Friday, August 18, 2017

Dumb & Dumber III: The Settlement

Settlement Reached in Torture Case:

A settlement in the lawsuit against two psychologists who helped devise the Central Intelligence Agency’s brutal interrogation program was announced on Thursday, bringing to an end an unusual effort to hold individuals accountable for the techniques the agency adopted after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Lawyers for the three plaintiffs in the suit, filed in 2015 in Federal District Court in Spokane, Wash., said the former prisoners were tortured at secret C.I.A. detention sites. The settlement with the psychologists, Dr. Bruce Jessen and Dr. James Mitchell, came after a judge last month urged resolving the case before it headed to a jury trial in early September.
The plaintiffs — two former detainees and the family of a third who died in custody — had sought unspecified punitive and compensatory damages. The terms of the settlement are confidential, and it is unclear whether a financial payout was involved. The parties agreed to a joint statement in which the psychologists said that they had advised the C.I.A. and that the plaintiffs had suffered abuses, but that they were not responsible.
Speaking by phone after the settlement was announced, Dr. Mitchell said he found it “regrettable that one guy died and those other guys were treated badly,” adding: “We had nothing to do with it. We’re not responsible for it. They say we are, but in my view they’re wrong.”
And yet you settled anyway, doc. Just like accepting a pardon indicates a level of culpability and guilt, settling a law suit implies a degree of responsibility on behalf of the defendants. So I guess that's as close as we'll ever come to seeing Dumb and Dumber get their just deserts in this entire sordid manner.

I will say this, however: the articles have referred to them both as "Dr's" Jessen and Mitchell, implying they are still practicing psychologists, but according to this statement, the APA stripped them of their designation and ability to ever practice psychotherapy again several years ago. As uneasy and incredulous as this settlement is, at least they'll never set foot near a patient again. 

Now if their degree-granting institutions (mail order though they probably were) would strip them of their graduate degrees, we can take out the "doctor" salutation completely and refer to these clowns for what and who they are: dumb and dumber.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Thin Gray Line

46 Georgia Correctional Officers Sentenced for Drug Smuggling:

One by one, dozens of Georgia correctional officers have gone from being guards to being the guarded.
The last of 46 one-time prison guards will be sentenced this week for using their uniforms and badges to smuggle what they believed to be cocaine and methamphetamine for the inmate Ghost Face gang. They are now prisoners themselves, much like the men and women they were once paid to watch.
The operation — much of it captured on video — is one of the biggest corruption scandals ever to hit Georgia’s prison system.
Once federal and prison agents started looking, “one institution would lead to another institution,” Erskine said. Federal authorities launched an elaborate sting operation in which an informant offered prison guards cash for moving what they believed to be drugs. Many took them up on it.
Only two of the officers avoided prison, getting probation instead. The rest have already received sentences ranging from 18 months to 9 1/2 years in a federal penitentiary. The last of the 46 officers is to be sentenced Thursday.
Prosecutors said there is no doubt the guards knew what they were getting into.
“It’s troubling that so many officers from state correctional institutions across Georgia were willing to sell their badges for personal payoffs from purported drug dealers,” U.S. Attorney John Horn said when the arrests were announced.
Horn said the officers “betrayed the institutions they were sworn to protect.”
They certainly did, but their motivations (i.e. mens rea) are dismissed rather blithely in the article, and by federal authorities.
Georgia’s correctional officers make between $27,936 and $41,296 a year. This year, they got a significant pay bump. But those supporting a family on a correction officers’ salary may still make so little money that they qualify or Medicaid or fall below the federal poverty level.
And while there was no single reason offered for what led the officers to agree to team up with a prison gang, money was at the root of the problem.
[However], authorities had little sympathy for those who became caught up in the arrests.
“It’s greed that put them into this. They knew they were breaking the law. Period,” said Clay Nix, who is head of the criminal division of the Georgia Department of Corrections’ internal affairs unit. “This woke everybody up to the problem we had.”
I'm not sure "greed" is an explanatory factor when we're talking about scores of people making (median) $35,000 a year who have families to feed, some of whom are on medicaid, and all of whom work 40 hours a week guarding, in some cases, the most dangerous convicts around. Unlike law enforcement officers, where potentially anyone you come in contact with could do you harm, in corrections everyone you come in contact with could do you harm. Shouldn't that warrant more than $35,000 a year?

Low pay doesn't excuse breaking the law (although the way this "sting" went down, issues of entrapment are certainly in play on appeal), but to dismiss the temptation to make a little extra scratch to help pay the rent or buy food as simple "greed" is shortsighted.

And incidentally, even though this particular operation was about enticing them to move drugs into the prisons, it's not just narcotics that inmates want.
So far this year, DOC has seized almost 5,000 cell phones from inmates. Just since July 1, corrections officials have found 750 wireless devices in prisons.
The criminal charges and shaming photographs of officers who helped inmates posted just inside prison entrances have done little to slow the problem.
It’s the money, officials say.
Then here's a simple solution: pay them more.

The black market in prison has everything...drugs, cell phones, cigarettes, alcohol, sex, you name it. If it can be brought in for black market purposes, it will be. And while it's mostly about money, the issue of coercion is never mentioned in the article.

Coercion is rather easy to apply in that world. Prison gangs have long tentacles in the community, and it doesn't take too many degrees of separation for an inmate to get the address and family information of these CO's and use it to blackmail them into contraband running. "That's a pretty wife and kids you got there, Officer Smith, it'd be a shame if something happened to them while you were here at work." Etc. That kind of shit goes on in prison every single day, which makes it rather surprising the reporter never explored said angle.

Regardless, it's been well documented in the penological literature over the years that systems who pay their correctional officers more have lower levels of corruption (e.g., and ironically, the federal system). Period. You want to crack down on corruption in corrections? Pay them more.

Sure you'll always have a few bad apples who will do these things, but you certainly won't have scores of officers being tempted by corruption if we pay them the worth of the work they are being asked to provide.

Lock 'em up and throw away the key comes with a pricetag. And frankly, I'd rather pay these officers more money, than spend it on running sting operations and ultimately incarcerating them, which is a helluva lot more expensive in the end.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Wells Fargo: Organized Crime (And "Baby Seal Clubbers")

While the rest of the nation was (rightly) transfixed on the terrorist attacks in Charlottesville, VA this past weekend, this little gem spilled out regarding my favorite group of mobsters, er, big bankers, Wells Fargo:

Wells Fargo has already admitted to charging people for overdrawing bank accounts that they didn't have and for car insurance that they didn't need. Now, it's being accused of ripping off vulnerable mom-and-pop businesses.

For several years, Wells Fargo's merchant services division overcharged small businesses for processing credit card transactions, a lawsuit alleges. Business owners who tried to leave Wells Fargo were charged "massive early termination fees," according to the lawsuit filed in US District Court. 

The "overbilling scheme" targeted less sophisticated businesses by using "deceptive language" in a 63-page contract designed to confuse them, the lawsuit filed on August 4 claims. The lawyer filed court documents to seek class action status.

The latest controversy centers on Wells Fargo Merchant Services, a joint venture that is 60% owned by Wells Fargo and 40% controlled by First Data (FDC).

A former employee of the Wells Fargo (WFC) business told CNNMoney that he was instructed to target these small businesses.

"We used to be told to go out and club the baby seals: mom-pop-shops that had no legal support," he said in an interview. The former Wells Fargo employee spoke on the condition of anonymity, but CNNMoney verified that he worked for Wells Fargo Merchant Services.

The former Wells Fargo employee told CNNMoney that when he worked there, from 2011 to 2013, it was nearly impossible for business owners to leave the merchant agreement. "God would have had a hard time" escaping the contract, he said. "It really was like a shady used car deal."
It was exactly like a shady used car deal, just like most of Wells Fargo's business practices going back the past 15 years.

Just before vacation, my last post was on yet another revelation regarding Wells Fargo's criminal actions (and that post has all kinds of links regarding WF's criminal actions I and others have been documenting since the Great Recession meltdown nearly a decade ago). It's like you can't even go away for a few days to relax and boom, another WF scheme or heist comes to light.
The overbilling allegations are the latest black eye for Wells Fargo. Nearly a year ago, the bank admitted it created some two million potentially unauthorized bank and credit card accounts. Wells Fargo recently said an ongoing review of earlier accounts is likely to reveal many more fake accounts.

Wells Fargo has taken countless steps to try to fix its broken culture, including reforming the unrealistic sales goals that were at the heart of the scandal. The bank has also replaced its senior management and conducted an exhaustive internal investigation that uncovered red flags going back to 2004.
Sure, "replaced its senior management," but no one ever went to prison for these crimes, and despite having shelled out billions in "fines" to former investors and the government itself, not one mid-level or senior executive ever did time in the joint for what has amounted to massive rip off and extortion of its customer base for nearly 15 years.

BTW, if you "club baby seals" you can expect to do 5-10 years of hard time for animal cruelty and various violations of the Endangered Species Act. We guarantee prison time for crimes like this to DETER people from breaking the law.

But club mom and pop small business owners with extortion (er, "fees" to do business)? Shake down your auto loan customers? Steal people's homes out from under them via foreclosure fraud? Just pay your fine and carry on. 

Again, this past weekend brought into broad daylight the vileness, bigotry, and hatred of the "alt-right" and its attendant Nazis, Confederates and other disciples of losing hateful causes. And we are rightly appalled.

But honestly, when you get right down to it, do you know what the difference is between the Nazi white supremacists in Charlottesville this weekend, and the upper management at Wells Fargo for the past 15 years?

There is no difference. Criminals are criminals, and sociopaths are sociopaths. And no amount of fancy clothes, or suits, or sham pedigree credentials can distinguish between the two.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Vacation

See you in a few.

Wells Fargo: Insurance Fraud

Is there any kind of criminal activity Wells Fargo didn't engage in the past decade or so?

More than 800,000 people who took out car loans from Wells Fargo were charged for auto insurance they did not need, and some of them are still paying for it, according to an internal report prepared for the bank’s executives.
The expense of the unneeded insurance, which covered collision damage, pushed roughly 274,000 Wells Fargo customers into delinquency and resulted in almost 25,000 wrongful vehicle repossessions, according to the 60-page report, which was obtained by The New York Times. Among the Wells Fargo customers hurt by the practice were military service members on active duty.
Wells Fargo, one of the largest banks in the United States, is struggling to repair its image after a scandal in which its employees created millions of credit card and bank accounts that customers had never requested. That crisis, which came to a head last year, toppled Wells Fargo’s chief executive and led to millions of dollars in fines.
But no jail time for upper management.
The bank also stands accused of having made improper adjustments to the terms of the home loans of customers who were in bankruptcy, which Wells Fargo denies.

Asked about the findings on auto insurance, Wells Fargo officials confirmed that the improper insurance practices took place and said the bank was determined to make customers whole.
LOL. What.
“We have a huge responsibility and fell short of our ideals for managing and providing oversight of the third-party vendor and our own operations,” Franklin R. Codel, the head of consumer lending at Wells Fargo, said in an interview. “We self-identified this issue, and we made the right business decisions to end the placement of the product.”
Self-identified. It's like kid who's about to be ratted out for cheating, going to the teacher, confessing, and saying "clearly I fell short of my ideals, but self-identifying should make us good, right?" Or the bank robber about to be busted doing the same. Or the (fill in the criminal thuggery blank).

Not only were the customers not being told of this "additional insurance," but states whose own laws mandate customers be told of such a thing weren't told either.
State insurance regulations required Wells Fargo to notify customers of the insurance before it was imposed. But the bank did not always do so, the report said. And almost 100,000 of the policies violated the disclosure requirements of five states — Arkansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Tennessee and Washington.
Wells Fargo took issue with some of the figures in its own report. In a statement, Jennifer A. Temple, a bank spokeswoman, said the bank determined only 570,000 of its customers may qualify for a refund and that just 60,000 customers in the five states had not received complete disclosures before the insurance placement. Finally, she said, the bank estimated the insurance may have contributed to 20,000 wrongful repossessions, not 25,000.
“We take full responsibility for these errors and are deeply sorry for any harm we caused customers,” Ms. Temple added.
Uh, no, Jen, these weren't "errors," they were crimes. Again from my analogy above: it's like the kids who cheated saying "I take full responsibility for this error and am deeply sorry for any harm I've caused the class." Or the bank robber. Or the (fill in the criminal thuggery blank).
Requiring borrowers to be insured is common in the mortgage arena, where banks expect customers to carry enough homeowners’ insurance to protect the property backing their loans. The term for the practice is “lender-placed insurance.” Pressing such insurance on auto borrowers, however, is not as common: Representatives of Bank of America, Citibank and JPMorgan Chase said they did not offer the policies, though some smaller banks do.
Kind of ironic, isn't it? "Lender-placed insurance" for mortgages is mandated by law and perfectly acceptable. And states also mandate, by law, that drivers be insured before being allowed to purchase a tag or obtain a license. 

But mandatory health insurance? Why, gasp, that's socialism! Communism! Obama!
Here is how the process worked: When customers financed cars with Wells Fargo, the buyers’ information would go to National General, which was supposed to check a database to see if the owner had insurance coverage. If not, the insurer would automatically impose coverage on the customers’ accounts, adding an extra layer of premiums and interest to their loans.
When customers who checked their bills saw the charges and notified Wells Fargo that they already had car insurance, the bank was supposed to cancel the insurance and credit the borrower with the amount that had been charged.
The Oliver Wyman report indicated that many customers appear not to have notified Wells Fargo of the redundant insurance. This may have been because their payments were deducted automatically from their bank accounts and they did not spot the charges.
Wells Fargo was also aggressive in repossessing vehicles: Some customers endured multiple repossessions, the report said.
Nice. Repossessing homes, repossessing vehicles, garnishing people's accounts, identity theft, bilking people's credit lines...Christ, the Mob isn't even that good.

And to reiterate one more time for the addled out there: not one single person from Wells Fargo ever went to prison for any of these crimes (you can read here how long I've been writing about the WF mafia). Not one. And while several low-level peons were fired back during the fake account/credit heist from a few years ago, not one single upper-level exec was removed (well, the former prez pulled his multi-million dollar golden parachute and "retired" early). 

Open check book (if you can figure out whose is whose), pay your fine, and go forth with promises not to commit any more crimes, er, "errors." Ain't America grand?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Free O.J. (Again)

O.J. Simpson Wins Parole:

O. J. Simpson, the former football hero and actor whose good-guy image vanished when he was accused of murdering his ex-wife and her friend, will go free after serving nine years in a Nevada prison on charges stemming from an armed robbery, a state parole board ruled on Thursday.
Mr. Simpson, who turned 70 this month, went before the board as a man convicted of taking a group of accomplices, two of them armed with guns, to a cheap Las Vegas hotel room in 2007 to take hundreds of items from a sports memorabilia dealer. But it is the 1994 murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, for which he was acquitted after the most-watched trial in history, that have cast the longer, darker shadow over his life and reputation.
After the robbery conviction in 2008, a judge sentenced Mr. Simpson to nine to 33 years in state prison, making him eligible for parole for the first time on Oct. 1. Based on his age and the fact that he was viewed as a model prisoner, the Nevada Board of Parole Commissioners granted his release the first time it was considered, rather than denying parole and making him wait years for another chance.
I really hope, for symmetry's sake, they release him on October 3rd. That was the day of his homicide acquittal in 1995, the day he was convicted of armed robbery and burglary in Vegas in 2008, and my f'ing birthday, which he's been ruining on and off since.

I wrote about the Juice last year, for the first time in years and years, when the plethora of documentaries came out reviving interest in him and his cases, and made the following observation:
Nonetheless, slowed down by the years in prison (the picture above was from 2015 when an appeal was rejected), the Juice comes up for parole in 2017. I would have bet against him getting it before these new documentaries and movies about him, but now that interest has been generated again on a national scale, I'm not so sure he won't be back on the streets by the end of 2017.

And the reaction will still be notable to watch.
It sure will.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Life With Parole

Invisible Punishments Haunt Former Inmates:

Parolees may not live behind bars, but they are far from free. Their parole officers have enormous power to dictate whom they can see, where they can go, and whether they are allowed to do perfectly legal things like have a beer. Breaking those rules can land a parolee back in jail — the decision is up to the parole officer.

Addiction is only one of the many challenges faced by those getting out. As prison populations drop, the number of parolees is increasing — people with layer upon layer of disadvantages that often date back to early childhood. For more than a year, “Frontline” and The New York Times followed newly released prisoners as they tried to find homes and jobs, reconnect with loved ones and avoid temptation, sometimes discovering that the system created to help them can also hold them back.

One of them could not buy his daughter the Christmas present she wanted because the halfway house controlled his spending; another, living in her own apartment, was told her boyfriend could not spend the night. For their part, parole officers were making difficult calls about the best interests of their charges, while navigating safety rules such as the one that affected Mr. Brantley: no contact between parolees and their past victims.
Which oftentimes includes family members and significant others...the very people who offer the only semblance of a support system for the inmates when they are paroled from prison.

 But the domestic violence concerns are real and valid.
“Flip this on the side,” Richard Sparaco, the executive director of the State Board of Pardons and Paroles, said about keeping the couple apart. “Who would be at fault here if no one paid attention and all of a sudden that victim was murdered by that person? It would be: ‘Parole, they knew about this and they did not protect this person.’”
And of course, all it takes is one case gone wrong, that gets sensationalized by the media, and pretty soon we're dropping even more draconian restrictions on probation or parole.

The Frontline documentary airs tomorrow night (7/18) and is already streaming online via the Frontline website. I've only watched a few minutes of it, but I can already predict it will become a staple of my 3150 punishment class going forward.

Most of the criminal justice reform rhetoric today, as I've said countless times on this blog, focuses on (rightly) getting people out of prison and jail. But if all we're doing is stuffing probation and parole to the gills, with overworked parole and probation officers carrying caseloads of 50, 150 or even 300 cases at a time, we're just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Reentry has to become more holistic and address the issues central to criminality (lack of jobs, drug treatment, education, etc.). And using probation and parole without addressing these issues is a dishonest shell game that only serves to cover up the fact that we simply punish too many people, for too many crimes of inconsequence, in the United States.

Punitiveness has a price tag, and the 5 million people rotating in and out of probation and parole at any given time are the collateral damage.