The return of Dr. Evil (as if he could stay away)

Ah, Dr. Evil, how we’ve missed ‘ye.

Not that we ever doubted you would be back in the fray.

It was just about a year ago that Richard Berman and his ticked-off kitty landed in Palm Beach.
The notorious Washington lobbyist was behind mailers featuring a cantankerous cat urging the island’s wealthy residents to think twice before donating to The Humane Society of the United States.

Dr. Evil's anti- Humane Society kitty
Dr. Evil’s anti- Humane Society kitty

Going after a group dedicated to helping small furry critters is mere child’s play for Berman: Through various companies, he’s gone after Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and advocates for weight loss. He’s worked for Big Tobacco and defended mercury-laden tuna and tanning beds everywhere.
He’s accused PETA of killing animals.

Unlike many in the forefront of controversies, Berman is a cheerful warrior, reveling in his nickname.
And now, a new year, a new cause: The Doc is focusing on letting carbons run free.
The Guardian reports Berman has funneled money through a nonprofit to five front groups attacking proposed EPA rules limiting power plant carbon emissions, as well as funding 16 anti-regulation studies.

That’s classic Dr. E. Money and lobbying are typically handled by a nonprofit he creates with few direct ties to the industries or people behind it. In a taped speech smuggled to the New York Times, Berman crowed, “We run all of this stuff through non-profit organizations that are insulated from having to disclose donors. There is total anonymity.”

Another reason no one has ever accused Berman of being stupid.

Just evil.

Willacy prison: “A most unsurprising riot”

As an ACLU article noted this week, the riot and destruction of Willacy County Correctional should have come as a surprise only to those wearing blinders.

AP Photo/Valley Morning Star, David Pike
AP Photo/Valley Morning Star, David Pike

In the dark.
For the last seven years.
To recap: Almost 3,000 inmates are packing up and leaving the harshly-criticized Texas prison after a riot left the place “uninhabitable.”
The inmates, most of them serving time for low-level or immigration offenses, seized control of the sprawling complex for two days beginning last Friday, citing poor medical care.
Management and Training Corp. is the private company running the prison for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. It also operates Gadsden Correctional prison for Florida’s Dept. of Corrections.
MTC hasn’t run up the same type of serious complaints here.
But it’s been under the gun at Willacy for years.
Back in 2008, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which at the time sent immigrant detainees to Willacy, found problems. ICE said the problems were fixed within a year, but in 2009, the Texas Tribune did an expose on health conditions there.
In 2011, Frontline ran a series which unearthed allegations of, among other things, sexual abuse by guards.
Last year, the ACLU released a report once again slamming Willacy. Inmates faced solitary confinement for complaining about food or bad medical care, attorneys found. The “prison” was a tent city, a series of Kevlar tents, allowing insects to crawl into beds at night. (Take it from a Texas girl. Bugs grow big there.) Sewage overflowed from broken toilets. And medical care too often consisted of Tylenol.
MTC rejected the ACLU findings.
So ACLU attorney Carl Takei, who interviewed Willacy inmates, might be allowed an “I told you so” right about now.
That’s not really where he took it, though. To read Takei’s thoughts on the uprising:
And to read The Post’s investigation into privately operated Florida prisons:

Where are the dead boys of Dozier?

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

Senator Bill Nelson’s letter to Loretta Lynch about the dead boys of Florida’s most notorious reform school was hand delivered.
Nelson, who has pushed for resources needed to identify the bodies of young boys buried at the Dozier School for Boys, wanted to make sure his request for a Dept. of Justice investigation literally got in the right hands: outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder and Lynch, the person tapped to replace him.
Nelson’s request stems from a disturbing piece of math. University of South Florida researchers trying to find and identify remains of children who died between 1915-1960 thought they were looking for 31 graves. That’s the number the Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement’s own 2009 investigation found. That inquiry found nothing amiss, or at least, nothing criminal.
But the USF team has found 51 bodies and 55 graves.
They expect to find more.
The school closed three years ago, and time has eroded clues as to how many Dozier boys died. But it is known that one 14-year-old died from a blow to the head; he was among 10 boys who died at the school after running away. A six-year-old on parole died after being brought back to the school unconscious. The next year, records of his eight-year-old brother, also at Dozier, disappeared. Several former Dozier inmates spoke of tunnels beneath the school gym and a “rape room” where boys younger than 12 were assaulted.
FDLE’s 2009 investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing at the facility.
The Dept. of Justice weighed in back in 2011, but they were looking at the school’s current treatment of kids – which they found unconstitutional- not what put children and teens into unmarked graves.
Nelson has something else in mind: a federal investigation into the deaths, in part because he believes state and local law enforcement won’t.
“In 2012, when the FDLE was asked to comment on the university’s initial findings, officials characterized them as just ‘an academic research study’,” wrote Nelson. “Local law enforcement, meantime, has expressed no interest in investigating. Thus, a federal investigation may be the best alternative.”
For a look at the USF interim report: “

Think of the puppies, Gov. Scott!

Gov. Scott does support Everglades critters.
Gov. Scott does support Everglades critters.

As Warren Buffett has helpfully pointed out, lucrative tax deductions are just one more way the rich are different from you and me.

Which is as good an excuse as any during this runup to April 14 to revisit tiny little footnotes to Gov. Rick Scott’s own tax returns from years past.

They are fascinating reading not only for the details of where Scott money was invested, but in the unexpected details of where it wasn’t.

In several states, tax filing paperwork includes an option to get a deduction by contributing to very specific charities.

Very specific animal charities.

Rick and Ann Scott passed on contributing to critters of all kinds: The Colorado Pet Overpopulation Fund, the California Sea Otter Fund, the Colorado Endangered Nongame and Wildlife Fund, the Kentucky Nature and Wildlife Fund, the Kentucky Wild Resource Conservation Fund, the Texas Wild Resource Conservation Fund, the Massachusetts Endangered Wildlife Conservation Fund.

Small potatoes, perhaps, but spinmeisters tending to the governor’s image might have put a bit of on-the-record puppy love to good use: After delighting animal lovers in 2010 by adopting a rescue dog, Scott promptly infuriated animal lovers by giving the retriever back after he won election. The dog — Reagan — is reported to have barked too much.

It should be pointed out that Ann and Rick Scott’s dizzying array of trusts could be supporting a small country and we would not necessarily know it. And we do know the Scotts have given to the Red Cross, Hope for Haiti, the Naples Zoo and the George W. Bush Foundation, among other nonprofits. And they have their own foundation, which may be giving generously to the flora and fauna of the world.

Besides, Scott has larger financial criticisms. Specifically, there are the nagging questions surrounding the blind trust where Scott parked his assets after getting into office, an issue that the -ahem- Florida Bulldog has been chewing over since last year:

Corizon settles landmark death suit; forced to use better-qualified health workers

No, not a good week for Corizon, the private prison health care company with a $1 billion deal to treat Florida inmates.
Even as state prisons chief Julie Jones announced she will revise the Corizon contract – and possibly toss it- in the wake of reports by The Post of rising deaths and horrific medical treatment, Alameda County and Corizon this week abruptly ended a wrongful death case in California; agreeing to pay $8.3 million dollars to the children of Martin Harrison, who died during three days of untreated alcohol withdrawal.

Martin Harrison
Martin Harrison

It is the largest wrongful death settlement in a civil rights case in California history.
Corizon fired the vocational nurse who played a key role in Harrison’s death. And the company reported her to the California Board of Nursing.
But the case is much broader than any single incident. The lawsuit settlement requires that Corizon now only use registered nurses or other highly qualified medical staffers to assess inmates – and not just at the Alameda jail, but in every jail or prison in California where it provides care.
That create something of a Florida intersection with the California suit. Jones said new negotiations with Corizon will include making sure there are enough registered nurses on hand to ensure that less-qualified staffers, such as licensed practical nurses, would not be making decisions.
She did not elaborate on why this was an issue.
If California inmates are entitled to have registered nurses, said California lawyer Julia Sherwin, who represented Harrison’s adult children, then so are inmates in Florida- and in Arizona, Alabama, New York, Michigan, and “every other state where Corizon has contracts.”
We’ll see. It could take a year to finish revisions to Florida contracts with both Corizon and Wexford Health Sources, which also provides care to state inmates- though far fewer than Corizon handles, and with far fewer complaints.
For a look at the Harrison suit:Martin Harrison case
And to understand, in part, why Julie Jones felt compelled to switch gears with Corizon and Wexford:

Staff to teens: Let’s you and him fight

The arrest of two workers at the Palm Beach Juvenile Correctional Facility uncomfortably echoes other reports of Youth Services International employees looking the other way – or encouraging- the center’s teenagers to fight each other.Vinny JonesDavid L. Croney
Sheriff’s investigators say that last summer, David Lee Croney and Vinny Valentino Jones brought two unidentified teens to a storage room where they could fight each other- and they did, leaving one with a fractured eye socket.
A few years ago, Gordon Weekes, the chief assistant Broward County public defender, said he was told by teenagers that workers at the Palm Beach center used food as a reward: Teenagers who ganged up on other teens that staff singled out as troublemakers “would get an extra slice of pizza, or chicken wings,” Weekes said he was told. “It was bizarre, teaching them to be predatory with other children.”
Weekes notified state officials. The state investigated, said a spokeswoman, and none of the complaints could be substantiated.
Youth Services International, which has millions of dollars in contracts to run Department of Juvenile Justice facilities, has been embroiled in controversy in Florida and elsewhere for years, starting with their very first Florida contract in Pahokee. The deal imploded: Judges started refusing to send kids there.
Croney and Jones face child neglect charges.

No loose lips here: prison chief clamps down on talk of inmate abuse investigations

Julie+JonesTiming, as they say, is everything.
Smack in the middle of intense media scrutiny over inmate abuse and deaths, newly installed Department of Corrections chief Julie Jones has clamped down on agency investigators who discuss – yes!- inmate abuse and deaths.
Existing policies on how to access public records won’t change, but investigators with the agency’s Inspector General who investigate abuse, and until recently, deaths, are now required to sign off on agreements barring them from discussing open or closed investigations, even with other law enforcement officials.
Jones may have thought this was a smallish issue. After all, the same rules applied when she headed up the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
But that department wasn’t fending off accusations of cover-ups, violence, and behind-the-scenes maneuvering by the governor’s office intended to clamp down on bad press. And it didn’t have four whistleblowing Inspector General investigators already in court alleging retaliation by higher-ups.
A DOC spokesman says the move is designed to halt casual talk about formal investigations – think World War II and “Loose Lips sink ships”. But the ban also applies to closed investigations when presumably, loose lips would have no impact on a case. And it requires that no investigator “volunteer” information about a case. If not asked, they can’t tell.
And there is a lot to talk about, including why medical companies withheld information on inmate deaths:

How not to spend $700 on a lightbulb install

Maybe there really is a new sheriff in town?
Armando Fana has been at the helm of West Palm Beach’s perennially dysfunctional housing department just weeks. That’s been long enough for him to lay out new rules for contractors: Daily fines for missing repair deadlines. Scrutiny of change order requests. And bids that come over 10 percent of the city’s own repair estimates will be tossed. Fana outlined the tightened requirements and penalties in a recent meeting with editorial board member Stacy Singer. From the news side, two Post reporters and an editor sat in on the Q & A. It was the first time reporters had a chance to get any one-on-one time with Fana, who said he had been swamped and uncomfortable talking to reporters so soon into his new job. New or not, Fana had the unenviable task of responding to a Dec. 14 Post story detailing jaw-dropping examples of how HUD housing repair money has been squandered over the years: $101,000 in repairs ploughed into an $18,000 house. A $199 doorbell repair. A $232 wire closet shelf. And everybody’s favorite: $700 to buy and install 23 lightbulbs. Data editor Kavya Sukumar crunched the crazy numbers and came up with one bright house.

Fana wasn’t responsible for any of it. But he gets to clean up the mess. The former HUD field director said he hasn’t seen anything to date that rose past the level of waste to out-and-out fraud. But then, he also acknowledged the city doesn’t have the staff to do forensic exams of dubious deals. And he would need quite a few staffers: Most files examined by The Post topped three inches or more; a couple filled entire banker’s boxes.

Despite ties to builder, development official gets clean bill of health from prosecutors

Mary McKenny is off the hook. The Palm Beach County State Attorney’s office has cleared Riviera Beach’s top development official of any criminal wrongdoing.

At issue was McKinney’s real estate relationship wth Dilip Barot in 2003, when Barot was seeking a city waiver to build his seven acre Amrit resort on Singer Island.As it happens, Barot was McKinney’s landlord.McKinney purchased the yellow and white Siriviera-beachnger Island house at 3101 Park Avenue in 2003. But for the previous two years, McKinney had been renting the house from Barot.

Barot sold it to McKinney for $180,000.

Fane Lozeman, the tech millionaire who has butted heads with Rivera Beach all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court on an unrelated city marina issue, filed the complaint with the state attorney’s office. Lozeman wrote that an adjacent property had gone for more than $400,000, raising the question of whether McKinney got her 1400-square-foot pool home at a suspect discount, and at a time when her landlord was looking for development help from the city.

But McKinney said her department doesn’t grant the type of variances Barot sought.

And comparable property sales at around the same time didn’t set off any alarms with the county’s property appraisal staff, though they told the state attorney’s investigator the McKinney sale price might have been “a little low.”

Not low enough to sustain interest in a criminal case, though.

Early release for elderly Florida pot convicts?

John Knock won’t be casting any ballots on legalizing medical marijuana in Florida, but you might guess how he would vote all the same: The 67-year-old is 16 years into  two life terms for conspiracy to distribute pot, sentences handed down by a federal judge in North Florida.
John-KnockHe is among five elderly convicts serving hard time for what New York attorney Michael Kennedy believes are small potatoes charges: nonviolent pot crimes.

Of the five, two were sentenced in Florida.

Kennedy is seeking a presidential pardon.Knock was a first-time offender. His conviction includes 20 years tacked on to the dual life sentences. it’s believed to be the harshest ever levied against a nonviolent offender in a pot case.

Among the other five men: two ex- marines, including a decorated Viet Nam vet who did multiple tours of duty in Nam- when multiple tours in a war were an option.

Read Kennedy’s statement here.