Monthly Archives: February 2013

TRAFFIC STOP LEADS TO BIG DRUG BUST IN MONTGOMERY COUNTY!

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Press Release: On Wednesday February 27, 2013, at approximately 1:30 PM, deputies with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office Special Investigations Unit uniformed patrol section stopped a vehicle for traffic a violation in the area of Interstate 45 and Calvary Road. A narcotics detection dog alerted deputies which led to the discovery of eight (8) kilograms of cocaine. The driver was arrested for possession of a controlled substance and taken to the Montgomery County Jail. The estimated wholesale value of the cocaine is $28,500 per kilogram.

Arrested: Desiree Lopez 08-01-1976 Dallas, Texas

REMEMBERING FORMER HARRIS COUNTY ATTORNEY MIKE DRISCOLL!

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Mike Driscoll was a man who dedicated his life to public service as the Harris County Attorney. He served in the high profile position from 1981 to 1996. A memorial is being held for Driscoll Wednesday at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Houston. Driscoll died in his sleep February 19. He suffered from Parkinson’s disease. He was 66 years old.

HOW IS THE CITY OF HOUSTON BICYCLE SHARE PROGRAM PERFORMING?

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The Bike Share program has been operating for several months in our community.

I wanted to know if Houstonians were taking advantage of the program.

The early numbers are in and despite being considered one of the country’s fattest cities…Houston residents are pedaling the rental bikes.

Here are some stats from the city and news the program will expand:

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First Six Months of Program

Current Program – 3 stations and 18 bicycles that were funded by an EPA Clean Air grant that was secured by the City of Houston’s Office of Sustainability. The grant provided approximately $116,000 to establish the initial program.

 

Memberships – Over 1,200 members with a majority coming from single day riders.

 

Checkouts – Over 2,000 bike checkouts in first 6 months averaging almost 300 checkouts per month.  Market Square has the most check-outs, followed by City Hall and the GRB.

 

Costs – Current operating expenses are being covered by revenue from memberships, rentals and sponsorships.

 

Bikes and Stations – The technology has been very dependable with less than 1% downtime. And the bikes have held up very well with only a handful of flat tires and minor repairs over the first 6 months. Bike Barn is providing the mechanical support and administering the maintenance of the bicycles.             

 

Expansion – There is a planned expansion of the program starting in March 2013. The City will have 200 bikes and 24 stations in downtown, mid-town, Museum District and Montrose. With this density, the program should generate over 25,000 checkouts and a membership base of over 15,000. 

Laura Spanjian
Sustainability Director 
Office of the Mayor
City of Houston

29 TAKEN DOWN UNDER SECRET INDICTMENT!

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A sealed indictment charging numerous defendants with racketeering violations has been unsealed following their recent arrests throughout the Southern District of Texas and elsewhere. The arrests include 17 former Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) correction officers and 12 others in relation to the case. A list of those taken into custody is attached.
 
The indictment was announced today by United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson along with along with Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Brian M. Moskowitz, Inspector General Bruce Toney with TDCJ – Office of the Inspector General (TDCJ-OIG), Special Agent in Charge of Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Lucy Cruz, Special Agent in Charge Melvin King Jr. of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Corpus Christi Police Department (CCPD) Chief Floyd D. Simpson and Postal Inspector in Charge Robert B. Wemyss of U.S. Postal Inspection Service. 
 
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Following an operation involving federal, state and local law enforcement personnel, a total of 22 have been arrested on criminal charges in the indictment. Seven defendants named in the indictment were already in custody. As a result, a total of 29 people are now in custody in connection with the four-year investigation. Thirteen former correction officers were arrested on racketeering charges and four others on separate drug charges. The indictment remains sealed as to those charged but not as yet in custody.
 
The arrest of the former correction officers was a joint effort between TDCJ-OIG and federal authorities to attempt to break the “culture of corruption” that permeated the McConnell Unit Prison during a period between 2005 to the present. State and federal authorities worked together in a determined effort to disrupt and dismantle the violent criminal gangs who were profiting through the corruption of guards at the prison.
 
According to the indictment returned under seal by a federal grand jury last week, 13 former TDCJ correction officers were part of a criminal enterprise that engaged in bribery and narcotics trafficking. The indictment details specific acts, wherein the correction officers assisted prisoners incarcerated in the TDCJ McConnell Unit Prison in Beeville by smuggling cellular telephones and drugs into the prison system. The drugs and phones were allegedly sold inside the prison to other inmates. The phones were used by inmates to assist in their coordination of criminal activities outside the prison, according to the allegations.
 
Today’s announcement caps a four-year investigation conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, HSI, TDCJ-OIG, IRS-CI, ATF, CCPD Gang and Organized Crime Units, USPIS and the Bee County District Attorney’s office. The investigation was initiated in 2009 when several Aryan Circle Gang Members were apprehended attempting to transport stolen vehicles from Corpus Christi to Brownsville. The vehicles were destined to be smuggled across the border and sold to Mexico Cartel members. The operation was coordinated by inmates incarcerated at the McConnell Unit through the use of illegal cell phones.
 
The resulting investigation led to a December 2010 federal indictment charging 14 alleged members and associates of the Raza Unida Street and Prison Gang with committing violent acts to support racketeering (VICAR). These violent acts included home invasions, shootings and conspiracy to commit murder. During the course of the investigation, agents and officers seized approximately 13 pounds of crystal methamphetamine with an estimated street value of more than $300,000. Additionally, seven assault rifles, 14 pistols, five shotguns, five bullet proof vests and approximately 1,000 rounds of ammunition were seized from the gang. All were subsequently convicted, two of whom were sentenced to life imprisonment.
 
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Mark Patterson and Michael Hess.

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Wednesday morning State Representative Ron Reynolds issued a press release thanking Harris County District Attorney Mike Anderson for dismissing a criminal case against him that was filed last year.

That thank you came after Reynolds was told the D.A. would not pursue the barratry or ambulance chasing case against the state lawmaker.

Reynolds said in his statement he knew his name would be cleared once the facts came out.

However, that statement is not quite accurate because the facts did not clear the elected official but a technicality.

Two Harris County investigators who handled Reynolds’ case were arrested on an unrelated matter leaving their credibility shot in any future cases in the District Attorney’s office.

The district attorney I’m told has no choice but to throw out the charges out against Reynolds in his barratry case.

In the end – Reynolds will never be able to completely clear his name or prove he never actually broke the law.

Here’s Reynolds’ press release:

Today, State Rep. Ron Reynolds (Fort Bend County, District 27) announced the dismissal of the barratry case filed against him with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office (Case No. 134513401010).
 
Rep. Reynolds was charged and never indicted of barratry by a Grand Jury. Barratry is the solicitation for legal services of a potential client by an attorney without the potential client’s permission.
 
“I want to thank District Attorney Mike Anderson for doing the right thing and dismissing my case,” said Rep. Reynolds. “I said from day one that once the facts came out, justice would prevail and I would be vindicated of all charges. I want to thank everyone for their prayers and supporting me and my family during this challenging time. I never lost faith in God and the Criminal Justice System.”

CITY CONTROLLER RONALD GREEN ADDRESSES HOW SEQUESTRATION AFFECTS LOCAL GOVERNMENTS!

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Houston City Controller Ronald Green will participate in a press briefing at the National Press Club in Washington D.C., Weds., Feb. 27, to discuss the Federal across-the-board budget cuts scheduled to go in effect Friday, March 1. The briefing is co-sponsored by the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties, U.S. Conference of mayors and the Government Finance Officers Association. The briefing will have special emphasis on the disastrous effects cities would experience if municipal bonds are taxed in the future.  The briefing will begin at 11:30 a.m. EST.

“Tax exempt municipal bonds have been a mainstay for cities for a century,” says Controller Green. “Three quarters of all public infrastructure built by states and cities is financed by these bonds, so in a very real way the bonds contribute to job growth as well as sales and property tax revenue while keeping homeowners safe from escalating taxes. Eliminating the exemption on these bonds would be devastating to many cities that are already in a financial crisis.”

In Washington DC, there has been discussion about eliminating the tax exemption on “muni” bonds or limiting the exemption to fewer investors as one tool to ease the growing Federal deficit.

“Talk of eliminating the tax exemption on municipal bonds is more about politics-on both sides-than economics,” says Green. “No one can argue about how cities, counties and states have utilized municipal bonds to great effect to finance their capital projects such as roads and highways, water projects, schools, libraries, fire stations and, while doing this, saving from 25 to 30 percent on interest costs with tax exempt ‘muni’ bonds. The yield from taxable bonds-if that was the only option for municipalities-would pale in comparison to the cost it would be to citizens in terms of property or sales taxes to fund infrastructure projects. Or, the alternative, simply to postpone needed projects.”

Additionally, Green points out, limiting any tax exemption could cause the market to become quite fragile, even bringing losses and withdrawals that would be felt for years to come.

“We’ve invited Controller Green to be at the press briefing because he has considerable experience in municipal finance,” says Lars Etzkorn, Federal Relations Program Director for NLC. “He understands both the nuances of the bond market and the many budget challenges U.S. cities are facing.” Joining Green will be city and county officials from several states.

DO YOU KNOW THESE ROBBERY SUSPECTS?

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Investigators in the Houston Police Department Robbery Division have released surveillance photos of two suspects wanted in a robbery in the southwest area of Houston in December 2012. The suspects are described only as two black males, about 5 feet 6 inches tall, 140 pounds and with slim builds.  Both were armed and wore ski masks.  Surveillance photos of both suspects are attached to this news release. About 7 p.m. on December 3, two employees of AT&T were conducting work in the 6700 block of Westwick when they were approached by two unknown male suspects wearing ski masks and armed with weapons.  One suspect pointed his weapon at the victims and demanded their phones and wallets while the other suspect remained near the rear of their vehicle as a lookout.  The victims complied and the suspects then fled on foot to a nearby townhome complex. The victims reported their credit cards were used shortly after the incident at the Famous Foot Wear store at 2938 Eldridge.  The cards were also used at a T. J. Maxx in the 2900 block of Eldridge and at a Bank of America drive-thu ATM. Anyone with information in this case or on the identities of the wanted suspects is urged to contact the HPD Robbery Division at 713-308-0700 or Crime Stoppers at 713-222-TIPS. 

BBC REPORT: AFGHANISTAN COULD SOON BE BACK IN THE HANDS OF THE TALIBAN BECAUSE OF CORRUPTION!

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BBC: Most police forces investigate crimes like corruption, kidnapping, drug use, murder and child abuse. But in Sangin – the most violent district in Afghanistan – these are crimes that some of the police commit.

Politicians insist the handover to the Afghan security forces is going smoothly and that they will be able to maintain security as the allied forces withdraw.

On a recent visit to Helmand, UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said the “transition is proceeding very well – it is on track.

“The Afghans are developing capabilities faster than we expected and we have every reason to believe that they will be able to maintain security as the Isaf forces draw down,” he added.

The outgoing commander of Nato forces, Gen John Allen, is even more ebullient: “Afghan forces are defending Afghan people and enabling the government of this country to serve its citizens. This is victory. This is what winning looks like, and we should not shrink from using these words.”

The reality in Sangin is very different.

I spent five weeks embedded with US Marines, who took over the region from British troops in 2010. I hoped to gain a true sense of what progress has been made in readying the Afghan forces to secure the area.

During my time in Sangin, just two teams of 18 US Marines went out every few days to advise the Afghan army and police across the district.

The remaining American forces have withdrawn to the main forward operating base, which they rarely leave.

Because of the growing risk of deadly insider – or “green on blue” – attacks, the Americans live completely apart from their Afghan counterparts. Whenever the Americans enter the Afghan side of the base, they have their weapons cocked, ready to fire.

When they did go out, what the marines saw was far from encouraging. At one checkpoint, the Afghan police were openly smoking marijuana. Two other police officers, assigned to fill sandbags to fortify a watchtower, were high on something stronger – probably opium or heroin. When one of the police commanders was shot, three weeks after I left, the American medics who saved him found a bag of heroin in his pocket.

Major Bill Steuber is leading the police advisory team, and spends much of his time at headquarters with the police leadership.

He said corruption is rampant, and even compared it to the American television show The Sopranos.

“It’s vast,” he said, “everything from skimming ammunition off their supplies to skimming fuel off their shipments.

“There’s false imprisonment – they’ll take people during an engagement, and they’ll just wrap everyone up, then they’ll wait for the families to come in and pay them money to be able to release them.”

He said the police sometimes sell ammunition and weapons in the local bazaar, including rocket-propelled grenades. So weapons paid for by the allied forces could well be ending up in the hands of the Taliban.

In one instance, a patrol base was deemed unsafe to stay in because the Afghan police were selling off the security walls as scrap metal.

Major Steuber said the foreign military working here have to accept the limitations on what they can hope to achieve.

He said that because the Afghan police were unable to sustain themselves, sometimes corruption was the only way they could function.

“If we were to go in and shut down all of their schemes, all of their corruption schemes, you would render them completely ineffective,” he said.

But there are issues Major Steuber said need to be tackled head-on – including the sexual abuse of young boys by local police commanders.

On every police base I visited in Sangin, there were young boys: some were armed, and some looked like servants. They are known as “chai boys”.

Major Steuber says they are often sexually abused.

The problem is widespread. While I was in Sangin, four boys were shot while trying to escape police commanders, three of them fatally. None of the commanders responsible were arrested.

Sangin Deputy Police Chief Qhattab Khan admitted this abuse is taking place, and promised to take action.

He told Major Steuber: “The kids themselves want to stay at the patrol bases and give their bodies at night… There is no humanity. There is no military command”.

Mr Khan retired before any action was taken to free the chai boys. To date they have not been released.

“Try doing that day in, day out,” said Major Steuber, “working with child molesters, working with people who are robbing people, murdering them. It wears on you after a while.”

The Afghan government says it is fighting corruption and that the police and armed forces are ready and willing to take full responsibility for the security of their country.

Ministry of Interior Spokesman Sediq Sediqi, said the Afghan Government would investigate the claims of corruption and abuse, highlighted by Panorama.

But from what I saw, corruption and criminality are widespread among the police in Sangin. This is exactly the kind of behaviour that led many Afghans to welcome the Taliban when they swept to power in 1996. Is this what all the fighting and bloodshed has been for?

 

IF YOU’RE PARKING IN DOWNTOWN HOUSTON ASK TO SEE THEIR WORK BADGE OR ID!

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Some Houstonians have complained there are scam artists in downtown Houston taking advantage of those using privately owned parking lots. I have reveived an email from a woman who was victimized just last week. The woman says homeless people are pretending to be parking attendants and charging drivers $10 to park in the lots. The woman who paid the fee came back later to find her car booted by management at the lot because she did not put her money in the meter on the lot. The woman says she was among 11 other people who fell for the scam. Officials with Houston’s parking enforcement say they are aware of the scheme and drivers should pay close attention to the signs on the lots and follow the instructions.

HOUSTON CITY COUNCIL MEMBER SAYS THE INDEPENDENT CRIME LAB HAS HPD FINGERPRINTS ALL OVER IT!

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Press Release from City Council Member Helena Brown:

When Houston City Council formed the Houston Forensic Science Local Government Committee (LGC) in an effort to establish an “independent” crime lab, Houstonians might not have thought it could have amounted to a front for the continued operations of the HPD Crime Lab, but it has. The stated purpose of the LGC is that it would provide an outside assessment, independent of HPD. On February 13, 2013, HPD’s Executive Assistant Chief Oettmeier and Assistant Chief Slinkard gave a report before City Council just barely allowing the LGC chair, the Honorable Scott Hochberg, room to squeeze in at the edge of the podium. The fact that the committee report was dominated by HPD personnel violates the very premise on which the committee was founded. The issue with the HPD Crime Lab has not been merely forensic testing or the lack thereof, but fundamental and pervasive failures for the past twenty years in the professional culture and competency of the lab’s leadership and personnel. Fixing the failed crime lab must involve replacing the institution that has perpetually failed in its attempts to properly administer it, the Houston Police Department. Leaving HPD involved is unacceptable from both a policy and ethical standpoint. Crime lab failures have jeopardized the City of Houston to millions of dollars in lawsuits. These suits will continue until we make more than a cosmetic change. The greatest liability and cost to the City could be those cases where an individual was taken to trial and found guilty without testing the Sexual Assault Kit (SAK) and later testing indicated a different person. The cases of Ricardo Rachelle and George Rodriguez represent the very worst of our Crime Lab. Among the reported 6,663 untested SAKs, it can be assumed that there are more cases of failed justice to be discovered. Regardless of the cost of our failed HPD Crime Lab, the primary role of government in this matter is to ensure justice, not to cover up forensic mistakes in order to save face or money. When, on February 13, the Assistant Chiefs announced their proposal to have two out-of-state vendors test the untested SAKs, they asserted that HPD would make the final decision on whether to enter the results into CODIS or not, and that HPD would decide on whether anything would be done with the results or not. The Assistant Chiefs also reported that they had received a letter indicating that Harris County would no longer be taking any kits, when in fact the letter from the Chief Medical Examiner Sanchez last July clearly indicated simply a brief cessation due to their relocation in November 2012. The new proposal to “get rid of the backlog” and at rock bottom prices is wrong on many levels. The claim of cost savings associated with the proposed contracts is uncertain given unspecified consultation costs (fee schedule) and transportation costs (travel from Virginia and Utah to Houston for court testimony relating to results). The liability to our community is manifold when we mishandle evidence. Serial rapists have been identified in cases tied to previously unprocessed SAKs. The situation becomes deadlier when serial rapists with AIDS and other deadly diseases are free to prey upon the men, women, and children of our community. It is unacceptable that our city thus far has failed to correct the problems and get this right moving forward. Over six thousand SAKs have gone untested for years, but we need an account of an even higher number of SAKs currently at the Crime Lab. Two years ago, Irma Rios, the past Crime Lab director, reported that there were a total of 15,500 SAKs in the Crime Lab Property Room. If these SAKs have been tested, it is paramount to know if all the results have been entered into CODIS or not. If they have been destroyed, we need an explanation as to why. Public attention is being given to what might be this administration’s intent with the new proposal: “manage,” “eliminate,” “clear,” and “vanish” are some of the terms being used to describe the proposed testing of the SAK back-log at these supposed bargain rates. Testing the SAKs is a matter pertaining to lives forever affected by these horrendous attacks; this is not a matter of wiping a dry-erase board clean to “start fresh.” The City of Houston should give the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences an opportunity to bid on the bulk-testing of the 6,663 SAKs. Houston has the largest medical center in the nation; let’s keep the jobs in Houston, and eliminate the transportation cost for court testimony. If we move forward with the out-of-state vendors it must be for justice’s sake not to “get rid of” the backlog by simply testing to “clear the slate” and do nothing with the results; that is not justice. With the out-of-state vendors’ proposal, the City should guarantee that all test results will be entered into CODIS as soon as each result is available. The City should set up a protocol for the processing of the untested SAKs; all SAKs which are tied to cases already closed should be tested first. By restoring integrity to our forensic testing, we will ensure that justice is served in Houston.


Update: Janice Evans with Mayor Annise Parker’s office says there will be no response to this statement.