 million to end another suit before trial in 2008. Taxpayers spent at least $1 million more to pay lawyers to defend the police.
Broward Bulldog reported in 2009 that transcripts of Townsend’s Broward trial and hearings contain disturbing evidence of crimes like perjury and the falsification of police reports by BSO detectives and other officers. Several relatives recently saw the story.
For example, BSO detectives testified that Townsend led them to the scene of four Broward murders, and provided them with details only the killer would have known
But Townsend wasn’t the killer. So the detectives’ damning testimony takes on new meaning.
There is no statute of limitations on perjury in an official proceeding that relates to the prosecution of a capital felony. Whether the law could be enforced regarding original police testimony against Townsend is unclear because today’s statute is somewhat different than what was on the books in the 1980s.
Nevertheless, neither Satz, Broward’s state attorney since 1976, nor the Broward Sheriff’s Office has investigated the actions of the BSO detectives whose testimony sent Townsend to prison, Mark Schlein and Anthony Fantigrassi.
The settled lawsuit contended those detectives framed Townsend to advance their careers. Schlein has declined to discuss the case. Fantigrassi has said he never lied to convict Townsend.
Fantigrassi retired as head of BSO’s Criminal Investigations Unit in 2005. Schlein retired in 1993 as a lieutenant colonel, later worked for the state and is today an attorney in private practice in Tallahassee.
The lawsuit said Mosley is believed to be responsible for 41 rapes and 17 murders between 1973 and 1987, when he was declared incompetent to stand trial for the 1983 Christmas Eve rape-murder of Emma Cook, 54.
Victims and their familiesKatrenna Bentley, a hedge fund accountant, was 11 years old the day her grandmother died. She still vividly recalls seeing her battered body on a slab at the Mizell Funeral Home.
“I remember her laying on the table and seeing skin under her nails and hair in her mouth. They said she fought back, bit him in the head,” Bentley said. DNA from that trace evidence was matched two decades later to Mosley.
Katrenna and her mother, Mary Bentley, Emma Cook’s daughter, both said they want the state to investigate the actions of the police who handled the Townsend case.
“Every Christmas I relive this and get a sick feeling in the bottom of my stomach,” said Mary Bentley, 61. “If they had investigated it properly from the beginning they could have caught Mosley earlier and he wouldn’t have ended up killing my mom or the other people. They should pay.”
“I would love to see that happen,” said Calvin Sapp, 68, a semi-retired construction worker and older brother of victim Geraldine Barfield. “It seems like very seldom that people of color get the type of justice that they give everybody else.” The victims’ relatives are not alone in wanting an investigation.
Justice served? Broward’s elected public defender, Howard Finkelstein, said, “The fact that these officers were allowed to lie and cheat to frame an innocent man, and then were allowed to go on with their lives as though they did nothing wrong and nothing happened is not only illegal, it’s a sin.”
Finkelstein said Townsend’s case is “the best example” of a local criminal justice system where authorities have for decades often ignored the crimes of police officers that plant evidence or commit perjury to make cases against suspects.
“That they turned a blind eye to such a heinous crime is the exact reason that most minorities in Broward feel they don’t get a fair shake – and they’re right,” said Finkelstein said.
Satz, who rarely talks to reporters, referred a request for comment to a subordinate who said prosecutors reviewed the Townsend case before the DNA tests were done and found insufficient evidence of perjury.
“In regards to the officers involved in that case, we know what it takes to charge someone with perjury,” said Assistant State Attorney Carolyn McCann. “People on the outside don’t know about the elements of the crime. They just think that if it smells bad and looks bad it’s a crime. In a perfect world, that would work. But we have to follow the law and can’t just harass people.”
Broward prosecutors, however, have made little effort to actually make such a case. Asked if her office ever confronted Fantigrassi or Schlein about their graphic testimony at Townsend’s trial, McCann said, “Not that I’m aware of.”
A study released in May by the National Registry of Exonerations showed that Broward accounted for nine of Florida’s 32 exonerations since 1989 – more than twice as many as any other county in the state. Most of those exonerated defendants were black.
Townsend, who lived in Hallandale Beach at the time of his arrest, is one of two Broward men cleared of murders now attributed to Mosley. Frank Lee Smith spent 14 years on Death Row for raping and killing 8-year-old Shandra Whitehead in her bed in 1985. He died of cancer on Jan.30, 2000, less than a year before DNA tests identified Mosley as the girl’s killer.
Three weeks before Townsend’s 1979 arrest, Fort Lauderdale police Det. Doug Evans identified Mosley – known around his northwest area neighborhood as “The Rape Man” – as the prime suspect in the rape-murders in his jurisdiction. Evans based his case on witness testimony and physical evidence, but the BSO detectives blew him off.
Evans later helped catch Mosley and free Townsend. Before his death in January 2011, Evans told the Broward Bulldog that he was disappointed authorities had never investigated police misconduct that had caused Townsend’s wrongful arrest and conviction.
Evans’ friend and colleague, ex-Fort Lauderdale Det. Roy Brown, said, “Doug always pushed for an investigation, always wanted one, but it’s been a hard rock. They let it sleep, they let it lay and they moved on and there’s no justice and nobody is held accountable for it. You’ve got to want to pursue them.
“The public should have a right to know this stuff: A serial killer running around killing people and nobody cared,” said Brown. Clarice Tukes, whose daughter Arnette was murdered not long after Townsend’s arrest, was Doug Evans’ cousin.
“They knew who it was that did it. They knew Townsend didn’t do it, Mosley did. Doug told the whole family he did it. He said he didn’t know why they won’t take his word. That hurts,” said Tukes.
Her grandson, Dominick Richardson, was 3 years old when his mother died. He’s grown now, with three children of his own. His daughter Arnette is named in his mother’s honor, Tukes said.
U.S. M1 Abrams tanks withdraw to a safe position after mortar rounds landed nearby in Kufa, Iraq, on April 29, 2004.
By Aaron Mehta and Lydia MulvanyCenter for Public Integrity
Editor's note: This article was corrected after publication. An earlier version incorrectly said the Pentagon spends $3 billion every 82 minutes. The Pentagon actually spends $3 billion in a little more than a day. Also, the earlier version said that members of the House Armed Services Committee got $31,500 from General Dynamics during a two-week period in September last year. The correct figure is $30,500.
The M1 Abrams tank has survived the Cold War, two conflicts in Iraq and a decade of war in Afghanistan. No wonder – it weighs as much as nine elephants and is fitted with a cannon capable of turning a building to rubble from two and a half miles away.
But now the machine finds itself a target in an unusual battle between the Defense Department and lawmakers who are the beneficiaries of large donations by its manufacturer.
The Pentagon, facing smaller budgets and looking towards a new global strategy, has decided it wants to save as much as $3 billion by freezing refurbishment of the M1 from 2014 to 2017, so it can redesign the hulking, clanking vehicle from top to bottom.
Its proposal would idle a large factory in Lima, Ohio, as well as halt work at dozens of subcontractors in Pennsylvania, Michigan and other states.
Opposing the Pentagon’s plans is Abrams manufacturer General Dynamics, a nationwide employer that has pumped millions of dollars into congressional elections over the last decade. The tank’s supporters on Capitol Hill say they are desperate to save jobs in their districts and concerned about undermining America’s military capability.
So far, the contractor is winning the battle, after a well-organized campaign of lobbying and political donations involving the lawmakers on four key committees that will decide the tanks’ fate, according to an analysis of spending and lobbying records by the Center for Public Integrity.
Sharp spikes in the company’s donations – including a two-week period in 2011 when its employees and political action committee sent the lawmakers checks for their campaigns totaling nearly $50,000 – roughly coincided with five legislative milestones for the Abrams, including committee hearings and votes and the defense bill’s final passage last year.
After putting the tank money back in the budget then, both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees have again authorized it this year — $181 million in the House and $91 million in the Senate. If the company and its supporters prevail, the Army will refurbish what Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno described in a February hearing as “280 tanks that we simply do not need.”
The Center for Public Integrity
The cash and the tank. Click to enlarge image.
It already has more than 2,300 M1’s deployed with U.S. forces around the world and roughly 3,000 more sitting idle in long rows outdoors at a remote military base in California’s Sierra mountains.
The $3 billion at stake in this fight is not a large sum in Pentagon terms – it’s roughly what the building spends in a little more than a day. But the fight over the Abrams’ future, still unfolding, illuminates the major pressures that drive the current defense spending debate.
These include a Pentagon looking to free itself from legacy projects and modernize some of its combat strategy, a Congress looking to defend pet projects and a well-financed and politically savvy defense industry with deep ties to both, fighting tooth-and-nail to fend off even small reductions in the budget now devoted to the military – a total figure that presently composes about half of all discretionary spending.
Vulnerable to IEDs but impervious to Pentagon budgeteers The M1 Abrams entered service in 1980, but first saw combat during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. That episode indicated that, on the battlefield at least, the only thing that could destroy an Abrams was another Abrams; only seven of the tanks deployed in the operation were destroyed, all by friendly fire.
In the last decade, however, as hundreds were deployed to Iraq and later Afghanistan, a key shortcoming became apparent: Their flat bottoms made the Abrams surprisingly vulnerableto improvised explosive devices (IEDs). As a result, the Abrams in Iraq ended up being used as “pillboxes”— high-priced armored bunkers used to protect ground.
“The M1 is an extraordinary vehicle, the best tank on the planet,” Paul D. Eaton, a retired Army major general now with the nonprofit National Security Network, said in an interview. Since the primary purpose of tanks is to kill other tanks, however, their utility in modern counterinsurgency warfare is limited, he added.
Ashley Givens, a spokeswoman for the Army’s Program Executive Office for Ground Combat Systems, said that the Army can refurbish all 2,384 tanks it needs by the end of 2013. Freezing work after that, she said, will allow the Army to “focus its limited resources on the development of the next generation Abrams tank,” rather than building more of the same that “have exceeded their space, weight and power limits."
Warfare has changed, Odierno explained while discussing the Army’s new strategy at the February hearing: “We don’t believe we’ll ever see a straight conventional conflict again in the future.”
But top Army officials have so far been unable to get political traction to kill the M1. Part of the reason is that General Dynamics and its well-connected lobbyists have been carrying a large checkbook and a sheaf of pro-tank talking points around on the Hill.
For example, when House Armed Services Committee member Hank Johnson, D-Ga., held a campaign fundraiser at a wood-panelled Capitol Hill steakhouse called the Caucus Room just before Christmas last year, someone from GD brought along a $1,500 check for his reelection campaign. Several months later, Johnson signed a letter to the Pentagon supporting funding for the tank. Johnson spokesman Andy Phelan said the congressman has consistently supported the M-1 “because he doesn't think shutting down the production line is in the national interest."
The contribution was a tiny portion of the $5.3 million that GD’s political action committee and the company’s employees have invested in the current members of either the House and Senate Armed Services Committees or defense appropriations subcommittees since Jan. 2001, according to data on defense industry campaign contributions the Center for Public Integrity acquired from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
These are the committees that approve the Pentagon’s spending every year; without their support, the tank – or any other costly military program -- would be dead.
Kendell Pease, GD’s vice president for government relations and communications, said in an interview that the company – which produces submarines and radios for the military, as well as tanks -- makes donations to those lawmakers whose views are aligned with the firm’s interests. “We target our PAC money to those folks who support national security and the national defense of our country,” says Pease. “Most of them are on the four (key defense) committees.”
But Pease denies trying to time donations around key votes, saying that the company’s PAC typically gives money whenever members of Congress invite its representatives to fundraisers. “The timing of a donation is keyed by (members’) requests for funding,” he says, adding that personal donations by company employees are not under his control. He said the donations tend to be clumped together because lawmakers often hold fundraisers at the same time.
More cash at key milestones During the current election cycle, General Dynamics’ political action committee and its employees have sent an average of about $7,000 a week to members of the four committees. But the week President Obama announced his defense budget plan in 2011, the donations spiked to more than $20,000, significantly higher than in any of the previous six weeks. A second spike of more than $20,000 in donations occurred in early March 2011, when Army budget hearings were being held.
At a March 9 hearing of the House subcommittee dealing with land forces, Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, railed against the Army’s decision to freeze work on the Abrams. Since the start of 2001, Reyes has received $64,650 in GD donations, including $1,000 on March 10, the day after the hearing, according to the data. Reyes office did not return a request to comment; his overall campaign receipts in the current election cycle have been $1 million.
Another large spike occurred the first two weeks of May 2011, a period in which the House Armed Services Committee voted 60-1 for a budget bill containing money to continue work on the Abrams through 2013. Over this period, GD’s PAC and employees donated a total of $48,100 to members of the four committees, with almost $20,000 of that going directly to members of the House Armed Services Committee as they voted.
During another two week period in September, in which the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense handed in its conference report and Congress rushed to pass a stopgap spending bill to keep the government open, the company sent $36,500 to members of the four committees — primarily the House Armed Services Committee, whose members got $30,500.
The final large spike in donations last year came the week of Dec. 11-17, when Congress made a final vote on the whole budget. During this week, GD’s donations to members of the four committees totaled $17,000.
Along with its checks, the company has been carrying around a message that a cutoff of tank manufacturing work in Lima will harm the nation’s “industrial base,” using what has become a favorite expression of alarm for military contractors facing cutbacks.
The workforce “is not like a light switch. You can’t just click it off, then walk away for three years, come back and click it on,” Pease said. Smaller suppliers who exclusively make parts for the Abrams could be shuttered if the Army’s spending stops, he said. GD has also accused the Army of underestimating the plant’s temporary shutdown costs, claiming that the government’s actual savings would be minimal.
To help bring its corporate viewpoint to lawmakers, General Dynamics has spent at least $84 million over the past 11 years on lobbyists, according to Senate Office of Public Records lobbying data acquired from the Center for Responsive Politics. Just in the last year and a half, the firm — which draws nearly three-quarters of its revenues from public tax dollars in the form of federal contracts — has spent at least $13.5 million on more than 130 individual advocates, who pressed Congress to fund a variety of military and non-military programs at the firm.
While lobbyists often do not name their causes, those working for GD that specifically listed the Abrams tank, along with other topics, reported earning at least $550,000 from 2011 to the first quarter of 2012, according to the data. Pease described the lobbying efforts as “education… Shame on us if we don’t go and tell them (Congress) our side, because the Army is doing the same thing as we’re doing, having just as many meetings as we are.”
Relying on special contacts In addition to tapping its in-house team, the company also hired outside firms to help sway lawmakers’ votes, which in turn assigned the General Dynamics account to former congressional staff tightly connected to committee members — part of the “revolving door” phenomenon now common among veterans of both political parties.
GD paid the Podesta Group nearly $1.7 million since 2009 to lobby on the defense appropriations and authorizations bills, according to lobbying disclosure forms. Among the more than 20 Podesta lobbyists assigned to the account was Josh Holly, communications director for the House Committee on Armed Services under Republican leadership for six years.
According to Holly’s bio on the Podesta website, he worked directly with Republican Buck McKeon of California, its current chairman. McKeon is a major recipient of GD campaign donations, garnering $68,000 from GD’s PAC and employees since the start of 2001 — with $56,000 of that coming just since 2009, when he became the committee’s top Republican. Holly did not respond to emails and phone calls seeking his comment and committee spokesman Claude Chafin said McKeon has consistently argued that it is fiscally smarter to keep the Abrams work going than to stop it.
Podesta also assigned the GD account to two former House Appropriations Committee aides. One of them, Jim Dyer, confirmed that he lobbied on the tank this year, but directed other questions to General Dynamics. GD also hired firms that assigned its account to six other lobbyists who worked for the relevant committees and to a former Pentagon liaison to Congress.
Pease said that when working with outside firms, he lets them pick the specific lobbyists on the account. But when picking the firms, “you always look for those people who can get the job done,” he says, referring to his approach as using a rifle rather than a shotgun. The company hires “a lot of individuals who understand our message, and how to deliver the message, so we can educate the right people, so they can understand our side of the equation.”
The company’s efforts so far have had great success. In April, 111 House Republicans joined with 62 House Democrats in a letter to Secretary Panetta decrying the decision to freeze work on the tanks. Less than a quarter were from Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania — the rust belt states with small subcontractors that would be directly impacted by a halt to Abrams work.
Of the 173 signers, 137 received contributions totaling more than $2 million from GD since 2001. Giving to Republicans and Democrats was split in half, with Republicans receiving about 51 percent of contributions, and Democrats 49 percent. More than half of the Armed Services committee and defense appropriations subcommittee members signed, effectively telgraphing the outcome of their deliberations.
The first signature was from Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., whose district includes the Detroit suburb of Sterling Heights, the location of the headquarters for General Dynamics Land Systems. Rep. Levin’s brother is Michigan Democrat Sen. Carl Levin, the powerful head of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Sen. Levin has received $46,200 from General Dynamics since 2001; his brother has received $43,000.
In a written statement, Rep. Levin said he wants to protect the Abrams because it is of “vital importance to more than 60 local companies” in Michigan and the difficulty of restarting tank production after a hiatus. Rep. Levin’s spokesman Josh Drobnyk says Levin has not conferred with his brother on the issue but confirms that representatives from GDLS contacted the congressman’s office about the Abrams.
Sen. Levin’s spokeswoman Tara Andringa said that “based on information on the M1 tank program from the Army, from contractors, and from independent analysts,” the senator supported the funds for the Abrams as being in “the best interests of U.S. security and protecting taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars.”
Both this year and last year, the funds were added to the President’s proposed budget without a specific recorded vote, in what independent experts have termed an earmark — money directed by members of Congress to a pet project that often benefits their district. Earmarks were supposed to have been banned after the 2010 election, but lawmakers have decided that when multiple members favor adding funds – rather than just one lawmaker – it is not formally an earmark.
So far, there has been a great silence on the Abrams funding issue from congressional deficit hawks. Rep. Jim Jordan, who represents the Ohio district where the Lima plant is located and has received $31,000 for his campaigns from General Dynamics’ leadership PAC and employees, said he is now optimistic that the Abrams money will make it safely through the Senate.
If it does, the fight still might not be over. The White House, in its May 15 responseto the House budget, objected to the “unrequested authorization” of funds for the Abrams during a “fiscally-constrained environment.” The administration did not specifically threaten a veto over the issue but said that if too many unrequested projects impeded “the ability of the administration to execute the new defense strategy and to properly direct scarce resources,” senior advisors will recommend the president veto the bill.
Reporter Zach Toombs and Data Editor David Donald contributed to this report.
Skype helps keep more secrets than any software on Earth, but just how safe are those secrets? That question arose again in earnest this week, after a set of stories claimed new Skype technologies made it easier for law enforcement to eavesdrop on members.
With 250 million users, Skype –owned since 2011 by Microsoft -- might be considered the world's most widely distributed communication tool. Because its software encrypts those conversations, it is certainly the world's biggest deployment of encryption tools. That's served the service well for years: It has a reputation for helping dissidents foment revolutions, and for being a last bastion of privacy.
Governments, of course, hate secrets, and secret-keeping technologies that might enable what they identify as criminal behavior. Skype makes it possible to have phone calls that can't be wiretapped -- making the service a battleground in this perpetual privacy vs. order fight.
Since Skype first went corporate in 2005, with its purchase by eBay, that battleground has grown even more complicated. A scrappy start-up can ignore the Chinese government and the FBI for a while; a Wall Street company with billions in revenue cannot.
Since that time, privacy advocates like Chris Soghoian have called on Skype to clearly spell out its secret-keeping technologies and provide assurance that it's not cutting deal with government agencies, enabling secret wiretaps or other intrusions. In his view, Skype has been coy, and only answered in generalities.
"There are a lot of people who deep in their gut mistrust Skype," said, Soghoian, a fellow at the Washington, D.C., advocacy group Open Society Foundations, which says it promotes democracy around the world.
That mistrust set the stage for a flurry of reports this week suggesting that the service is no longer fully private. A flurry of bloggers -- noting the introduction of centralized "supernodes" by Skype that might provide a central point for eavesdropping, and a Microsoft patent describing a technological method for eavesdropping -- put two and two together and speculated that Skype's communications tools were no longer fully private.
In a rare step, Skype responded with a detailed rebuttal on its website.
"Nothing could be further from the truth," wrote Mark Gillett, the firm's chief development and operations officer, speaking generally about accusations that Skype is acting "against our users' interests." He issued a point-by- response to many charge specifically leveled against Skype, saying that nothing about Skype's "posture and policies" with regard to law enforcement had changed.
“Supernodes,” which route Skype traffic through central servers rather than allowing point-to-point connections, merely improve the flow of information around the service, Gillett said. What's more, they connect only addressing information -- actual phone calls don't flow through those servers, so they do not provide a convenient access point for wiretaps. That denial is clear and specific.
"Skype to Skype calls do not flow through our data centers and the 'supernodes' are not involved in passing media (audio or video) between Skype clients," Gillett wrote.
Moreover, he pointed out, they were first deployed back in 2010, well before Microsoft purchased Skype.
There are, of course, plenty of other ways that law enforcement could theoretically crack its way into Skype calls. There could be a backdoor built into the service. Skype could create and keep a spare set of encryption keys to unlock message at government requests. As Soghoian suggests, Skype could even authorize encryption keys that would allow the government to impersonate a user, and then perform a so-called "man in the middle attack," with a government agent secretly inserted into the middle of a phone call, able to eavesdrop.
Answering a query from NBC News, Skype executive Chaim Haas, said in an email that the firm does not save keys for government use.
"Encryption keys ... are not revealed to users or escrowed to third parties and are discarded when the session ends," said Hass, the service's senior vice president for technology, emerging media and digital strategy. "(The) use of credential-based identities and end-to-end encryption to make 'man-in-the-middle' attacks very unlikely," he added.
Skeptics like Soghoian still aren't satisfied, however. He says the volume of the conspiracy theories from the past week shows how much people are suspicious of Skype, even if supernodes are the wrong reason to doubt the company.
"Skype is always very careful how (it) phrases things," he said. "If they say they haven't changed their intercept policy since Microsoft purchased the company, then the question to ask is, 'What was that policy before?' If you ask them, they won't give a straight answer."
Indeed, the answer Skype gives consistently to that question is this: "When a law enforcement entity follows the appropriate procedures, we respond where legally required and technically feasible."
It's that “technically feasible” part which bother Soghoian.
"Why don't they just come out and say how their technology works?" he said. "The company is extremely evasive and we wouldn't accept that anywhere else. ... Think about this: What other security company is there where the company won't describe how it secures user data, but people still assume it's safe?"
It's those assumptions that bother Soghoian. People say things on Skype that they wouldn't say elsewhere because they assume the conversation is completely safe from prying eyes. If it's not, there's a real hazard.
"There's a solid body of research which shows that when people think they are safe, they will engage in riskier activities," he said. "People use Skype because they think it's secure, but Skype has done nothing to clarify what it does and doesn't offer." He's concerned that Skype is, in a sense, having it both ways -- benefitting from offering a communications tool with a reputation for being completely safe from government's prying eyes, while benefitting from relationships with governments that help its business.
Other technology companies, like Google, provide what are called "transparency reports," which give some information about the number of times they have fulfilled requests from government agencies. Twitter released its first such report earlier this month. So far, Skype has not done so.
Still, a transparency report is not likely to answer the key question: How safe are secrets on Skype? By the time that answer arrives, it will likely be too late to be relevant. It's a bit of a Catch-22. The day that data gleaned from a Skype-based wiretap shows up in a criminal indictment or lawsuit -- which is often how these mysterious business practices are revealed -- is the day that government agencies will no longer be that interested in eavesdropping on Skype.
"If people hear that Skype is not secure, they won't use it for those private conversations, and they will be less interesting to law enforcement," Soghoian said.
Such was the case with once-popular encryption email service called "Hushmail." In 2007, it was revealed that Hushmail had helped the Canadian government obtain as massive number of emails while it tried to prosecute alleged illegal steroid dealers. Hushmail then fell out of favor, and became a less interesting place for law enforcement, Soghoian said.
"Several agencies learned their lesson from Hushmail," he said. "They blew their cover ... that won't happen again."
The Furqlus Weapons Depot, approximately 30 miles outside Homs, Syria, is shown in this July 6 satellite image.
By Robert WindremNBC News
Like a three-card monte player, the Syrian government has been shifting its chemical weapons around the country in the midst of the country’s increasingly violent and chaotic civil war, leaving foreign intelligence agencies to guess where the outlawed weapons of mass destruction might end up – and under whose control.
U.S. and Israeli officials fear that the weapons and chemical agents, which typically are kept separately until they are ready for use, could fall into the hands of terrorists or be used against rebel forces by the ruling Alawites in a last-ditch stand.
Almost as frightening, experts say, would be if rebel forces seized some of the weapons.
“No one but the Syrians knows the inventory, and if the rebels overrun one of these depots, there are worries about the physical control of the weapons,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, a nonpartisan Washington, D.C., think tank. “It may get down to individual Syrian soldiers making decisions.”
The fluid situation on the ground and questions about the locations and quantities of the chemical weapons have intelligence analysts grasping at straws, said Rob Danin, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former U.S. intelligence analyst on Syria.
“No scenario is too fanciful,” he said. “We are in such uncharted territory. The regime is reeling and armed to the teeth.”
But intelligence reports and U.S. and Israeli experts interviewed by NBC News say two things are certain: The Syrian government has the most developed chemical weapons program in the Third World and it has used them on its own people at least once before.
Heightening concern about the weapons, a Syrian military defector, Gen. Mustafa Sheikh, claimed in an interview with Reuters on Saturday that Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar Assad were repositioning chemical weapons for possible use against the opposition in retaliation for the assassination of four top security officials.
“We don't know why" they have begun moving chemical weapons from storage, a senior U.S. official said, confirming the movement. He refused to speculate whether the Assad regime could be preparing to use the weapons in an attempt to quell the continuing civilian uprising.
On Monday, Syria responded to the report by saying it would unleash its chemical and biological weapons only in the event of a foreign attack — the first time it has acknowledged that it possesses such weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
The statement “backfired,” said Danin, the Council on Foreign Relations fellow. "All it did was heighten international concerns about the (chemical weapons) stockpile," he said. “If anything is going to trigger intervention, it’s this. It’s a potential causus belli” — “cause of war,” in Latin.
'Serious red line' On Monday, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little warned that if the Assad regime used chemical weapons on civilians, that would cross a “serious red line.”
"We would, of course, caution them strongly against any intention to use those weapons," he said. Little also reiterated that, at this point, the U.S. believes the chemicals are still secure.
U.S. officials have long believed that the Syrian government had stockpiled the banned chemical weapons.
Last year, in its most recent public report to Congress covering WMD developments, the CIA stated, “Syria has had a CW (chemical weapons) program for many years and has a stockpile of CW agents, which can be delivered by aerial bombs, ballistic missiles and artillery rockets.”
U.S. intelligence reports indicate that Syria possesses the nerve agents sarin and tabun as well as traditional chemical weapons like mustard gas and hydrogen cyanide. The CIA report also stated that Syria “is developing the more toxic and persistent nerve agent VX,” which is more persistent than sarin and tabun and capable of rendering an area – or a city – uninhabitable “for some days.”
Dani Shoham, a chemical weapons expert with the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, said he believes Assad’s scientists already have done so.
“My assessment is that they successfully developed weaponized VX,” he said.
Syria is believed to have thousands of chemical weapons and hundreds of missiles and aircraft to deliver them. Israel has estimated that Syria has "several thousand" bombs that could be filled mostly with sarin and more than 100 warheads.
The key city of Aleppo has come under ferocious assault, bombarded by fighter jets and machine gun fire. The Syrian government's main priority is taking control of the major cities – without enough troops to control the entire country, they are on the offensive. NBC's Richard Engel reports from northern Syria.
More significant is that Syria has a chemical weapons infrastructure, not just the weapons themselves. It is said to have vast stocks of agents available for loading into munitions as well as the precursor chemicals. It is one of only seven nations in the world that has not ratified the 1992 Chemical Weapons Convention, the arms-control agreement that outlaws the production, stockpiling and use of such weapons.
In terms of delivery systems, Syria has a few dozen SS-21 ballistic missiles with a maximum range of 72 miles; 200 Scud-B's, with a maximum range of 180 miles; and 60 to 120 Scud-C's with a maximum range of 300 miles, all of which are mobile and capable of carrying chemical weapons, according U.S. intelligence officials.
Bombshells filled with chemicals also can be carried by Syrian Air Force fighter-bombers, in particular Sukhoi-22/20, MiG-23 and Sukhoi-24 aircraft. In addition, some reports indicate short-range unguided Frog-7 artillery rockets may be capable of carrying chemical payloads.
The weapons systems are -- or were -- in a number of sites close to Israel and near cities where Syrian security forces have fought rebels and shelled civilian areas. But the shifting of the weapons has disguised their current location and raised new concerns about what the Assad regime is planning to do with them.
Like Iraq and Egypt, Syria has employed chemical agents against its people, using hydrogen cyanide on insurgents in the early 1980s, according to congressional investigators.
Following violent demonstrations by the Muslim Brotherhood in Hama in January and February 1982, Syrian army units sealed off the city. According to a November 1990 Senate Foreign Relations Committee memo, the army units then went to every house suspected of hiding insurgents and pumped in cyanide gas, killing all the occupants. Later, the government broadcast a report saying security forces had taken fierce reprisals against the Brotherhood and its sympathizers, "which stopped them from breathing.”
The Syrian government's army is descending on the northern city of Aleppo where the city was seized by rebels. NBC's John Ray reports.
Danin, the Council on Foreign Relations expert on Syria, said Syria’s statement on Monday acknowledging its chemical weapons was a thinly disguised threat to the rebel forces. “It was meant as a message to insurgents.”
Beyond their use against insurgents, U.S. and allied fears about the chemical weapons fall into three categories:
That they could fall into the hands of Sunni jihadis aligned with al-Qaida;
That the Assad regime could give them to Hezbollah, which is aligned with Iran and already has a significant arsenal of missiles and rockets;
That they could be used to shield an enclave set up by Assad forces to protect Syria’s minority Alawites, from which most of the government elite is drawn.
Danin thinks all three scenarios are unlikely, but added that they can’t be completely discounted, especially if further movement of the weapons is detected.
“Any movement or potential movement raises the ante,” he said. “You can be agnostic about whether (Assad) stays or goes, but this is one area that that mobilizes the U.S. and Israel to move to preparatory steps. Both the threat and objective are clear and identifiable.”
Danin said that terrorists -- either Islamic jihadis fighting with the rebels or Hezbollah fighters – gaining control of such weapons would be the most dangerous scenario.
“Shifting them to Hezbollah would be dangerous, provocative and incendiary,” he said. That, he said, would be “a Doomsday scenario and it would prompt prevention measures.”
But Leonard Spector, deputy director of the Washington, D.C., office of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said even a rebel seizure of chemical weaponry would be alarming, since they could conceivably be quickly be spirited away.
“Should the insurgents overrun one of the chemical weapons depots, the question is, if you walk into a room are there weapons you wheel out or do they require more attention?” he said. “Some are ‘ready to roll’ is my impression.”
'Threat is real indeed' Indeed, while the location of the stockpiles is now in question, the areas where the weapons were believed to be stored all are near scenes of some of the worst violence since the uprising against Assad began 1 ½ years ago.
While some concerns have been raised that Syria could use the weapons against Israel or Turkey, perhaps as a diversion, most experts see that possibility as far-fetched.
“In terms of the size, diversity, quality and operability of the CW arsenal, the threat is real indeed,” said Shoham, the Israeli expert. “In terms of likelihood that it would be employed, I would level it low against Israel and Turkey and appreciable against the insurgents.”
However, the general threat to Israel was noted by the CIA as far back as 2001, "Syria probably has weaponized sarin into aerial bombs and SCUD missile warheads, which gives Syria the capability to employ chemical agents against targets in Israel. ...While the SS-21s likely would be employed primarily against military bases and forces in northern Israel, the SCUD's longer range and larger warhead suggests that it could be used against Tel Aviv and other cities."
Even if Syria’s chemical weapons are never used, they could play a role in ending the conflict.
Danin suggested that if the weapons remain in secure locations, they could serve as a deterrent against foreign intervention.
“I think it does play a role at the end of the day,” he said. “It provokes and deters at the same time. It makes a country like Turkey think twice about a limited military intervention and reinforces the notion that Syria has a very powerful military.”
But Spector, of the Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said the weapons would be a wildcard in a negotiated settlement that would see Assad relinquish power.
“The best outcome would be for those who guard the chemical stocks to remain in place during any transition of power, and to place the sites under international supervision so that the weapons would remain secure and a process could be developed to verifiably destroy them,” he said.
That would require some delicate conversations, Spector said, with whomever winds up in control of the weapons.
“You may have to persuade those in control to manage the weapons and not let them be purchased, have some understanding with them that they will be provided with supplies and their families safeguarded,” he said.
Robert Windrem is a senior investigative producer for NBC News.
Metropolitan Police have been investigating the disappearance of Carole Waugh.
By Daniel Strieff, NBC News
LONDON -- British police fear a former oil executive has been abducted by a gang of fraudsters who have tried to sell her $1 million London apartment and may have forced her to hand over her bank codes, according to reports Thursday.
Detectives searching for Carole Waugh, 50, said that an unidentified man impersonating her brother had met people in her apartment in central London's upmarket Marylebone neighborhood in an apparent attempt to sell the property, The Times reported (site operates behind a paywall).
Detective Chief Inspector John McFarlane also told Britain's Press Association that "very substantial amounts of money" had been stolen from Waugh's bank accounts.
Waugh, who has previously worked in the oil industry in London and Libya, has not been seen by family or friends since April, when they discussed a planned 50th birthday party for her in June. The case has been passed to the London Metropolitan Police's homicide and serious crimes division.
'Completely out of character' McFarlane told the PA that financial activity linked to her identity has also grown "incrementally more suspicious." Police have released images of a man outside a supermarket in north London on July 10, where one of Waugh's ATM cards was used, the PA reported.
"Following her disappearance, there have been a number of fraudulent transactions associated with Ms. Waugh's bank account. ... There are also a number of her personal possessions that cannot currently be located," the newspaper quoted him as saying.
Police officers told The Times that Waugh had been impersonated by at least three women at financial institutions across London. Earlier this week, two women, aged 48 and 50, were arrested on charges of conspiracy to defraud in connection with the case. The 48-year-old has been freed on bail, the newspaper said.
Three men and two other women have been arrested and bailed in connection with the case, reports said. A fourth man, named as 40-year-old Rakesh Bhayani, appeared in a London court via video link on Wednesday, The Times said.
Waugh's family, who are based in the north of England, said they did not know much about Carole Waugh’s life in London. She was able to work sporadically since moving to London in 2008 because she had been "very careful" with her money, her brother Chris, 53, told the PA.
Online dating link? Waugh is single and police have been trying to trace men she may have met through dating sites, The Times said.
Chris Waugh told reporters that his sister had been planning a vacation in Las Vegas with her female friends. He appealed for his sister's friends, as well as any recent work colleagues, to come forward.
"We are keen to track them down to see what was going on," the PA quoted him as saying. "If we could find the friends, just to see what light they can shine on [my] sister."
Chris Waugh said it was a "very distressing moment" when he heard someone was posing as him in a fraudulent attempt to sell his sister's apartment, according to the PA.
'Our imaginations have been running wild' He said his family was "very proud" of his younger sister, who he described as "very focused, strong and driven," The London Evening Standard reported.
"The last time we saw Carole was at Easter when we all got together in (the northern English city of) Durham. We had a great time and we were all very excited about Carole's 50th birthday party in June. We were planning how we would celebrate and I was looking forward to making a fuss of her, as she did for my birthday," the newspaper quoted him as saying.
"There was nothing to suggest she would go missing. It was all very strange and completely out of character because my sister rings my mother every other day and suddenly, within days of getting together at Easter, the phone calls just stopped," the Evening Standard quoted Waugh as saying.
"Our imaginations have been running wild. I've considered several options, she could have gone on a quick holiday but that became less likely as the time went, and because she would still have telephoned mother," Chris Waugh told The Guardian.
ODAKA, Japan -- The main street is deserted and quiet except for the eerie echoes of music being played somewhere in the distance. Pieces of shattered glass lie scattered along sidewalks outside collapsed buildings, some with their second-story roofs smashed flat on the pavement. Yards and driveways are overgrown with weeds, and schools and playgrounds are silent and forlorn.
Welcome to Odaka, a Japanese town of about 13,000 residents before a triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown that began on March 11, 2011, turned the once-charming coastal village into a ghost town.
While many other Japanese towns and cities suffered the first two calamities, Odaka, which is in the southern district of the larger city Minami Soma, is unusual because of its proximity to the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant -- just 6 miles from the southeastern edge of town. The plant, which suffered meltdowns in three of its four nuclear reactors and breaches of its containment walls after the quake, emitted a plume of radioactive smoke that at times drifted over – and through – Odaka’s streets over several months.
As a result, the town was frozen in time for more than a year after the disaster, abandoned in the so-called “exclusion zone” established by Japanese authorities around the Fukushima plant. Aside from a hurried search for bodies and a few perfunctory cleanup efforts, it remained untouched until April 16, when authorities narrowed the exclusion zone from 20 kilometers to 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) to the north of the plant and allowed residents to return to begin picking through the moldy, shattered and irradiated pieces of their lives.
As the town slowly begins stirring, it offers a preview of the challenges and travails that await other communities even closer to the plant – if and when they are reopened.
Hotel owner Tomoko Kobayashi is slowly emptying her former business and residence of keepsakes. In the meantime she has her hands full chasing out stray cats and cleaning up after an uninvited boarder left empty bottles of liquor scattered in an unkempt room.
Among the first wave of returnees was Tomoko Kobayashi, the owner of a small hotel, who has begun cleaning up her business despite the fact that no customers are likely to be ringing the bell at the front desk anytime soon.
Kobayashi, a petite and energetic woman in her 60s, is a third-generation hotelier who took over the family business 10 years ago and had expected it to provide a steady income after her husband’s retirement later this year. But now, between drives of 40 miles each day to and from the couple’s cramped temporary housing unit in Haramachi, she worries that Odaka will never recover, as many business owners and young people elect to start new lives elsewhere.
Without such residents, she said, Odaka will become “a town of the elderly and restoration workers.”
Distrust of government While Minami Soma city has begun decontamination and reconstruction efforts, Odaka remains under the direct authority of the Japanese government. That means residents must wait for evacuation orders issued shortly after the quake to be rescinded before they can return full-time. For now the town is open 24 hours a day, but no one is allowed to sleep there.
On the outskirts of Fukushima city, a farmer spreads zeolite -- intended to absorb and concentrate radioactive cesium -- across his rice field in preparation for planting.
Because many residents were forced to relocate far from Odaka, relatively few return on a regular basis to sort through their belongings and begin cleaning the tsunami mud and debris from homes and businesses. In their absence, police and volunteer patrols circle the streets, politely questioning anyone who stops and sometimes searching vehicles if they suspect theft. The occasional work crew repairs telephone and power lines or fills potholes with gravel.
Farms and fishing – once the lifeblood of Odaka – are not going to contribute to a recovery for a long time. Massive swathes of farmland are contaminated by tsunami salt or radiation and the fishing industry has been obliterated.
But while damage from the quake and tsunami were substantial, radiation remains the main cause of concern both for the government and Odaka residents.
Tatsuo Miyamoto of the Minami Soma City Reconstruction Department said the reopening of Odaka is “a move to start cleanup in preparation for residents (to) return” once electricity, water and sewage service are restored, he said.
In the meantime, he said, the government believes that radiation levels in the town are safe for “extended exposure,” which it defines as up to 20 millisieverts per year – the same level that the International Commission on Radiological Protection has established for nuclear workers. But it is conducting a thorough survey of the town in 30-meter increments to measure levels in individual plots, which will then be classified as “prepared for return,” “problematic for return” or "prohibited for residency for an extended period.” That survey will determine where decontamination work – such as soil removal, high-pressure spraying and other measures – is required and which parts of the city – if any – will remain off-limits.
But decontamination efforts, which were scheduled to start this month and continue at least through the end of 2013, already have been delayed because sites for disposal of Odaka’s radioactive waste have not yet been approved.
That leaves early returnees like Kobayashi in a bind. Bags of radioactive tsunami mud collected by volunteer workers remain piled along the sidewalk outside her hotel in a tidy line. “I keep telling them to take it away, but they won’t,” she said, referring to government workers who drive past each day.
Test rice paddies are scattered throughout Minami Soma. The rice will be harvested and tested for radioactive cesium later in the year.
The fallout from the radioactive cloud is not evenly distributed, and the radiation levels remain high in some pockets, especially on foothills around the town, said two volunteer citizen patrolmen, Morio Matsumoto, 65, and Yasumi Murohara, 71, who are taking part in the survey. “Our dosimeter only goes up to 20 microsieverts per hour and it was at maximum,” said Matsumoto,discussing one foray into the hills.
Questions also are being raised on the efficacy of decontamination efforts.
The Fukushima Prefecture government said that its work in the field indicates that overall radiation levels decline by 37 percent with decontamination work, which may not be sufficient to make highly contaminated areas suitable for habitation. And areas that are cleaned can be recontaminated by radioactive materials carried by wind or water.
Despite the radiation already in the city, many Odaka residents and some nuclear energy experts are more concerned about the safety of the battered Fukushima Daichi plant.
The Japanese government and the plant operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Co., or TEPCO, have assured the public that the plant is stable and that safety systems are being restored.
A bicycle lies abandoned at a local elementary school in Odaka.
But Takahashi Kei, a former cooling system worker at the plant now working as a radiation survey volunteer, said the utility company’s executives are portraying the situation in the best possible light.
“There are leaks everywhere, wreckage too. It’s not as simple as they portray,” he said.
Kobayashi also is highly suspicious of the assurances of the Japanese government and TEPCO about the Fukushima Daichi plant’s status.
“If there is no radiation exposure danger here, then the only danger remaining is the reactors. I think that is why we are not being allowed to return,” she said. “We just want to know the truth, no matter how bad it is. If they hide one thing from us, how can we believe anything they say?”
Nuclear reactor specialist Hiroaki Koide.
'I wouldn't ask younger people to return' TEPCO acknowledges that three reactors at the plant remain full of melted and re-solidified fuel that must be removed and that spent fuel pools elsewhere on the grounds must be kept cool to prevent them from releasing radiation again. It estimates it will take about 40 years to completely decommission the site.
Tetsuo Sawada, a nuclear engineer and assistant professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, describes the cleanup as a “difficult and major undertaking.”
Others see the situation as more dire.
“The state of the reactors is still deteriorating … the incident is still progressing,” said Hiroaki Koide, a nuclear reactor specialist and an assistant professor at Kyoto University. “The current issues we are faced with is how to remove the radioactive material without releasing it. … All we can presently do is pray that there is not a large earthquake (that could further damage the plant). The possibility of Fukushima releasing more radioactive material than Chernobyl is still a reality.”
Ultimately, financial pressures may be the deciding factor in whether evacuees return to Odaka. Under current government standards, residents are eligible for property compensation only if evacuation orders stay in place. If the orders are rescinded, they must decide whether to shoulder the loss and walk away from their homes and businesses or return face possible radiation exposure and the danger posed by the damaged nuclear plant.
What was once a gleaming city full of good jobs, new schools and modern apartments is now a ghost town infected with radiation. NBC's Michelle Kosinski reports.
Such agonizing mental calculus is evident in the repopulated Haramachi district north of Odaka, where many parents restrict their children to playing indoors, or in school yards or gymnasiums that have been decontaminated. And despite widespread availability of health tests and full-body scanning, many residents are concerned about food contamination, as well as airborne dust and sand that they fear may contain radioactive material.
Nearer the epicenter of the nuclear nightmare, in Odaka, such fears are bound to be amplified. And in a town where 28 percent of the population was older than 65 before the disaster, that has Kobayashi questioning whether her hometown can survive.
“I only have another 20 years or so to live, (so) it won’t be an issue for me,” she said. “… (But) I wouldn’t ask the younger people to return.”
Law enforcement officials have said that alleged gunman James Holmes sent the package to the University of Colorado medical center in Aurora. It was said to contain detailed writings about 'killing people' and it was Holmes himself who told police where to find it. NBC's Miguel Almaguer reports.
By Mike KosnarNBC News
Authorities recovered a package that apparently was mailed by James Eagan Holmes after the shooting suspect told investigators to look for the item on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, a senior law enforcement official told NBC News on Wednesday.
The source told NBC that the package contained writings about killing people, but could not go into more detail.
Holmes, a 24-year-old who was in the process of withdrawing from a graduate program in neuroscience at the university, has been arrested in connection with the killing of 12 and the injuring of 58 in a shooting spree at the midnight premier of the Batman movie "The Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora, Colo. on Friday.
Police recovered the package on Monday after getting a search warrant for the medical center mail room and then getting a second warrant to actually open the package, the law enforcement source said. (Prosecutors later said in court documents that there was only a single search warrant.)
Police found the package as Holmes described it, including his name in the return address, and it's now being analyzed, the source said.
It was unclear how long the package had been in the mail room before its discovery.
In response to reporters' queries about the package, the Anschutz Medical Campus issued a statement saying it could not comment on anything regarding the ongoing criminal investigation into the theater shooting, under order of Arapahoe County District Judge William Sylvester.
The statement did provide general information about how mail is handled on campus.
"The University centrally receives mail from the United States Postal Service. The University then delivers the mail to the address on the Anschutz Medical Campus the same day it is received," the statement said. "The University's mail service is not open on Saturday. Saturday mail is sorted and delivered Monday morning. The University does not log or track mail/packages unless it requires a signature from the United States Postal Service."
Holmes made his first court appearance before the court in Arapahoe on Monday, amid grieving for the victims.
Wearing a red prison jumpsuit, Holmes appeared with public defender Tamara Brady for the hearing. Holmes, who said nothing during the proceedings, had several days' beard growth and bright red dyed hair. He looked down or off into the distance, at times raising his eyebrows in a quizzical expression or frowning as if concentrating.
A hearing of formal charges, expected to be multiple counts of first-degree murder, is set for next Monday. Then the state must decide whether to seek the death penalty.
Holmes had been stockpiling ammunition, weapons, body armor and explosives for months, said authorities who tracked his purchases. After his arrest, teams of experts worked for two days to disarm Holmes' apartment, which contained an elaborate web of explosive and incendiary devices set to be triggered by tripwires.
NBC News' Kate Snow and Kari Huus contributed to this report.
The poster child of sex offenders who altered their digital identity is Fran Kuni, who changed his name to Jamie Shepard and was able to get a job as a U.S. Census worker in New Jersey before being busted by a mom who recognized him when he knocked on the door of her home.
By Bob Sullivan, Columnist, NBC News
Nearly one in six convicted sex offenders is using sophisticated techniques invented by identity thieves to avoid their legally mandated registration requirements, a new study has found. These digital absconders might be able to avoid post-incarceration restrictions by living near schools and playgrounds, and could possibly gain employment working with children.
The study, conducted by Utica College and funded by the U.S. Justice Department, estimates that roughly 92,000 of the 570,000 registered sex offenders across the country are systematically manipulating their names, birthdays, Social Security numbers and other personal identifiers so they can live as they want while appearing to satisfy court-imposed or statutory restrictions.
"These are offenders who are flying under the radar and authorities don't know it," said Don Rebovich, the Utica professor who directed the study. "The authorities really don’t have the resources to keep on checking on these people. Offenders find where the vulnerabilities are in the system and exploit them."
These digital absconders create two obvious problems. Communities expend energy and resources dealing with offenders who aren't really there -- local police knock on doors and send notices to warn neighbors; public listings are published on the Internet. And sex offenders live where they please as normal adults, without any protective measures kicking in.
"In the worst-case scenario, by thwarting registration requirements, they could potentially have easier access to children," said StacaShehan, director of case analysis at the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, who is familiar with the study. "(In) those jurisdictions that have residency restrictions that would not allow (offenders) to live within distance of a school, daycare or park, (they) could avoid that type of requirement."
While the study found that an average of 16.2 percent of sex offenders manipulate their identities nationally, some states fared worse: Louisiana, Washington, D.C., Nevada, Tennessee and Delaware all had digital absconder rates of higher than 25 percent.
Officials in Tennessee, Nevada and Delaware challenged the study's conclusions and complained that they had not been contacted by the researchers for additional information that might have clarified the results; officials in the other states did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
'Strategic' manipulation Shehan said there are generally two kinds of sex offender absconders: those who simply fail to keep their records current, and hope they fall through the cracks; and those who are more systematic in their evasion, intentionally altering their identities so they can circumvent the restrictions.
"That takes a lot more thought," she said. "They are much more strategic about what they are doing ... and so that's much more concerning."
In one celebrated case of sex offender identity manipulation, a convict named Frank Kuni changed his name to Jamie Shepard and was able to get a job as a U.S. Census worker in New Jersey. Kuni was recognized by a mom after he knocked on the door of her Pennsauken home, and he was later sentenced to three years in prison. Kuni’s case attracted national headlines because of the fear it created surrounding temporary Census workers.
The Utica study, believed to be the first attempt to quantify these more strategic absconders, was conducted by Utica College's Center for Identity Management, set up to examine a variety of identity issues in the digital age. Rebovich is director of the center.
It's well known that some sex offenders neglect their registration requirements, dropping off the grid and accepting only cash-paying jobs to remain hidden. But the Utica study found something more subtle, and perhaps more disturbing -- sex offenders who appear to be satisfying their registration requirements while living a digital double life.
In a parallel survey of 223 law enforcement agencies from 46 states, Utica found that awareness of ID-theft style registry evasion was low -- only 5 percent of respondents said they knew of an identity manipulation case within their jurisdiction.
And nearly 40 percent of the agencies responded that they had zero absconders, suggesting some law enforcement agencies are unaware of the problem.
The power of the Utica study lies in the use of sophisticated algorithms developed by private firm ID Analytics, a fraud-fighting company used by many large banks and other financial institutions. ID Analytics receives more than 1 billion credit applications and other credit-related events from clients every year. It uses sophisticated software to track the behavior of identity thieves across the credit system, and can find fraud that individual firms miss. It knows, for example, if a criminal uses a systematic series of birthdays or addresses on a set of credit card applications at various banks in an attempt to evade fraud detection. The ID Analytics tool has enough data that it can generally tell the difference between honest typographical errors and systematic fraud attempts.
ID Analytics ran sex offender data through its massive database of credit-related events, and found evidence of rampant identity manipulation among the offenders.
Kristin Helm, a spokeswoman for Tennessee's sex registry, challenged the study's findings, saying that fewer than 1 percent of that state's sex offenders are absconders. Criminals have always used false identities to try to evade police, but law enforcement systems are geared to handle that issue, she said. "Fingerprints obtained by law enforcement identify individuals regardless of a name or Social Security number," she said, adding that names sometimes change for legitimate reasons, too, such as marriage.
But Stephen Coggeshall, chief technology officer for ID Analytics, said his technology is well-versed in screening out mundane reasons for identity changes and finding patterns that specifically indicate active evasion is taking place.
"This goes way beyond typos," he said. "These are people who have slightly adjusted or substantially adjusted their personally identifiable information for a reason. They are actively doing so, and we are observing them use these aliases relatively recently."
Nevada spokeswoman Julie Butler also questioned the validity of the study, which she had not seen. She said that Nevada uses fingerprints to track sex offenders, so identity manipulation techniques would be ineffective.
"Our registry is fingerprint-based. We don't base it on date of birth, or Social Security number, or name," Butler said. "They can put down their name as whatever and we still have them in the database."
But Coggeshall responded that even in states which use fingerprint identification, an identity manipulator would only be discovered when trying to engage in an activity – such as becoming an elementary school teacher – which triggers a fingerprint evaluation.
"In general it doesn't help you track where they are or if they're living under an alias at an unregistered location," he said. "It can help to find sex offenders as they enroll in certain groups, but many … groups don't routinely fingerprint new enrollees."
This tool was turned on the sex offender registry problem at the invitation of Utica College in Utica, N.Y., beginning last year. ID Analytics took a large sample -- nearly 100,000 -- of the 570,000 active registered sex offender records and ran them through its credit application database, looking for signs of manipulation.
The findings were disturbing. In Louisiana, the study found, nearly two-thirds of offenders' records showed signs of manipulation. Rebovich theorized that Louisiana's problem might stem from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which gave some people a golden opportunity to drop off the grid.
Officials in Louisiana did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In many cases, the study found, the steps criminals take are subtle -- changing an address from "440 Monroeville Road" to "434 Monroeville Road," for example. In fact, in the majority of cases, digital absconders were much more likely to move across town than across the country. Absconders who fake their address are six times more likely to remain in the same state than to cross state lines, the study found, and 90 percent of those who remain in state stay within 40 miles of their original registered address. In many cases, the data shows, those addresses belong to a family member. That might allow absconders to show up on a moment's notice at their registered address in case local police do a random check, Rebovich said.
But the address change could also allow them to apply for jobs and housing they would otherwise be unable to qualify for, he said.
While half of the manipulations involve bad addresses, plenty of other types of evasion are going on, the study found. One subject studied had five names, three Social Security numbers and four dates of birth, for example.
About 10,000 offenders had used at least four different Social Security numbers, Rebovich said. The evidence indicates this was usually done to evade the court registration requirements rather than commit financial identity theft, the study found.
One reason sex offenders seem to get away with evasion is that registration requirements are set by states and vary widely. In some states, convicts merely send updates through the U.S. mail to state officials, and are subjected to little, if any, verification. In others, officers try to check on sex offenders, but ofter are assigned hundreds, or even thousands of offenders, to track.
In other states, such as Florida, there are strict requirements and frequent random inspections, Rebovich said. That shows up in the data -- Florida's digital absconder rate is about half the national average, at 9.4 percent.
The study was funded by the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Assistance, which plans on issuing a comprehensive report later this fall. Requests for comment from the Department of Justice went unanswered.
'System is never going to be perfect' Shehan, of the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said she didn't believe that the potentially high rate of digital absconders means the entire sex offender registry program is broken. In fact, she said the situation has improved since passage of the Child Safety and Protection Act of 2006, which instituted some national standards on offender registries.
Still, she said it's important that states move to biometric identifiers, such as fingerprints, to maintain more accurate records of offenders and their whereabouts.
"Criminals are constantly thinking of ways to beat the system," she said. "The system is never going to be perfect."
Rebovich is hoping the study will spur new methods for checking up on sex offenders, including techniques that would seem familiar to those who work in financial fraud. In a model developed by Utica and ID Analytics, offenders could be given a score, similar to a credit score, which would rate the likelihood that identity manipulation was occurring.
"We are trying to develop a predictive model," he said. "So we can turn it into an alert system, so states can do this in real time, if they want to."
Coggeshall said such an alert system would have helped police track down Frank Kuni before he was able to get a job with the Census Bureau.
"In retrospect, we know there are things we would have been able to observe" he said.
The former president of Pennsylvania State University, Graham Spanier, has written a letter to the university trustees denying he shielded Jerry Sandusky, the child molesting assistant football coach.
Spanier rebuts the claim in the university-sponsored report by Louis Freeh, the former FBI director, that Spanier and other officials enabled Sandusky's crimes to continue and failed to show empathy for the victims. Spanier also says that he himself was the victim of abuse as a child and would never cover up or defend such action. He doesn't specify what kind of abuse he suffered, but he has previously described being beaten by his father; his attorney said Spanier was not referring to sexual abuse.
"It is unfathomable and illogical to think that a respected family sociologist and family therapist," Spanier wrote, "someone who personally experienced massive and persistent abuse as a child, someone who devoted a significant portion of his career to the welfare of children and youth, including service on the boards of four such organizations, two as chair of the board, would have knowingly turned a blind eye to any report of child abuse or predatory sexual acts directed at children. As I have stated in the clearest possible terms, at no time during my presidency did anyone ever report to me that Jerry Sandusky was observed abusing a child or youth or engaged in a sexual act with a child or youth.
"Had I known then what we now know about Jerry Sandusky, had I received any information about a sexual act in the shower or elsewhere, or had I had some basis for a higher level of suspicion about Sandusky, I would have strongly and immediately intervened," Spanier wrote. "Never would I stand by for a moment to allow a child predator to hurt children. I am personally outraged that any such abusive acts could have occurred in or around Penn State and have considerable pain that it could perhaps have been ended had we known more sooner."
ESPN has published the full letter, first reported by The Patriot-News, which is available here.
Spanier's lawyer, Peter Vaira, told the Associated Press on Tuesday that Spanier received regular "disciplinary beatings" by his father, and had to have his nose straightened several times. Vaira said the abuse was never sexual.
The Freeh report faulted Spanier, citing a long email trail showing he was informed of the 1998 investigation and the 2001 incident.
"By not promptly and fully advising the Board of Trustees about the 1998 and 2001 child sexual abuse allegations against Sandusky and the subsequent Grand Jury investigation of him, Spanier failed his duties as President," the report says.
The report said that "the avoidance of the consequences of bad publicity" was the most significant cause for the failure to protect child victims and report abuse to authorities.
In his letter to the trustees, Spanier makes several specific rebuttals to the Freeh report.
First, Spanier says he thought that a 1998 investigation of Sandusky was being appropriately handled:
"I was apparently copied on two emails in 1998, the first, from Gary Schultz to Tim Curley on May 6 saying that 'the Public Welfare people will interview the individual Thursday.' The second email, from Schultz to Curley on June 9, says 'They met with Jerry on Monday and concluded that there was no criminal behavior and the matter was closed as an investigation. He was a little emotional and expressed concern as to how this might have adversely affected the child. I think the matter has been appropriately investigated and I hope it is now behind us.' I have no recollection of any conversations on the topic or any other emails from that era sent to me or by me. It is public knowledge that the District Attorney decided there was no crime to pursue. I don’t understand how one could conclude from such evidence 'concealment' of a known child predator."
Then Spanier provides more information about a 2001 incident in which coaching assistant Mike McQueary reported seeing Sandusky nude with a boy in a shower. He says university officials Tim Curley and Gary Schultz assured him that the information was not reported as a sexual incident, a sex act, but as one that appeared inappropriate, "horsing around" nude in the shower:
"I can assure you that I hadn’t the slightest inkling until reading the Grand Jury presentment that Sandusky was being investigated for more than a single incident in a shower in 2001, something that was described to me only as 'horsing around.'
"I never heard a word about abusive or sexual behavior, nor were there any other details presented that would have led me to think along those lines. McQueary’s name was never mentioned to me, and it is clear that Curley and Schultz had not spoken to him yet when they gave me their initial heads up. I was in fact told that the witness wasn’t sure what he saw, since it was around a corner. Dr. Jonathan Dranov’s Grand Jury and trial testimony appear to corroborate that nothing sexual was reported to him in his meeting with McQueary on the night of the 2001 incident."
Spanier also says that he shared with the trustees what he knew in 2011, when Sandusky was being investigated by a grand jury, but that the university's general counsel kept him mostly in the dark.
Detail on the 2001 incident Spanier supplemented his letter with details on the information he says he received about the 2001 incident in the shower. Here is his account in full:
Initial Heads Up
More than a decade ago, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz asked to catch me after another meeting to give me a “heads up” about a matter. Looking back at my calendar for what is now presumed to be February, 2001, I surmise that meeting to have been on Monday, February 12, at about 2:30pm, following a scheduled meeting of the President’s Council. It was common that members of the council would catch me individually for brief updates following such meetings.
The meeting lasted perhaps 10-15 minutes. Curley and Schultz shared that they had received a report that a member of the athletic department staff had reported something to Joe Paterno, and that Joe had passed that report on to Tim and Gary. The report was that Jerry Sandusky was seen in an athletic locker room facility showering with one of his Second Mile youth, after a workout, and that they were “horsing around” (or “engaged in horseplay”). It was reported that the staff member was not sure what he saw because it was around a corner and indirect.
I recall asking two questions:
“Are you sure that is how it was described to you, as horsing around”? Both replied “yes.”
“Are you sure that that is all that was reported?” Both replied “yes.”
We then agreed that we were uncomfortable with such a situation, that it was inappropriate, and that we did not want it to happen again. I asked that Tim meet with Sandusky to tell him that he must never again bring youth into the showers. We further agreed that we should inform the Second Mile president that we were we directing Jerry to never do this again and furthermore that we did not wish Second Mile youth to be in our showers.
There was no mention of anything abusive, sexual, or criminal.
At no time was it said who had made the report to Joe Paterno. (I never heard Mike McQuery’s name associated with this episode until November 7, 2011, when I read it in a newspaper story.)
The hour of the day was not mentioned.
The specific building and locker room were not mentioned.
The age of the child was not mentioned. I had presumed it was a high school age child under Jerry’s guardianship or sponsorship, since that is all I knew about the Second Mile.
There was no mention of any prior shower incident, and I had no recollection of having heard of a prior incident.
In reviewing my calendar for February, 2001, I note a double entry for Sunday, February 25. I had been out of town for several days and was scheduled to return in time to see a Penn State women’s basketball game at 2pm. My assistant noted on the calendar that I should stop in to see Tim Curley briefly in my way into the game. I have no recollection of that meeting other than that Tim was worried about how he shouldhandle things if he informed Sandusky that we were forbidding him from bringing Second Mile youth into our facilities and then Sandusky disagreed with this directive. I do not recall knowing about any prior incidents, but it is apparent from emails recently released to the media that Tim also indicated that there had been an earlier occasion when Sandusky had showered with a minor. We also now know that I was copied on two emails in 1998 that may have alerted me to that (the first one being a vague reference with no individual named) and the second essentially saying that the matter had been closed. I had absolutely no recollection of that history in 2001 nor do I recall it today. I don’t believe I replied to those emails nor was I briefed verbally.
Tim Curley sent me a follow up email that has recently been shared with the news media. My use of the word “humane” refers specifically and only to my thought that it was humane of Tim to wish to inform Sandusky first and to allow him to accompany Tim to the meeting with the president of the Second Mile. Moreover, it would be humane to offer counseling to Sandusky if he didn’t understand why this was inappropriate and unacceptable to us. My comment that we could be vulnerable for not reporting it further relates specifically and only to Tim’s concern about the possibility that Jerry would not accept our directive and repeat the practice. Were that the outcome of his discussion I would have worried that we did not enlist more help in enforcing such a directive. I suggested that we could visit that question down the road, meaning after Curley informed Sandusky of our directive and learning of his willingness to comply.
A few days after the brief Sunday interaction, I saw Tim Curley and he reported that both of the discussions had taken place, that those discussions had gone well and our directive accepted, and that the matter was closed.
I never heard another word about this from any individual until I learned of the investigation into Sandusky. I was eager to assist the attorney general and was completely honest to the best of my recollection. I had absolutely no idea until midway through my voluntary grand jury testimony that this inquiry was about anything more than the one episode in the shower.
I do not recall that I was privy to any follow up discussions between Curley, Schultz, legal counsel, or others. I had five out of town trips that month, my appropriations hearings, THON, a packed calendar with 164 appointments, an average of 100 incoming and 50 outgoing emails a day, and the turmoil of the Black Caucus disruption and the takeover of the student union.
I do not recall being involved in any discussions about DPW or the police, although I now assume that DPW is the “other organization” being referenced by Curley and Schultz in their emails.
James Eagan Holmes, the suspected gunman in the deadly Aurora, Colo. movie theater shooting, makes his first court appearance. NBC's Brian Williams, Kate Snow and Mike Taibbi report with TODAY's Savannah Guthrie.
By Michael LeiterNBC News contributor
While lessons learned from previous mass shootings may have helped limit the carnage in the Aurora, Colo., theater shooting, it remains unclear whether there were warning signs that might have been missed.
Although it is too soon after the tragedy to draw any hard conclusions (unlike the shooting that took but a few minutes, investigations of such events are meticulous, time consuming affairs), it seems likely that lessons learned from similar events might well have reduced the human toll, which currently stands at 12 dead and 58 injured.
It appears that first responders in Aurora arrived on the scene no more than a minute or two after calls began flooding 911. That rapid response meant that the suspect was quickly detained, possibly preventing additional casualties. In addition, emergency medical care arrived shortly after, undoubtedly comforting and likely saving many of the wounded. And in the coming days, counselors and other medical professionals will surely provide support to both the countless physical and emotional victims of the early morning shooting.
Each of these efficient and effective responses is born of past tragedies. Through similar events close by (Columbine) and far away (the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai, India), first responders learned of the need for rapid intervention, securing a perimeter and waiting for specialized units. Whether it is an active shooter scenario or a Mumbai-style terrorist attack, state, local and federal authorities have modified their tactics and training to fit what has regrettably become a semi-regular occurrence.
Hard questions remain But early indications are that some other lessons of the past may be more elusive. Much focus has of course been on the shooter, and indeed it is critical that his past behavior be closely examined for warning signs that might have been missed. In some cases, terrorist or non-politically motivated shooters display outward signs of future violence —either through antisocial behavior or obtaining weapons or their precursors — potentially putting officials in a position to disrupt the attack before it happens. As last week’s report on the Fort Hood shooting noted, however, even when such warning signs are present, our ability to identify them properly and take action is mixed.
Such is surely the case as well for non-terrorism-related violence, as criminologists have long struggled with accurately identifying future criminals.
That can be a slippery slope. If concerns about “false positives” are discounted, then we are more likely to intervene in the lives of those who show warning signs, but are merely eccentric, not dangerous.
As the nation agonizes over Friday's massacre in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater, family and friends are sharing stories and memories of the 12 people who lost their lives. NBC's Savannah Guthrie reports.
In short, although we might be able to improve our ability to spot the next mass shooter or serial killer before the crime is committed, attempting to do so raises numerous legal and ethical questions and likely won’t be easy or particularly effective. It hasn’t worked in the past and it is unlikely to work in the near future.
One need not be a terrorism expert or criminologist to know that every society has faced criminals and mad men before. Are there more terrorists or mass murderers today than in the past? Perhaps. But what is unquestionably true is that it has become increasingly easy for murderers of any stripe to kill more and more people in one fell swoop.
In some parts of the world, terrorists have had to be innovative to do so. The 2005 al-Qaida-inspired terrorist attacks in London, for example, used improvised explosive devices composed in large part of concentrated hydrogen peroxide. Creating these weapons wasn’t excessively difficult, but doing so required some care. More than a few trained terrorists have tried and failed in the past, both in the U.S. (Faizal Shahzad in Times Square in 2009) and the U.K. (the bombers of July 21, 2005). Early reports also allege that Holmes engaged in such explosives plotting.
In the U.S., however, counterterrorism officials and police have long since accepted that neither creativity nor immense skill is required for an individual to be an effective mass murderer. The ready availability (either legally or illegally) of semi-automatic weapons with high-capacity magazines makes such killing remarkably easy. Moreover, given the endless supply of “soft targets” in our open society, it is simply impossible to harden every theater, school and workplace.
When I served as the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, whenever I was asked, “What keeps you up at night?” I without fail focused on a lone wolf who would be difficult if not impossible to detect and armed to the teeth with deadly firearms. And while some of my foreign police and security counterparts had similar fears, all were sympathetic to the vastly greater challenges we faced in the U.S., where such weapons are so easily accessible.
Looking ahead None of this provides an easy answer. Would stricter control of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines in the U.S. reduce mass murders? Perhaps, but the current inventory is so vast that we might only be closing the proverbial barn door. Would an armed moviegoer have been able to stop the Aurora shooter in his tracks? Again, perhaps, although given his preparations and the mayhem it would surely have been difficult for even a highly trained individual to do much good. Needless to say, addressing any of these issues is made even more difficult by the political swirl around gun control -- not to mention the very real limitations of our Constitution’s Second Amendment.
That being said, we must be honest about the challenges we face. We will never identify and stop all of the crazed killers before they strike, whether they are motivated by al-Qaida or something even more mysterious within their heads. We can detect some through community-focused efforts, but there is no panacea or even anything close. In addition, while we can reduce the carnage, no system of first responders will make us perfectly safe.
While the truly committed killers will always find ways to kill, we regrettably live in a society where even the near-spontaneous, untrained individual can bring tragedy to the doorstep of entire communities. Our freedom -- to live in a non-police state, to have a degree of privacy and most especially to bear arms -- has very real costs. The destructiveness of certain firearms in the hands of some individuals increases those costs. We must all pay the price -- but none moreso than the victims in Aurora and elsewhere.
Michael Leiter is a former director of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center and NBC News consultant.
James Eagan Holmes, the suspect in the mass killing in Aurora, Colo., was a counselor in the summer of 2008 at a residential camp for underprivileged children near Glendale, Calif.
Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles confirmed that Holmes was a cabin counselor, responsible for 10 children at its Camp Max Straus for children ages 7 to 14 from Los Angeles. Holmes was then a 20-year-old student at the University of California, Riverside, and neighbors have said he was active in the Presbyterian church that the family attended. The camp is nonsectarian.
A statement from the group said, "His role was to insure that these children had a wonderful camp experience by helping them learn confidence, self esteem and how to work in small teams to effect positive outcomes. These skills are learned through activities such as archery, horseback riding, swimming, art, sports and high ropes course."
A fellow counselor told NBC News that Holmes seemed shy.
"The entire staff was really close, considering we lived together, except for James," said the counselor, who asked that she not be named. "He really kept to himself and hardly ever went on any trips with the rest of the staff. He was very shy and reserved."
Photos of the staff show Holmes goofing around with other counselors.
"It is sickening," the fellow counselor said, "knowing that he killed kids the same age that he once cared for." The youngest of those who died in Friday morning's shooting is Veronica Moser-Sullivan, 6. Holmes, who has not been charged with a crime, is scheduled to have his first court appearance on Monday and is expected to face 12 counts of homicide and many counts of attempted homicide.
The CEO of Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles, Randy Schwab, told NBC4 Los Angeles that Holmes had no disciplinary problems. "It is with shock and sorrow that we learned of the incident in Aurora," Schwab said. "Our hearts and prayers go out to all the families and friends of those involved in this horrible tragedy."
The honor student, who moved to Colorado last year to study psychiatric disorders, dropped out in June. In recent months, he purchased four weapons and allegedly booby-trapped his apartment with various incendiary and chemical devices. NBC's Mike Taibbi reports.
The honor student, who moved to Colorado last year to study psychiatric disorders, dropped out in June. In recent months, he purchased four weapons and allegedly booby-trapped his apartment with various incendiary and chemical devices. NBC's Mike Taibbi reports.
By Pete Williams, Bill Dedman and NBC News staff
Updated Friday 9:25 p.m. ET: James Eagan Holmes, suspected of carrying out the Colorado movie theater shooting while wearing an outfit of black ballistic gear, was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate student in neuroscience who started buying his four weapons legally in May, about the time his grades fell and he began the process of dropping out of school.
A law enforcement official confirmed that Holmes had two handguns, a shotgun and a semi-automatic rifle, had his hair brightly colored red or orange, and told police that he was the Joker, the fictional villain in earlier Batman comics and films. Holmes is not cooperating with authorities, other than to divulge that his apartment was rigged with explosives. He is represented by an attorney.
One difficulty for investigators is that the explosives in the apartment of the only suspect in this shooting are making it difficult to get to his computer, any writings or other information that could explain motive, why he apparently committed this mass killing. Police called it a "vexing problem." Police would say nothing about a possible motive or what Holmes' demeanor has been. Police have suspended for the night their attempts to enter his apartment.
In the past 60 days, police said, Holmes bought more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition, at gun shops and over the Internet.
The shooter reportedly never said a word while shooting 71 people and killing 12 in a sold-out show for Batman movie 'The Dark Knight Rises.' NBC's Miguel Almaguer reports.
The 24-year-old from San Diego, known to friends as Jimmy, was a Ph.D. student at the University of Colorado Medical School campus in Aurora, a university spokesman told NBC News.
"The University of Colorado Denver Anschutz Medical Campus can confirm that Mr. James Holmes was in the process of withdrawing from the University of Colorado Denver's graduate program in neurosciences," the university statement said. "Mr. Holmes enrolled at the university in June 2011."
A poor last semester The Washington Post reported that a neuroscience faculty member at Colorado who said he taught Holmes said he immediately thought of Holmes when he heard that a student was accused of the shooting. The faculty member said Holmes was "very quiet, strangely quiet in class" and seemed "socially off."
Holmes did very poorly on his comprehensive exams last semester, the instructor told the Post, and the school was considering placing him on academic probation, but was not considering expulsion.
Aurora, Colo., police say they are working on disarming "flammable or explosive material" in the home of James Holmes, the suspected movie theater shooter, and NBC's Pete Williams has more details on the shooter's apartment.
The university website listed one of his courses as the Biological Basis of Psychiatric and Neurological Disorders. He was listed on the class website as making a presentation in the spring on MicroRNA biomarkers.
The University of California, Riverside, confirmed that a student named James Eagan Holmes, with the same date of birth, graduated with a bachelor's degree in neuroscience in 2010. He graduated in four years, attending from the fall of 2006 to spring 2010. Public records show that the Holmes living in Aurora had a previous address at a Riverside dormitory.
Have information? Do you know James Holmes? If you have information, send an email to Bill Dedman of NBC News.
'A little strange,' 'very smart' A student who lived across the hall from Holmes at Cal-Riverside, who asked not to be named, said Holmes completed the honors program and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Golden Key honor societies.
"I always thought that he was a little strange. I could never put my finger on it, but something told me to not get too close to him, female instincts I guess," the female student told NBC News. "I had tons of classes with him and lived across from him in the Honors dorms. He was a very smart guy though. He was a little bit of a weird guy, but we were honors students, so weird people were kind of common."
Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates said Holmes, born Dec. 13, 1987, is the man who is believed to have killed at least 12 people early Friday at a midnight showing of the new Batman movie in Aurora, a suburb of Denver. At least 58 other people were injured, nearly all of them by bullets but a few in other ways in the chaos, Oates said.
Holmes has not yet been charged with any crime and will appear in court on Monday.
"We are confident that he acted alone," Oates said. He said he had no way to know yet how many rounds were fired, but it was "many, many." CNN said the gunman had a magazine that would have contained more than 100 rounds.
Holmes was arrested without any resistance at his white Hyundai car in the theater parking lot, parked just outside the theater's back door.
University of Colorado
James Holmes, the suspect in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting.
He was wearing a black ballistic or bullet-resistant helmet, a ballistic tactical vest with pockets, ballistic leggings, throat and groin protectors, a gas mask and ballistic tactical gloves, Oates said.
Weapon purchases started in May In addition to two canisters, perhaps holding teargas, four weapons were found at the scene, Oates said.
Two were .40-caliber handguns, made by Glock. At least one of those was used, the police chief said. Holmes had purchased more than 3,000 rounds of .40-caliber ammunition, Oates said.
One shotgun, a Remington Model 870, one of the most popular models. Pump action, single barrel, 12 gauge, with 300 rounds.
And one Smith & Wesson AR-15 type rifle, .223 caliber, called by some an "assault rifle." These weapons can accommodate large ammunition clips, and Holmes had one "drum clip" that would have carried more than 100 rounds, Oates said. With that clip, he could have fired 50 to 60 rounds in a minute, even if the rifle was considered semi-automatic, not automatic, Oates said. He had 3,000 rounds of ammunition for this rifle.
Officials told NBC News that all four were purchased legally, beginning in May, from two national chain stores: Gander Mountain Guns and Bass Pro Shops.
Bass Pro Shops released a statement saying that employees at a Denver store followed all laws when they sold two weapons to Holmes. "We want to offer our deepest sympathies to the victims and their families," said Larry Whiteley, manager of communications for the company. "This is an unspeakable tragedy, and we join with all Americans in offering our prayerful support. Based on the records we have reviewed, personnel in our Denver store correctly and fully followed all Federal requirements with respect to the sale of one shotgun and one handgun to the individual identified in this incident. Background checks, as required by Federal law, were properly conducted, and he was approved. Again, our hearts go out to the victims and their families. We also offer our support and appreciation to the law enforcement and emergency response professionals and all others who responded to give aid to these innocent victims."
CNN spoke with the CEO of TacticalGear.com, which said it sold Holmes a Blackhawk urban assault vest for $107, along with a triple pistol magazine, an M16 magazine pouch and a silver knife.
The only previous police record for Holmes is a speeding ticket in October 2011, the chief said.
NBC's Pete Williams reports the Colorado gunman identified as James Holmes carried two pistols, a rifle, and a shotgun into the midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises," and said authorities are looking into how he was able to get in through the theater's emergency exit.
Family statement Holmes' family, who live in Rancho Penasquitos, a well-to-do suburban community in the northeastern part of San Diego, issued a statement through the San Diego Police Department.
"Our hearts go out to those who were involved in this tragedy and to the family and friends of those involved," the statement said. "We ask that the media respect our privacy during this difficult time. Our family is cooperating with authorities in San Diego, California, and Aurora, Colorado. We are still trying to process this information and we appreciate that people will respect our privacy." A man believed to be Holmes' father, James, was seen leaving with luggage, escorted by police. The Associated Press said the father is a manager at a software company, and his mother a nurse.
A neighbor, Tom Mai, told reporters on the block that Holmes was a shy, well-mannered kid, clean cut and responsible, who was very active in the church. The Associated Press reported that the family attended a Presbyterian church and threw a quiet Christmas party for neighbors. Holmes had trouble finding work after college, Mai said, and then went off to graduate school.
Rooting for the villain? Holmes attended Westview High School in San Diego, graduating in 2006, the Poway Unified School District confirmed. Classmates showed yearbooks with his photo on cross country and soccer teams.
NBC 7 San Diego spoke with a classmate, Sumit Shah, who said he went to school with Holmes. "He was pretty shy, but once he got comfortable with you, he was the funniest, smartest guy… He always had something witty to say." He continued, "The guy I knew in high school, I don't understand how that could be the same guy…He was shy and little quiet, but he was never aggressive or mean. He always had really good grades. He seemed pretty normal."
A woman who said she knew him in high school told NBC News that Holmes was a good person, but oddly always rooted for the villains in superhero movies.
"He was a nice guy. Who very much wanted to be liked and wanted," the woman said. "He was a very, very smart guy. I honestly can not believe he could do this. I know, I know, everyone says that. But it is truly devastating to me.
"He did not have many friends for someone who wanted to be liked," she said. "He loved all the villains in superhero stuff, which I did point out as odd. Most people enjoy the hero!"
Her cousin, who knew Holmes and played soccer with him, offered this assessment by email: "Jimmy was kind to those who knew him. It was hard to get to know him, but once you did, you realized he was funny and accepting of everyone's faults. He loved video games. But I would say he did not like the shooting games. He preferred others, guitar hero. He was always quiet on the soccer field, but was committed to the team. Which is someone you want on your side even if they aren't the best. The last time I talked to Jimmy, he didn't really seem to be in a good place. But that was years ago. But nothing out of the ordinary, just you know the 20's trials and tribulations. What he did was horrible, but I will always know him as Jimmy Holmes, not this person he is being portrayed as. Just so devastating, maybe if I tried to keep in contact or something. Just hope and pray that the families that were involved know that everyone is thinking of them. I just am thinking of Jimmy also."
'Quiet and easy-going' Public records indicate that Holmes lived in the Aurora building where police have found explosives, at 1690 Paris St., Apt. 10. The building is reserved for students, faculty and staff from the medical campus.
The Denver Post reported that Holmes, in an apartment rental application he last year, described himself as "quiet and easy-going." A pharmacy student who lives in the building told The Post he called 911 around 12:30 a.m. Friday (2:30 a.m. ET) because there was a song blaring from the stereo inside apartment 10, where Holmes lived. The student, who wanted to be identified only as Ben, said he couldn't make out the song but that it seemed to be the same one playing on repeat. He also said Holmes kept to himself and wouldn't acknowledge people when they passed in the hall and said hello. "No one knew him. No one," he told The Post.
Melvin Evans, who was a bouncer at a karaoke bar near Holmes' apartment, said he recalled Holmes as a patron from checking IDs. He said Holmes would stroll into the Zephyr Lounge, sit quietly in a corner booth and have a Budweiser, but never joined in the singing. "He would just sit by himself. He wouldn't talk to anybody," Evans said. "He was really, really mellow, really calm. You wouldn't even look twice at him, if you passed him on the street."
Officials said Holmes was not on any watch list that would have alerted authorities that he was dangerous, officials said. The incident was not believed to have any connection to international terrorism, they added.
An earlier report that the car Holmes was driving had Tennessee plates turned out to be incorrect, officials said.
'He looked so calm' Police said the gunman entered through an exit door and appeared at the front of the theater in Aurora and released a canister, thought to be tear gas, that let out a hissing sound. He apparently had bought a ticket, propped open a door, and gone to his car for his gear.
The gunman then started shooting into the crowd, sparking pandemonium.
"He looked so calm when he did it," an eyewitness told NBC affiliate KUSA. "It was like scary. He waited for both the bombs to explode before he did anything. Then, after both of them exploded, he began to shoot."
"He had no specific target. He just started letting loose," the witness added.
Witnesses told reporters that the gunfire erupted during a shootout scene in the "The Dark Knight Rises."
After being captured by police, Holmes told authorities he had explosive materials in his apartment, KUSA reported.
Local and federal officials searched Holmes' apartment building, which was evacuated soon after the shooting.
Oates, the police chief, said the apartment had been booby-trapped with sophisticated explosives or flammable material. Officers were trying to determine how to defuse the devices.
Contributors to this report include staff from NBC News: Ian Johnston, Brinley Bruton, Sevil Omer, Suzanne Choney, Rosa Golijan, Joe Myxter, Petra Cahill, Kari Huus, Dick Belsky, Lauren McCullough, Michael Brunker, Jason White, Bob Sullivan, Maggie Fox, Roland Jones, Carissa Ray, Alex Johnson, Gael Fashingbauer-Cooper, Will Femia, John Schoen, Allison Linn, Reena Joy Flores, Becky Bratu, Martin Wolk. The Associated Press and Reuters also contributed.
Fighting continued for a fifth day near key government installations, indicating that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's control is faltering. As the opposition advances, Russia and China still refuse to support a resolution calling for tougher sanctions. NBC's Ayman Mohyeldin reports.
By Robert WindremNBC News
If Bashar Assad is dislodged from power in Syria, as seems increasingly likely, Russia stands to be the biggest loser in both international prestige and lost arms sales, U.S. analysts tell NBC News.
“They are scrambling to hold on to the few allies they have,” Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of “No Man’s World,” a book about a world order unanchored by superpowers, said of the Russians. “They’re in an extremely awkward position -- supporting a regime that is considered beyond the pale by most of the world -- and as a consequence are selling arms and vetoing resolutions that are needed steps to stop the killing.”
On Thursday, Russia and China vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution threatening sanctions against the Assad regime. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice called the actions, “dangerous and deplorable,” and argued on the “Andrea Mitchell Report” on MSNBC that it runs against their “long-term interests.”
Diplomats across the globe voiced their frustrations at the United Nations this morning over the decision by Russia and China to veto a resolution that would have imposed new sanctions on Syria. Amb. Susan Rice discusses.
Indeed, those who have meet with members of the Syrian rebel army say no nation, not even Iran, Assad’s closest ally in the region, is as reviled as Russia, which has supplied the regime with many of the armaments used to attack the rebels and shell villages.
Kupchan says that Russia doesn’t seem to care because it’s dealing with what it considers larger issues of geopolitics. “What’s driving Russia’s position is Moscow’s deep discomfort at what happened in Libya and (its determination) that it not again sanction civilian protection as pretext for regime change,” he said.
Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who according to diplomatic officials felt personally betrayed by U.S. President Barack Obama after agreeing to U.N. resolutions permitting the use of force to protect Libyan civilians, only to see it used to overthrow their long-time ally, Moammar Gadhafi.
“Their second motivation, more explicit , is to salvage influence. To put it mildly, their influence has waned in the Middle East and Central Asia ," added Kupchan. “So, they’re scrambling to hold on to the few allies they have.”
William Hartung, an arms analyst for the Center for International Policy, says there may be another, more commercial reason for Russia’s support: Syria is one of Moscow’s biggest arms customers in the Middle East, and while purchases by other regional buyers have declined , Damascus’ appetite for first Soviet and then Russian weaponry has never wavered.
“Syria is among a handful of big buyers left for Russia,” said Hartung, who notes that former customers like Saddam Hussein and Gadhafi have left the world stage. The U.S. and Europe also are making inroads with Russia’s biggest client, India, while China is manufacturing more of its own armaments. “How do you replace China, India, Iraq, Libya and now Syria?” Hartung asks.
In fact, Syrian arms purchases from Russia have dramatically increased over the past several years, according to documentation from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and interviews with arms experts.
Ho / AFP - Getty Images
A July 2012 handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) , shows Syrian military attack helicopters firing missiles during army maneuvers at an undisclosed location in Syria.
“Most of Russian exports to Syria over the 2001-2011 period were in the past three years,” said Hartung. “The data shows $187 million (in sales) in 2009; $294 million in 2010; and $246 million in 2011.” Over the past decade, Russia transferred weapons worth $857 million to Syria, about 70 percent of the total weapons Syria received in that period. Other suppliers were Belarus ($196 million), Iran ($109 million), and North Korea ($40 million).
Major weapons sent by Russia to Assad’s government, according to SIPRI, included 2,000 anti-tank missiles, including 200 Igla-SA-18 "Grouse" models, which have been fired from vehicles, helicopters and ships against rebel fighters; 868 surface-to-air missiles; 24 MiG fighter planes with 300 air-to-air missiles; 36 trainer/combat aircraft; as well as helicopters and artillery. Those numbers do not count the small arms the Syrian military and security forces receive from Russia.
Politically, it’s a symbiotic relationship, Hartung said of the Syrian purchases. “Some of this is about cementing relationships, hoping the Russians will bail them out in a pinch.”
There have been conflicting reports on Russia’s willingness to continue sales. In early July, the deputy director of a body that supervises the country's arms trade was quoted as saying, Russia would suspend arms sales to Syria.
“While the situation in Syria is unstable, there will be no new deliveries of arms there," Vyacheslav Dzirkaln told journalists at the Farnborough Airshow in Britain, Russia's Interfax news agency reported. But no one else in the Russian government would confirm the deputy minister’s comments, leaving open the possibility that Russia will continue to resupply Assad’s military and security forces.
'Strengthening Putin's hand' Kupchan said continuing the arms sales might benefit Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I do think that in the big scheme of things, the sale of arms is a drop in the bucket financially,” he said. “It matters more in domestic politics, within the decision-making process. Arms merchants and generals are weighing in. It’s not a decisive role but it helps Putin to have them in his camp.
“It’s all about strengthening Putin's hand by standing up to the West.”
But Hartung said that no matter what the end game in Syria, Russia will come out a loser. Either the client state will be in the hands of the anti-Russian rebels or remain in chaos for months, or even years.
Still, Kupchan said, Russia may still play a positive role in ushering in the post-Assad era.
“It’s conceivable the Russians play a role in the end game,” he said. “They cannot be exceedingly pleased the way this is gone. I can see the Russians facilitating Assad’s departure. I just don’t see him winding up in a dacha or gated community outside Moscow. Probably, more like somewhere in the Arab world or Africa.”
Wherever he goes, Russia’s influence in Syria is likely to go with him.
Robert Windrem is a senior investigative producer for NBC News.
An investigation of the FBI's handling of the events leading up to the shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, in November 2009, concludes that agents made a series of mistakes, failing to follow up on important questions and to share information widely enough.
"We do not find, and we do not suggest, that these mistakes resulted from intentional misconduct or the disregard of duties," concluded William Webster, the FBI's former director who led the investigation. "Indeed, we find that each special agent, intelligence analyst, and task force officer who handled the information acted with good intent."
Most of the shortcomings have been previously disclosed, and some resulted from a lack of training and of understanding military nomenclature. For example, agents in San Diego, who were investigating al-Qaida propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki, noticed on December 17, 2008, that Nidal Hasan, who would become the Fort Hood shooter, sent al-Awlaki an e-mail asking about soldiers who kill fellow military personnel with the aim of "helping muslims fighting jihad."
The San Diego agents decided against sending out a broadly disseminated message that would have alerted the system that a member of the US military was communicating with a known al-Qaida terrorist. The agents noticed that a summary of his military records said Hasan was a "Comm Officer," and they assumed it meant he was a communications officer and might have access to the system that would contain such an alert message. In fact, the abbreviation meant Hasan was a commissioned officer.
The report also says agents in the FBI's Washington field office failed to follow through more aggressively to the leads developed in San Diego. Part of the problem, the report said, was that the FBI received only glowing accounts from the Department of Defense about Hasan's career. Agents were never told that he was actually considered a poor performer who was often on probation.
Despite a drop in apprehensions of illegal immigrants, altercations involving border patrol agents and migrants have risen in recent years. Rock throwing by migrants at agents grew by almost 25 percent between 2007 and 2010, according to data from Customs and Border Protection. And fatal shootings of migrants by agents have also grown, from one in 2008 to five in 2011.
BISBEE, Arizona – Take a map of Arizona, draw a square in the bottom right hand corner – the one closest to New Mexico and the international border – and you get Cochise County. Fewer people live here than in many cities, and it’s part of the nation’s most active illegal immigration corridor.
With a history of public art controversies and two coffee roasters, Bisbee seems more Bezerkeley than border town. But over at the courthouse, there’s no mistaking its place on the line between Mexico and the United States.
County Attorney Edward Rheinheimer, who has practiced here for 20 years, has seen more than half a dozen cases involving border patrol agents fatally shooting people. He’s taken only one of them to trial. Twice that case ended in a hung jury.
These cases are tough to prove, for reasons ranging from contested facts to politics, he and other legal experts said. But as the number of civilian deaths involving border agents rises – from one four years ago to five last year – it’s not just human rights activists who say there should be more accountability and oversight.
George McCubbin, president of the National Border Patrol Council, the union representing 17,000 Border Patrol Agents and support staff, says reforms leading to fewer fatal shootings by the border patrol are in order.
“If our employees are being put in positions where this is going to be a semi-normal action then we need to rethink as an agency how we’re doing business out there,” he said.
At least 14 deaths A months-long investigation by nonprofit journalism organizations from California, Texas and New York has found that deaths at the hand of border agents are increasing despite decreases in illegal immigration and assaults against agents. The media collaboration identified at least 14 men and boys who have died since Oct. 1, 2009, after confrontations with border patrol officers.
The investigation illuminated serious questions about follow up and accountability.
No one has been criminally charged in these deaths, but last week, a grand jury was called to examine the death of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, beaten and tased by more than a dozen agents in 2010 in San Diego. U.S. lawmakers called for an investigation after the PBS national newsmagazine, Need to Know, aired the video and detailed the death in April.
View of human rights groups Human rights advocates argue that fatalities are a part of a much larger landscape of abuse. A humanitarian aid group based called No More Deaths issued a report in 2011 based on interviews with almost 13,000 migrants. The researchers found that 10 percent of those interviewed reported physical or sexual abuse by border patrol agents.
“This is an issue that's a systemic issue,” said Danielle Alvarado, one of the authors. “It’s not about a couple bad agents that aren’t following their training or have an ax to grind. The reality is that border patrol is part of the largest federal law enforcement agency in the country, and so as a result these systemic patterns of abuse have a huge impact.”
She said the lack of external accountability, beyond Customs and Border Protection or the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is a problem.
“It's not sufficient for there to be enforceable standards ... it's not enough that border patrol have a complaint process, it's not enough that there be an internal DHS process, because it's clear that none of those mechanisms are sufficient,” she said.
Border agency's statement Customs and Border Protection declined to be interviewed for this project. A spokesperson shared this statement:
“All CBP employees are expected to conduct themselves in a professional manner at all times. CBP stresses honor and integrity in every aspect of our mission, and the overwhelming majority of CBP employees and officers perform their duties with honor and distinction, working tirelessly every day to keep our country safe. CBP takes every allegation of misconduct seriously and fully cooperates in the investigation of such allegations.”
Shawn Moran, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council, said agents are up against tremendous dangers and have every right to defend themselves.
"Border Patrol agents are not trained, nor paid to withstand violent assaults without the ability to defend themselves. Rocks are weapons and constitute deadly force," Moran said in an email. "If an agent is confronted with deadly force they will respond in kind. No agent wants to have to shoot another human being, but when an agent is assaulted and fears for his life then his hand is forced....
"While the loss of life and injuries are regrettable, it is due solely to the decision to attempt to inflict harm upon a United States Border Patrol Agent," Moran said. "The National Border Patrol Council stands behind the actions of the agents who do their duty every day, under extreme circumstances, along the southwest border."
Border Patrol agents have been prosecuted for crimes in recent years including corruption, bribery, and improper arrests, but rarely for situations involving lethal force. Those cases often balance the word of agents against the silence of the dead, and invoke self-defense protections in ways that are hard to challenge legally.
“Most of their encounters occurred out in the wilderness, if you will,” said Peter Nunez, former U.S. Attorney in San Diego. “There's no camera, there’s no citizens roaming around, you have almost no way to verify anybody's story.”
“It can be done. It should be done,” Nunez said of investigating and prosecuting agents who commit crimes. “These cases are difficult. You probably need more evidence than you would in a normal case, just because you don't know how juries are going to react.”
A role for politics? Rheinheimer, the county attorney, said inevitably politics play a part.
Reports of violent encounters with U.S. Border Patrol are on the rise. Jesus Castro Romo was shot by a Border Patrol Agent while attempting to cross into the U.S. illegally. He tells his story to Investigative Newsource reporter Roxana Popescu.
"When we have an officer involved shooting ... we evaluate it the same way we do every other case we evaluate,” he said. “If you then introduce the element of border patrol agent and illegal immigration into the equation, then a whole new set of dynamics comes into the case …. because I think it's inevitable, especially in a border community or a border state, that the whole political aspect of the immigration issue is then introduced."
Rheinheimer had a personal experience with politics when he prosecuted an agent named Nicholas Corbett, the case that ended with hung juries.
He says the Department of Justice did not support of his decision to bring that case to trial, and the prosecution depleted the special fund intended for these cases. If there ever is another case like Corbett’s the county couldn’t afford to prosecute, he said.
“For me, the Corbett case was never about the politics of illegal immigration, or border security. It was about nothing more, and nothing less, than law and evidence. It was about nothing more, and nothing less, than fundamental constitutional principles of equal protection and due process,” he said.
“For DOJ, on the other hand, it had everything to do with politics. Their entire position on the prosecution was governed by politics. In the end, what it boils down to is that once you introduce politics into the criminal justice system, you no longer have a criminal justice system.
“And it doesn’t matter which side of the immigration issue you come down on. When politics replace justice at the Department of Justice, everybody loses.”
A spokesperson for the department declined to comment.
Few cases against agents Research shows a handful of cases in which Border Patrol agents were prosecuted for injuring or killing people while on the job. They include:
The case Rheinheimer prosecuted in Arizona, involving an agent who fatally shot a migrant in 2007. Juries hung twice.
An agent was convicted in 2010 of assaulting a Mexican man. The agent “kicked the victim, struck him in the stomach with a baton, threw him down to ground, and punched him without any legitimate law enforcement reason to use force,” an FBI statement said.
Another agent was convicted in 2007 of sexually assaulting a woman he stopped at a checkpoint in Texas four years earlier.
Agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean were convicted in 2006 of shooting a drug smuggler in the buttocks. President George W. Bush commuted their highly unpopular sentences in 2009.
Alvarado, with No More Deaths, said the accumulation of deaths and other abuses should prompt some soul searching.
“Are we at a point as a country where the enforcement of our laws by necessity comes with that sort of treatment of people? Because if it is, I think that that is really a question for us. how have we arrived at this point where we can justify the mistreatment of people on such a huge scale, and go to bed at night as a country saying that's the best we can do and that's consistent with our shared values?”
Different versions of events Through interviews, court records, police reports, eyewitness videos and photographs, the reporting collaboration pieced together the stories of several deaths. It bore out what legal experts warned: there is a steadfast divergence between the versions of events as reported by the Border Patrol and what others claim occurred.
In one such incident, Sergio Hernandez Guereca, 15, died in Texas in 2010, shot by an agent for allegedly throwing rocks. A government source previously told the El Paso times Hernandez was sought for human smuggling.
His death was filmed. The Department of Justice decided not to prosecute, calling the killing “an act of self defense.”
In April it issued a statement describing an extensive, multi-agency investigation based on 25 witnesses and evidence not shared with the public, including: “civilian and surveillance video; law enforcement radio traffic; 911 recordings; volumes of CBP agent training and use of force materials; and the shooting agent’s training, disciplinary records, and personal history.”
Hernandez’s family disagrees with the findings. So does the Mexican government. The family filed a wrongful death suit (after a prior lawsuit was dismissed), and the government of Chihuahua issued a warrant for the agent’s arrest. A symbolic move, some might say, as chances of extradition are slim.
Moran, with the agents' union, said the Mexican government is not above reproach.
"The government of Mexico has done their usual grandstanding where they hurled baseless accusations at the Border Patrol agents, fed criminals concocted stories, and meddled in the affairs of the United States," Moran wrote. "Mexico bears quite a bit of responsibility whenever one of its citizens dies or is injured along the border due to its allowing criminal organizations free reign and its refusal to police its northern border."
In another case, the official version of events contradicts what a dead man had to say. The case of Roberto Perez Perez was not included by reporters among the 14 border patrol-involved deaths because the cause of death was not clear.
Perez died in detention in January 2011. He was arrested while trying to reenter the U.S. at San Ysidro with a fake ID, half a year earlier.
Two documents provide insights into what he allegedly suffered. A few months before his death, Perez Perez wrote a letter to a Mexican newspaper. He described how agents beat him until he started vomiting blood and blacked out, and then he was mistreated while in detention. He concluded his account with these words:
“Please publish everything that happened with respect to all these injustices and the humiliating way I have been treated since my arrest. It’s like a veiled concentration camp, but the truth is that I was subjected to most blatant cruel and unusual punishment.”
In a complaint filed with the DHS his partner decried his treatment and described how his condition following the alleged beating deteriorated over the course of several months. After one hospital visit, a wound caused by a syringe became infected, leading to his death, her complaint states.
An autopsy report found that the syringe contributed to his death, but was not the only cause.
“The cause of death is certified as cellulitis of right upper extremity with cirrhosis, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and chronic substance abuse listed as contributing conditions. The manner is natural.”
A DHS spokesperson said her complaint has been denied and the government did provide proper medical care.
Assaults against border agents Border patrol agents often say they are targeted by rock-throwers, who are harboring illegal immigrants or stashes of drugs. Their statistics show incidents of rock-throwing increased in most years since late 2005 but they dramatically dropped off in the last two fiscal years.
The overall number of assaults against border agents is declining, according to CBP data. But several agents have lost their lives in recent years. In July 2009 an agent was shot dead by drug traffickers near Campo. Agent Brian Terry was killed in Arizona in 2010. And last year, a drug trafficker was sentenced to life in prison for running over agent Luis Aguilar in 2008 with his Hummer in California, near the Arizona border.
McCubbin, the border patrol council president, says agents are being ordered to patrol closer to the border with Mexico, where there’s more potential for violent conflict such as rock assaults. Rock-throwing was cited as a factor in several of the 14 fatal shootings reporters investigated.
The falling number of apprehensions show border enforcement is working, McCubbin said, so drug traffickers and human smugglers are getting more desperate. He said he would never presume to question an agent’s use of force.
“Unless you’ve been involved in a rocking incident there is almost no other recourse left for agents caught in the middle of this,” he said in a phone interview.
When an agent fatally shoots someone, a clause in the union contract allows the agent to meet with a union representative before the investigation starts. From there, first local and then federal agencies can investigate and prosecute, culminating with the Justice Department.
“The crime determines the jurisdiction,” said Mario Conte, former federal defender in San Diego. “There is no clear path ... Sometimes it becomes a turf war.”
Taking the officer's word Because they work with prosecutors to build cases, law enforcement officers get more trust, experts said.
“We as prosecutors we take the word of law enforcement officers all the time. It comes with the territory,” Rheinheimer said, “and we take them at their word unless or until we have reason to believe we can't take them at their word.”
A 2010 case he considered prosecuting is a case in point. It involved the death of Mexican man named Jorge Alfredo Solis Palma. Solis illegally entered the U.S. with two other men. Border Patrol agents tried to arrest him, but he became combative, according to the Cochise County Sheriff’s incident report. In the report, Border Patrol agents said Solis threw rocks at an agent and his service dog. He also wrestled with that agent and allegedly “grabbed a rock and struck himself with it” in the forehead before escaping and running away, the report states.
A second agent, Miguel Torres Vasquez, followed Solis behind a hill where he shot him. The report says the area was out of sight of surveillance cameras and there were no witnesses. So there’s only one version of that fatal moment – that of the agent, who said he fired his weapon in self defense.
“Not being able to disprove what the agent said, we're in a position where we can't charge a crime,” Rheinheimer explained.
That trust also extends between officers and the public. Even with a thorough investigation and sufficient evidence, convincing a jury is another hurdle. Conte, the former federal defender, said the public’s "slant" or "bias" is that a migrant “broke the law, they had it coming” and that agents “are out preserving our freedom.” That poses a significant challenge for prosecutors.
“It’s going to be a little easier if you’re defending law enforcement and it’s going to be a little harder if you’re plaintiff or the victim to get a result in your favor,” he said. “The situation is simply imbued with an inordinate amount of publicity that looks at it from primarily one point of view. With juries, the public, the way the media presents the cases – it’s going to be tough.”
Reports of violent encounters with U.S. Border Patrol are on the rise. Jesus Castro Romo was shot by a Border Patrol Agent while attempting to cross into the U.S. illegally. He tells his story to Investigative Newsource reporter Roxana Popescu.
By Roxana PopescuInvestigative Newsource
NOGALES, Mexico – “They call me the soap opera guy.”
Jesus Castro Romo states his new nickname and gestures toward the small television in front of his bed. That’s where he spends most of his days, lying on his back in the bedroom he shares with his wife and youngest son, watching soap operas. Cartoons, too, and animal shows.
Ever since the Border Patrol agent shot him and the bullet damaged his spine, Castro has adjusted to a sedentary life. He used to drive a dump truck and do landscaping work. Now he walks with a cane.
“Now, I am more tranquil,” Castro says. “I think of my dad, my mom, my children, and everyone else. I am more conscientious about everything. Thinking. Here at home, locked up, I only have time to spend thinking and thinking.”
On this day, he moves to his covered patio that’s surrounded by chain link fence and drying laundry. He wants to share the story of his “terror” in the desert and his survival.
About a year-and-a-half ago, Castro was trying to sneak into the United States through Arizona’s hilly backcountry when a Border Patrol agent on horseback spotted his group of about 12 travelers. They scattered. The agent zeroed in on Castro.
Castro claims the agent, Abel Canales, beat him, hurled insults at him and then shot him in the side before riding away. He says he waited in the desert for an hour and a half, bleeding through his clothes, thinking about his children and preparing himself for death.
An emergency crew arrived and airlifted him to University Medical Center in Tucson, where he had three operations. Once he was well enough to be released, he claims he was handcuffed to his wheelchair, was not allowed to bathe or use a restroom and was denied access to a Mexican consular official.
Lawyers for the government said Canales acted in self defense, that Castro tried to throw a rock at him. Canales’s lawyer did not respond to requests for an interview, and a lawyer for the government declined to comment.
Brad Racino / KPBS
Jesus Castro Romo's scar is a reminder of the border shooting, and the three operations that followed. He says he can no longer work as a result of his injuries.
In January, Castro sued the U.S. government, a gutsy move for a Mexican citizen who entered the country illegally. The lawsuit is about compensation for lost income, but it also amounts to a last-resort effort in a system where Border Patrol agents are rarely prosecuted for violence against migrants, and where current immigration policy, the political climate and the authority of border enforcement agencies often combine to enable Border Patrol agents to have the last word.
A months-long collaborative investigation among nonprofit newsrooms in California, Texas and New York examined fatal confrontations with border agents and found that at least 14 civilians have died, most of them shot, since Oct. 1, 2009. This despite declines in both illegal immigration and assaults on officers.
Statistics gathered from Customs and Border Protection and compiled by reporters show one fatality four years ago and two the following year. In each of the last two years there were five and four so far this fiscal year. The agency has declined to comment in these cases.
Border Patrol agents have been prosecuted for other crimes, such as bribery and corruption, in recent years. But trials are rare for on duty situations involving lethal or excessive force.
The circumstances in cases reporters investigated for this project vary: Some of the dead were Mexican, others U.S. citizens and at least one was Central American. Some were trying to cross illegally into the U.S. for the first time – a misdemeanor; others were allegedly involved in more serious crimes, like trafficking drugs. But they all died as a result of violent altercations with Border Patrol agents.
Castro’s lawyer, William Risner, a straight-talking type with a crisp white mustache, is unabashed in saying Castro’s lawsuit is about money. But he also said it’s the only way to get justice.
Canales was suspended from the force without pay -- but not for his actions in this case. Last October he was indicted on allegations he took bribes to allow drugs and illegal immigrants to be smuggled into the U.S.
Even in cases where a video has captured an altercation at the border, there are generally distinct differences in what witnesses and law enforcement say happened. Castro’s case is no exception.
Castro lives in a neighborhood called Colonia Esperanza, which is one mile south of the border as the crow flies. You can’t see the United States from his patio, but a quick drive brings the border wall into sight. His house, like others on his sloping street, is a pale pastel that stands out against the rocky hillside. That’s where he lives with his two children -- the youngest named after him, Jesus -- and his wife. He has two grown children from a previous marriage. He’s already a grandfather.
Many of the men in this border city of about 210,000, directly south of Nogales, Ariz., work in construction or other manual labor. Castro did, too. He started working on a “dompe,” or dump truck, when he was 14. Whenever work dried up, he would put his life in Mexico on hold, head to the U.S. for a job and then come home. He has been previously deported, but continued to return.
“I would go back and forth. I never tried to stay any longer,” he says. “My wife is here. I did not plan on abandoning her."
His wife, Ana Luisa Alarcon-Ramirez, is precise and articulate. It’s hot this morning, and she has pulled her long black hair into a twist. She finishes his sentences when he can’t find quite the right words, and she interrupts him to offer richer details about their life together. They are all sitting on the covered patio – Castro, his parents with their sad eyes, his fidgety children – as he tells his story.
Early on the morning of Nov. 16, 2010, Castro crossed into the U.S., illegally, he concedes without flinching, to get to Tucson for a landscaping job.
The hills north of the border are dusty and dense with trees and shrubs. Temperatures are disastrously hot in the summer, but on that fall day they dropped to a chilly low of 32F.
His group was traveling north, a mile or two past the border, when he spotted “muchos migra,” many Border Patrol agents. The travelers ran back down a hill they had climbed, toward the creek they had crossed and spread out. Castro says he imagined he would be safe, running back toward Mexico.
“We weren’t walking into the U.S. anymore, we were leaving. So we said, according to us, we were free,” he says.
“We all ran in different directions. Liliana, me and another guy ran ahead. Then Liliana went to the left, and the other guy went to the right, and I left towards the creek -- and it was me that the officer chased.”
Castro claims the officer called him names and started grabbing and pushing him.
“Take it easy officer, why are you hitting me? Why are you pushing me with the horse?” Castro says he asked. The officer allegedly continued to hit him with his horse and his reins.
“It was like when bees are all over you and you got them crazy. This is how he was hitting me,” Castro says.
Castro says he asked the officer to stop. The agent then said, “I’m going to shoot you,” Castro says. And when he cowered to protect himself, the officer allegedly shot him. When he gets to this part, Castro uses his cane as an extension of his arm, drawing on the cement where each man was standing – a few feet apart.
“And when I fell he was pointing at my head … and he told me ‘I am going to kill you, you son of a bitch. Don’t move. I am going to hit (shoot) you in the head,’ he told me.”
“His eyes looked like they were about to pop out, like if he was going to kill me. But at that moment I shouted ‘help’ and he turned and saw Liliana (a fellow traveler) on top of the hill. And, he said, ‘Oh, m*****f*****.’ ”
Castro says the officer asked him where he was injured and said he’d go get help.
He pressed a white T-shirt from his backpack against the wound from the .40 caliber bullet and waited.
When help arrived, by helicopter, other Border Patrol agents returned with the officer, who accused Castro of hitting him in the head with a rock, Castro says.
“I told him, ‘Which rock?’ Never did I grab any rock.”
A government lawyer declined to let Canales be interviewed, but in court documents the government argued that force was necessary again the rock-thrower.
“Agent Canales acted justifiably in self-defense to protect himself against plaintiff’s attempt to throw a large rock at him; moreover, plaintiff, who was suspected of committing the felony of illegal entry into the United States, was attempting to avoid arrest and Agent Canales was justified in using physical force to effect a lawful arrest and prevent escape.”
Investigative reports obtained by the Nogales International, the paper that first reported the incident, suggest Castro may have been a coyote. Risner denied that claim, saying his client was merely entering the U.S. to work.
At the hospital in Tucson, doctors operated on Castro to remove the bullet. Fragments had penetrated his spine, his discharge records state. He underwent two more surgeries and was discharged more than two weeks later.
That’s when the second ordeal began, he says. For days he says he was mistreated by officers. He said he was handcuffed to his wheelchair, denied prescribed painkillers, transported between prison and a hospital in a freezing car while still bleeding and not allowed to meet with the consular official who came to visit him.
“Then he handcuffed me again and I said, ‘Why do you handcuff me again if I can’t even walk, I can’t run.’ ‘No,’ he tells me, ‘it is safer this way.’ He shoved me into the patrol car handcuffed and all cut, bleeding,” he says.
In March 2011. a bus dropped Castro back in Mexico.
“They should pay for their mistake Around lunch time, Castro swallows a fistful of pills.
One is for sleeping. Most are for pain – pain in the neck, pain in the back, pain along the spinal cord, deeper pain, shifting pain, pain where the bullet sliced through his side, grazed his spine and landed in his stomach.
He keeps his pills in a clear plastic shoebox. If he followed the prescriptions, he’d be taking 14 pills a day, he says, but he has been cutting back to save money. The pain is constant, and it will probably get worse over time, creeping like a vine along nerves in his back and down his legs.
Castro says he decided to sue to right a wrong.
“They should pay for their mistake,” he says. “They should compensate me for their error.”
In an interview in his Tucson office, walls decorated with a Mayan print and a vintage movie poster -- the 1949 Cold War propaganda classic “I married a Communist” -- Risner, Castro’s lawyer, explains his client’s goals.
“It’s about money,” he says. “That's it.”
Castro lost the ability to buy food for his family, send his kids to school. “He's been damaged economically,” Risner says.
“In addition, the Border Patrol could do a better job of checking their agents, training them better, actually do things to make them do a better job, where it's safer for the people they encounter. Those are possibilities. But, realistically it's just money.”
Castro tried working but almost crashed the dump truck. His has turned to his family for help. “One lends me money, then the other. That is how I go on,” he explains. He needs another operation that will cost 100,000 pesos, or around $8,000, he says.
His wife is now the family’s provider.
“He was in charge of everything and, well, now there is nothing,” she says. “I work, sell cakes, sell clothes in the flea market, clean houses, anything. I move around, bring things, take things up, get things down, everything, everything, everything.”
He used to see America as a place of opportunity, worth risks and sacrifices. Would he ever go back?
“No, not anymore. No more, for nothing. Americans do not like us. Even more so the officials (Border Patrol agents). The officials are racists who do not want us there.”
Tomorrow, we’ll walk you through what happens when a border agent fires a weapon and why prosecution is rare. With apprehensions down and deaths up, we’ll also tell you who is advocating for greater accountability.
The Khan Bani Saad Correctional Facility, about 12 miles northeast of Baghdad, is seen with unused building materials nearby. The site is a chronicle of U.S. government waste, misguided planning and construction shortcuts costing $40 million.
By Aaron Mehta and Zach ToombsCenter for Public Integrity
The official in charge of monitoring America’s $51 billion effort to reconstruct Iraq has estimated that $6 billion to $8 billion of that amount was lost to waste, fraud and abuse.
Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction (SIGIR) for the past eight years, gave that estimate in an interview with the Center for Public Integrity on Monday, shortly after releasing a new summary of his office’s many grim discoveries since it began work in in 2004.
In Friday’s report, Bowen said the exact funds lost to fraud and waste “can never be known,” largely because of poor record-keeping by the U.S. agencies involved in the effort. These include the Departments of State and Defense, along with the U.S. Agency for International Development.
According to the report, auditors repeatedly found that the State Department and Defense Department failed to properly review invoices from government contractors, often approving billions of dollars in services without checking if costs were accurate or efficient. “I think the consistent theme throughout our eight years of oversight work has been the inconsistent availability of records and information on contracts and costs,” said Bowen, a former Texas lawyer.
Bowen said his efforts were hampered from the outset by the ineffectiveness of a clearinghouse created in Iraq for government departments to submit reconstruction bills and contracts for review and oversight. Known as the Iraq Reconstruction Management System, the system was often ignored, with the result that nearly a third of all the contracts could not be monitored adequately.
"Agencies often inconsistently used it -- such as USAID. Sometimes projects were put in there, sometimes they weren’t,” said Bowen. Aides said his $6 billion to $8 billion figure is based on his review of audits and reconstruction costs, as well of estimates of waste in programs where key data is missing.
Bowen’s deputy inspector general, Glenn Furbish, said separately in the interview that the cost of many contracts was steadily increased due to frequent modifications. “Once U.S. agencies started down this road, they rarely stopped and said, ‘This is getting out of hand,’” Furbish said.
He also noted that many agencies sometimes skipped appropriate review of their bills in an effort to spend money within a deadline, so they did not have to return it to the Treasury.
Since its founding in 2004, SIGIR has investigated $635 million in spending, resulting in $176 million in “fines, forfeitures, and other monetary results.” In total, the agency estimates it has saved around $1.5 billion in taxpayer funds.
Friday’s report mostly detailed the persistent poor handling of government contracts. “In some instances, invoices were reviewed months after they were paid,” according to the report. “Poor and/or delayed invoice reviews add risk that the government may overpay, or pay unallowable and unreasonable costs.”
The report lays much of the blame on a lack of manpower dedicated to reviewing and overseeing government contracts. The State Department enlisted a single contracting officer to handle a $2.5 billion deal with DynCorp International to train Iraqi police forces, for example. Auditors called this decision “especially disturbing" because of problems in earlier DynCorp contracts. According to Furbish, after SIGIR singled out the contract, the State Department reviewed its original agreement with DynCorp and recovered more than $60 million from the company.
DynCorp spokeswoman Ashley Burke confirmed that her company returned funds to the government but said it had not engaged in misconduct.
SIGIR’s investigation also uncovered instances of bid-rigging and bribe-taking by State and Pentagon officials.
Fraudulent activities uncovered by the special inspector general resulted in 87 indictments, according to the report. Of those cases, 61 involved contract kickbacks, 11 involved contract fraud and nine were related to embezzlement. Both military officers and defense contractors were frequently implicated.
The report details one such case, involving U.S. Army Major Roderick Sanchez, who served from 2004 to 2007 as a contracting officer in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait. Sanchez used his authority to solicit cash payments, Rolex watches and other expensive gifts in exchange for steering Pentagon contracts to foreign companies, reaping benefits worth more than $200,000, according to the report. He was sentenced to five years in prison and a fine of $15,000.
A Navy lieutenant commander named Frankie Hand, stationed at Camp Taji in Iraq as a contracting officer, entered into a secret agreement with two U.S. contractors — Michelle Adams and Peter Dunn — agreeing to rig government contracts to their benefit in exchange for a cut of the profits, the report said. The two contractors paid Hand $757,525 after obtaining two contracts improperly. An Air Force master sergeant received $50,000 in bribe money for “assistance” in the deal, the report said.
Hand received three years in prison and forfeited his share of contract profits, while Adams and Dunn received 15 and 14 months in prison, respectively.
Friday’s report, titled “Final Forensic Audit Report of Iraq Reconstruction Funds”, was wider in scope than most of SIGIR’s work, covering not just a specific project, but a broader picture of Iraq’s reconstruction. SIGIR spokesman Chris Griffith said, however, that Bowen' has one more major report to publish in January.
Many of the challenges described in the Iraq report mirror those depicted in similar reports by its cousin, the office of the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction. In a May report to Congress, for example, that office concluded that “corruption remains a major threat to the reconstruction effort” and said contractors were taking advantage of lax oversight in Afghanistan.
On Feb. 24, Ukrainian authorities made an alarming discovery: bones and other human tissues crammed into coolers in a grimy white minibus.
Investigators grew even more intrigued when they found, amid the body parts, envelopes stuffed with cash and autopsy results written in English.
What the security service had disrupted was not the work of a serial killer but part of an international pipeline of ingredients for medical and dental products that are routinely implanted into people around the world.
The seized documents suggested that the remains of dead Ukrainians were destined for a factory in Germany belonging to the subsidiary of a U.S. medical products company, Florida-based RTI Biologics.
RTI is one of a growing industry of companies that make profits by turning mortal remains into everything from dental implants to bladder slings to wrinkle cures.
The industry has flourished even as its practices have roused concerns about how tissues are obtained and how well grieving families and transplant patients are informed about the realities and risks of the business.
In the U.S. alone, the biggest market and the biggest supplier, an estimated two million products derived from human tissue are sold each year, a figure that has doubled over the past decade.
It is an industry that promotes treatments and products that literally allow the blind to see (through cornea transplants) and the lame to walk (by recycling tendons and ligaments for use in knee repairs). It's also an industry fueled by powerful appetites for bottom-line profits and fresh human bodies.
The business of recycling dead humans into medical implants is a little-known yet lucrative trade. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) discovered allegations of wrongdoing over the procurement of some of the raw materials used in the products. Find out more: www.icij.org/tissue.
In the Ukraine, for example, the security service believes that bodies passing through a morgue in the Nikolaev district, the gritty shipbuilding region located near the Black Sea, may have been feeding the trade, leaving behind what investigators described as potentially dozens of “human sock puppets” — corpses stripped of their reusable parts.
Industry officials argue that such alleged abuses are rare, and that the industry operates safely and responsibly.
For its part, RTI didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment or to a detailed list of questions provided a month before this publication.
In public statements the company says it “honors the gift of tissue donation by treating the tissue with respect, by finding new ways to use the tissue to help patients and by helping as many patients as possible from each donation.”
‘Our Misfortune' Despite its growth, the tissue trade has largely escaped public scrutiny. This is thanks in part to less-than-aggressive official oversight — and to popular appeal for the idea of allowing the dead to help the living survive and thrive.
An eight-month, 11-country investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists () has found, however, that the tissue industry’s good intentions sometimes are in conflict with the rush to make money from the dead.
Inadequate safeguards are in place to ensure all tissue used by the industry is obtained legally and ethically, ICIJ discovered from hundreds of interviews and thousands of pages of public documents obtained through records requests in six countries.
Despite concerns by doctors that the lightly regulated trade could allow diseased tissues to infect transplant recipients with hepatitis, HIV and other pathogens, authorities have done little to deal with the risks.
In contrast to tightly-monitored systems for tracking intact organs such as hearts and lungs, authorities in the U.S. and many other countries have no way to accurately trace where recycled skin and other tissues come from and where they go.
At the same time, critics say, the tissue-donation system can deepen the pain of grieving families, keeping them in the dark or misleading them about what will happen to the bodies of their loved ones.
Those left behind, like the parents of 19-year-old Ukrainian Sergei Malish, who committed suicide in 2008, are left to cope with a grim reality.
At Sergei’s funeral, his parents discovered deep cuts on his wrists. Yet they knew he had hanged himself.
They later learned that his body parts had been recycled and shipped off as “anatomical material.”
“They make money with our misfortune,” Sergei’s father said.
Awkward silence During the transformational journey tissue undergoes — from dead human to medical device — some patients don’t even know that they are the final destination.
Doctors don’t always tell them that the products used in their breast reconstructions, penis implants and other procedures were reclaimed from the recently departed.
Nor are authorities always aware of where tissues come from or where they go.
The lack of proper tracking means that by the time problems are discovered some of the manufactured goods can’t be found. When the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention assists in the recall of products made from potentially tainted tissues, transplant doctors frequently aren’t much help.
“Oftentimes there’s an awkward silence. They say: ‘We don’t know where it went,’” said Dr. Matthew Kuehnert, the CDC’s director of blood and biologics.
“We have barcodes for our cereals" at breakfast, "but we don’t have barcodes for our human tissues," Kuehnert said. "Every patient who has tissue implanted should know. It’s so obvious. It should be a basic patient right. It is not. That’s ridiculous.”
Since 2002 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has documented at least 1,352 infections in the U.S. that followed human tissue transplants, according to an ICIJ analysis of FDA data. These infections were linked to the deaths of 40 people, the data shows.
One of the weaknesses of the tissue-monitoring system is the secrecy and complexity that come with the cross-border exchange of body parts.
The Slovaks export cadaver parts to the Germans; the Germans export finished products to South Korea and the U.S.; the South Koreans to Mexico; the U.S. to more than 30 countries.
Distributors of manufactured products can be found in the European Union, China, Canada, Thailand, India, South Africa, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand. Some are subsidiaries of multinational medical corporations.
The international nature of the industry, critics claim, makes it easy to move products from place to place without much scrutiny.
“If I buy something from Rwanda, then put a Belgian label on it, I can import it into the U.S. When you enter into the official system, everyone is so trusting,” said Dr. Martin Zizi, professor of neurophysiology at the Free University of Brussels.
Once a product is in the European Union, it can be shipped to the U.S. with few questions asked.
“They assume you’ve done the quality check," Zizi said. "We are more careful with fruit and vegetables than with body parts.”
Piece of the action Inside the marketplace for human tissue, the opportunities for profits are immense. A single, disease-free body can spin off cash flows of $80,000 to $200,000 for the various non-profit and for-profit players involved in recovering tissues and using them to manufacture medical and dental products, according to documents and experts in the field.
It’s illegal in the U.S., as in most other countries, to buy or sell human tissue. However, it’s permissible to pay service fees that ostensibly cover the costs of finding, storing and processing human tissues.
Almost everyone gets a piece of the action.
Ground-level body wranglers in the U.S. can get as much as $10,000 for each corpse they secure through their contacts at hospitals, mortuaries and morgues. Funeral homes can act as middlemen to identify potential donors. Public hospitals can get paid for the use of tissue-recovery rooms.
And medical products multinationals like RTI? They do well, too. Last year RTI earned $11.6 million in pretax profits on revenues of $169 million.
Phillip Guyett, who ran a tissue recovery business in several U.S. states before he was convicted of falsifying death records, said executives with companies that bought tissues from him treated him to $400 meals and swanky hotel stays. They promised: “We can make you a rich man.” It got to the point, he said, that he began looking at the dead “with dollar signs attached to their parts.” Guyett never worked directly for RTI.
Smoked salmon Human skin takes on the color of smoked salmon when it is professionally removed in rectangular shapes from a cadaver. A good yield is about six square feet.
After being mashed up to remove moisture, some is destined to protect burn victims from life-threatening bacterial infections or, once further refined, for breast reconstructions after cancer.
The use of human tissue “has really revolutionized what we can do in breast reconstruction surgery,” explains Dr. Ron Israeli, a plastic surgeon in Great Neck, N.Y.
“Since we started using it in about 2005, it’s really become a standard technique.”
A significant number of recovered tissues are transformed into products whose shelf names give little clue to their actual origin.
They are used in the dental and beauty industries, for everything from plumping up lips to smoothing out wrinkles.
Cadaver bone — harvested from the dead and replaced with PVC piping for burial — is sculpted like pieces of hardwood into screws and anchors for dozens of orthopedic and dental applications.
Or the bone is ground down and mixed with chemicals to form strong surgical glues that are advertised as being better than the artificial variety.
“At the basic level what we are doing to the body, it’s a very physical — and I imagine some would say a very grotesque — thing,” said Chris Truitt, a former RTI employee in Wisconsin.
“We are pulling out arm bones. We are pulling out leg bones. We are cutting the chest open to pull the heart out to get at the valves. We are pulling veins out from the inside of skin.”
Whole tendons, scrubbed cleaned and rendered safe for transplant, are used to return injured athletes to the field of play.
There’s also a brisk trade in corneas, both within countries and internationally.
Because of the ban on selling the tissue itself, the U.S. companies that first commercialized the trade adopted the same methods as the blood collection business.
The for-profit companies set up non-profit offshoots to collect the tissue — in much the same way the Red Cross collects blood that’s later turned into products by commercial entities.
Nobody charges for the tissue itself, which under normal circumstances is freely donated by the dead (via donor registries) or by their families.
Rather, tissue banks and other organizations involved in the process receive ill-defined “reasonable payments” to compensate them for obtaining and handling the tissue.
“The common lingo is to talk about procurement from donors as ‘harvesting,’ and the subsequent transfers via the bone bank as ‘buying’ and ‘selling,’ ” wrote Klaus Høyer, from the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Public Health, who talked to industry officials, donors and recipients for an article published in the journal BioSocieties.
“These expressions were used freely in interviews; however, I did not hear this terminology used in front of patients.”
A U.S.-government funded study of the families of U.S. tissue donors, published in 2010, indicates many may not understand the role that for-profit companies play in the tissue donation system.
Seventy-three percent of families who took part in the study said it was “not acceptable for donated tissue to be bought and sold, for any purpose.”
Few protections There is an inherent risk in transplanting human tissues. Among other things, it has led to life-threatening bacterial infections, and the spread of HIV, Hepatitis C and rabies in tissue recipients, according to the CDC.
Modern blood and organ collection is bar-coded and strongly regulated — reforms prompted by high-profile disasters that had been caused by the poor screening of donors. Products made from skin and other tissues, however, have few specific laws of their own.
In the U.S., the agency that regulates the industry is the Food and Drug Administration, the same agency that’s charged with protecting the nation’s food supply, medicines and cosmetics.
The FDA, which declined repeated requests for on-record interviews, has no authority over health care facilities that implant the material. And the agency doesn’t specifically track infections.
It does keep track of registered tissue banks, and sometimes conducts an inspection. It also has the power to shut them down.
The FDA largely relies on standards that are set by an industry body, the American Association of Tissue Banks (AATB). The association refused repeated requests over four months for on-record interviews. It told ICIJ during a background interview last week that the "vast majority" of banks recovering traditional tissues such as skin and bone are accredited by the AATB. Yet an analysis of AATB accredited banks and FDA registration data shows about one third of tissue banks that recover traditional tissues such as skin and bone are accredited by the AATB.
The association says the chance of contamination in patients is low. Most products, the AATB says, undergo radiation and sterilization, rendering them safer than, say, organs that are transplanted into another human.
"Tissue is safe. It's incredibly safe," an AATB executive said.
There is little data, though, to back up the industry’s claims.
Unlike with other biologics regulated by the FDA, agency officials explain, firms that make medical products out of human tissues are required to report only the most serious adverse events they discover. That means that if problems do arise, there’s no guarantee that authorities are told.
And because doctors aren’t required to tell patients they’re getting tissue from a cadaver, many patients may not associate any later infection with the transplant.
On this point, the industry says it is able to track the products from the donors to the doctors, using their own coding systems, and that many hospitals have systems in place to track the tissues after they’re implanted.
But no centralized regional or global system assures products can be followed from donor to patient.
“Probably very few people get infected, but we really don’t know because we don’t have surveillance and we don’t have a system for detecting adverse events,” the CDC’s Kuehnert said.
The FDA recalled more than 60,000 tissue-derived products between 1994 and mid-2007.
The most famous recall came in 2005. It involved a company called Biomedical Tissue Services, which was run by a former dental surgeon, Michael Mastromarino.
Mastromarino got many of his raw materials from undertakers in New York and Pennsylvania. He paid them up to $1,000 per body, court records show.
His company stripped bodies of their bones, skin and other usable parts, then returned them to their families. The families, ignorant of what happened, buried or cremated the evidence.
One of more than 1,000 bodies that were dismembered was that of the famous BBC broadcaster and Masterpiece Theatre host Alistair Cooke.
Products made from the stolen human remains were shipped to Canada, Turkey, South Korea, Switzerland and Australia. More than 800 of those products have never been located.
It later came out in court that some of the tissue donors had died from cancer and that none had been tested for pathogens like HIV and hepatitis.
Mastromarino falsified donor forms, lying about causes of death and other details. He sold skin and other tissues to several U.S. tissue-processing firms, including RTI.
“From day one, everything was forged; everything, because we could. As long as the paperwork looked good, it was fine,” said Mastromarino, who is serving a 25-to-58-year prison sentence for conspiracy, theft and abuse of a corpse.
Global sheriff Each country has its own set of regulations for the use of products made from human tissue, often based on laws that were originally intended to deal with blood or organs.
In practice, though, because the U.S. supplies an estimated two-thirds of the world’s human-tissue-product needs, the FDA has effectively been left to act as sheriff for much of the planet.
Foreign tissue establishments that wish to export products to the U.S. are required to register with the FDA.
Yet of the 340 foreign tissue establishments registered with the FDA, only about 7 percent have an inspection record in the FDA database, an ICIJ analysis shows. The FDA has never shut one down due to concern over illicit activities.
The data also shows that about 35 percent of active registered U.S. tissue banks have no inspection record in the FDA database.
“When the FDA registers you, all you have to do is fill out a form and wait for an inspection,” said Dr. Duke Kasprisin, the medical director for seven U.S. tissue banks. “For the first year or two you can function without having anyone look at you.”
This is backed by the data, which show the typical tissue bank operates for nearly two years before its first FDA inspection.
“The problem is there is no oversight. The FDA, all they require is that you have a registration,” said Craig Allred, an attorney previously involved in litigation against the industry. “Nobody is watching what is going on.” The FDA and industry players “all point the finger at each other.”
Yet in South Korea, for example, the booming plastic surgery market uses FDA oversight as a selling point.
In downtown Seoul, the country’s capital, Tiara Plastic Surgery explains that human tissue products “are FDA-approved” and are therefore safe.
Some medical centers advertise “FDA-approved AlloDerm” — a skin graft made from donated American cadavers — for nose enhancement.
Le Do-han, the official in charge of human tissue for the South Korean FDA, said the country imports 90 percent of its human-tissue needs.
Raw tissue is shipped in from the U.S. and Germany. This tissue, once processed, is often re-exported to Mexico as manufactured goods.
Despite the complicated movements back and forth, Le Do-han acknowledges that proper tracking hasn’t been put in place.
“It is like putting tags on beef, but I don’t even know if that is possible for human tissues because there are so many coming in.”
Teaming up In its U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings, publicly traded RTI provides a glimpse of the company’s size and global reach.
In 2011, the company manufactured 500,000 to 600,000 implants and launched 19 new kinds of implants in sports medicine, orthopedics and other areas. Ninety percent of the company’s implants are made from human tissue, while 10 percent come from cows and pigs processed at its German facility.
RTI requires its human body parts suppliers in the U.S. and other nations to follow FDA regulations, but the company acknowledges there are no guarantees.
In 2011 securities filings, RTI said there “can be no assurances” that “our tissue suppliers will comply with such regulations intended to prevent communicable disease transmission” or “even if such compliance is achieved, that our implants have not been or will not be associated with transmission of disease.”
Like many of today’s for-profit tissue companies that were once non-profits, RTI broke away from the non-profit University of Florida Tissue Bank in 1998.
Internal company files from Tutogen, a Germany medical products company, show that RTI teamed up with Tutogen as early as September 1999 to help both companies meet their growing needs for raw material by obtaining human tissue from Eastern Europe.
The companies both obtained tissue from the Czech Republic. Tutogen separately obtained tissues from Estonia, Hungary, Russia, Latvia, Ukraine, and later Slovakia, documents show.
In 2002, allegations surfaced in the Czech media that the local supplier to RTI and Tutogen was obtaining some tissues there improperly. Though there is no suggestion that Tutogen or RTI or its employees did anything improper.
In March 2003, police in Latvia investigated whether Tutogen’s local supplier had removed tissue from about 400 bodies at a state forensic medical institute without proper consent.
Wood and fabrics, replacing muscle and bone, were put into the deceased to make it look like they were untouched before burial, local media reported.
Police eventually charged three employees of the supplier, but later dismissed the charges when a court ruled that no consent from donors’ families was necessary. Again, there was no suggestion Tutogen acted improperly.
In 2005, Ukrainian police launched the first of a series of investigations into the activities of Tutogen’s suppliers in that country. The initial investigation did not lead to criminal charges.
The relationship between Tutogen and RTI, meanwhile, became even closer in late 2007, when they announced a merger between the two companies. Tutogen became a subsidiary of RTI in early 2008.
Officials at RTI declined to answer questions from ICIJ about whether it knew about police investigations of Tutogen’s suppliers.
Two ribs In 2008 Ukrainian police launched a new investigation, looking into allegations that more than 1,000 tissues a month were being illegally recovered at a forensic medical institute at Krivoy Rog and sent, via a third party, to Tutogen. Joseph Düsel, the Chief Prosecutor in Bamberg, said in 2009 that "what the company is doing is approved by the administrative authority by which it is also monitored. We do not currently see any reason to initiate investigation proceedings."
Nataliya Grishenko, the judge prosecuting the case, revealed during subsequent court proceedings that many relatives claimed they’d been tricked into signing consent forms or that their signatures had been forged.
However, the main suspect in the case — a Ukrainian doctor — died before the court could deliver a verdict. The case died with him.
Tutogen “operates under very strict regulations from German and Ukrainian authorities as well as other European and American regulatory authorities,” the company said in a statement while the case was still pending. “They have been inspected regularly by all of these authorities over their many years of operation, and Tutogen remains in good standing with all of them.”
Seventeen of Tutogen’s Ukrainian suppliers have undergone an FDA inspection. The inspections are announced, according to protocol, six to eight weeks in advance.
Only one — BioImplant in Kiev — received negative feedback. Among the findings of the 2009 inspection: not all morgues could rely on hot running water and some sanitation procedures were not followed.
FDA inspectors also identified deficiencies with RTI's Ukrainian imports when it visited the company's facilities in Florida.
RTI had English translations, but not original autopsy reports, from its Ukrainian donors, FDA inspectors found during a 2010 audit. Those were often the only medical documents the company used to determine whether the donor was healthy, inspectors noted in their report.
The company told inspectors it was illegal under Ukrainian law to copy the report. But following the inspection it began maintaining the original Russian-language document along with its English translation.
In 2010 and 2011, FDA inspectors asked RTI to change how it labeled its imports. The company was obtaining Ukrainian tissue, shipping it to Tutogen in Germany, then exporting it to the U.S. as a product of Germany.
While the company agreed to change its policies, there is some indication that it may have continued labeling some Ukrainian tissue as German.
This past February police launched a raid as officials at a regional forensic bureau in Nikolaev Oblast were loading harvested human tissues into the back of a white minibus. Police footage of the seizure shows tissue labeled "Tutogen. Made in Germany."
In this case, the security service said forensic officials had tricked relatives of the dead patients into agreeing to what they thought was a small amount of tissue harvesting by playing on their pain and grief.
Seized documents — blood tests, an autopsy report and labels written in English and obtained by ICIJ — suggested the remains were on their way to Tutogen.
Some of the tissue fragments found on the bus came from 35-year-old Oleksandr Frolov, who had died from an epileptic seizure.
“On the way to the cemetery, when we were in the hearse, one of his feet — we noticed that one of the shoes slipped off his foot, which seemed to be hanging loose,” his mother, Lubov Frolova, told ICIJ.
“When my daughter-in-law touched it, she said that his foot was empty.”
Later, the police showed her a list of what had been taken from her son’s body.
“Two ribs, two Achilles heels, two elbows, two eardrums, two teeth, and so on. I couldn’t read it till the end, as I felt sick. I couldn’t read it,” she said.
“I heard that" the tissues "were shipped to Germany to be used for the plastic surgeries and also for donation. I have nothing against donation, but it should be done according to the law.”
Kateryna Rahulina, whose 52-year-old mother, Olha Dynnyk, died in September 2011, was shown documents by investigating police. The documents purported to give her approval for tissue to be taken from her mother’s body.
“I was in shock,” Rahulina said. She never signed the papers, she said, and it was clear to her that someone had forged her approval.
The forensic bureau in Nikolaev Oblast, where the alleged incidents happened, was, until recently, one of 20 Ukrainian tissue banks registered by the FDA.
On the FDA’s website the phone number for each of the tissue banks is the same.
It is Tutogen’s phone number in Germany.
Contributors to this story: Mar Cabra, Alexenia Dimitrova and Nari Kim.
A HSBC bank logo is highlighted by the sun in London in this file photo taken March 1, 2010.
By NBCNews.com's Alastair Jamieson and news services
A "pervasively polluted" culture at HSBC allowed the bank to act as financier to clients moving shadowy funds from the world's most dangerous and secretive corners, including Mexico, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria, according to a scathing U.S. Senate report issued on Monday.
While the big British bank's problems have been known for nearly a decade, the Senate probe detailed just how sweeping the problems have been, both at the bank and at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, a top U.S. bank regulator which the report said failed to properly monitor HSBC.
"The culture at HSBC was pervasively polluted for a long time," said Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, a Congressional watchdog panel.
The report comes at a troubling time for a banking industry reeling from a multi-country probe into the manipulation of global benchmark rates. Last month, rival British bank Barclays agreed to pay a $453 million fine to settle a U.S.-British probe into the rigging of the benchmark interest rate known as the London interbank offered rate, or Libor.
Lax controls The report caps a year-long inquiry that included a review of 1.4 million documents and interviews with 75 HSBC officials and bank regulators. It will be the focus of a hearing on Tuesday at which HSBC and OCC officials are scheduled to testify.
In a statement emailed to NBCNews.com, the bank said:
We will apologize, acknowledge these mistakes, answer for our actions and give our absolute commitment to fixing what went wrong. We believe that this case history will provide important lessons for the whole industry in seeking to prevent illicit actors entering the global financial system.
The report also contained strong criticism of the OCC, saying the regulator failed to crack down on the bank despite multiple red flags, allowing money laundering issues "to accumulate into a massive problem".
The failings and lax controls inside HSBC included an inability to properly monitor $15 billion in bulk cash transactions between mid-2006 and mid-2009, inadequate staffing and high turnover in the bank's compliance units, the report said.
HSBC ignored risks in doing business in countries such as Mexico, a country rife with drug trafficking, it said.
Between 2007 and 2008, HSBC's Mexican operations moved $7 billion into the bank's U.S. operations. According to the report, both Mexican and U.S. authorities warned HSBC that the amount of money could only have reached such a level if it was tied to illegal narcotics proceeds.
The focus of the Senate probe was HSBC's U.S. operations, which has its main office in New York. HSBC used the U.S. unit as a selling point to clients outside the United States, touting its ability to handle U.S. dollar transactions.
Red flags The report described that among HSBC's problems was the bank's compliance division being unable to battle the suspect money. High turnover of top compliance officials made it difficult for reform to take hold, the report said. Employees were "overwhelmed" by a mounting number of suspect transactions that needed review.
HSBC, according to the report, helped move money for a Mexican foreign-exchange dealer called Casa de Cambio Puebla that served as a hub for laundered proceeds, according to the report.
Between 2005 and 2007, there was a "growing flood" of U.S. dollars moving between the exchange house and HSBC, setting off red flags inside HSBC. Some bankers said the transfers were legal. One said the money came from Mexican landscapers working in the United States and routing money back home to their families.
HSBC ultimately closed the account in November 2007 after it received a seizure warrant from the Mexican attorney general seeking money tied to the exchange dealer, the Senate report said.
Some of the money that moved through HSBC was tied to Iran, the report said, which would violate U.S. prohibitions on transactions linked to it and other sanctioned countries.
Between 2001 and 2007, more than 28,000 transactions were identified by an outside auditor for HSBC that potentially could have run afoul of laws that prohibit transactions with sanctioned countries. Of those, 25,000 involved Iran. A smaller number required additional analysis to determine if violations of U.S. regulations had occurred, the report said.
In 2010, Wachovia agreed to pay $160 million as part of a Justice Department probe that examined Mexican transactions, according to a BBC report, which also said ING last month agreed to pay $619 million to settle U.S. government allegations that it violated U.S. sanctions against Cuba and Iran.
Continuing its investigation into the Greek banking system, Reuters reports that the head of one of the largest banks in Greece borrowed more than 100 million euros to buy a stake in the bank, a deal not declared to the Athens stock exchange. That raises questions about the oversight and stability of the country's financial system just as Greek banks are receiving tens of billions of euros in bailout funds from the International Monetary Fund.
Below are excerpts from Reuters reporters Stephen Grey and Nikolas Leontopoulos' story:
The chairman of one of Greece's largest banks and his family took out loans totaling more than 100 million euros to finance an undisclosed stake in the bank, according to audit documents seen by Reuters. Offshore companies owned by Michael Sallas and his two children paid for shares in the Piraeus Bank, the country's fourth-biggest, by borrowing money from a rival bank. Together the shares make the Sallas family the largest shareholder in Piraeus, with a combined stake of over 6 percent. The purchase of these shares has not been declared to the Athens stock exchange by Piraeus. ...
The loans to investors in the Piraeus rights issue highlight a bigger concern in the Greek banking sector. Piraeus issued more shares last year to strengthen its capital base, enabling it to score higher in European bank stress tests. The successful issue, Sallas said at the time, showed "a sign of confidence in Piraeus Bank, the Greek banking system and of course the prospects of the Greek economy." But Sallas did not make public the loans he and other shareholders had taken out to help make the rights issue a success. ...
Hans-Peter Burghof, a professor of banking and finance at the University of Hohenheim, Germany, said that billions of euros had been given to the Greek banking system without adequate supervision of the sector. "It's our money and it has been given without controls. It's a disaster," he said. If banks lent to finance each other's shares, he said, then "this way you can produce as much equity as you like and make banks as big as you like. It is not real equity." He likened it to "a kind of Ponzi scheme."
Carnivals are a summer tradition, but are some of those popular games really stacked against you and your kids? NBC's Jeff Rossen went undercover to find out why the games that often look so simple can be so hard to win.
NBC's Bob Costas says Joe Paterno's reputation can never fully recover from the Penn State sexual abuse scandal, and now the NCAA plans to step up their investigation.
By Wesley Oliver, NBC News Legal Analyst
The Freeh Report is a scathing indictment, to speak colloquially, of officials at Penn State. But it could also preview actual indictments against Graham Spanier, Tim Curley, and Gary Schultz, key Penn State officials at the time Jerry Sandusky's sex abuse of minors was first being reported. And if Joe Paterno was still alive, his name could easily be added to that list.
The report describes many of the facts those following the case already knew, but the facts were described in a way that very clearly maps onto the elements of crimes.
The report finds that senior officials at Penn State had no concern about the welfare of at least one victim of Sandusky's crimes and allowed Sandusky continued access to the campus, where he was able to continue to perpetrate his crimes.
Paterno, Curley, Schultz, and Spanier were aware of an investigation about improper conduct with Sandusky in a shower with a young boy in 1998. Then, when they learned from Michael McQueary that another incident occurred -- and this time much more graphic details were provided -- they only asked Sandusky not to bring his "guests" into Penn State showers.
Most substantially, the report observes, not only did Penn State officials not attempt to learn this young man's name to see if he had been harmed, they actually placed him in danger by informing Sandusky that McQueary had seen them in the shower together. In effect, university officials tipped off Sandusky to a potential child witness against him. Sandusky could have threatened the boy -- or worse -- to ensure his silence. Or Sandusky could have merely taken out his rage at being discovered on this young man he saw as the reason for the discovery.
By not reporting Sandusky's activities and allowing him on the campus after these incidents, university officials essentially assisted Sandusky in his crimes. As the report poignantly states, university officials gave him access to the university and the trappings of a top college football program. The officials thus "provided Sandusky with the very currency that enabled him to attract his victims."
As prosecutors decide their next move, the Freeh Report offers a description of facts tailor-made for an indictment for endangering the welfare of a minor. It provides perhaps even more.
Typically, to conspire to commit a crime or to aid and abet a crime, you have to desire that the crime occur. No one argues that Penn State officials wanted Sandusky to rape boys. Courts, however, are beginning to recognize that for very serious crimes, if you take an action that you know assists the completion of that crime, you may well be legally responsible as a conspirator, aider or abettor.
If prosecutors elect to use the trend in modern conspiracy and complicity law to bring indictments in this case, the perjury and failure to report charges against Curley and Schultz will seem like minor offenses in hindsight. And the Freeh Report gives prosecutors the ammunition to do just that.
The author of this piece is an NBC News legal analyst and professor at Duquesne Law School.
The YM Bamboo, owned by Taiwanese shipping company Yang Ming, is offloaded at the Port of Los Angeles this year. A widening of the Panama Canal will make it easier for giant cargo ships to go from Asia to ports on the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico.
By Brad Racino Investigative Newsource
For the first time since its completion a century ago, the Panama Canal is being widened, setting up a long and costly battle among U.S. ports for the business of handling supersized container ships filled with goods from Asia.
When the project is completed in 2015, ports on the East Coast and Gulf Coast will be able to compete for business that until now has been dominated by West Coast ports.
At stake are thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in federal and local investment.
The case of the MSC Fabiola — a hulking mass of steel and containers nearly as long as the Empire State Building is high — illustrates what those stakes are.
When the Fabiola pulled into the Port of Long Beach on a foggy Friday morning this spring after a 13-day trip across the Pacific Ocean from China, it was a major event, although it received little attention. The ship's arrival marked the first time in history that a ship of its size had docked at a U.S. port.
Khalid Bachkar, a professor at the California Maritime Academy, said the shipping industry is shifting toward megaships. “This is the new trend,” he said.
Massive vessels like the Fabiola carry two to four times the number of containers as older vessels, which means fewer trips for shipping companies and bigger savings for manufacturers and importers.
What happens in the future of the shipping industry will affect millions of working Americans, as well as the economies of states throughout the country — with the strongest consequences affecting California.
The Fabiola represents the highly competitive, highly secretive and highly lucrative business of international shipping. Ocean-faring transport companies such as the Fabiola’s Mediterranean Shipping Company constantly seek to establish themselves as a shipper’s best choice for moving a product from Point A to Point B. The battles they wage on land and sea can ripple out to affect secondary industries across an entire continent.
The thousands of points they travel between are called ports of entry. The United States has 329 official land, sea and air ports that compete with one another — just like the shippers — for their piece of a market valued annually in the trillions of dollars.
The West Coast has reaped the benefits of container traffic in the U.S. since the mid-1990s, led in no small part by California’s giant neighboring ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Ports on the East and Gulf coasts, with their more limited water depths and rail connections, haven’t been able to keep pace.
Yet a development occurring now in the heart of Central America will crack this solid foundation in a few short years — as it once did in 1914 — affecting global trade routes and the economies of states and countries worldwide.
The Panama Canal On Oct. 22, 2006, Panamanian voters across the country voted overwhelmingly to approve a plan presented by then-President Martin Torrijos for expanding their canal.
Such a plan had been undertaken before. In 1939, the U.S. began construction on a new set of locks that would have allowed for larger ships to pass through the canal — which connects the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. The outbreak of World War II brought a halt to those construction efforts, and it wasn’t until Sept. 3, 2007— after the vote and approval — that the work began once again.
An estimated $5.25 billion is now being spent to deepen and widen the Panama Canal’s Pacific and Atlantic entrance channels, to raise the water level of Gatun Lake — through which all ships must pass — and to install new locks on both sides of the waterway. It’s due to open in April 2015.
The project is a response to a problem.
The canal is reaching its maximum capacity. It’s carrying more traffic than it was designed for and is unable to handle the Fabiolas of the world. Termed “post-Panamax” vessels, these huge ships carry more than a quarter of the world’s containerized maritime shipments.
Today, cargo crossing the Pacific bound for the Midwest and Eastern United States must offload at a U.S. Pacific Coast port if the ship carrying it is too large to pass through the canal’s 50-mile waterway. These goods are then routed across the country using the U.S. “land bridge,” the network of highways and railways linking East and West.
Once the widened canal is navigable, many megaships will no longer need the land bridge. Instead, they will pass through the canal’s wider locks to offload their cargo at a Gulf or East coast port, such as Houston, New Orleans or New York.
“Trade will shift,” Bachkar said. “Instead of coming to the West Coast, it will go directly to the East Coast and on to Europe.”
These eastern ports are hoping the canal expansion will signal the end of an era — the end of the so-called West Coast Empire. Ports such as Savannah, Ga., New Orleans, Houston and New York City are preparing for this change by pouring billions of dollars over the next few years into infrastructure development, while the ports of the West Coast walk a fine line between confidence and caution in the face of what may be the single largest threat to their livelihoods ever.
“The West Coast has done well with Asian trade over the last 30 years,” said Port of New Orleans spokesman Matt Gresham. “This will make things more competitive.”
And in an industry where one port can generate billions of dollars in state and local tax revenues and affect the lives of more than 3 million industry-related employees throughout the U.S., any change is a big deal.
The stakes Despite experiencing the worst recession in modern times, U.S. trade has not only recovered since 2008, but has reached record levels. According to an analysis of trade data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Foreign Trade Division, the values of both U.S. imports and exports in 2011 were higher than any year in history — $2.21 trillion and $1.48 trillion, respectively.
This does not appear to be an aberration. Even the most conservative of analytical forecasts show trade activity — and therefore port activity — booming in the near future. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration expects port container traffic to double by 2020 and triple by 2030. The effects of this increase in trade will inevitably trickle down, creating millions of jobs and billions in tax revenues for states throughout the country.
“Ports are the heart of logistics,” Bachkar said. “There are many direct and indirect jobs associated with the activity of the port.”
“You’re talking about shippers," he explained, “you’re talking about freight, you’re talking about brokers, you’re talking about banks, you’re talking about warehouses — and all those stakeholders are related to the activity of the port.”
For example, the Port of Los Angeles generates 919,000 regional jobs and $39.1 billion in wages and tax revenues each year, according to the port’s marketing division.
The Port of New Orleans claims around 380,000 jobs and $37 billion in national economic output are related to cargo passing through the port each year.
The Port of Houston, according to a 2006 economic impact study, reported that more than 785,000 jobs in Texas and nearly $118 billion of annual statewide economic activity were in some way related to cargo moving through the port.
With numbers like those, it’s not hard to understand why port authorities and their respective boards are scrambling to prepare for the potential economic windfall from the Panama Canal expansion.
But the amount of cargo and the ports to which it will be shipped pose multimillion-dollar questions — and they’re questions causing a flurry of speculation among ports and billions of dollars in spending.
The first line of “Shifting Trade Routes” — an internal Port of New Orleans PowerPoint presentation from Jan. 19, 2012 — is a simple, declarative statement:
“Know that Panama Canal will have an impact.”
The rest of the presentation is an attempt to figure out exactly what that the impact will be, and whether the port’s current plan to spend more than $1 billion in short- and long-term projects is justified.
New Orleans, along with other ports on the Gulf Coast and East Coast, is heavily invested in what’s coming. With more than $10 billion in development projects planned ahead of the Panama Canal expansion, ports from Houston to Boston are busy lobbying Congress for federal funding while digging deep into their own pockets.
It makes perfect sense for the ports on the Gulf Coast and East Coast ports seize this opportunity to secure federal dollars. It makes even more sense when the ports’ district-level data is analyzed.
An analysis of Foreign Trade Division data shows that between 2010 and 2011, 13 of the top 20 fastest-growing port districts in terms of the overall value of imports were either a Gulf Coast or East Coast district. Not one of the remaining seven is located on the West Coast.
To be fair, none of the districts compare to Los Angeles in terms of overall volume — which accounts for around 40 percent of all the container traffic in the country.
Similarly, 12 out of the top 20 fast-growing districts in terms of overall value of exports during that same time period were either a Gulf or East coast district. Only one of the remaining eight districts was on the West Coast; that was Seattle.
The Panama Canal Authority, noticing the potential for increased traffic from Asia, has entered into 22 separate formal alliances with ports along the Gulf Coast andthe East Coast — and only one on the West Coast — the Port of Long Beach.
Kraig Jondle, the director of business and trade development at the Port of Los Angeles, said these alliances “are not anything that’s obligatory to anybody,” adding that they are “merely public relations.
Other factors appear to favor the shift to the east as well. These include greater land availability for retailers looking for warehouse space and less contentious labor organizations like the International Longshore and Warehouse Union — a West Coast union that, after bringing West Coast shipping to a halt in 2002 over a labor dispute, is widely cited as the reason importers have shifted to a “four-corner strategy,” according to Aaron Hunt, the director of corporate relations and media for Union Pacific Railroad.
Jonathan Gold, vice president of the National Retail Federation — the world’s largest retail association — agreed that the 2002 labor dispute caused many shippers to sit back and reevaluate their strategies, “so they’re not stuck using one port,” he said.
But he doesn’t think the expansion will have an immediate effect
“I don’t think that there are (companies) making immediate changes to their supply chains,” he said. “I think it’s going to take some time for the issues to work out.”
“You’ve got some serious dredging issues for East Coast ports,” he said.
East Coast problems The process of dredging is an expensive and time-consuming undertaking, and one that East Coast and Gulf Coast ports must deal with if they hope to accommodate the newer, massive ships that will pass through the Panama Canal.
At the Port of Los Angeles, Jondle said that this is a key area where West Coast ports excel.
“If you’re not at 53 feet, or at least 50 or more,” he said, “then you’re going to be really challenged in staying competitive in the port industry.”
As of July 2012, only the East Coast ports of Norfolk, Va., and Baltimore can handle the post-Panamax vessels.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has initiated plans to raise the Bayonne Bridge — which connects Staten Island with New Jersey — 64 feet to allow passage of post-Panamax vessels into the ports. As of today, the Fabiola wouldn’t clear it.
This is a source of pride for Los Angeles and Long Beach.
“We are far ahead of other ports when it comes to being in a position to handle bigger ships,” said Jondle,
Bigger ships The MSC Fabiola isn’t a solitary giant. It has three identical sister ships — the Faustina, the Fillippa and the Filomena — all owned by MSC.
Ships of this size are expected to carry more than half of the world’s containers by December 2015, according to fleet forecasts from Alphaliner, a Singapore-based company that monitors shipping data.
Bachkar says using these bigger ships is a more economically efficient and environmentally friendly option than transporting the same number of containers on smaller ships.
“This is a very, very competitive industry,” Bachkar said.
“You have to be well-prepared, you have to do your homework pretty well, and you have to predict the future.”
And inevitably, in the prediction business, someone is going to be wrong.
Kraig Jondle — seated in a conference room in the Port of Los Angeles’ administration building — is a master of his craft. One of Jondle’s jobs right now is to reduce any Panama-related apprehensions that current and potential port customers may have
He treads a fine line between downplaying and overstating the significance of the widening of the canal.
“The Panama Canal is really good for this country — we need the Panama Canal,” he said. “We’re not out to destroy the Panama Canal by any means.”
“But certainly,” he continued, “we will do all we can to defend the cargo that comes today to the port. We don’t want that to go to the East Coast.”
“In Southern California, out to Las Vegas and down to Phoenix, there is a 50-million-person population that these ports feed into,” Jondle said. “You’re always going to have that base of cargo here, and when people want to talk about the Panama Canal, they want to talk about discretionary cargo … bound for Kansas City, Chicago, Columbus, Memphis …”
Los Angeles will spend approximately $1.2 billion on capital improvement projects over the next five years, including the expansion of terminals and the development of hundreds of acres for maritime use. The Port of Long Beach will invest nearly $4.5 billion during the next decade.
However, Jondle admits that despite all of Los Angeles’ advantages, the port will lose some business in 2015.
“There’s been several studies done,” he said. “They range from showing the Port of L.A. losing 25 percent to the Port of L.A. losing 1 percent. So it’s such a broad perspective that we decided let’s stay on the side and let’s fortify our customers … . Let’s expand, let’s build, and that will keep people here, overall.”
Peter Hall, a professor at Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University and an expert on port cities, believes that the truth of the matter “is probably somewhere in the middle."
“I don’t think there’s any reason to think that all of the cargo that’s currently coming to the West Coast is going to suddenly follow (the Panama Canal) route,” he said.
But, “if there was solid evidence that (the shift) was happening,” he said, “there’d be some kind of response from those (West Coast) ports very quickly.”
Gresham at the Port of New Orleans, and many others at ports across the U.S., believe that despite the coasts’ battles for trade, overall, the Panama Canal expansion is a good thing.
But who benefits most from the canal's expansion will, according to Hall, "be a result of how these guys play the game.”
Penn State released the findings of an internal investigation by former FBI Director Louie Freeh, which revealed how much top University officials knew about Jerry Sandusky's behavior and the failure of them to do anything about it. NBC's Michael Isikoff reports.
Penn State football coach Joe Paterno and other university leaders "repeatedly concealed critical facts" relating to assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky’s child sex abuse from authorities, according to Louis Freeh, the former FBI director who conducted an investigation for the university in the Sandusky scandal.
Freeh also found that "although concern to treat the child abuser humanely was expressly stated, no such sentiments were ever expressed" by university officials, including Paterno and the university president, for Sandusky’s victims. The report says that five boys were assaulted by Sandusky on university property after officials knew about a 1998 criminal investigation.
Update: Members of the Penn State board of trustees spoke at an afternoon news conference.
"Our hearts remain heavy, and we are deeply ashamed," said trustee Kenneth C. Frazier, chairman, CEO and president of Merck & Co., the pharmaceutical company. "An event like this can never happen again in the Penn State University community. Judge Freeh's report is both sad and sobering."
The president of the university, Rodney A. Erickson, said, "It has become clear to me that I need to reconsider our community's leadership culture." He said the university is partnering with the Pennsylvania Coalition against Rape, and creating a center for the protection of children. "This is a problem that plagues our nation," Erickson said, "and we have a special duty" to prevent and treat child sexual abuse.
A statue of Paterno remains outside Penn State's 106,000-seat Beaver Stadium. Members of the board of trustees were asked whether it should remain.
"The whole topic of Joe Paterno being honored or not being honored is a very sensitive topic," said Karen B. Peetz, a banker and chairman of the board. "We believe this is something that will continue to be discussed."
Trustee Frazier added, "You have to measure every human by the good they've done and the bad they've done. I'm not trying to make light of what we've found in the report, but I will say that if you want to measure the man's life," you have to measure the good and bad. "I think we have to take some reflection and some distance before we make decisions about what we think about Joe Paterno's entire life."
The Freeh report says the main cause of the university's failure was a desire to avoid bad publicity. Also contributing:
A striking lack of empathy for child abuse victims.
Lack of oversight by the board of trustees.
"A president who discouraged discussion and dissent."
Ignorance of child abuse issues and laws.
A football program that had opted out of university programs and training on reporting requirements.
"A culture of reverence for the football program that is ingrained at all levels of the campus community."
Freeh's findings may affect the reputation of legendary coach Paterno, who died soon after the Sandusky allegations became public, as well as the university's standing with the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which so far has not announced any punishments of Penn State. The NCAA said Thursday it is studying the report.
Paterno had testified to a grand jury in 2011 that he knew nothing of the 1998 criminal investigation, but Freeh, based on multiple university emails, said Paterno was among the officials who knew, and who allowed Sandusky to keep his university access until 2011.
Summary of the report Freeh was hired by the university in November to review the school's dealings with Sandusky and its response to a 2001 report that he sexually abused a boy in a Penn State shower room, an incident witnessed by football assistant Michael McQueary. (McQueary's term was allowed to expire this year, and he is no longer employed by the university.)
Freeh's team of investigators found:
"The most saddening finding by the Special Investigative Counsel is the total and consistent disregard by the most senior leaders at Penn State for the safety and welfare of Sandusky's child victims. As the Grand Jury similarly noted in its presentment, there was no "attempt to investigate, to identify Victim 2, or to protect that child or any others from similar conduct except as related to preventing its re-occurrence on University property.
"Four of the most powerful people at The Pennsylvania State University -- President Graham B. Spanier, Senior Vice President-Finance and Business Gary C. Schultz, Athletic Director Timothy M. Curley and Head Football Coach Joseph V. Paterno -- failed to protect against a child predator harming children for over a decade. These men concealed Sandusky's activities from the Board of Trustees, the University community and authorities. They exhibited a striking lack of empathy for Sandusky's victims by failing to inquire as to their safety and well-being, especially by not attempting to determine the identity of the child who Sandusky assaulted in the Lasch Building in 2001. Further, they exposed this child to additional harm by alerting Sandusky, who was the only one who knew the child's identity, of what McQueary saw in the shower on the night of February 9, 2001.
"These individuals, unchecked by the Board of Trustees that did not perform its oversight duties, empowered Sandusky to attract potential victims to the campus and football events by allowing him to have continued, unrestricted and unsupervised access to the University's facilities and affiliation with the University's prominent football program. Indeed, that continued access provided Sandusky with the very currency that enabled him to attract his victims. Some coaches, administrators and football program staff members ignored the red flags of Sandusky's behaviors and no one warned the public about him."
Jay Paterno, the son of legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno, says that his family is awaiting the release of former FBI director Louis Freeh's "thorough report" into the sex scandal and possible cover-up at the university.
Mark Parker, the CEO of Nike, the athletic equipment company, said Thursday it would remove Paterno's name from a child care center. Parker had given a eulogy at Paterno's funeral, defending the coach's response to the allegations. "I have been deeply saddened by the news coming out of this investigation at Penn State," Parker said. "It is a terrible tragedy that children were unprotected from such abhorrent crimes. With the findings released today, I have decided to change the name of our child care center at our World Headquarters. My thoughts are with the victims and the Penn State community."
Paterno family responds The Paterno family released a statement saying there wasn't much new in the Freeh report: "From what we have been able to assess at this time, it appears that after reviewing 3 million documents and conducting more than 400 interviews, the underlying facts as summarized in the report are almost entirely consistent with what we understood them to be. The 1998 incident was reported to law enforcement and investigated. Joe Paterno reported what he was told about the 2001 incident to Penn State authorities and he believed it would be fully investigated. The investigation also confirmed that Sandusky's retirement in 1999 was unrelated to these events."
"One great risk in this situation," the Paterno family statement continued, "is a replaying of events from the last 15 years or so in a way that makes it look obvious what everyone must have know and should have done. The idea that any sane, responsible adult would knowingly cover up for a child predator is impossible to accept. The far more realistic conclusion is that many people didn't fully understand what was happening and underestimated or misinterpreted events. Sandusky was a great deceiver. He fooled everyone - law enforcement, his family, coaches, players, neighbors, University officials, and everyone at Second Mile," his charity for children.
"Joe Paterno wasn't perfect. He made mistakes and he regretted them. He is still the only leader to step forward and say that with the benefit of hindsight he wished he had done more. To think, however, that he would have protected Jerry Sandusky to avoid bad publicity is simply not realistic. If Joe Paterno had understood what Sandusky was, a fear of bad publicity would not have factored into his actions.
"We appreciate the effort that was put into this investigation. The issue we have with some of the conclusions is that they represent a judgment on motives and intentions and we think this is impossible. We have said from the beginning that Joe Paterno did not know Jerry Sandusky was a child predator. Moreover, Joe Paterno never interfered with any investigation. He immediately and accurately reported the incident he was told about in 2001.
"It can be argued that Joe Paterno should have gone further. He should have pushed his superiors to see that they were doing their jobs. We accept this criticism. At the same time, Joe Paterno and everyone else knew that Sandusky had been repeatedly investigated by authorities who approved his multiple adoptions and foster children. Joe Paterno mistakenly believed that investigators, law enforcement officials, University leaders and others would properly and fully investigate any issue and proceed as the facts dictated. This didn't happen and everyone shares the responsibility."
On NBC's TODAY show on Thursday morning, the coach's son, Jay Paterno, told host Matt Lauer that all the family has wanted is for an investigation to find the truth. "We have never ever at any time been afraid to see what people have had to say," and he called the Freeh report "one opinion, one piece of the puzzle." "We've never been afraid of the truth, so let's have the truth come out and let's go from there."
Former college president responds Former Penn State President Graham Spanier has come under particular scrutiny in recent weeks amid news reports suggesting he was made aware of suspicious activity involving Sandusky in 2001 and that no report of the incident was made to authorities.
"At no time in the more than 16 years of his presidency at Penn State was Dr. Spanier told of an incident involving Jerry Sandusky that described child abuse, sexual misconduct or criminality of any kind, and he reiterated that during his interview with Louis Freeh and his colleagues,'' Spanier's attorneys, Peter Vaira and Elizabeth Ainslie, said in a written statement.
An "independent" investigation
The investigation is billed by Pennsylvania State University as "independent," though the university is paying the law firm of Freeh, the former federal judge and director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Sandusky, 68, was found guilty of 45 counts of child sexual abuse last month and is currently in prison awaiting sentencing. He faces a maximum sentence of more than 400 years in prison.
Jim Prisching / AP file
How will Penn State's "independent report" affect the reputation of its much-beloved former football coach, Joe Paterno, who died after the scandal broke?
Gary Cameron / Reuters file
Former FBI Director Louis Freeh was hired in November to determine whether Penn State University officials knew about child sex abuse allegations against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
The Sandusky scandal led to the ouster of Spanier from the university presidency and Paterno, and charges against Timothy Curley, the athletic director who is on leave from the university, and Gary Schultz, the VP of finance and business who has since retired. The latter two are accused of perjury for their grand jury testimony and failing to properly report suspected child abuse.
Spanier hasn't been charged. He remains a tenured professor of sociology at Penn State. He has sued the university to gain access to internal emails that his attorneys say will exonerate him.
"In critical written correspondence that we uncovered on March 20th of this year, we see evidence of their proposed plan of action in February 2001 that included reporting allegations about Sandusky to the authorities. After Mr. Curley consulted with Mr. Paterno, however, they changed the plan and decided not to make a report to the authorities. Their failure to protect the February 9, 2001 child victim, or make attempts to identify him, created a dangerous situation for other unknown, unsuspecting young boys who were lured to the Penn State campus and football games by Sandusky and victimized repeatedly by him.
"The stated reasons by Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley for not taking action to identify the victim and for not reporting Sandusky to the police or Child Welfare are:
"(1) Through counsel, Messrs. Curley and Schultz have stated that the “humane” thing to do in 2001 was to carefully and responsibly assess the best way to handle vague but troubling allegations.
"(2) Mr. Paterno said that “I didn’t know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was. So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more expertise than I did. It didn’t work out that way.”
"(3) Mr. Spanier told the Special Investigative Counsel that he was never told by anyone that the February 2001 incident in the shower involved the sexual abuse of a child but only “horsing around.” He further stated that he never asked what “horsing around” by Sandusky entailed.
"Taking into account the available witness statements and evidence, it is more reasonable to conclude that, in order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at Penn State University – Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley – repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from the authorities, the Board of Trustees, Penn State community, and the public at large.
"Although concern to treat the child abuser humanely was expressly stated, no such sentiments were ever expressed by them for Sandusky’s victims.
"The evidence shows that these four men also knew about a 1998 criminal investigation of Sandusky relating to suspected sexual misconduct with a young boy in a Penn State football locker room shower. Again, they showed no concern about that victim. The evidence shows that Mr. Paterno was made aware of the 1998 investigation of Sandusky, followed it closely, but failed to take any action, even though Sandusky had been a key member of his coaching staff for almost 30 years, and had an office just steps away from Mr. Paterno’s. At the very least, Mr. Paterno could have alerted the entire football staff, in order to prevent Sandusky from bringing another child into the Lasch Building. Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley also failed to alert the Board of Trustees about the 1998 investigation or take any further action against Mr. Sandusky. None of them even spoke to Sandusky about his conduct. In short, nothing was done and Sandusky was allowed to continue with impunity."
Land deal for Second Mile charity According to the report, Schultz met with Second Mile officials on July 24, 2001, or six months after McQueary reported seeing Sandusky abusing a boy in a Penn State locker room, and agreed to sell 40 acres of land to the organization. The land, purchased by the university in 1999, was adjacent to the home where Sandusky started the Second Mile. It would be used to build the Second Mile's $11.5 million dollar "Center For Excellence."
In September 2001, the university's Board of Trustees approved the sale to Sandusky's charity for $168,500.
The report states that neither Spanier, Curley nor Schultz informed the Board of Trustees of the 1998 or 2001 investigations of Sandusky:
"Nothing in the board's records or interviews of Trustees indicate any contemporaneous discussions of the 2001 Sandusky incident and investigation, the propriety of a continuing relationship between Penn State and the Second Mile, or the risks created by a public association with Sandusky when the land transaction was discussed," the Freeh report says.
"Schultz, who oversaw the transaction, did not make any disclosure of the Sandusky incident during the Board's review of the land deal. In fact, Schultz approved a press release, issued September 21, 2001, announcing the land sale in which he praised Sandusky for his work with Second Mile."
Eight years later, according to the report, Schultz contacted a bank on behalf of Sandusky and the Second Mile, in an effort to secure financing for the Center for Excellence. In 2009 he told officials from an unnamed bank that "the Second Mile is raising funds to support an expansion of their facilities here in State College…Would you be agreeable to meet with Jerry Sandusky…and me? They are really good people and this is a great cause related to kids."
Signature Medical Spa in Tampa, Fla., in an online pitch for its “Lipo-Ex Spring Fling Fat-Off!,” described the technology as “truly the only non-invasive way to reduce fat.”
Praise also came from Sculpt Medical Spa in Chicago, which called the procedure “the most innovative, effective, and technologically advanced” non-surgical method of removing fat.
Doctors have appeared on TV news shows in Houston, Phoenix and Miami to promote LipoTron treatments.
These testimonials have translated into millions of dollars in sales for physicians, med spas, and the device’s manufacturer, RevecoMED International of Fullerton, Calif.
But there’s a problem: The LipoTron, which targets fat with radiofrequency waves, has never been cleared or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which would make it illegal under federal law to sell or promote it for weight loss.
The FDA is aware of the activity. But an investigation by FairWarning found that the agency has not taken enforcement action — even though it has known about the situation at least since January, 2010. At that time, two whistleblowers, one a former LipoTron distributor, provided sales records and a trove of other documents to an FDA criminal investigator.
The case spotlights the booming, multi-billion-dollar business of aesthetic medicine—and the willingness of some doctors and med spas to use unapproved devices as they vie to be first with the latest technologies to smooth wrinkles, tighten skin and sculpt the body.
The FDA won’t say if it is investigating Reveco, citing a policy not to discuss investigations or acknowledge if there is one.
For his part, RevecoMED President James S. Rosen said the agency hasn’t contacted the company. He asserted that, “As of today, we are compliant with the FDA.”
Still, for observers such as Dr. Patricia K. Farris, a clinical associate professor of medicine at Tulane University and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology, the situation is baffling.
Told of the unauthorized sales, Farris responded: “It shocks me the FDA would not have cracked down on them.”
“I mean, radiofrequency is an electrical device, and you can’t just be throwing these things in the marketplace without doing the right studies to make sure that, A, the device is safe and, B, that the thing does something and has some benefit.”
Dr. Suzanne Yee, a Little Rock, Ark., plastic surgeon whom Reveco asked several years ago to take part in a LipoTron study, said she was surprised to learn that the company already was selling the device.
She noted that some medical spas have falsely stated on their websites that the LipoTron is FDA-approved. “It’s not FDA-approved,” Yee said. “I think that’s dishonest.”
There have been scattered incidents of patients receiving minor shocks and burns from LipoTron treatments, but no known reports of serious injury.
While the FDA has failed to act, the Texas Department of State Health Services issued a warning letter last September to a Fort Worth distributor for marketing the LipoTron without FDA clearance. According to an agency report, Mark Durante, managing partner of Advanced Aesthetic Concepts, told state investigators that the LipoTron had been cleared by the FDA, but later corrected himself to say paperwork had been filed but no clearance yet given.
Durante told FairWarning that, in response to the warning, his company changed some language on its website. However, a spokeswoman for the Texas agency said it recently opened a second complaint investigation of Advanced Aesthetic Concepts.
Selling for as much as $85,000, the LipoTron passes radiofrequency waves through the body to heat, and destroy, fat cells. According to Reveco, the procedure targets subcutaneous fat, which is just below the skin, as well as visceral fat surrounding the vital organs, but without harming adjacent tissues. Spas typically recommend six to eight treatments for about $400 each.
According to interviews and records, Reveco first sought a green light from the FDA in 2007. It chose the FDA’s market clearance procedure, which is less demanding than the formal approval process.
To get a new device cleared this way, the manufacturer must show it is similar in safety and effectiveness to products that are already on the market.
However, Reveco’s bid failed. The company’s initial application “wasn’t in-depth enough,” Rosen said, and the FDA repeatedly sought additional data. Finally, according to Rosen, “We said, ‘You know what, it’s not worth it.”
According to interviews and a document reviewed by FairWarning, the FDA then told Reveco that the device could not be marketed.
LipoTron sales continued, however. Rosen wouldn’t disclose how many of the devices have been sold, but the number is believed to be in the low hundreds.
In 2011, Reveco took another tack with the FDA. It classified the LipoTron as a massager used for relief of minor pain. That would make it, in FDA parlance, a Class 1 device — a category that includes such simple, low-risk items as elastic bandages and examination gloves.
The advantage for Reveco is that massagers can be sold without a green light from the FDA. They automatically are exempt from FDA review and can be put on the market once a notice is filed.
Yet doctors and med spas have been promoting the device on the Internet not for massages but for removing fat.
Rosen said that was not Reveco’s responsibility, stating that the company can’t dictate what doctors do or “police everything out on the Internet.”
Asked who would pay $85,000 for a massager, Rosen replied: “Anybody that wants to buy it.”
Physicians are free under federal law to prescribe unapproved, or “off-label,” uses of drugs or medical devices — but only if the products have been cleared or approved for another purpose, according to the FDA.
FDA spokeswoman Sarah Clark-Lynn said in an email that if a device is not legally on the market, “a physician should not have been able to obtain it, much less use it on a patient.”
Dr. Sherwood Baxt, a New Jersey plastic surgeon who advertised the procedure in a promotional video, said that when he bought the LipoTron he wasn’t troubled by its lack of FDA clearance. He explained that he had used unapproved devices before and, while he considered the agency’s green light a marketing advantage, he didn’t consider it necessary.
Besides, Baxt said, “We were told FDA approval was imminent.” It didn’t work out that way, however, and, he said, “After two years, I just stopped asking.”
He continues to use the device for skin tightening on certain patients but quit using it for fat reduction. For fat reduction, Baxt said, “It wasn’t as effective as I thought it was going to be.”
The FDA was informed of the unauthorized sales through an anonymous call. Paige Peterson, a former LipoTron distributor, and Belinda W. Worley, a marketing consultant who worked with her, told FairWarning they dialed in from a hospital phone in hopes the call could not be traced.
But they agreed to meet with criminal investigator Evan Rae a few days later at a Hilton inn in Waco, mid-way between Rae’s office in Austin and Dallas, where Peterson and Worley lived.
They found a quiet spot in the lobby bar, which was closed in the morning, and talked for a couple of hours. Peterson said she gave Rae a detailed statement, a computer flash drive and copies of records, including emails, memos and invoices. Rae taped the conversation and snapped photos of the LipoTron 3000 the women had brought along. Rae declined to be interviewed.
Peterson told FairWarning she had made 39 LipoTron sales, even though she was aware the device had not been cleared by the FDA. The evidence she gave Rae “was just as damning of me as everybody else. I have zero assurances that the FDA is not going to arrest me.”
Peterson admitted there was no love lost between her and Reveco. She said she had paid out-of-pocket for some research costs aimed at getting FDA approval, but had not been reimbursed. And she said the company dumped her as a distributor in favor of another sales group.
But Peterson also said Reveco had misled her with repeated assurances it was taking all proper steps and FDA approval was imminent—and spread this misinformation to some anxious customers.
“I had run out of acceptable answers to give the doctors that had purchased the LipoTron,” she said. “I needed to fall on my sword and tell the truth.” Better to come clean, Peterson decided, than to wait for the FDA “to come knocking on my door.”
While declining to comment on Peterson’s statements, Rosen said she had gone over to “the dark side.”
“She’s a person that’s vindictive,” he said. “She’s doing it out of spite.”
For her part, Peterson says that after 2½ years she is surprised and frustrated by the apparent lack of action.
“Why do we have an FDA?” she asked.
“I tried to do what I thought was right, and nobody’s doing anything about it. Everybody gets to thumb their nose at the law.”
FairWarning.org is an online, nonprofit publication that seeks to provide robust, public interest journalism on issues of health, safety and corporate conduct.