Caleb O. Brown

Reporter at large (caleb.brown (symbol) gmail.com)

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

 

Son of Tax Plan: The Return

BY CALEB O. BROWN (for Louisville Eccentric Observer)

Gov. Ernie Fletcher’s tax plan is reborn, with changes here and there. A few of the tweaks have encouraged his ideological boosters, but some have left the same allies scratching their noggins.

Flashback to last March: The first Fletcher tax plan was unveiled just as legislators were in the final weeks of canoodling with the state budget. The “revenue-neutral” plan included cuts in corporate and personal income taxes, a 26-cent hike in the cigarette tax and various other tax cuts, hikes and shifts aimed at improving Kentucky’s standing in the region as a place to conduct business.

The General Assembly’s efforts went nowhere; one year later state government still lacks a formal spending plan. In that period, the governor’s rhetoric and tax plan have shifted, if only slightly.

“Revenue neutral is a term that we’ve used,” Fletcher said of his tax plan late last year. “I think tax neutral is probably a better term in the sense that we don’t want to increase taxes on working Kentuckians.”

Grover Norquist is president of the Americans for Tax Reform. During a visit to Fletcher last month to talk up tax reform efforts, he said, “I’m not sure I’m aware of the distinction.”

In 1986, ATR created an unqualified “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” that Norquist and Co. cajoled some federal and state legislators into signing. It’s a formal pledge to oppose all manner of tax increases. (In Kentucky, Fletcher, 17 of 38 senators, and 31 of 100 House members have signed the pledge.) Since Norquist’s January visit, a few Kentucky legislators, including state Rep. Steve Nunn, R-Glasgow, have divorced themselves from the pledge, saying they didn’t realize the promise to oppose tax hikes wouldn’t just wither away on its own. Norquist said Fletcher’s tax plan — its first version, anyway — passed muster.

Version 2.0

The second coming of the Fletcher tax plan has a few changes dictated by necessity. Hundreds of millions of dollars in new windfall revenues that are filling state coffers, the governor says, are already spoken for by Medicaid, state worker health insurance and state prisons.

But Fletcher’s changes have left would-be boosters underwhelmed.

Aside from a much larger cigarette tax hike, the plan also diverts millions of dollars in taxes on horse stud fees into a subsidy program for horse breeders. That portion of the plan was included at the behest of state Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, a horse industry executive. Thayer says stud fees generate $15 million a year for Kentucky’s general fund.

Thayer, while promoting Kentucky’s “best stallions in the world,” admits that Kentucky is the only major horse breeding state that taxes stud fees, an admission that perplexes Aaron Morris, a fiscal policy analyst at the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, a public policy watchdog group in Bowling Green.

“The best thing to do is just get rid of the tax on stud fees that we have right now,” Morris said. “What they’re trying to do is take with one hand and give back with the other. That entails a lot of bureaucracy. The question is, who are they going to take it from and who are going to be the net recipients from this?”

Bluegrass Institute President Chris Derry has resigned himself to the fact that smokers are going to fund much of the governor’s new spending preferences.

“They’ve gotten together and decided smokers are the ones that will be paying for all of this,” he said.

Derry and Morris long to see Fletcher borrow rhetoric from California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, namely the whole bit about, “[Insert state here] doesn’t have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem.” Both are happy to see Fletcher tackling tax reform, but they don’t think the state’s situation will improve significantly, even if Fletcher’s plan is followed to the letter.

Speaking to a tax forum audience in January at the University of Louisville, Lt. Gov. Steve Pence brought up the role of taxes in making the state competitive in attracting new businesses. “When you’re talking to businessmen about bringing a business here, you have to have a tax structure that is friendly to them,” Pence said.

“We are 44th in the nation in terms of being tax-friendly to businesses,” he added, citing Kentucky’s rank by the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit educational organization founded in 1937. What Pence did not say in his speech was that a Tax Foundation economist found Fletcher’s first stab at tax reform would only move Kentucky up three spots, to No. 41.

In an interview, Pence said, “Moving a few notches would be an improvement,” but added that he thinks Kentucky’s tax code will prove more attractive to businesses than the foundation would make it appear.

Fletcher, in an interview, said, “I don’t think that we’re going to be behind the other states at all.” He said the foundation analysis focused on Kentucky’s higher individual tax rates and that his plan has triggers that would lower individual tax rates as state revenues grow. The newer Fletcher plan has a steeper cut in personal income taxes. The Tax Foundation has not analyzed the new plan.

Reform on a shoestring

The governor has become enamored with a December 2004 report titled “Kentucky’s Economic Competitiveness: A Call for Modernization of the State’s Fiscal Policies,” issued by University of Louisville economist Paul Coomes, in which he discusses the factors hindering the state economically. But if Fletcher and Coomes agree that Kentucky’s economy is not competitive, they don’t agree on why.

The report was written for the chambers of commerce of Northern Kentucky, Lexington and Louisville. It found that urban centers (Louisville chief among them) are the economic engines of Kentucky, and it said Kentucky’s tax system and spending priorities force urban centers to be net donors of tax dollars. For example, for every dollar Louisville taxpayers send to Frankfort, only about half comes back in the form of state services.

“[Coomes] wasn’t just talking about rural versus urban, he was also talking about where Kentucky falls behind other states when it comes to the types of jobs we’ve created,” Fletcher told Rotarians last month. “He also pointed out that we haven’t been able to progress in professional services and that our percentage of professional services jobs is much lower than the national average.”

Economists dream of having the ear of a politician. Fletcher’s clear articulation of some of Kentucky’s economic problems is encouraging to state economic development experts, but Coomes’ ideas to address the very problem to which Fletcher referred seem less palatable to the governor.

The report provides several recommendations for ramping up the state’s economy, but one idea Coomes has floated has raised some eyebrows. He thinks a simple way to kickstart it would be by helping Kentucky’s urban centers while attracting “new economy” jobs.

“We could move a lot of the state workers to downtown Louisville,” he said. “There’s no reason that all the several thousand of the state professional workers need to be a few miles from the governor’s mansion.”

According to the report, moving the jobs to Louisville would strengthen the metropolitan area’s ability to attract some of the needed ingredients for a productive economy, including conventions and information-age jobs, and help boost revenues to better fuel the economic engines of the state.

To whit, Coomes asserts, Nashville and Indianapolis, to name two of Louisville’s chief regional competitors, have an advantage because they’re state capitals and therefore reap the ample state bureaucracy and professional service jobs.

Fletcher isn’t about to touch such a radical idea.

“When you look at the political feasibility of that, it’s just not there,” he said in the interview.

Coomes has heard this line before. This is, after all, the third time he has shared some of these findings. (The recent report updated and extended one study published in 1994 and another released in 1999.) While politicians still don’t see these ideas as politically feasible, over the past 10 years, they have gained currency among legislators. This time politicians are listening even more and discussing the merits of the study. Maybe a fourth study will convince Kentucky’s political leadership to trust Coomes’ advice — and not just borrow his rhetoric — to resolve Kentucky’s economic problems.

posted by Caleb O. Brown  # 18:26

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

 

Parent Trap

By Caleb O. Brown
Staff Writer (Snitch)

Custody battles, charges of bias spark nationwide class-action suit

Any child of divorced parents knows the drill. The weekend is over and it's time for Dad to say his goodbyes and send his progeny back to Mom's house. The parents meet up for the handoff at a restaurant, rest stop or any other large concrete structure with a parking lot, provided it's about halfway.

The handoff — awkward, quick and joyless — means moving luggage and a child from one car to another. The kid wants none of the stilted discussion, avoiding the sight of the two most important people in her life exchanging mirthless pleasantries just long enough for Dad to give his goodbye kiss and then pull away.

The marriage wasn't perfect, the breakup wasn't clean, and no one is happy with the result. Still, for many splintered families, the above handoff would be a dream. Some fathers and mothers are trapped in legal battles without end, fighting not for scheduled visitations, but for any visitations. Spending significant time away from their young children has left these non-custodial parents depressed, worried their own young children may begin to forget them. In some cases, the custodial parent realizes the power of wielding a child as an emotional, legal and financial weapon to injure a former spouse.

In an adversarial court system, there are always two sides. In child custody cases, one side — the non-custodial parent — seems to lose more than the other. Sensing a pattern, hundreds of thousands of non-custodial parents are signing on to a nationwide class-action lawsuit that seeks a redress of what they feel are serious, consistent problems and biases in court systems across the country. The end result of those problems, the parents claim, is a consistent violation of the constitutional rights of parents to be parents.

The following Kentucky fathers represent one side of this contentious battle.

The first thing she took was our lawyer

Michael Peters got divorced in 1995. His two kids (neither the ex-wife nor the children will be named here) were 4 and 6 at the time.

Peters won't say precisely that he hates his ex-wife, but he'll say this: "I despise what she does."

Those actions, he says, include: absconding with the children to another state when they were supposed to be with him for the Christmas holiday; telling the kids it's their father's fault she has to go to court; three contempt of court orders for interference with court-ordered visitations; and — the winner by a comfortable margin — moving to another state without notifying him or the court.

Peters says his "personal struggle" has been made worse by a slow family court system that, nearly 10 years later and in spite of regular illegal interference from his wife, has not granted him anywhere near half his children's time.

"It's not equal time, not equal financial support. It's very much stacked. My ex-wife gets the lion's share of my children's time. I've done my part. I've followed the court rules. I've never had a negative issue in my own personal case. The only ground that I feel like I can maintain is when I petition the court. But that's time and money, and there's only a finite amount of that. There's not much incentive to do anything different. You fight so long, and years go by, and it goes on and on."

And fight he has. Peters says he's had to develop several means to get his wife to comply with his court-ordered child visitations.

"With my case, that has been the only way that I can really see my kids," he says. "If I were to do nothing, I would not get to see my kids, even with a court order. There's a well-documented history of visitation interference. I go to pick up my kids and they're not available."

When his ex-wife remarried within a year of their divorce, it was to a man in the military. When he was moved, she went with him, taking the kids and not informing the court, or her ex-husband, that she was doing so.

"She just left, packed up in the middle of the night," he says. "The kids didn't know they were going. So it was this big secret. Three months later, I finally get a call from the kids, but they don't know where they live."

The children were 5 and 7 at the time. It took Peters another three months to learn the location of his children and get a court order to see them. They met in Oklahoma City, spending a few days with each other in a hotel room, but he says it took a year and a half in court to get a physical address for his children.

To deal with other violations that he says are ongoing, Peters sends registered mail to document communication with his ex-wife. With child support checks, he encloses the court-ordered terms of upcoming visitations. Shelling out a few bucks for registered mail is far cheaper than hours of attorney time, which he says has consumed about $30,000 over the past nine years. At $125 an hour, Peters says access to his children definitely carries a pricetag.

"I'd just get angry if I kept a tab on it," he says.

Other expenses have included having off-duty police officers come with him to collect his children, even if it's only to prove the children weren't available when his ex-wife said they would be, and to have a credible witness to testify to that fact.

"We have a colossal case history," Peters says. "They say we have eight volumes and over a thousand pages of case history. It is quite literally a foot-thick court record of all the actions that have passed through there." It would be even thicker, he says, if he'd learned right away to use the tactics he's using now to see his kids.

With registered mail setting the tone for his relationship with his ex-wife and a series of fines and court orders keeping his children visiting regularly, Peters says he shouldn't have to fight so hard in a situation that's already slanted heavily against him.

He also says he loves being a dad and wonders why the court system continues to "just put a Band-Aid on the problem" of bias.

The court seems capable only of dealing with his wife's violations with contempt of court orders and fines or awarding him make-up time for missed visits, he says.

"Make-up time is fine, but it doesn't fix the problem," he says, adding "the court system is so biased in favor of women in general," that it's hard to see how his situation could change.

"I want to see my kids. I want to be an important part of their lives," he says. "It's a frustrating road as an individual, and that's where this class action is very appealing. There is strength in numbers. I'm not the only person. Together we have a louder voice, and maybe we can make a difference. For me, personally, this likely won't impact my situation with my children, but it might help somebody else."

Judgment days

Robert Wilkins has joint custody with his ex-girlfriend, Amanda, of their daughter, Camille. In the last two years — since Oct. 6, 2002, by Wilkins's recollection — he has spent 19 hours with his daughter.

Wilkins knows he's not the best example of a non-custodial parent, but says that doesn't change his right to be one. He says he owns his mistakes.

A few months into dating Amanda, a woman he admits he "had no business with," she became pregnant. He was 30. She was 21. Feeling the obligation he'd helped create for himself, Wilkins and she moved in together. He worked as she stayed home with their daughter. As the relationship began to crumble atop its poor foundation, the pair agreed to separate.

It was all going well until they had to get down to the nuts and bolts of custody of their daughter.

In August 2001, as Wilkins was emerging from a shower, he says, Amanda had taken a sleeping Camille from her bed and was ready to leave the house once and for all. It ended in a Domestic Violence Order against Wilkins.

"We were in a confronation. She wanted to take my daughter who was asleep upstairs." Wilkins says he pulled Amanda's hair in an attempt to keep her from taking Camille from him, but says that was the extent of any physical confrontation.

"I made a dumb mistake," he says. "I've paid for it for three years."

That DVO, he says, was used as a club against him in court as he's tried to fight for some arrangement for regular time with his daughter.

"It took five and a half months for me to even get visitation with my daughter," he says, and that came only after the case was, perhaps mistakenly, bumped into another courtroom, that of Juda Hellman.

"Once I got into Judge Hellman's courtroom, I started seeing my daughter every other weekend and every Wednesday," he says. "Thank God for her."

This went on for seven or eight weekends in a row. Over the same time, his ex-girlfriend's attorney somehow got the case bumped back in front of his original judge, Joan L. Byer.

"Ever since then, I haven't seen my daughter but 19 hours," he says.

The DVO, combined with ongoing allegations of abuse and drug use from his ex-girlfriend, meant Wilkins is stuck without his daughter. All of the allegations, Wilkins says, were thrown out. All except the guilty plea on a DVO, a "nightmare" for Wilkins to overcome.

"Since then, I'd been able to see her through supervised visits, one hour a week at Family Place."

Family Place proved to be an emotional roller coaster for Wilkins. Through a steel door in the lower portion of the building, Wilkins says staff ran magnetometers over his body, a police officer patted him down before allowing him to sit in a 10-by-12-foot room with Camille for one hour.

Those visits, Wilkins says, were often observed by young volunteers who would author reports and submit them to the judge. And though he treasured those hours (among the final 19 he spent with his daughter), the experience proved to be too much for him to take anymore.

"Camille would cry and say, 'I miss my Daddy already.' It was heartbreaking. It was a happy moment when we'd see each other, and then heart-wrenching when she would leave because you'd have one or two minutes until the clock hits 12 and you're just watching the clock go away. You're thinking, 'My God, I'm not going to be able to see her until next Tuesday. How horrible can this be?'"

Wilkins says Family Place staffers would then whisk his daughter out of the room and the "three-day letdown" would commence. The cycle of the letdown after a visit and the buildup over the weekend to the next visit left Wilkins drained.

"I couldn't work," he says. "I couldn't do anything but focus on hatred for her mother, for the judicial system, for her family, for what they'd done. I just had to let it go."

The last time he saw his daughter was during a court-ordered custody evaluation. That evaluation, at a cost of $3,000 and several months, turned out favorably for Wilkins, and he's currently waiting for the judge to decide how to weigh the report. That won't happen until his next hearing in January.

The DVO has fallen off Wilkins's record, but he says more allegations against him are forthcoming.

"They're using new things now — I'm a druggie. I'm a steroid user. I have manic-depression."

Wilkins says he's at least thankful his ex-girlfriend has recanted her claim of child sexual abuse against him. He's hopeful the class action lawsuit will help him "have a healthy relationship" with his daughter.

"I can't get back the time, but I don't want her to be 15, 16 or 17 years old saying, 'Where were you, Daddy?' I want to be able to tell her, 'I was there fighting for you and I was waiting for you.'"

Unstacking the decks

Wes Collins is coordinating Kentucky's class-action lawsuit on behalf of non-custodial parents.

The stress of trying to literally build a home with his wife and two children was too much. His wife took the children and left while he was at work one day. The resulting legal mess and the alienation of his older child have left him jaded about the legal system.

Much of the systemic problems he sees in the court system dealing with non-custodial parents deals with poor controls in how cases are handled and too much judicial discretion. Add what he sees as a prevalent and often open bias against men and he says that's a recipe for the violation of parental rights. He says tapes of his own pretrial hearing in his Fayette County divorce exist, but he's been unable to find them. Fayette is among counties that record pretrial conferences.

Just after the divorce, Collins's now ex-wife was awarded full custody of both children following a hearing in which Collins had no counsel.

A weekend visit from Collins's son ended with a terse phone call in which says his ex-wife's boyfriend threatened to "bust his f***ing head."

He didn't want to return his young child to a home he felt was threatening to him and his son, he told his ex he would call her back to make final arrangements. She did not answer the phone again.

Within days of calling police to report the threat, Collins says he was facing a claim from his wife of refusing to return their son as scheduled.

Collins's attorney asked to be dismissed, and Collins's request for a continuance to get an attorney to represent him was denied in the hearing.

Collins says he attempted to explain his call to police, but was ordered by the judge to undergo a mental evaluation at a facility she chose. After the evaluation, the social worker involved recommended Collins attend her domestic violence class.

"Boy, I sure wish I could rule business in my favor," Collins says. "It's been a nightmare."

Collins hasn't seen his 5-year-old son in seven months, and is now limited to speaking with him by telephone. He says his ex-wife interferes with the scheduled calls.

Legal mumbo jumbo

The nationwide effort at organizing the class action on behalf of the parents is organized by the Indiana Civil Rights Council (indianacrc.org). That group has been so swamped with requests for information, the coordinator of the national class-action effort, Council president Torm L. Howse, is now just sending out an informative e-mail to potential plaintiffs.

The basic parameters for parents who want to be a part of the suit is that they be a legally designated non-custodial parent with a minor child for whom child support is still being paid. The parent must also have never been convicted of any serious abuse or neglect of the child.

Collins says the claims against the courts are fairly broad in attempting to bring abuses to light: the violation of rights of both parents and children and the willful mismanagement of government. The violation of rights, the plaintiffs say, is as simple as freedom of association and equal protections under the First and 14th Amendments.

The Indiana Civil Rights Council estimates — the group calls it a conservative estimate — more than 16 million non-custodial parents could sign onto the suit, which they estimate will seek an estimated $48 trillion.

posted by Caleb O. Brown  # 13:19

Thursday, October 28, 2004

 

One Man, One Vote. Sort of

By Caleb O. Brown
Staff Writer

If Kentucky's Election Day is a cacophonous, 12-hour game of chess, Trey Grayson's job is to set the board correctly. As Kentucky's secretary of state, he's got one chance to get it right.

But no amount of planning can completely eliminate vote fraud.

"On some level," Grayson says, "it is still going on."

As a year with federal elections on the ballot, Grayson isn't alone in trying to assure a clean election. In addition to investigators from the Kentucky Attorney General's Office, FBI agents are at the ready to wring a little more honesty out of their investigative interviews. Lying to the FBI is a felony.

Efforts to keep the participants in this fall's election honest are bolstered by recent federal vote-fraud and vote-buying trials, sending a county judge-executive to federal prison for two years and convicting others of illegally funneling money to various campaigns.

The message, therefore, is clear: The feds are watching closer than they have in years past.

Grayson's office doesn't investigate vote fraud, so he'll meet with attorneys from Greg Stumbo's office and the U.S. Attorneys and talk about which races are sending up red flags. Neither Grayson's office nor the Attorney General's Office is saying if they've already got specific leads on possible election fraud in the state.

Red flag No. 1: A high number of absentee ballots cast

In the May 1998 primary, 9,000 Knott Countians voted. Tom Self, a former assistant U.S. Attorney under Greg Van Tatenhove, said more than 1,000 voters used absentee ballots, a higher percentage than any other county.

And since this particular primary ballot, at least the Republican ballot, had a U.S. Senate race on it, the feds got the chance to investigate. And many absentee voters spilled their guts.

In March, Knott County Judge-Executive Donnie Newsome was sentenced to 26 months in prison for vote-buying and conspiracy to do the same. Newsome is serving as judge-executive from jail.

Scott Sutherland, director of the attorney general's division of special prosecutions, says trials like Newsome's have had something of a chilling effect on vote fraud throughout the commonwealth.

Grayson says absentee balloting can be an especially effective way to purchase votes, since the buyer can actually watch the vote being cast and then see the ballot dropped in the mail.

Restrictions on absentee balloting have become much more stringent in the past decade. Sutherland says with proper controls, absentee balloting can work well to minimize voter fraud.

Red Flag No. 2: Nail-biters

Vote-buying seems to crop up most when a local race is hotly contested.

The same election in the same county in which Donnie Newsome was convicted of his crimes, another — though not completely unfamiliar — group of folks were discovered to have attempted to engineer a victory for a whole slate of candidates. Self, the former assistant U.S. Attorney involved in the case, said he loves the story.

The group purchasing votes recruited students from Alice Lloyd College in Pippa Passes to register and then vote for a slate of candidates.

"The students who had registered were taken to the polls and voted by absentee ballot," he said. "They were given the stickers that said, 'I voted.'"

Those students were then taken to a general store in Pippa Passes and instructed to purchase a peach Mr. Fizz soda.

"I've never heard of it ... cheap soda," recalled Self.

The combo of the particular beverage and the "I voted" sticker was the signal. The young voters were given $35 over and above the change from the soda.

Five people were either convicted or pleaded guilty to vote-buying in that scheme.

Red Flag No. 3: Assistance, please!

Vote buyers like to know what they're getting, hence absentee ballots become hot commodities for them. Trust often isn't enough to make sure votes get cast the way they're supposed to.

Impaired voters can bring someone to assist. Or, if the voter is selling his vote, he brings someone to make sure the right candidates get picked.

It's not a preferred method of buying votes, since it requires several things. A paper record indicates who is providing assistance to whom. Paper trails can be troubling for the vote buyer and seller alike.

Eastern Kentucky has a reputation as election fraud central. Grayson says so. Self agrees, saying the peach soda vote-buying scam could occur "only in the mountains." Sutherland isn't so sure, saying that it's not really fair to generalize about regions of the state. He says the true indicators are hotly contested races and high absentee balloting that can occur anywhere.

The attitude that has earned Eastern Kentucky its reputation for vote-buying can be summed up as, "It's my vote and I can sell it if I want."

According to both Grayson and Self, that attitude has largely gone away.

"The attitude still exists," Self said, "but responsible voters, especially the younger generation, want nothing to do with it."

posted by Caleb O. Brown  # 10:12

Thursday, September 30, 2004

 

Cranking up the caseload

By Caleb O. Brown
Staff Writer

Gale Cook works hard. She's the commonwealth attorney for Kentucky's 42nd judicial circuit, made up of Calloway and Marshall counties in Western Kentucky. She's also head of the state's Commonwealth Attorneys Association. More than a few cases cross her desk each week.

"For the last three years, we were averaging 435 felony indictments per year," she says. Split with one assistant, that's 217 (or 218, depending on your math) cases per attorney.

Cook says Dave Stengel, her counterpart in Jefferson County, has assistants working between 75 and 100 cases a year. And many of those attorneys are focused exclusively on prosecuting drug crimes or child sex abuse.

Cook's office, like Stengel's, must handle each and every case filed in her circuit. She says she's got to stay vigilant when checking up on court-ordered restitution payments, working with police to help assure their investigations remain above board and presenting cases to grand juries and advising those juries on the substance of the law.

But over her shoulder is the knowledge that the workload, this year, is getting worse.

"In the first six months of this year, we have returned 311 indictments," she says. "If we continue at the rate we're going, we'll hit 600 indictments this year."

Cook estimates, at a 40-hour workweek, that works out to about 6.9 hours per felony. But she doesn't work 40 hours a week. It's at least 60 and sometimes 90 hours a week to get the job done. She knows she does a good job for her judicial circuit, but ends her days very tired. Cook says "very possibly" a time will come when all she's got simply won't be enough to do the job.

The title of "Most Overworked Public Servant" is hotly contested.

Ernie Lewis, Kentucky's Public Advocate, says the public defenders he oversees grapple with towering caseloads admirably. Cook's office may end the year with 300 new cases per attorney. Kentucky's public defenders could average 500.

"Since I've been public advocate, since 1996, we have not had caseloads that were at a level that meet national standards," Lewis says.

Statewide criminal circuit court filings in fiscal 2004 were almost 50-percent higher than 1996 levels. Manpower and funding have not kept pace for a variety of reasons. Cook says, in light of tight budgets, the strategy for dealing with state government budget cutters has been simply, "Please don't cut us."

Cut and run

With two consecutive state budgets delayed over disputes between the governor and the General Assembly, including a budget that should currently be governing state spending, prosecutors continue to feel the squeeze.

The result for Gale Cook is working the occasional 90-hour week. For Ernie Lewis, it means accepting a different, but equally harsh reality, the possibility that defendants under the counsel of his office may plead guilty to crimes they didn't commit.

Plea deals are a healthy part of the legal process, Lewis says, but "the caseload problem encourages plea negotiations." Some cases, he says, end up in a plea deal when a trial is justified. But the hours involved for both the public defender and the prosecutor may make a jury trial virtually impossible. That leads Lewis to his "greatest fear" as head of the public defender system, "people are ending up entering a guilty plea when they are in fact not guilty of what they're charged with."

Towering caseloads for both sides, he says, creates "an immense incentive to resolve the case with a guilty plea."

Things aren't (that) tough all over

Linda Talley Smith, Commonwealth attorney for Boone and Gallatin counties in Northern Kentucky, says the spending freeze instituted across state government in December kept Commonwealth attorneys from adding new staff. Smith had to get a special exemption to even replace an assistant attorney who took a maternity leave.

Smith's judicial circuit leads the state in filings and closings, each numbering more than 2,000 in the last fiscal year.

In the first half of this year, Smith's office received 385 felony indictments. She says the numbers have been increasing "at about 27 and a half percent every year" since she took office in 1997.

But Smith isn't quite pulling her hair out. Her relatively urban circuit has been growing in population at about the same rate as felony indictments. New poplulation in her circuit may be helpful when she has to justify a bigger staff budget. It will also help when her circuit attempts to get another judge to handle the cases.

And to handle a similar number of felonies as Gale Cook in western Kentucky, she's got more than twice the staff. She's got three full time attorneys and three part timers in her office, not to mention five law school interns from Nortern Kentucky University that she "couldn't get by without."

The crimes are also different. As the commerce hub of Northern Kentucky, Boone county's crime increase has more to do with felony theft and bad checks than illicit drugs and murder.

Gale Cook and many other rural prosecutors can sum up the caseload problem in a word: meth.

The problem

Cook says methamphetamine cases, virtually non-existent less than 10 years ago, have "inundated" her office. Cases involving hard drugs in one way or another have made up most of the increase. As much as 80-percent of the increase is attributed to hard drugs. Most of those cases deal specifically with meth. And for those who don't have meth listed in the charges, the cases related to meth are growing, as well. Cook has seen youth burglary rings in which young people trade their stolen wares, often guns, for methamphetamine.

The meth trade is becoming more sophisticated as it grows.

"Through extensive investigations and interviews, what we've found is that we have organized crime here," Cook says. "We have enforcers. We have meth manufacturers that sell to middle-level distributors. It's organized crime."

Meth cases also constitute a rapidly growing share of criminal filings in circuit court.

A selection of circuit court cases specifically dealing with meth (see chart) in Calloway and Marshall counties has quadrupled from 1999 through 2004 fiscal years. Statewide, the same types of cases have more than quintupled. Criminal circuit filings overall have not grown at nearly the same rate.

Easing the burden

"The needs of prosecutors have long not been addressed by the General Assembly," says Attorney General Greg Stumbo. "As the legisiatlve body enacted more criminal sanctions, cases became more complex and more voluminous."

In Stumbo's 24 years in the General Assembly, he says he was "as guilty as any" legislator when it came to voting to criminalize more behavior.

"Sitting there enacting those laws," he says, "I didn't see the impact it had on the prosecutorial and the public defender systems."

But the time for Stumbo to do something about that is gone. Now, as Kentucky's highest ranking law enforcment officer, he has to enforce the law, not make it.

Stumbo's office is largely responsible for divvying up money to commonwealth attorneys statewide and says he's well aware of the drug problem in rural areas.

Stumbo says the caseload problem "is particularly exacerbated by all of these drug roundups going on right now."

Stumbo would like to establish regional extensions of the Attorney General's Office to offer investigators and prosecutors to help handle large drug cases on an as-needed basis.

He'd also like to expand "rocket dockets" to more portions of the state. Those dockets help identify cases most likely to enter plea agreements and get defendants into those plea agreements as soon as possible.

"There are 18 new jurisdictions that we have convinced to try this particlar program out," Stumbo says. "At the end of a year we'll look at what they're doing and what we can do."

The high cost of the legal system amid rapidly increasing drug crime isn't lost on Steve Pence, Kentucky's Justice Cabinet secretary and lieutenant governor. His drug summit earlier this year was aimed precisely at taking stock of Kentucky's existing drug-fighting resources.

Stumbo was among those making recommendations alongside Pence. Stumbo's particular hope of having prosecutors and investigators at the ready statewide is one of the recommendations put forth at the drug summit under the heading "coordinated prosecution."

Pence's focus since earlier in this year has been to push drug treatment and an expansion of drug court, though he's quick to point out that treatment is just one of three planks of his drug-fighting platform. The others: continued vigorous enforcement and expanded prevention.

Drug court appears to be the linchpin in Pence's plans to divert first offenders out of jail and into treatment, which he says is more effective and less costly than a stint in jail.

Funding drug court, Pence says, could be achieved in small part through assets seized from convicted drug criminals. The summit itself was funded with seized assets.

Hello? Over here!

Ernie Lewis sat on the drug summit's treatment panel. He's encouraged by much of the work done there, but says his caseload problem is still getting worse. Expanded drug court and treatment, he says, would likely help public defenders over the long run.

Lewis's problems are more immediate. A draft of the Public Advocate's annual defender caseloads report obtained by Snitch shows that in fiscal 2004, overall caseloads of public defenders were up 9 percent. Cases going to trial were up 9 percent, a higher growth rate than in years past. Funding per case, conversely, is in decline.

"Federal funds are coming in to create these task forces to arrest more people," Lewis says. "Some of the money is going to hire state prosecutors to prosecute in state court, and we're not going to get any of that funding."

Lewis has spent much of his time as Public Advocate establishing full-time offices for public defenders. Those offices now cover 112 of Kentucky's 120 counties. Eight years ago, when Lewis became Public Advocate, full-time defenders covered just 47 counties.

"Courts and prosecutions and defense need funding parity," Lewis says. "If prosecutors can send in prosecutors for large drug busts, then we need the same ability."

Lewis is quick to point out, however, that he doesn't believe Kentucky's prosecutors are by any means overfunded.

Public defenders' caseloads are 85 percent higher than what Lewis cites as a national standard. He has a familiar refrain that is lately reaching a fever pitch.

"We're at saturation point. We cannot play the role that is expected of us until we get significant new funding."

posted by Caleb O. Brown  # 10:07

Thursday, September 09, 2004

 

Old habits die hard

By Caleb O. Brown
Staff Writer

Nearly three years after 9/11, only frequent fliers seem to know the new rules of flying

Sarah B., by her own description, shows little modesty. SheÌs also a cynical traveler, given to telling friends, "All this security stuff is just to make stupid people feel secure." The Cincinnati native is, however, just modest enough to request that her last name not be included here.

Accustomed to setting off airport screening devices, Sarah can name half a dozen possible culprits when the magnetometer sounds off: her underwire bra, the wire in her jaw installed after surgery, and various other bits of metal on her clothing, including the tiny metal buttons on her jeans. Even her nipple rings set off screening equipment regularly.

But when a friendly airport screener in Cinci discovered SarahÌs chest seemed unusually reactive to the metal wands, Sarah told the woman the nipple rings were the likely culprits.

"She said, 'WeÌre going to have to check that out,' and I said, 'Are you serious?'"

She was.

Sarah was led behind a screen near the checkpoint, where she pulled her low-cut shirt down and showed the woman her piercings. Sarah says she was more annoyed at the inconvenience than at baring her bust to a stranger.

"After that, she patted me down," Sarah said. "She was behind me and she patted me between my breasts, among other places. It really wasnÌt that big of a deal. It probably would have been very upsetting if I had been anyone else. If I'd been in my regular mood, I would have been highly annoyed."

Seasoned business traveller Ranita Jones was annoyed at a security checkpoint when a metal hairpick, tweezers and an extra butane lighter held her up at the Northern Kentucky airport. She gave the extra lighter to her traveling companion and got it back when theyÌd both cleared the screeners. In 26 years of business travel, Jones has seen her property stay behind at security checkpoints only since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

And like many business travelers, Jones has learned dressing for success is getting more difficult.

"ThereÌs no such thing as dressing for business when you fly anymore," Jones says.

So she doesn't. Underwire bras have been replaced with sports bras. Her jewelry and hair barettes stay packed until she arrives at her destination. In short, she's replaced a business suit with a running suit and leaves little more than travel reading in her purse when she passes through security to avoid having to leave items behind.

Items left by travelers add up.

Transit Security Administration screeners at Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky Internationa Airport collect an average of 100 pounds of questionable property each week.

"It's every single kind of imaginable jackknife, scissors and, for some reason, an amazing number of kitchen knives and paring knives," says Paul Wisniewski, the airportÌs director of federal security. "Ladies often pack fruit on a trip."

Wisniewski says other items that typically fill up bins of the "voluntarily relenquished" include mini-corkscrews with attached mini-knives, multi-tools of several varieties, throwing stars, billy clubs and kubatons.

And guns.

"By now, this fiscal year, weÌve probably had over 500 guns show up at checkpoints around the country," Wisniewski says. Those guns are not voluntarily relenquished to screeners. Police confiscate them in the inevitable criminal investigation.

Buyer pays shipping

Buddy Peterson travels, usually with his wife and children, about twice a year. Since 9/11, heÌs flown in and out of Chicago twice with a keychain-sized Swiss Army knife and a pair of fold-up pliers. The knife was free. The pliers, a stocking stuffer.

"I dropped my keys in the little bucket and they said I couldnÌt fly with the knife and pliers," Peterson says.

His options: take them back to his car, put them in his checked baggage (which was already on the plane), leave them behind or ship them back to himself through the airportÌs mail-back program.

Peterson chose the final option, took his tools down to the customer service desk and got the needed envelope. At a charge of $6 per item, Peterson dropped the envelope in the nearby mailbox.

"What really chapped my ass, I looked at the envelope when we got home and the shipping charge was a dollar twenty-five," he says. "They make it really easy for you to give them your money."

If Peterson had just given up his items and waited a few weeks, he might have seen them avaiable for purchase on eBay from the Kentucky Division of Surplus Property. He might have even saved some money.

The division's eBay identity, "kysurplus," (feedback rating: 135) gets good reviews for its selling practices. User "gpa-termite" recently purchased a six-inch bone carving with intricately cut silhouettes of camels, and wrote, "oughta be illegal to ship so fast and package so well AAAA ++++ thanks."

All auctions conducted by the division include the requirement buyers pay KentuckyÌs 6 percent sales tax.

Airports in Northern Kentucky, Lexington and Louisville turn over hundreds of pounds of confiscated items as surplus every six weeks.

Louisville airport officials confiscate a fairly large number of souvenir bats from the Louisville Slugger plant.

But the division also collects property from BostonÌs Logan Airport and airports in Miami, Orlando, Tampa and St. Petersburg, Fla.

Jill Midkiff, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Finance Cabinet, says the agency recently received a shipment of 4,800 pounds from Logan and picked up 10,000 pounds of prohibited items on the last trip to Florida.

Those items are sorted into dozens of bins when they arrive in Frankfort. Surplus property sells items to other state agencies so they aren't caught paying retail.

Then the non-profit groups pick over the surplus wares.

"Multi-tools are very popular among Boy Scouts," Midkiff said.

And then, finally, the public gets a crack at some excessively sharp (or blunt) items for sale on the web, sometimes 20 identical Swiss Army knives or Leatherman multi-tools will be sold in the same lot for $40.

And adding up the cash seems to be more difficult than you might think.

Midkiff would not provide hard estimates of revenues from the sale of property turned over by fliers, but says, "Of items sold by the pound ... the average is about $3."

She adds, "We might sell one knife for $60, and we might sell a bucket of scissors for $2."

posted by Caleb O. Brown  # 10:17

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

 

Soft Cell

By Caleb O. Brown
Snitch Staff Writer

You pay to get in, not to get out,” says Paul McCoy, innkeeper at the Jailer’s Inn in Bardstown, eagerly rattling through a list of, ahem, arresting slogans. “We pamper our prisoners … It’s a captivating experience.”

As one of his guests inches toward the front door, weighed down by her luggage, McCoy says, “Breakin’ out, huh?” As if it’s the first time the quip has come to mind.

The woman chuckles politely and tells McCoy she left the key to her room upstairs. McCoy nods, then obliges the departing visitor with some directions out of town.

McCoy likes to refer to his guests as inmates because the Jailer’s Inn was, until 1987, the Nelson County Jail, the oldest operating slammer in Kentucky.

Now it’s a popular bed and breakfast in the center of Bardstown’s historic square.

McCoy, as much as being the innkeeper, has also been thrust into the position of local historian. Stories from centuries past amble back to him through elderly locals, brittle books and even the occasional former inmate.

And McCoy, a clean-cut blond with a broad grin, enjoys retelling them, his eyes widening at key moments in numerous tales — true, legendary and otherwise — of jailbreaks, famous inmates and recent ghost hunters who sometimes appear in search of the supernatural.

The jail

There was a wooden jail on the same site before the current stone structure.

Short and sweet, that jail’s story goes something like this: Around 1790, a husband and wife in Nelson County had a spat. The wife had the police put her husband in jail. A short time later, she decided she’d been without her beloved long enough. After being refused the company of her husband by the sheriff, the young lady hit upon a solution: Burn the jail and get her husband back — preferably uncooked. And so she did. But crime does not pay. She was caught and convicted.

Rather than accept a year in jail, the woman submitted to 40 lashes on her bare back in the court square. Or maybe it was just five, McCoy says, noting a second version of the story. Mere details.

The current structure is two parts. The front was built in 1820 with 30-inch-thick limestone walls, inch-thick iron bars on every window and topped with a high ceiling of black, 18-inch oak beams. When Kentucky law demanded that the jailer live on site, the front was converted to housing and another building was attached to the back for prisoners. A separate cell with a solid iron door was maintained for females, complete with its own private shower. It’s the only room at Jailer’s Inn that still looks like a jail cell, with iron bunks on one wall.

McCoy added some softer mattresses and a waterbed.

All of Nelson County’s jailers have been men, with one exception: Maxie McCay, jailer from 1950-62. After the death of her husband, Mrs. McKay was elected jailer to continue his job, but also to keep a roof over her children’s heads.

McKay’s matronly face looked more suited to adorn cans of “homestyle” soup or marmalade and simply not the face you’d fear in jail. After all, this is a woman who turned the “upstairs dungeon” into a room specifically for curing hams.

But McKay knew more about running a jail than many would have initially given her credit for. She rewarded good prisoners with “trusty” status, allowing them home-cooked meals and frequent trips into the courtyard behind the jail. Poorly behaved prisoners had their diets switched from ham and gravy to bread and water. Dietary discipline usually worked like a charm.

McCoy says many of McKay’s children and grandchildren, who grew up in and around the jail, recently held a family reunion at Jailer’s Inn.

In 1970, McCoy says, an 18-year-old woman — arrested for passing bad checks — tried to escape from the relatively posh cell. She stripped down to nothing, soaped herself up and tried to slide her slender frame through the iron door’s portal through which the jailer would pass meals. The young woman got halfway through before she got stuck. With the help of jailer Norris Conder, a doctor and the “Bardstown Night Police Chief,” the woman was soaped up further and popped through the portal. She paid court costs, fines and restitution and was released.

McCoy details another daring escape in the jail’s final year as such, this one with more soap sophistication.

Wayne Greenwell and Doug Hamilton, both of Bardstown, found themselves on the wrong side of the jail’s iron bars. Early one Sunday morning in 1986, they decided they wouldn’t be staying. Fashioning a phony gun barrel from two bars of soap and some ink, the men covered the fake barrel with a small rag and forced the deputy jailer to turn over the keys.

Their freedom, however, was short-lived, as the law caught up with them.

Behind the jail, a walled courtyard surrounds flowers and an outdoor kitchen.

That new-fangled electricity wasn’t to be trusted indoors, so cooking was mostly done outside. Against the wall of the jail, where flowerbeds now sit, tall wooden gallows stood waiting for the condemned.

Phil Evans learned the meaning of swift justice in Nelson County. Charged with rape in October of 1893, he was kept in Jefferson County for his own safety before the trial. Evans pleaded not guilty on Nov. 9. He was convicted two days later. With townspeople sitting along the high stone courtyard walls, Evans was hanged on Jan. 5, 1894.

McCoy grins as he explains that he likes to serve breakfast in the courtyard on clear days.

Checking the register

Famous inmates included John Dillinger, who stayed one night as he was en route to another, less forgiving facility in Indiana. Legend has it that Dillinger’s fans simply couldn’t bear the thought of their beloved staying in such cold confines and would have sprung him from anywhere, had they only known his name. Dillinger’s keepers, wise to the fact, made sure this particular prisoner checked in under an alias.

Frank and Jesse James stayed at the jail, too, though never as inmates. It was among the places the James brothers found safe haven as they were being hunted for attacks on Union sympathizers. The two outlaws had the distinction of being relatives of the sheriff at the time, A.D. Pence. Pence married into the Samuels clan (of Maker’s Mark bourbon fame) of Bardstown, who were related to the James brothers.

John Fitch, the celebrated inventor of the steamboat (long before Robert Fulton, mind you), is rumored to have died in the Nelson County Jail after he’d developed a habit of drinking a fifth of bourbon each day. The sheriff reportedly cared for Fitch through his final days.

The bed

The rooms have all undergone a great deal of renovation since McCoy and his wife purchased the property shortly after it became available. The rooms barely hint at their former use.

“The 1819 Room” is nicknamed the “upstairs dungeon,” since it was little more than an empty room with several iron o-rings in the floor to keep prisoners from moving around too much. The room now features thick carpeting and a canopy bed. Instead of country hams, small cherubs hang from the walls, and a double-jacuzzi is tucked away in the bathroom.

Several of the rooms feature bits of furniture from different periods, but they blend with a quiet relaxation that comes with rocking chairs, thick quilts and lacy coverings for seemingly everything.

Unreal guests

Paul McCoy has seen a new kind of guest visit since the fall of 2002. The Travel Channel featured the Jailer’s Inn among the 10 spookiest places in America.

Since then, seasoned bed and breakfast guests and ghost hunters have sought out the inn as a place to stay and have a paranormal experience.

A few guests have checked in, only to vanish in the middle of the night, leaving a key on the front desk and issuing a rushed, but apologetic, phone call in the morning as they ride away, clearly spooked by something most guests never experience.

McCoy, reluctant to play up the reports of ghosts and other such visitors to his inn, does admit to what he calls “a unique presence.”

“I believe there’s something here, but I don’t know what causes it,” he says.

Though he says he’s never seen anything unusual himself, he’s sure his pets have.

And the inn’s reputation has also cost McCoy an employee.

“A girl who worked for me, cleaning one of the rooms one day, saw a man in the upstairs dungeon room in the mirror. She turned around and saw nothing. She turned back around and saw him again in the mirror. She got so spooked she ran downstairs and out the front door.”

McCoy says the young woman quit about a week later.

Poor reviews

Aside from the impressive guest register, a few former inmates have left their own mark on their one-time home. “The Nelson County Jail” is among several poems still emblazoned on the jail’s inner walls (and pardon the misspellings).


When I was young I used to mess around
In a little hick place called Bardstown
When one night I went to get drunk
And I ended up on the bottom bunk
When I woke I felt like hell
I was in the Nelson County Jail
The Nelson County Jail is no place to be
If you got a wife and a baby
So if you fell you hafe to raise hell
Stay away from the Nelson County Jail.

“Soon to be Free”

Once I was in the Nelson Co. Jail
They said I was there for raising hell
I tried to tell them that
I was only drunk
But they laughed
and showed me a bunk
They tried to break my soul into
But that’s one thing they’ll never do
They took me away
from the one I loved
And placed me in a cell above
But one day soon I’ll be free
And then it’ll be my ladie and me
When it’s all over and done
I will no longer hafe to run
I’ll be free to live my life
Me, my child and my lovely wife

“Outlaws”

Life as a outlaw is not always fun
You are always out there on the run
You stay ahead of the law for a while
And say screw the world, with style
When the party’s over,
you can always ride
But sooner or latter there
will be no place to hide
You may never know where
they hell you are
You just roam from bar to bar
You may son be known as one of the best
Like Frank and Jesse and all the rest
They were the outlaws who rode thru hell
But even they ended up in jail
So before you head out for life of crime
Think of all the outlaws still doing time

posted by Caleb O. Brown  # 03:11

Sunday, June 06, 2004

 

Body lay in destroyed home for 4-1/2 months

By Caleb O. Brown
Staff Writer (Snitch Newsweekly)

Dixie Suburban Fire Chief Tim Robbins was nervous, judging from the way he continuously clicked the pen in his hand.

The “informal” meeting last Wednesday was called by Metro Councilwoman Mary Woolridge to, she said, “reassure the folks that are protected by Dixie Suburban Fire District that they have good services.”

It’s been almost five months since the fire on Oregon Avenue, which likely claimed the life of Craig Moore. It’s been just two weeks since a state medical examiner, called in to search the home, “saw a foot” sticking out of the debris in Moore’s basement. Jefferson County Deputy Coroner Jim Wesley said the body has yet to be identified.

Moore’s neighbors don’t need DNA testing to tell them that it’s Craig Moore.

They claim fire and police officials ignored requests that they conduct another search of Moore’s home to find his body.

Robbins spent much of the meeting explaining the circumstances that prevented Dixie Suburban fire officials from getting inside the building.

“It took quite some time to get into all of the areas of the fire,” Robbins said. “When we first arrived, the front door — a solid wood door — was gone. The floor, when we attempted to gain entry, apparently had burned away. We learned later that it had.”

An arson investigator didn’t want to go into the basement. “He said it didn’t look safe,” said Robbins. Ceiling and floor collapse, water in the basement and complications attempting to remove the water also impeded search efforts.

“When I talked with the arson investigators and the insurance investigators,” Robbins said, “they were telling me the same thing, ‘We don’t think he’s in there.’”

Craig Moore’s neighbors said the house was boarded up within a week of the fire. Ron Holder — Moore’s neighbor for 28 years — said other neighbors had circulated a petition within days of the fire, calling on authorities to again search for Moore, but authorities did nothing.

“I knew his routine,” Holder said. “Even the mailman was saying, ‘He’s there.’”
Holder asked Robbins why he didn’t know of all the resources available to him and didn’t learn of one key option until just a few weeks ago.

“When Craig Moore’s brother filed the missing person’s report, he learned from the police that they could have used cadaver dogs from the state medical examiner’s office,” said Holder.

Robbins admitted that Moore’s brother was the one who made him aware that his agency could use the cadaver dogs to conduct a thorough search for the body.

“I now know that if there’s a question like that, I can contact those people,” Robbins said. “I had no guidelines that told me that was the case.”

Deputy Coroner Wesley said his office will likely use DNA testing to learn the identity of the body.

posted by Caleb O. Brown  # 17:07

Saturday, May 01, 2004

 

In wake of attacks, author questions the connections

By Caleb O. Brown
Staff Writer

Within two days of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, chartered airplanes began traveling to various parts of the United States, picking up Saudi nationals, preparing to leave the country.

One of those planes, an elaborately decorated 727, left Lexington, Ky., on Sept. 13, and one of the passengers who boarded the jetliner was Prince Ahmed bin Salman, best known to Americans as the Saudi horseman who owned War Emblem, the winner of the 2002 Kentucky Derby.

Point Given, another property of the prince, won the Preakness and Belmont Stakes in 2001.

Craig Unger, author of the book House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship Between the World’s Two Most Powerful Dynasties, asserts that the flights would have required the approval of the White House, since private air traffic was grounded at the time.

He further asserts there is reason to believe that bin Salman may have essentially been a “material witness” in the investigation into the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Unger says he obtained the flight manifest for the 727 that took off from Lexington, as well as other flights that crossed the country, picking up as many as 142 people, mostly Saudis, before leaving the United States.

Unger served as deputy editor of The New York Observer and was the editor of Boston Magazine.

Snitch spoke with Unger on April 16, just after the commission investigating the terrorist attacks cleared those associated with allowing those flights (which included members of the extended bin Ladin family) out of the United States.

What was Prince Ahmed doing before he was picked up?

He was in Lexington for the yearling sales, and Sept. 12 he bought $1.2 million worth of horses.

What about Sept. 15th? Those flights took off with the explicit approval of the president, did they not?

Let me back up, because I’m trying to be very careful here. This was a two-week process, really, that started on Sept. 13, as far as I can determine.

The first flight that I was able to nail down left from Tampa to Lexington on the afternoon of Sept. 13.

It was one of eight airplanes over the next two weeks stopping in 12 cities taking over 140 passengers — most of whom were Saudis, but not all of them. Many of them were high-ranking members of the Saudi royal family, and about two dozen were members of the bin Ladin family.

The 9/11 Commission said that the FAA had said the air restrictions had been lifted?

I’ve got the quote here from the commission’s Statement 10, which said the Saudi flights were screened by law enforcement officials, primarily the FBI, to ensure that people on the flights did not pose a threat to national security and that nobody of interest to the FBI with regard to the 9/11 investigation was allowed to leave the country. The commission also says no commercial planes were permitted to fly into, out of, or within the United States until Sept. 13, 2001. The paragraph closes, “We have found no credible evidence that any chartered flights of Saudi nationals left the United States before the reopening of national airspace.” Does that jibe with evidence you have?

Not entirely, no. Commercial flights had slowly begun to resume that day, but at 10:57 a.m., the FAA issued a reminder that private aviation was still prohibited.

Three private planes violated the ban that day, and in each case a pair of jet fighters forced the planes down. As far as private planes were concerned, America was still grounded.

It was at this time, nevertheless, the first flight was allowed to leave. There’s no question it was discussed at the White House.

We know that for certain it was discussed at the White House and Richard Clarke told it to the 9/11 commission.

My point here is not that something illegal was done, it’s that something very, very unusual was done that required a discussion and got a decision at the White House.

Here you have a decision that really speaks to the issue of whether we’re going to do a favor to the Saudis, these wealthy Saudis, or we’re going to aggressively try to figure out on 9/11 and start an investigation in the midst of a huge, huge national security crisis. What appears to have happened was the Saudis get the nod.

When did the White House acknowledge that these flights took place?

The White House has never acknowledged to me. In fact, they denied the flights took place to me, and I had at least seven or eight conversations with the White House.

Didn’t Vice President Dick Cheney appear on “Meet the Press” where he discussed it?

(Secretary of State) Colin Powell acknowledged it on “Meet the Press” and said he believed they’d arranged something, but he didn’t know the details. Dick Cheney said he didn’t know anything about it.

The FAA denied the first flight took place and they said there were no flight logs. The FBI denied it as well.

But we have Richard Clarke, who made the approval?

He was part of that discussion. I don’t know that it’s fair to say he made the approval.

He said, “I think it’s okay if they’ve been vetted by the FBI.” And my point is, I then talked to two FBI people who were parties to it and they said, “Well, we identified them, but we really didn’t interview them.”

I talked to John L. Martin, who was a very high-ranking Justice Department official who was head of counter-terrorism investigations for 18 years.

I talked to Oliver Buck Ravell, I believe the No. 2 person at the FBI. He said one of the first things you do if you’re doing a murder investigation — one person or 3,000 people — is you interview the relatives and the business associates. That did not happen here.

Why do you think Ahmed bin Salman was potentially such a key figure in the Sept. 11 investigation?

I think the definitive account of this was written by Gerald Posner. I went over his report and talked to him. He wrote a book called Why America Slept. Very, very interesting stuff about Prince Ahmed.

In March of 2002, Abu Zubaida, a high level al Qaeda operative was captured in Pakistan. During the interrogation, he explained that there were real links between the Saudi royal family and al Qaeda. He named Prince Ahmed. He knew his phone number and his cellphone. This was considered extraordinarily startling information to the CIA.

They were agog. He was not a likely suspect.

They later took this information to Saudi intelligence and said, “What are we to make of this?”

The Saudis denied it, by the way. When Prince Ahmed returned home to Saudi Arabia, he was found dead of a heart attack at age 43.

Zubaida had named a total of three Saudis. They all — in similar positions as Prince Ahmed — they all ended up dead. What was striking to me was that Zubaida said he was the intermediary between the Saudi royal family and al Qaeda.

But here he is, Prince Ahmed, being ferried out of the country with apparent White House approval, FBI approval, two days after 9/11.

At the very least, one would think this is the place where an investigation begins.

Is this a case of, upon looking back on it, the White House, Richard Clarke and others simply made a mistake?

I’m not trying to be critical of Richard Clarke. I find it striking that President Bush did not respond to the Aug. 6 memo.

I do believe reasonable people can disagree about the extent to which terrorism should have been front and center on his agenda prior to 9/11.

After 9/11, believe me, it’s got to be the first priority.

Remember, the World Trade Center is still in flames. We think the death toll was still 10,000 at this stage. America was shocked beyond belief. Why is it that our first priority was to allow these Saudis out of the country without questioning?

Think about it. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudis. We know the funding for al Qaeda was Saudi. The infrastructure of al Qaeda, the Saudis play a huge role.

This is where the investigation should have begun.

posted by Caleb O. Brown  # 17:11

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

 

Is KBI DOA?

By Caleb O. Brown
Staff Writer

Attorney General-elect Greg Stumbo had an idea in the fall of 2002 that he’s been pushing ever since: a new division of the Kentucky State Police to focus more directly on drug and terrorism investigations, funded through a new 15-cent-per-pack cigarette tax.

The new agency’s name: the Kentucky Bureau of Investigation.

But questions about KBI and how it would operate are getting lost in the whirlwind of political change in Frankfort. Out with the old regimes and in with the new.

As Republican Gov.-elect Ernie Fletcher recovers from shoulder surgery, his administration is rapidly being assembled.

For Stumbo, his administration is settling in, too, except, spokesmen say, the outgoing House Majority Floor Leader is now saddled with additional duties to help the Democratic Party regroup after it lost the governor’s office, the biggest bully pulpit in the state.

Not familiar

In the year since he floated the idea of the KBI, Stumbo introduced a bill in the Kentucky House to create and fund the agency. It never got a hearing in committee.

Fellow Democrats on the House Revenue and Appropriations Committee don’t know much more about Stumbo’s plan.

“I’m not familiar with it,” said Democrat Bob Cherry, co-chair of the committee. “I do know that it’s been part of his campaign. He is interested in it. I have not seen a detailed plan, including the costs or where the money for it would come from. That would have a lot to do with my position.”

House Speaker Jody Richards declined to comment on the proposal, saying he didn’t know enough about it.

State police have expressed similar questions about the proposal and exactly what Stumbo’s agency would do.

“I don’t think anybody’s had any contact with him to clarify what he wants,” KSP spokesman Phil Crumpton said.

Crumpton said Stumbo had discussed some proposals with state police Commissioner Pat Simpson, but that it was “way back when” and that no contact had been made since Stumbo’s election this month.

Crumpton said the commissioner was attempting to speak with Stumbo last week to clarify the role of the proposed agency.

Pamela Trautner, spokeswoman for the state Justice Cabinet, which oversees state police, said that no proposals have come to the cabinet and what officials know of the KBI is “pretty much what we’ve read in the newspapers.”

“It’s my understanding that we’ve not had any conversations with Attorney General-elect Stumbo,” she said.

Stumbo was on vacation this week and unavailable for comment.

Money problems

Kentucky’s budget situation has worsened since Stumbo first proposed the KBI.
Rep. Cherry said the budget fight in 2004 is “not going to be any easier this time around.”

He added, “If anything, it may be worse. We used many one-time pots of money to balance this budget. We raided the coffers, so to speak.”

Last month, Stumbo told Snitch that he wanted to fund the agency with a 15-cent-per-pack cigarette tax.

An increase in the cigarette tax has been proposed by many groups, most of which want to use the proceeds for a particular project, be it Medicaid or salary increases for public school teachers.

A state bureau of investigation would have to compete with numerous other interests for state dollars.

State Rep. Bob Damron of Nicholasville, also a vice-chair of the House Revenue and Appropriations Committee, said funding will be scarce for any new projects in the next session.

“We’ve got to look at taking care of what we’ve got before we expand into anything else,” he said.

Cherry agrees.

“We’re under pressure to increase education, particularly post-secondary,” he said. “I guess what I’m saying is that the budget problems we faced last year are going to be great, if not greater, this coming winter.”

Failing state funding, Stumbo told Snitch, “I’ve been in contact with (Republican) Congressman Hal Rogers, who happens to be a friend of mine; he just appropriated $13 million for his united effort in his congressional district, which is law enforcement, rehabilitation services, drug courts. He tells me that he’ll try to assist at the federal level to help us get funding for statewide initiatives.”

Concerns

“I think we’re pretty well known in this area for combating drugs, particularly meth,” Daviess County Sheriff Keith Cain said.

“More than anything at all, I need additional bodies, manpower. What I don’t need is another law enforcement entity that tells me that they’re on call, but because of other pressing issues in the Commonwealth, are not available to me.”

Cain had a bit of advice for the attorney general-elect.

“However they envision this entity, their success is going to be dependent on how well they work with local entities,” he said.

Absent a detailed proposal, Democratic state Rep. Jim Wayne of Louisville wondered if the agency was even necessary, given the resources currently available, especially those directly at the disposal of the attorney general.

“The attorney general has an army of investigators at his disposal. Why would you set up a new bureaucracy? The state police have an army of investigators. Local authorities have investigators. Even the state ethics commission has investigators. They’re being used on Gov. Patton right now.”

In addition, Wayne said that because the state police are under the executive branch, the attorney general would have no authority over the KBI.

Damron expressed concerns that current state police resources might be placed at risk if a new division were created.

“Pay raises for existing state police have to take a higher priority than any new spending,” he said. “I’m not going to be willing to sacrifice the Kentucky State Police for some new program.”

Wayne believes the attorney general’s office has powers and resources already in place to conduct the kinds of investigations Stumbo wants the KBI to handle, noting that the attorney general already has subpoena power at his discretion.

“If he wants to reorganize his office, that’s something he can do,” he said. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel here. We just have to roll it.”

posted by Caleb O. Brown  # 04:07

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

 

The Republican: Jack Wood

Snitch interviewed all three candidates for the position of Kentucky Attorney General, the top law enforcement position in the Commonwealth.

The interview was conducted last Sunday by staff writer Caleb O. Brown.

What courtroom experience do you have?

No one has more courtroom experience than me and Gatewood. I’ve got 10 years of prosecuting experience. When I was an assistant county attorney, we had 30 cases a day. Gatewood probably only works one or two cases a day when he’s in court. I’m the one with experience in this race.

Qualifications over Stumbo and Galbraith?

We’ve all been attorneys for about the same amount of time. Their time has been spent as defense attorneys. My job has been a prosecutor and as a district judge. As a judge I had to weigh the evidence. If a person was found guilty, I had to pass sentence in order to ensure compliance.

As a prosecutor, we had to investigate the case, apply the applicable law to it and present this evidence to a judge or a jury. We had to convince them that a person was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. We also had to be a part of the sentencing process and we made sure that the sentence was complied with.
With my 14 years of experience as a judge or a prosecutor — which has been paid for by the taxpayers of Kentucky — that means after I’m sworn into office, I can be prosecuting in the courtrooms of Kentucky. My two opponents will either be in school learning how to be a prosecutor, or worse, they’ll be getting on-the-job training.

You have to have an outlook because you’re the chief law enforcement officer of the state, you’re the head of the law department for the state. You’re also head of the crime victims association for the state.

One of my opponents has exhibited his defense attorney mentality. Greg Stumbo wrote a letter on behalf of one of his former employees — Kent Downey — who was convicted on prostitution and gambling charges, of running those procedures out of his office. As the chief law enforcement officer of this state, you won’t see me writing a letter on behalf of someone who exploits women in that manner, asking a judge to set a lenient sentence. We need to be setting a standard. There will be plenty of people asking for leniency; that’s the defense attorney’s job. It’s the prosecution’s job to see that the proper sentence is imposed to get compliance and to show that this not a crime that is acceptable in the state.

Your opponents have made OxyContin and methamphetamine abuse problems priorities should they win.

Both of my opponents have a drug plan. I have a drug plan. Gatewood Galbraith proposes that we file a lawsuit similar to the tobacco lawsuit filed by the states. I think that’s a good step, but it’s not the only thing, it’s part of the process. I think he’s right because I think the pharmaceutical companies set out to do exactly what they did, and I don’t think their motives were pure.

But that will take two to seven years. And we have to depend on a jackpot jury to award that much to us. We can proceed with that while we go ahead with my plan.

Mr. Stumbo has a drug plan called the KBI. The problem with that is he wants a new bureaucracy that he will be the head of. He wants law enforcement officers under his direct control.

The problem is that we have state police who are retiring. They are our most seasoned officers. The money is there, but they’re not being replaced by even the newest recruits. We need more manpower on the streets so that we can attack this problem.

The other problem is funding. He wants to fund this with a new tax on cigarettes. He wants to add $1.50 to a carton of cigarettes. He says he wants to make pushers pay, but this is a tax on law-abiding people who are engaged in a legal activity. He wants to punish farmers who grow it, merchants who sell it and users who use it.

If you want to make pushers pay, you need to go after the assets of pushers, the distributors and the manufacturers. Let’s attack their property, both civil and real, and their bank accounts.

My plan is three parts. We’ve got to eradicate, educate and rehabilitate.
I propose we fund our law enforcement all the way down to the city and county levels. We go after the suppliers, distributors and manufacturers. We close them down.

When you have somebody who is more afraid of not getting their drug than getting put in jail or fined, then we’ve got a problem. We have to rehabilitate. We can go to the private sector; we can use faith-based options. We can increase our drug court participation.

The third thing is educate. We can’t afford to lose another generation of Kentuckians to drugs. I don’t care how many factories you have sitting in that community, if that labor force has lost its will to get up and go to work and perform their services for a Friday night paycheck, it’s not going to work. Those factories will have to close and go elsewhere.

In Kentucky, the average drug user spends about $60,000 a year to support their drug habit. Most people don’t make that. Once they’ve quit their job and sold their property, they’ve got to get money. What are they going to do? They turn to crime.

Now, capital cases go up, domestic violence goes up, people stop paying their child support. We have farmers in Western Kentucky who go out to get their anhydrous ammonia and find that it’s stolen because it’s an ingredient in methamphetamine.

I propose that we expand our DARE programs, and we’ve got to talk to young people about drug addiction.

Your pay was suspended twice as a district judge. Can you speak to that?

In Kentucky, any candidate for judicial office has to run under what is called the Judicial Canons of Ethics. There are many lawyers and judges who think those canons of ethics are too strong, too restrictive.

A similar canons of ethics, I believe, is in Minnesota. A judge brought an action saying that it was a restriction of his right of free speech. A judge upheld it. It’s now before the Supreme Court for review.

Mr. Stumbo, myself and Gatewood, if we were running under those canons of ethics, we would all have been suspended because we have all made comments that would not be permitted. All you can really say as a judicial candidate is that you’ll be fair and impartial.

In my first campaign for judge, I ran against an incumbent. My campaign committee did a poll in the four-county area. The results were that three of the four counties would vote for me. My committee ran an ad to that effect. After I defeated the incumbent judge and carried those three counties, a complaint was filed by someone.

The judicial commission decided that we hadn’t used a professional polling group. We admitted to that, that we had done it all in-house. They said that brought some sort of disrespect upon the judiciary. They suggested I take responsibility for this, since I was the candidate and I was responsible for everything my committee did. I agreed to that. It was a 10-day suspension of pay. I learned from it.

The other instance occurred when you set what was called an unreasonably high bond. Is that right?

No. What happened there was that my campaign committee ran an advertisement saying that I had been nominated for judge of the year. My brother, who was a practicing attorney in the community, made the nomination. They said that shouldn’t have happened. They said that my committee should not have made that nomination, even though my brother was qualified to make the nomination. Once again, they suggested a suspension of pay. The important thing to mention is that this was all pay. None of this was about judicial abilities.

You were suspended as an assistant county attorney.

That’s an interesting thing. Stewart Media Group, which is running Greg Stumbo’s media operations, filed an open records request with the Jefferson County Attorney’s office. Back came this letter — I know because I have a copy of it — which wasn’t signed at the bottom. It was just initialed at the top. I don’t remember having pay suspended. I don’t remember receiving this. My superiors at the time don’t remember this. This letter that they have wasn’t signed off on by myself, saying that I’ve seen it. It wasn’t signed off on by the county attorney at the time, Mike Conliffe.

The other interesting thing about that. Do you remember when the commonwealth attorney got his speeding ticket dismissed?

There were three county attorneys in that case. No one remembered doing it, but The Courier-Journal filed an open records request because they said they remembered one of those county attorneys having been suspended for the same activity. The report that came back to The Courier-Journal was, “We don’t keep records as far back as 1996.” But this letter was dated 1991. All of a sudden they don’t keep records back for Democratic prosecutors, but now they keep them back for Republicans?

One of the things I’d like to point out here. Ray Stewart and his media group, they’ve got to be some of the most unethical people in the media business. You remember back in the May primary where an advertisement was run in Eastern Kentucky and it was nicknamed the “naked PVA ad”?

Ray Stewart was the one who promoted that, produced it and put it on the air. Now Greg Stumbo has hired this individual to run his media. I think the people you employ and the people you put in your service speaks to what kind of public official you will be.

posted by Caleb O. Brown  # 17:27
 

The Independent: Gatewood Galbraith

Snitch interviewed all three candidates for the position of Kentucky Attorney General, the top law enforcement position in the Commonwealth.

The interview was conducted last Thursday by staff writer Caleb O. Brown.

What makes you more qualified than Greg Stumbo and Jack Wood?

I’ve been a practicing defense attorney in the courtrooms every day for the past 26 years. I’m highly regarded for my courtroom success. I’m capable of putting cases together from the prosecutorial end, which is one of the job functions of the attorney general. Mostly, I’m more qualified than these two guys because I have no interest to which I am beholden. Being an independent cannot be overemphasized in this race.

We all should be able to handle ourselves in the courtroom. We all have to be licensed attorneys, so we have to meet the minimum standard there. Being independent of any special interests, any party politics, any partisanship, that’s what separates me from these other two guys. Right now is such a critical time in Kentucky’s history, where partisan politics has gridlocked our system and … stopped the delivery of vital services for which it’s set to function. Independence is what gives me quality over these other two guys.

You have no elective experience. You’ve always been an independent attorney. In terms of building a prosecutorial staff, what impact will that have?

I’ve already consulted with people on the transition that needs to occur once we win. Lots of experienced political, intelligent people have come forth and counseled with me on what it takes to put together a shadow team, placing your people with the key people in the past administration so that the baton can be handed off in an efficient manner. The attorney general’s office has 240 or 250 employees, 16 basic areas of service. I’m going into it with the idea that everybody up there is working to maximum efficiency and doing a good job. I know that they’re going to have an 8 percent to 10 percent budget reduction next year …. The delivery of services as they currently exist should be a top priority of whoever goes in.

The first plank of your platform deals with corruption, inside and outside of state government. You believe that as an independent, you are most suited to deal with abuses of both parties. What specific offices in state government will receive your office’s highest level of scrutiny?

(Chuckles). Right now Transportation looks like a pretty good candidate. I don’t think the investigation is going to be done there. I’m interested in any quid pro quo deals between folks with state contracts and the contributions they make to the politicians that they put in power. I think personal service contracts and the hiring of outside help is one of the main vehicles of corruption.

In Paul Patton’s first year, those contracts were $220 million or so. In his last year, it was over $850 million. That growth of $600 million a year in hiring outside help is the area where most of the payoffs and cronyism goes. No telling how many payoffs have been made that way.

There is a legislative oversight committee, but they don’t pull many contracts. I think the reason is that the Republicans don’t really want to eliminate corruption in Frankfort. I think that party wants to replace the Democrats at the trough to see how deep they can dig their snouts into it.

Corruption is what keeps this state bankrupt financially and morally. We’ve gone from a budget surplus down to a budget deficit. So much of that money goes to special projects. It’s not being used to pay the state’s bills. It’s the political payoffs that are the institutionalized corruption.

I’ll bring up a point here. Mr. Stumbo, during the KET debate, looked into the camera and said, I’ve been up there 24 years and I’ve never seen any corruption. I said, ‘Mr. Stumbo, what about BOPTROT, the Kent Downey affair, the Love Gov. and the Transportation Department? Don’t you think those things qualify as corruption?’ Then I got to thinking about it. You know, in his mind, maybe that doesn’t qualify as corruption. It’s more of a lifestyle to him. Maybe what’s corruption to some people may seem like business as usual to other people. Business as usual is what has brought this state to a very critical juncture.

The state budget will likely limit your abilities to prosecute crime. How will you deal with that?

We’re all going to have to face budget cuts. I’m going to ask the employees of the office to dig a little deeper and find a little more desire to do the best job that they can. We need to get a little more production out of the people we have.

Setting the persona of being honest and a hard worker myself I think is going to set well. I plan on being up there as early as necessary to get the job done and stay as late at night as necessary to get the job done. Nobody is going to outwork me. I’ll set that kind of tone and tenor of honesty.

Prioritization of the law enforcement dollar is one of the main functions of the attorney general. The attorney general is chairman of the prosecutorial advisory council. They take the state budget and the law enforcement section of that and they make sure the commonwealth attorneys’ offices are funded, the county attorneys’ offices are funded. They may have a little more money that they put toward multi-jurisdictional task forces or other special projects they may have.

We’re going to enforce all of the laws, but we’re going to put more money toward some than others. We’re going to focus on the methamphetamine scourge, the crack cocaine scourge, and we’re going to follow the tracks in the snow to where these pharmaceutical companies have been pushing these pills and make them come up with some money for other programs.

How will you achieve greater transparency in state government?

I’d like to meet regularly with other constitutional officers on a regular basis, either once a week or once a month. I don’t know if that’s ever been done. I’d like those discussions to be a matter of public record.

The attorney general is charged with enforcing the open meetings act. I believe that a strong policy of absolutely enforcing the open meetings law will set a good tone.

The attorney general’s opinion is taken very seriously. When interpreting state law, how do you differ from your opponents on matters of law?

I have my opinion about a lot of things. I don’t expect to express it inappropriately or in the wrong context when I occupy the office. When my office is asked to defend a law in the state of Kentucky, we’ll do so to the best of our ability.

However, my oath is to defend the Constitution of the United states and the constitution of the state of Kentucky. I have views on the constitution that I’m sure the other two people do not hold.

Mr. Stumbo wants to add a new layer of police, the Kentucky Bureau of Investigation, his own personal police force. He wants them to have overreaching jurisdiction over local police departments. He wants to fund it with a 13-cent-per-pack cigarette tax.

I, on the other hand, want to get the government off the backs of the people. I am a conservative. I believe, philosophically, in less taxes and smaller government.

My own personal view, if it is appropriate to express in an opinion as attorney general, I will express it based upon my own view of the constitution.

That being said, I believe people’s right of privacy is being violated in many quarters now. Not just from criminals, but from a large government. In your own home, you have rights to which the powers of police do not extend. That’s not my opinion, that’s the law of the state of Kentucky.

For instance, I believe that you have the right, in your home, to smoke marijuana. I don’t believe that violates the law. In 1909, the Kentucky legislature passed a law that said all alcohol in the state was illegal. You couldn’t possess alcohol anywhere in the state. In 1910, in Commonwealth vs. Campbell, and in 1915, in Commonwealth vs. Smith, the Kentucky Supreme Court said that the Kentucky constitution guaranteed you a right to privacy in your home to which the power of police does not extend.

That’s not some folklore with no impact. That’s the standing rule. It’s that rule that keeps the Kentucky State Police from kicking down the doors in 77 dry counties in Kentucky and hauling everyone’s ass to jail that possesses alcohol. My question is, if I have a substance that is demonstrably less harmful than alcohol, don’t I have the same constitutional right in my home? I get plenty of cases dismissed because prosecutors don’t want to challenge me on it.

If you would do so, how would you seek the death penalty as attorney general?

I’m for it. As a defense attorney, I’m very sensitive to the possibility of putting an innocent person to death. If that were a possibility, I’d look at the circumstances of the case four or five times if I had a say in it. There are some situations where the identity of the assailant is not in doubt, the severity of the crime is not in doubt. The people have a right to put a person to death. I think it’s a deterrent. There’s no doubt about that. That person, at least, isn’t going to kill anyone else.

Mandatory minimum sentencing requirements?

I’m against them. As often as I’ve been ruled against in the courtroom, I trust the judge. I trust the system that places the judge there with the discretion that they have. In the long run, having that elected individual pass sentence based on community standards and the expectations of the people around them, that’s the ultimate of being judged by your peers.

There’s too much demagoguery played with the war on crime and the war on drugs. I’m afraid the legislature can get carried away trying to show how tough they can be, and they could pass more draconian laws than exist now.

posted by Caleb O. Brown  # 17:15

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

 

Social Insecurity

By Caleb O. Brown
Snitch Staff Writer

“The sign out front says these are supposed to be our twilight years,” says Vickie Taylor of her home, the J.O. Blanton House at Eighth Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard. “The board and management of this place are making them our nightmare years.”

Taylor sits in her apartment talking with friends, now colleagues, in an effort to fix dozens of problems they claim plague their home. Some residents say safety has sharply declined, leading some to carry knives, icepicks and handguns when they venture downstairs to do laundry.

The residents gathered with Taylor serve on what they call the “Committee for Concerned Residents,” a group formed by the Resident Council at Blanton House. The group says the home’s board of directors has been unresponsive to claims of poor security and other problems on the premises.

Taylor says, “We told them this building was full of dope addicts, sex offenders and prostitutes.”

Lucille Hall, another resident, says she routinely sees drug addicts in the halls and “the security people can’t do anything.”

Ann Pruitt moved into Blanton House three years ago and said she felt it was a safe place for her to live. She says her son now routinely offers to bring her a pistol so she can protect herself.

“All our sons are saying they’ll bring us guns,” says Taylor.

Three floors up, Vivian Gibson says she moved into Blanton house Dec. 2, 1972, and she’s noticed a decline in her own feeling of safety only in the last three years.

“You’re afraid to go to the garbage room to drop off your garbage. Used to be no problem taking it down there at two or three in the morning. Not anymore.”

The risks are not lost on Carlos Lynes, who is the chairman of the Blanton House board of directors.

“They complain that people are coming in with drugs,” he says. “I’m sure it’s happening. It wouldn’t surprise me at all, but none of that has been substantiated. Without proof, we can’t do anything.”

Lynes says he doesn’t understand why residents are carrying firearms in the building.

“The place is secure,” he says.

“That’s his opinion, but he’s only there once a month,” says another Blanton House board member who refused to be named for this story. “The police got rid of some drug dealers and prostitutes, but when the police left, those people came back. I want to see the place safe for our residents. It’s their home.”

At least part of the fight between residents and the board of directors is over who provides security to the building. Just four months ago, Lynes says, the board moved to allow off-duty Louisville police officers serve as security guards on weekends. Lynes says the police presence was a response to residents who claimed they’d witnessed drug activity in the building. Since switching from off-duty cops to a private security firm - Commonwealth Security - Lynes says residents have gotten angry.

“All of this has happened since we got rid of the Louisville Police Department,” Lynes says. “Three years ago, we didn’t have security in the building. I don’t think the situation has changed that much in that time. The complaints about security usually come around the first of the month, when people get paid.”

One of those complaints came a year ago, when Lula Ross says she was attacked on Aug. 31.

She says the attacker kept his hands on her throat, repeating “Where’s the money?!” Ross says she fought off the attacker successfully.

Taylor says that attack and other threats serve as reason enough for a police presence in the building. Taylor says Louisville police serving as security in the building are just better at policing the building.

“They knew the players and the hustlers and the dealers and they knew how to stop them,” she says.

Taylor adds that Louisville police are armed and have the ability to arrest people, whereas a security officer for a private firm would have to call the police.

Last month, residents achieved mixed results when they approached the board of directors to deal with issues of security and sanitation in the building.

“We had about 25 people who came up. They voiced their concerns and I have a listing of the complaints. It just so happened that the man who manages the property was there, also. I received from him a letter as to what he has done as far as correcting many of the issues,” Taylor says.

Concerned Residents committee member Ann Pruit says it was more like 30 people, and that they followed up with letters to the board and to the recently hired property management firm, TESCO Properties. TESCO Managing Agent Larry Sisson could not be reached for comment at his office in Germantown, Tenn.

Lynes says he is waiting on proof from residents of drug activity, even though he admits that he’s sure there is some in the building.

“They complained that there was drug activity there,” says Lynes. “They complained about prostitution in the building. We asked them to sign an affidavit, and no one would sign an affidavit. If they know of someone who is pushing drugs or bringing drugs in, those residents can indicate that to management, but they have not done this.”

Pruitt and Taylor say no one has asked them to sign any affidavit about what they have witnessed.

posted by Caleb O. Brown  # 03:33
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