Category Archives: Law

The Rip Off Society

The New York Times

Fausset, Richard (5/4/20)

 

“ The state of Mississippi allowed tens of millions of dollars in federal anti-poverty funds to be used in ways that did little or nothing to help the poor, with two nonprofit groups instead using the money on lobbyists, football tickets, religious concerts and fitness programs for state lawmakers, according to a scathing audit released on Monday.”

 

According to the report, released by the state auditor’s office, the money also enriched celebrities with Mississippi ties, among them Brett Favre, a former N.F.L. quarterback whose Favre Enterprises was paid $1.1 million by a nonprofit group that received the welfare funds. The payments were for speaking engagements that Mr. Favre did not attend, the auditors said.

 

Other large sums went to a family of pro wrestlers whose flamboyant patriarch, Ted DiBiase, earned national fame performing as the “Million Dollar Man.” In a news conference on Monday, Shad White, the state auditor, said it was possible that many recipients of the money did not know it had come from the federal welfare program.

 

Mr. Favre could not be reached for comment Monday. Mr. DiBiase declined to comment.

 

Mr. White called the findings “the most egregious misspending my staff have seen in their careers.” The audit found that more than $98 million from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, or TANF, was funneled to the two Mississippi-based nonprofit groups over three years. About $94 million of that was “questioned” by state auditors, meaning the money was in all likelihood misspent or the auditors could not verify that it had been spent legally, Mr. White said.

 

The breadth of the audit — which auditors said included funds that were “misspent, converted to personal use, spent on family members and friends of staffers and grantees or wasted” — raises broad questions about the efficacy of America’s social safety net.

 

In 1996, the TANF program converted the old federal welfare system, in which cash benefits to poor families were deemed an entitlement, to a system of block grants issued to the states. The new program created work rules and time limits on aid — and, notably, gave each state much more leeway on how to spend the money. Critics say that states do not have to clearly justify that they are spending the money on helping the poor.

 

“There’s this incredible amount of flexibility,” said LaDonna Pavetti, vice president for family income support policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “It could allow for a lot of things to happen.”

 

Mississippi Republican lawmakers concerned about the misuse of federal funds have enacted safeguards to prevent fraud by potential welfare recipients. A ThinkProgress article found that in 2016, only 167 of the 11,700 Mississippi families who applied for a TANF payment were approved.

 

For those who support anti-poverty initiatives, the unfolding scandal has left a particularly bitter taste. “It’s just, ‘How can you?’” said Oleta Garrett Fitzgerald, southern regional director for the Children’s Defense Fund.

 

Monday’s audit comes after the arrest in February of John Davis, the former director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services, the agency that distributes the federal welfare block grants. Mr. Davis is accused of taking part in a multimillion-dollar embezzlement scheme.

 

Five other people were charged in the apparent scheme, including Nancy New, a politically connected figure who was the executive director of the Mississippi Community Education Center, one of the two nonprofit groups mentioned in the report. All have pleaded not guilty.

 

According to the auditor’s report, sub-grantees who received federal money through Mr. Davis’s group told auditors that Mr. Davis often signed off verbally on the projects they intended to fund, leaving holes in any paper trail. Mr. Davis’s nephew and brother-in-law received work contracts, either through his department, Ms. New’s group, or the other nonprofit group that received money, the Family Resource Center of North Mississippi, the audit states.

 

Mr. Davis, in a statement to a congressional committee last year, said that Mississippi welfare officials were using the program “to address the needs of those we serve. We see this as a way to eliminate one of the last barriers to finding true self-sufficiency for those who seek to not be dependent on needs-based programs.”

 

The report also shed light on payments made to entities connected to the wrestling family, and the mixture of self-help and evangelizing that the welfare money was supposedly funding. Mr. DiBiase is listed on federal tax forms as the principal officer of a religious nonprofit called Heart of David Ministries. The report shows the ministry received roughly $1.9 million over three years.

 

One of his sons, Ted DiBiase Jr., also a wrestler, is listed on state records as the registered agent and officer of a company called Priceless Ventures, which offered a self-help program, “The Law of 16.” The company received more than $2 million, auditors said.

 

A Law of 16 workbook submitted to Congress features inspirational quotes from Ted DiBiase Jr. and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

 

Auditors said that another son of the elder Mr. DiBiase, Brett DiBiase, also a wrestler, was paid with welfare funds to teach antidrug classes. But Mr. DiBiase, who was one of the six people indicted in February, never gave those classes, auditors said.

 

Ms. New, the head of the Mississippi Community Education Center, is a well-connected longtime educator who ran a private school in Jackson. Her work in the welfare field was feted by conservatives for helping poor people achieve self-sufficiency.

 

Mr. White’s office, in a statement, said the group was “particularly dependent” on TANF funding “and engaged in significant misspending.” From 2016 to 2019, the statement said, the group was given more than $60 million in welfare money, and raised less than $1.6 million from other sources.

 

Among the questionable spending by the nonprofit, the statement said, was the purchase of three trucks costing more than $50,000 each, which Mr. White said were used by Ms. New and two of her sons. Her lawyer could not be reached for comment.

 

The broader scandal is one of numerous major problems the state is facing, including the coronavirus pandemic and a prison system in crisis.

 

Danny Blanton, a spokesman for the human services department, said on Monday that steps were being taken to clean it up, including a planned forensic audit. Mr. White said that a state criminal investigation into the misuse of funds continues, in coordination with federal investigators.

Monday Morning Rundown: Bailout Payoffs, Pollution for Profit, Seizure of PPE, Elimination of Over-Sight

SUNDAY 17 MAY 2020: Morning Rundown:

Pollution for Profit

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/14/climate/trump-drinking-water-perchlorate.html

  • A new E.P.A. policy would revoke a 2011 finding that the chemical perchlorate should be regulated. This is a toxic chemical that contaminates water and has been linked to fetal and infant brain damage.
  • This policy defies a court order that required the agency to establish safe drinking-water standards for the chemical by the end of June.
  • The policy both acknowledges that exposure to high levels of the chemical can cause I.Q. damage and also opts not to limits the use of the chemical.
  • Both the Defense Department and military contractors such as Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman waged aggressive efforts to block the controls on the chemical.
  • The administration is using the fact that states like California and Massachusetts regulate the chemical to argue that few public water systems now contain perchlorate at high levels and so the nationwide monitoring of the chemical would outweigh the benefits.

The Elimination of Oversight

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/05/15/state-department-inspector-general-fired-261536

  • Trump has removed State Department Inspector General Steve Linick and replaced him with a buddy of Mike Pence’s.
  • This is just another move in a series of movies to eliminate independent government watchdogs.
  • Trump said in a letter that his replacement “meets the appropriate qualifications” for the position. The appropriate qualifications are unquestioning subservience to Donald Trump and his cronies.
  • Part of this replacement is evidently an attempt to protect Secretary Pompeo from an investigation into his misuse of a political appointee to perform personal task for him and his wife.
  • In the past few months, Trump has removed Health and Human Services Inspector General Christi Grimm who had issued a report critical of the administration’s response to the coronavirus. He also removed the Intelligence community’s inspector general, Michael Atkinson.

Federal Seizure of PPE

https://www.citizensforethics.org/foia/fema-coronavirus-ppe-seizures/

  • After having refused to assume the duty of a federal government and left the states to fend for themselves to secure desperately needed PPE, federal authorities are now seizing and rerouting personal protective gear.
  • Massachusetts, Virginia and New Jersey have reported seizures of PPE shipments.

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/05/16/uss-theodore-roosevelt-sailors-test-positive-coronavirus-261873

Sailors with Coronavirus

  • Thirteen sailors aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt who had Covid 19, have now tested positive again after being returned to the ship.

The Bailout Scam

https://www.propublica.org/article/another-private-jet-company-owned-by-a-trump-donor-got-a-bailout-this-one-for-20-million?utm_source=pardot&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=majorinvestigations&utm_content=river

  • A Nebraska-based private jet company whose principle owner donated to Trump and the Republicans before the 2016 election, received a $20 million taxpayer-paid for aid from the federal bailout package in March.
  • This was the second private plane company founded or owned by Trump donors to receive funds designed for the airline industry.
  • The other company’s founder gave nearly $50,000 to the Republican National Committee and Trump. They got $27 million in federal funds.
  • Why are you not furious?

The Brunswick News and the Arbery Killing

videoVideo of protest about the killing of Ahmaud Arbery.

This is a letter to the editor that appeared in the Brunswick News (5/14/20).  It needs to be pointed out, however, that the Brunswick News is consistently filled with right-wing material and right-wing political commentary from syndicated columnists.  The editorial page regularly includes an article by the now deceased Billy Graham.  The newspaper also frequently publishes what are essentially campaign ads for the current Representative, (Not your) Buddy Carter.

Letter to the Editor, Brunswick News.  5/14/20.

I never thought that I would be a protester. My mom and dad raised me to respect the law and to submit to authority.

Then a young man was murdered.

I initially called for peace and trust. I worked with law enforcement officials during my career in child protection. In my day, we all dedicated our lives to being moral and ethical servants of our community.

Somehow, Jackie Johnson was elected to work with us, as our chief law enforcement officer. Things changed.

A police officer stalked his wife and subsequently killed her. He was shielded by the DAs office.

A former employee, armed and angry, kills a young man. We now know that she instructed that her former employee not be arrested before recusing herself and hand-picking her successor, who likewise refused to make an arrest. We then learn that he was also conflicted and indebted to DA Johnson through his son’s employment.

The governor needs to suspend DA Johnson until such time as she can be investigated. We need to be able to have faith that “equal protection under the law” are not hollow words.

DA Johnson, step down. We have no faith in you.

Mark Newman