February 3, 2015

How Investigations Get Started

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: — Bill @ 8:29 am

Bribery-BCA-2011Occasionally a television news story provides the station’s watchers, listeners, and online readers with a concise but fairly complete picture of how a city councilman’s official actions can prompt a federal criminal investigation.  That was the case when Hampton Roads, Virginia, television station WVEC ran its February 2, 2015, news story entitled FBI investigating Beach councilman’s vote on Cavalier project.

Not counting the attachment to the federal grand jury subpoena detailing the records which the city of Virginia Beach, Virgina, Custodian of Records is required to bring before the grand jury, the news story is only about 575 words.

WVEC’s news story suggests someone credibly alleged that Virginia Beach Councilman John Uhrin may have accepted a bribe or gratuity in return for his favorable vote on a project providing a developer millions of dollars in taxpayer incentives to renovate a hotel and allow a permit for a luxury housing community.  It appears that the bribe or gratuity alleged took the form of Uhrin’s wife being hired to market the homes in the project in return for Councilman Uhrin’s favorable vote.  (Generally, a bribe is a payoff for future official action, whereas a gratuity is a payoff for a prior official action.)

Note that at this point, the FBI is only conducting an investigation.  The function of the investigation is to gather verifiable, relevant facts which would allow the federal grand jury to decide if there is sufficient admissible evidence to warrant indicting anyone with a crime.

February 2, 2015

And the Difference Is …?

Filed under: Probable Cause — Bill @ 12:12 pm

puzzled2Today’s Idaho Statesman is reporting that the Chairman of the Idaho House State Affairs Committee, Representative Thomas F.  Loertscher, ordered a private citizen to stop filming the public meeting of the State Affairs Committee.  At the same time Loertscher allowed a member of “the media” to continue filming.

So was it a public meeting or not?  If it was, and assuming the citizen was not being any more disruptive than the skews media representative allowed to continue, then was Loertscher right or wrong?

Here is what Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden says in the Idaho Open Meeting Law Manual (see pages 14-15) about this type of circumstance:

Question No. 18:  May qualifications or restrictions be placed on the public’s attendance at an open meeting?

Answer:   A public agency may adopt reasonable rules and regulations to ensure the orderly conduct of a public meeting and to ensure the orderly behavior on the part of those persons attending the meeting.  In Nevens v. City of Chino, a California appellate court nullified a city council measure, which prohibited the use of any tape recorders at city council proceedings.  While acknowledging that the city council had an absolute right to adopt and enforce rules and regulations necessary to protect its public meetings, the court held that the rule prohibiting tape recorders was too arbitrary, capricious, restrictive and unreasonable.  A similar holding might be reach if a governing body prohibits the use of cameras if their presence is not in fact disruptive of the conduct of the meeting. […]

If the AG has adopted that the sole criterion for the use of cameras is the level of disruption and not the occupation or employer of the camera operator, it seems to OpenCdA that the Idaho Open Meeting Law was violated and the private citizen was wrongly deprived of his ability to non-disruptively use his camera and record for inclusion in his blog.

What are Loertscher’s criteria for differentiating between “media public” and “public public?”  It seems to us that if only the “public public” is required to get prior permission from the Chairman, the implication is that the Chairman may deny that permission to the “public public” while still allowing the “media public” to record.  That would, we think, be arbitrary, capricious, restrictive, and unreasonable and amount to differential and preferential enforcement of the Idaho Open Meeting Act.

What do you think?

January 29, 2015

And the Difference Is … What?

Filed under: Probable Cause — Bill @ 7:35 am

puzzled2Yesterday’s local skewspaper article headlined Athol audit results revealed included this statement:  “[Assistant US Attorney Traci] Whelan said the federal government got involved in the case because Hansen was a public employee in a position of public trust.”

Fine.  That was certainly an acceptable reason.

But from 1985 until she retired in 2010, Sandra Kay Martinson was a public employee in a position of public trust as Kootenai County Chief Deputy Clerk and Auditing Supervisor embezzling public money in the office of former Kootenai County Clerk Dan English.  Yet when English’s replacement Cliff Hayes requested assistance from the FBI, his request was first approved and then just as quickly withdrawn.  According to the FBI’s response to our inquiry through Congressman Raul Labrador, Hayes’ request (not ours as AD Perkins incorrectly stated in his letter) was turned down by AUSA Whelan’s boss, the office of the US Attorney for the District of Idaho Wendy J. Olson.  Martinson was convicted in state court and sentenced to 90 days in the county jail, however she was released from jail before she completed that sentence.

So if the reason for the feds getting involved in Hansen’s investigation was because she was a public employee in a position of public trust, then why did the US Attorney for the District of Idaho tell the FBI to back off on Martinson?

January 28, 2015

Don’t Ask Questions!!

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: — Bill @ 3:18 pm

RedFlagSuppose you’re an honest and diligent elected or appointed official in northern Idaho.

Or maybe you’re a planning commissioner or a city councilman in Coeur d’Alene.  Or maybe you’re a newly-elected county clerk with a competent and honest chief deputy.  Or maybe you’re a trustee in the local school district or community college.  Or maybe you’re a city councilman in Athol.

Or maybe you’re among the many honest citizens who have seen and experienced dishonesty, deception, and signs of criminal exploitation among a distressing number of elected and appointed officials so you have turned to your local or county or state government and tried to report what you have observed.

If you’re one of the people among the aforementioned groups who want responsive, honest government, you all have one thing in common:  You’ve very likely been told in one way or another to sit down, shut up, and don’t ask questions.  “It’s not your responsibility.”  Except you know it is. (more…)

January 21, 2015

Update: Athol City Clerk Admits Guilt

Filed under: Probable Cause — Bill @ 4:36 pm

casewatchAccording to a press release from the United States Attorney for the District of Idaho, former Athol City Clerk Sally R. Hansen  pleaded guilty today to 15 counts of wire fraud.

“According to court documents, during the time of her employment, Hansen used the wires and fraudulently took $417,879 from the City of Athol.  She did this by writing fraudulent checks to herself and her husband and using the wires to transfer money between different city accounts.

The maximum penalty for each count is up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, three years of supervised release and $100 special assessment.”

Our January 10, 2015, post entitled “They Just Didn’t Do It” provided some details about how Hansen committed her crimes.  With city officials paying little attention to what she was doing, it wasn’t difficult.

You’re Fired!

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: , — Bill @ 7:54 am

embezzlementOpenCdA’s post on January 16, 2015, told readers how easily an employee of the city of Pasadena, CA, was able to allegedly embezzle about $5 million from the city.  We commented that a public entity’s supervisor(s) have a duty to competently and diligently administer their departments and supervise their subordinates so that kind of criminal activity can not occur.

In its article headlined Pasadena fires two ranking administrators amid embezzlement case, today’s Los Angeles Times is reporting that as a result of the arrest of former Pasadena employee Danny Wooten for allegedly masterminding the embezzlement, the city has fired Pasadena Finance Department Director Andrew Green and Public Works Department Director Siobhan Foster.  The city’s spokesflack confirmed the firings were related to the alleged embezzlement.

It’s apparent that the city of Pasadena, CA, understands that when an employee has allegedly been able to carry on an embezzlement over a period of several years, the employer must look at the diligence and quality of supervision of the employee and administration and auditing of financial programs.

OpenCdA wishes  Coeur d’Alene’s mayor and council had responded similarly after city Finance Department employee Sheryl Carroll was convicted of embezzlement and sentenced to 40 months in federal prison in 2013.  But as we’ve noticed in Coeur d’Alene, looking the other way is often easier and more politically expedient that acting responsibly and appropriately.

January 16, 2015

More Lax Public Officials — Cost: $5 Million

Filed under: Probable Cause — Bill @ 8:36 am

embezzlementOfficials of local governments as well as school and community college districts have a  duty to act in the best interests of their constituents.  Too many officials are either unintentionally unaware or intentionally disregarding that duty and the penalties that can be imposed if they fail to diligently and honestly perform them.    When those officials fail to diligently and impartially perform their oversight duties, dishonest insiders (usually trusted and long-time employees) exploit those failures for personal gain.

We have seen that in Kootenai County with the convictions of former Kootenai County Chief Deputy Clerk and Auditing Supervisor Sandra Martinson and former Coeur d’Alene City Finance Department Payroll Coordinator Sheryl Carroll.  Recently former Athol City Clerk Sally Hansen has been charged in federal court with wire fraud and stealing approximately $400,000 from the city during her five years of employment.

But Idaho isn’t the only place where lax oversight by supervisors can lead to embezzlement and grand theft.  In Pasadena, California,  the Los Angeles Times is reporting that Pastor Danny Wooten has been accused of embezzling over $5 million during the ten years he was working as a management analyst for the city of Pasadena.  The January 15, 2015, Times article is headlined Pasadena embarrassed by charges that employee embezzled $5 million.

If you carefully read the Times article, you are going to see some of the same things we heard in the Martinson and Carroll cases. (more…)

January 14, 2015

New First District Court Judge to Be Appointed

Filed under: Probable Cause — Bill @ 8:19 am

Judge copyAccording to this vacancy announcement posted on the Idaho Judicial Council website, First District Court Judge Benjamin Simpson will retire on April 30, 2015.  A replacement will be appointed to fill out his unexpired term of office.

The deadline for receiving applications was January 5, 2015.  Here is a list of the applicants.

Members of the Idaho Judicial Council will meet in Coeur d’Alene in March 2015 to interview candidates and select nominees.   We don’t know if the interviews will be public.

The public may provide input to the Idaho Judicial Council about who from the list of applicants should be the next First District Court Judge.  Here is the public questionnaire which the public must use to submit comments (positive or negative) about applicants.

January 12, 2015

The Key to Innovation

Filed under: Probable Cause — Bill @ 7:13 pm

InnovationWhat is the key to innovation?  Advanced technology?  Nope!

As this story in the Coeur d’Alene Press shows, advanced technology (in this case SMS – short message service, more commonly called text messaging) would have been ineffective had it not been for the innovative application of the technology by Post Falls Police Department dispatchers.

The key to innovation is people equipped first and foremost with nimble minds, people who are creative and innovative and unafraid to try something differently.  In this case, a life was probably saved by dispatchers who creatively applied a tool provided to be used for a somewhat different purpose.  Good for them, and good for the people who hired, trained, and supervise them!

A Wise Investment

Filed under: Probable Cause — Bill @ 4:38 pm

mesa_1_1 RESIZED

OpenCdA could not help noticing that at least according to the Sunday Coeur d’Alene Press skewspaper article headlined A matter of public safety, newly-hired Police Chief Lee White wants to equip the Coeur d’Alene Police Department with a mobile command center (mouse click photo at left to enlarge) and a crime scene vehicle.

He estimated the combined cost of the two specialized vehicles would be approximately $300,000.

OpenCdA thinks that would be money well spent, a very wise investment. (more…)

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