Swatting and School Lockdowns

SWAT team

By Judy Berman

A disembodied voice, filled with urgency, came over our speakers, announcing a Code Red.

It was a school lockdown. We were told to lock our classroom doors. I don’t remember if we were told to shut off the lights, too, but I did.

This happened earlier this month. There was no time to find a safe refuge. We stayed in our rooms, listening for any unusual noise.

We were victims of “swatting.” The FBI says “swatting” is making a hoax call to 9-1-1 to draw a response from law enforcement, usually a SWAT team.

As it turned out, this was a cruel hoax allegedly perpetrated by a teen in Canada. Another teen at Melbourne High School, not far from our school, is accused of being part of this teen “swatter” crime as well.

But we didn’t know this at the time.

Students are well-aware of tragedies that have happened at other schools. Mass shootings, terror and heartbreak. It’s hard to tune these events out when you’re in a darkened room and unsure what’s going on.

We heard a loud clang outside. My students questioned what it was. I dismissed it as “probably just thunder.”

Jennifer Brown Ontiveros, who co-taught this class with me that day, also minimized the disturbance. Together, we helped our students relax.

It’s in these moments that I find my calm center and dark humor serve me well. They act as a shield to mask what I really feel.

A female student, sitting on the floor, looked up at me. I flashed my most convincing and reassuring smile.

“It’s been nice knowing you, Mrs. Berman,” she joked.

My comeback? “Well, we all have to go sometime.”

I’ve heard about students who have meltdowns in a situation like this. Teachers, too, have been known to crumble during these real and pseudo-emergencies.

But our room was almost Zen-like. As we waited, a fan blew a few papers off the students’ desks. I edged cautiously over to the knob that controls the fan and shut it off.

Many “what-if” scenarios rushed thru my mind.

Fortunately we were safely lifted out of limbo 40 minutes later. We were told that everything was all right, and students moved on to the next class.

Crime Scene tape - Do Not Cross

Police arrested a Canadian teen last week who they said “used Twitter to solicit targets across North America,” according to a May 13th story in “Florida Today,”

A student at Melbourne High is accused of contacting the Canadian teen to place a call about a false emergency so he could avoid taking a state test.

Both teens were arrested. Ottawa Police Service charged the Canadian teen “with 60 crimes, including uttering death threats, conveying false information with intent to alarm, public mischief and mischief to property,” the paper reported.

Of 30 hoax emergency calls, the 16-year-old Canadian “swatter” is suspected of making, four of the false threats affected Melbourne High and other schools in our area.

The crime carries serious penalties. It’s no joke, especially to those whose lives are disrupted by someone pulling a “prank.”

I’m just relieved and grateful that no one was harmed.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Photo: SWAT Team, taken Oct. 27, 2009, by Oregon Department of Transportation http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b7/SWAT_team_prepared_%284132135578%29.jpg/640px-SWAT_team_prepared_%284132135578%29.jpg

Photo: Crime Scene tape – Do Not Cross, taken March 25, 2009 by Yuri Kimua from Yokohama, Japan http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/3d/Do_Not_Cross%2C_Crime_Scene.jpg/640px-Do_Not_Cross%2C_Crime_Scene.jpg

Article: Canadian teen arrested in Melbourne High bomb scare http://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/crime/2014/05/12/swatting-melbourne-high-hoax-swat-team-deployed/8996873/

Article: The crime of swatting http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2013/september/the-crime-of-swatting-fake-9-1-1-calls-have-real-consequences/the-crime-of-swatting-fake-9-1-1-calls-have-real-consequences

 

Drug Raid – The Cupboards Were Bare

Drug Raid - in Dudley, United Kingdom

By Judy Berman

Minutes after an undercover police officer made a drug buy from the back window of a house, I heard him over the police radio.

“It’s a go. There are three people in there.”

Then, six police officers, dressed in black, ran down a city street and around the corner.

With guns drawn and two mighty whacks with a battering ram, they knocked down the door and ran in.

The suspect tossed $350 and 12 baggies of crack cocaine out the window. Investigators said the suspect had 11 baggies on him, and he’d just sold three.

It was like the movies. Only, this time: no guns blazing or suspects jumping out of windows to avoid arrest.

This is from the way-back files when I was a cops reporter in Utica, New York.

It was a rare behind-the-scenes look for me at what goes down during a drug raid. Utica Police Chief Benny Rotundo gave the go-ahead to me and to one of the Observer-Dispatch’s photographers to join the investigators.

We wanted to be in on the action from the get-go. But they were overly cautious – and with good reason. What if something happened?

“You never know what’s behind that door,” said Sgt. Angelo Partipelo, the department’s senior investigator of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU).

Liability concerns and safety are the reasons why many police agencies hesitate to grant this kind of access to reporters and photographers.

I told the police chief that a story I was working on – about 7 ½ years of drug arrests by SIU – would look a lot better if it was tied to a drug arrest – with me and a photographer along.

Rotundo was a savvy man. He agreed.

Once inside, the investigator, who wore a Stetson, smoked a huge cigar as he searched for evidence. He wore plastic gloves because “these places aren’t the cleanest,” and to protect himself if one of the suspects was bleeding.

He’s hearing nothing but polite denials and excuses from one of the women in the house.

“No, officer, I just came here to see my cousin, Angel,” she claimed.

The officer disagrees.

“You’ve been seen coming to this drug house several times and were inside when a drug buy was just made,” he said.

Then, he starts singing “Angel in the Morning.”

In the kitchen, there’s a box of baking soda on the counter. A cigarette butt is out in the drain.

I gingerly open a fridge door by using my pen on the handle until one of the investigators gives me plastic gloves. Inside, there’s only a can of Sprite.

Utica drug bust - UPD Sgt. Angelo Partipelo and me (Judy Berman)

Other than salt-and-pepper shakers, the cupboards are bare.

After the raid, Deputy Chief Nick Yagey joked that I was a con artist and had hoodwinked investigators into letting us go inside the drug house.

“You weren’t supposed to take any photos identifying SIU members,” he said.

Yagey claimed he could ID one who was bent over searching thru a couch for evidence.

“You couldn’t pick that face out of a crowd,” I challenged, knowing that SIU had vetted the photos before publication so no undercover officer was put in jeopardy.

“His butt, maybe,” I laughed.

Fortunately, Yagey was laughing, too, when I left his office a few minutes later.

 

Kudos to the police officers in the Utica Police Department who often assured my safe passage as a cops reporter at some very dicey scenes – especially Utica Police Chief Benny Rotundo, who died in 2010, and Sgt. Angelo Partipelo, who died in 2001.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Movie Trailer: The French Connection (1971) – Undercover cop Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) in his famous high speed chase in pursuit of a criminal – great film. But this is reel life – not real life. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nP_7ZopT6oM  

Music Video: Bad Boys (1992) by Inner Circle. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yVBB2upbVys&feature=kp  

Video: Dragnet (1951) – TV show starring Jack Webb as Sgt. Friday. The just-the-facts ma’am detective. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hj-qhIGTXdU  

Main Photo: Drug Raid – in Dudley, United Kingdom – taken Feb. 22, 2013 by West Midlands Police from West Midlands, United Kingdom  http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/3a/Day_53_-_Early_morning_drugs_raid_in_Dudley_%288497719406%29.jpg/640px-Day_53_-_Early_morning_drugs_raid_in_Dudley_%288497719406%29.jpg

Photo: Utica Drug Raid – Sgt. Angelo Partipelo and me (Judy Manzer Berman) at the scene of a drug bust in Utica, New York.

 

The Mob Built This City

Las Vegas - Flamingo Road

By Judy Berman

Did the mob once run Las Vegas? Some dispute that, but few would quibble about the explosive growth in Sin City as a result of the Mob’s presence.

This reputation is one that The Mob Museum in Las Vegas capitalizes on. The $42 million museum opened two years ago on Feb. 14, 2012.

That date is probably no coincidence. One of the artifacts on display on the third floor is the actual wall from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929.

A Chicago Tribune newspaper clipping reported that gunman dressed as policemen lined seven men of George “Bugs” Moran’s gang up against the whitewashed wall and gunned them down.

“It was the most infamous of all gangland slayings in America, and it savagely achieved its purpose – the elimination of the last challenge to Al Capone for the mantle of crime boss in Chicago.”

Mob Museum - Las Vegas - Wall of Mobsters

The way the museum tells it: “This is truly the underworld uncovered.” It’s billed as “An authentic exploration of the endless tug-of-war between organized crime and law enforcement.”

Last July, my husband and I spent more than two hours in the museum and, truthfully, we could have spent much more time there if we didn’t have a pressing engagement. (No. Forget the scene in Goldfinger when James Bond referred to a dead mobster who was entombed in a crushed car.)

On the second floor of the museum is the courtroom. This is the same federal courthouse where the 1950-51 Kefauver Committee hearings were held to expose organized crime. Here, you can see film clips of those hearings.

Las Vegas - Mob Museum - July 2013 055

Longtime locals are fond of saying that Vegas was better when the Mob ran the casinos. They felt there was less crime and the mob took care of – policed – their own.

The tour quickly dispels that notion by showing some of the innocent bystanders who were rubbed out by those “connected” to the Mob – along with a few of the bad guys, of course. The focus is not just on the Mob that infiltrated Vegas nightlife, but on major cities throughout the U.S.

Some of the exhibits aren’t for the faint-hearted. There are gory ones that show what happens when you run into the wrong end of a gun. For example, you can see the barber chair that mobster Albert Anastasia was murdered in on Oct. 25, 1957, in Manhattan, New York.

You can listen in on authentic Mafia Omerta induction ceremony or to actual FBI surveillance tapes on wiretapping equipment.

For a more glamorized look of the mob, sit a spell in the theater room and watch clips from gangster movies.

Parting words from philosopher/mobster Al Capone, “You can get much further with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone.” This quote is just one of the souvenirs I picked up from the gift shop at the Mob Museum.

Hey! They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. But I took an oath not to reveal it.

Not to be a Wiseguy, but you can get the total scoop on the cost of admission, hours and attractions at The Mob Museum’s web site: http://themobmuseum.org/

Movie Trailer: Casino with Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBjmiE1kf_Q 

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Video: 60 Years: KLAS-TV Documents Mob’s Rise, Fall in Las Vegas     http://www.8newsnow.com/story/22881346/60-years-klas-tv-documents-mobs-rise-fall-in-las-vegas

Main Photo: Las Vegas – Flamingo Road – Taken April 24, 2012, by curimedia http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/50/Flamingo_road%2C_Las_Vegas_%287314950038%29.jpg/640px-Flamingo_road%2C_Las_Vegas_%287314950038%29.jpg

Photo: Mob – The Skim at the Flamingo – my photo collection

Photo: The Mob Museum – Las Vegas – Wall of Mobsters – Taken Feb. 14, 2012 by Kremerbi http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/72/Las_Vegas_Mob_Museum_Wall_of_Mobsters.JPG/640px-Las_Vegas_Mob_Museum_Wall_of_Mobsters.JPG

The Chase (fiction)

Illustration by Mark Armstrong

Illustration by Mark Armstrong

By Judy Berman

“Just put the money in the sack. Don’t make any wrong moves. I’ve got a gun.”

His voice was quiet, but the words were short and clipped. The teller was nervous and nearly passed out. She recovered and steadied herself by holding onto the counter.

“Quit stalling.”

With quick, little birdlike movements, she filled the bag with money. He grabbed the sack. She watched him turn and slowly walk to the front entrance. She ducked behind the counter and pressed the alarm.

The robber spun around wildly, fired his gun and dropped it to the floor. Everyone turned and stared at him. He panicked and bolted toward the revolving door. The streets were crowded. He paused, debating which way to go and opted for the center of the city.

His indecision cost him valuable time. Sirens were blaring and the bank guards were incredibly close. He wasn’t in the best physical shape. But his long strides helped widen the distance between them as the guards were old and short-winded.

“Halt,” one of the guards wheezed. Then, the guard leaned against the building as he stopped to catch his breath.

Still, the robber sprinted down the street, jostling people and knocking some down. One hero made a flying tackle toward him, but missed. Undaunted, the hero picked himself up and chased the robber thru a parking garage toward an underpass to another street.

Again, the hero leaped into the air. This time, he caught the thief about the waist and knocked him to the ground.

The bag hung briefly in midair. Then it plummeted to the dingy corridor and the money flew in every direction in the hallway. The pair scuffled for a few minutes until the robber connected a roundhouse to his antagonist’s glass jaw. The robber quickly got up and fled toward the lunch-time crowd on the street.

“George! Supper’s gonna get cold. Turn off that TV and come and eat.”

George winced, and hesitated too long before answering. Another piercing shriek from the ‘little woman’ penetrated the apartment’s thin walls.

Slowly, he pulled himself up from his recliner and lumbered toward the kitchen.

“George, shut off that TV.’

“Yes, my love,” he grumbled.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Illustration: “George” by Mark Armstrong. I want to thank Mark for his creative illustration that perfectly captured what my story was about in just one drawing. Excellent. Please visit his blog to see more excellent illustrations. Here is a link to just one of them:

http://markarmstrongillustration.com/2013/07/17/baby-handed-off-into-next-apartment-scores-touchdown-becomes-president/

Homicide: Life on the Streets

Arrest By Judy Berman

For some people, urban violence is as remote as the Himalayas.

Try explaining that your main objective as a cops reporter is not getting caught in any crossfire. Someone’s bound to question your sanity.

That danger was not confined to some dark alley. It also lurked on a sunny street, during a quiet chat in an apartment, and even back at the office where I worked.

In one neighborhood, rival gangs competed for the drug trade. That the violence claimed one of their own – in broad daylight – was inevitable.

On the TV shows and the movies, it looks so easy. It’s all wrapped up, neat and tidy, at the end. But life is not always well scripted. Like the time I was sent out to follow up on a fatal drive-by shooting in Utica, New York.

Two colleagues went with me in my car. We split up to talk to potential witnesses. We’d agreed on a time to meet back at my car.

I stopped to talk to some teens hanging out on the corner. One came over wearing a towel wrapped around his head. I started to laugh.

“You mocking my religion?” he asked. I could tell he was joking, and we continued the banter until another guy suggested I move on. While he wasn’t menacing, his message was clear.

Where to? I couldn’t leave my co-workers behind. So I walked down the block to my car – which just happened to be parked across the street from where the young man had been gunned down – and waited for them to return.Crime Scene tape - Do Not Cross

A car cruised slowly up to the house and then quickly moved on when a patrol car went by on a side street. Then, another car crawled to the curb. Someone in the house ran out. That car also left moments later.

Great, I thought. I’m betting they’re not well-wishers for the dearly departed.

I was relieved when I saw my colleagues heading my way. The drug dealer, who had asked me to leave the area, walked across the street to talk to us.

He asked my male co-worker, “If someone robbed you, what would you do?”

“I’d call the cops,” the reporter said.

Wrong answer, I thought. Drug dealers don’t look to cops to resolve things. They don’t want the cops messing in their business. No, they settle the score themselves. The drug dealer talked about “street justice.”

That’s the MO (modus operandi) of the drug trade. Keep the “shorties” (those that sell drugs on the streets) and the competition in line thru violence and intimidation. If you met him, you’d see what I saw – a polite young man, easy to talk to. That’s what jurors see. They don’t see the victims, or law-abiding neighbors who live in fear.

In another murder case, I was by myself, going door-to-door in an apartment building looking for someone to comment on the shooting.

A man, who lived across the hall from the victim, invited me in. He seemed pleasant enough.

As we sat across from one another, he confided that he’s been classified as a paranoid-schizophrenic. He told me that “If I’m in a hostile situation, I could kill a person one minute, and, the next minute, not even realize what I’d done.”

My face was a blank canvas. What are you supposed to say after that?

Then, as if to reassure me, he said: “I haven’t killed anybody yet.”

I leaned over, patted his arm and said: “Keep up the good work.”

My response was instinctive. No doubt, it threw him off balance. Then, I changed the subject, and we resumed talking about his neighbor.

I tried not to think about the “What if’s?” Like the man who was unhappy with a story I wrote, believing I was working with detectives to implicate him in the death of his former girlfriend.

It was midday and he looked like he’d been drinking heavily when he came to the paper demanding to see me.

Reporter Bill Farrell went downstairs with me to see the man. He threatened to sue the paper. Then, he nearly knocked a woman down as he stormed out. Farrell saw the man had a sharp, shiny object in his back pocket and offered to walk me to my car after work.

“But,” he joked, “I won’t start your car for you.”

I miss that edgy newsroom humor … and knowing the stories behind the headlines.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original
content.

Video: Homicide: Life on the Street – Luther Mahoney. Det. Meldrick Lewis (Clark Johnston) outsmarts Luther Mahoney in the box.  Shows like “Homicide: Life on the Street” (1993-1999), based on an award-winning book, “Homicide,” by David Simon did show some of the gritty reality that cops go thru.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jZ-k4DQqNic 

Photo: Arrest by Danish police in Copenhagen. Taken Oct. 2007 by Riemann.  http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/94/Danish_police_arrest.jpg

Photo: Crime Scene tape – Do Not Cross – Uploaded by Diego Grez, Taken by Yumi Kimura, Yokohama, Japan on March 25, 2009 http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/3d/Do_Not_Cross%2C_Crime_Scene.jpg/640px-Do_Not_Cross%2C_Crime_Scene.jpg

Photo: Crime Scene – FBI Evidence Response Team  http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/23/FBI_Evidence_Response_Team.jpg/640px-FBI_Evidence_Response_Team.jpg

Money and Madness

A high roller scammed the casino out of $33-million.

A high roller scammed the Crown Casino in Melbourne, Australia  out of $33-million.

By Judy Berman

Few can resist the siren call of the one-armed bandits as they step off their planes into the Las Vegas airport.

Passengers are bombarded with the jangle of bells, the whirring of machines and the occasional payout of coins tumbling into the trays. They have to run the gantlet of one-armed bandits before they can even pick up their luggage

Some stop awhile to play just for luck. A rare few might win the jackpot. Others hunger for much higher stakes.

The scoundrels are always looking for an angle to beat the house. It looks so easy in the movie “Ocean’s Eleven” with George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Andy Garcia and Matt Damon.

Their score seems far-fetched. Impossible. But, several weeks ago, life imitated art. An Australian casino was taken for about $33 million by one of its high rollers. Just like the movie, he used the casino’s surveillance system in his sting.

In “Ocean’s Eleven” (2001), George Clooney plays Danny Ocean. Recently released from prison, Ocean and Brad Pitt (as Rusty Ryan) recruit a team of con men, safecrackers and security experts. The 11 members plan to rob three casinos that share the same vault – the Bellagio, the Mirage and the MGM Grand. All of them are owned by Andy Garcia (as Terry Benedict).

Just what are the odds of pulling off the perfect sting? (Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and George Clooney)

Just what are the odds of pulling off the perfect sting? (“Ocean’s Eleven” stars: Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and George Clooney)

Ocean’s motives are personal. Benedict is dating Tess Ocean (Julia Roberts) – Danny’s ex-wife – and Danny hopes to win her back. Plus, he hopes to scam $150 million from the heist.

To pull off this caper, Ocean’s team builds an exact replica of the vault in a warehouse. This is the vault that the casino’s monitors will be watching instead of the actual one.

Clooney, a smooth operator, pulls off this caper with sleight-of-hand skills that would make an experienced magician seem sluggish and unimaginative. Power is cut across the city. The video cameras do not betray the gang’s access to the vault, and it becomes easy pickings.

Casinos are vulnerable in real life as well.

In Melbourne, the Australian Broadcasting Station (ABC) reported that a foreigner hacked into the Crown Casino’s high-tech “security surveillance system and scammed the casino for $33 million.”

From the description of the rip-off, it sounds like the thief also was channeling Goldfinger. Envision Gert Frobe (as Goldfinger) playing cards and winning hefty amounts from his unsuspecting pigeon. His secret? High above the card game, a woman was able to view the “pigeon’s” hand thru her binoculars. Then she relayed the information to Goldfinger via an earpiece that he was wearing.

Goldfinger's scam discovered, and he's told to start losing.

Goldfinger’s scam discovered, and he’s told to start losing.

This is apparently what the thief did at the Crown. Investigators suspect that the high roller and an inside accomplice gained access to the casino’s high-resolution cameras which allowed him to “have the content phoned into him via an earpiece he was wearing,” according to ABC.

The Herald Sun reports that “cheating was exposed over eight hands of cards played in a short space of time.”

The casino reportedly kicked the high roller out of the Crown’s pricey villa. He will be prohibited from returning to the casino, and the casino employee who aided in the theft has been sacked.

Some say this could have been prevented if casinos monitored for wireless transmissions.

Crown officials are hopeful that they can recover a significant amount of the money stolen during this scam. Las Vegas-based casino consultant Barron Stringfellow said that’s unlikely “if the thief was able to leave the property with the windfall,” according to an MSN News report.

The odds are not in the casino’s favor.

Video – Movie Trailer for “Ocean’s Eleven” with George Clooney and Brad Pitt http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7VTkceSsEw

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-13. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or
earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original
content.

Photo – Ocean’s Eleven – Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and George Clooney on a Dec. 7, 2001,  tour of Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. The trio, along with Julia Roberts and Andy Garcia, visited the base to show their appreciation for U.S. troops overseas. Photo taken by Airman 1st Class Tanaya M. Harms
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/4c/Pitt_Clooney_Damon.jpg/640px-Pitt_Clooney_Damon.jpg

Photo: Crown Casino – Melbourne, Australia – taken by Adam,J.W.C. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/12/Eureka_on_yarra%2C_the_crown_casino_in_melbourne.jpg/575px-Eureka_on_yarra%2C_the_crown_casino_in_melbourne.jpg

Photo: Goldfinger – Gert Frobe – playing cards http://samsspot.tumblr.com/

Video and story – High roller stole $33 million from Crown Casino in Australia, similar tactics used in movie “Ocean’s Eleven” http://news.msn.com/world/man-steals-dollar33-million-from-australian-casino-in-oceans-eleven-esque-heist

Crown casino high-tech heist – Herald Sun http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/law-order/crown-casino-hi-tech-scam-nets-32-million/story-fnat79vb-1226597666337

Crown casino rocked by betting scam – ABC http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-03-15/crown-casino-rocked-by-massive-betting-scam/4574556

Crown casino sting … 7 news http://au.news.yahoo.com/video/national/watch/ecee6470-3b48-3fe0-aef6-4f14f1e83264/

Hoax: Tried in the Media

A hoax spun out in the media has more plot twists than the Twin Peaks TV show.

A hoax spun out in the media has more plot twists than the Twin Peaks TV show.

By Judy Berman

The Manti Te’o story has more plot twists than the Twin Peaks TV show, and just as many odd characters.

Did a friend dupe Te’o into believing he had a girlfriend named Lennay Kekua who died last September of leukemia? Turns out, there is no girlfriend. Everyone has come under fire in this story, including the reporters who should have been more skeptical and dug deeper.

It is a cautionary tale for reporters who are too close to those they cover. The adage to new reporters is: “If your mother tells you she loves you, get a second source.” That’s not just typical newsroom dark humor talking. It’s experience.

The Te’o story is still unraveling. Not all the facts are in. As the story unfolds, some cringe-worthy moments might emerge and reputations might be tarnished.

But this story needs to be put in perspective with other “tall tales” that have had a devastating impact on those involved.

Rev. Al Sharpton has championed equal justice in crime cases. In this photo in 1989, he's protesting the murder of Yusuf Hawkins, 16, a black teen in a white neighborhood. Two years earlier, he was criticized for his actions in the Tawana Brawley case - later labeled a hoax.

Rev. Al Sharpton has championed equal justice in crime cases. In this photo in 1989, he’s protesting the murder of Yusuf Hawkins, 16, a black teen in a white neighborhood. Two years earlier, he was criticized for his actions in the Tawana Brawley case – later labeled a hoax.

* In November 1987, I was working late at WHEN-AM radio in Liverpool, New York, when a shocking story crossed the wire. A Wappingers Falls’ girl, who had been missing for four days from her home, was found in a trash bag. The 15-year-old girl (Tawana Brawley) was dazed, covered in feces and had racial epithets scrawled across her torso. The Associated Press wire story stated that the teen was reportedly abducted, held captive, and raped by a gang of white men.

The Rev. Al Sharpton and Brawley’s lawyers accused Dutchess County prosecutor Steven Pagones of being one of the men who raped Brawley.

The story quickly became a feeding frenzy for the media – each news outlet intent on being the first in pursuit of “hot news.” Mike Taihbi and Anna Sims-Philips covered the story for WCBS-TV, and their investigative reporting didn’t jibe with the daily press conferences. Their book, “Unholy Alliances: Working the Tawana Brawley Story,” (1989) outlined how the case unfolded.

I interviewed Sims-Philips. She said their findings angered the Brawley advisers and supporters. They received death threats, demonstrators protested outside the station, and pressure was put on the network to remove them from the story.

In 1988, a grand jury found that there had been no rape, that the case was a hoax. Authorities said Brawley’s story was made up to avoid punishment for running away and missing school.

“But, in the end, something changed,” the authors wrote. “Pieces of the truth were forced into the open air, not the whole truth; that’s still hidden. But enough of it emerged, through the efforts of forensic scientists and investigators and, yes, the press, so that there was room and time at last, away from the noise of the headlines and the six o’clock news, for people to measure those bits of truth and privately choose what was worthy of belief. The rhetoric has been silence. The silence, though, remains.”

“In 1998, Pagones won a defamation lawsuit against Sharpton, Brawley and her lawyers. (Alton H.) Maddox was found liable for $97,000, (C. Vernon) Mason for $188,000, and Sharpton was ordered to pony up $66,000,” according to a Dec. 23, 2012, story by the New York Post.

“Brawley was ordered to fork over $190,000 at 9 percent annual interest.” The New York Post reported that all but Brawley paid up.

Once a media darling, New York State Trooper David Harding was later found guilty of framing Shirley Kinge in connection with the 1989 murders of the Harris family - a case that her son, Michael, was the primary suspect in before being killed in a shootout with a New York State Police SWAT team.

Once a media darling, New York State Trooper David Harding was later found guilty of framing Shirley Kinge in connection with the 1989 murders of the Harris family – a case that her son, Michael, was the primary suspect in before being killed in a shootout with a New York State Police SWAT team.

* What the press – and the public – knows in the beginning stages of a news story is often limited. Details are few and everyone is clamoring for answers and – when there’s a crime – an arrest.

Two days before Christmas in 1989, the murders of the Harris family in Dryden, New York, was eerily similar to Truman Capote’s story, “In Cold Blood.” Warren and Dolores Harris, their daughter, Shelby, 15, and their son, Marc, 11, were bound, blindfolded, shot and killed. Before Shelby was killed, she was raped. The primary suspect, Michael Kinge, then doused the house with gasoline and set a fire before he fled.

Credit cards taken from the Harris home, used during a shopping spree, were traced back to Michael Kinge and his mother, Shirley.

“On February 7 (1990), members of the New York State Police SWAT team burst into the duplex apartments where Mr. Kinge and his mother lived. Mr. Kinge, holding a shotgun, according to the police accounts, was shot dead. Mrs. Kinge was first charged as an accessory in the Harris murders,” The New York Times reported.

The drama didn’t end there. In the courtroom, Trooper David L. Harding charmed the press with his stories about the case. He was likable, friendly, and always available for an interview.

Harding bragged about how he befriended Shirley Kinge at her workplace. He had a cast on his arm and asked her to address some letters to be sent to Harrisburg. (This was done to see how she wrote the victim’s name when she used the credit cards.)

Harding also got her fingerprints off a glass of water she brought to him. Kinge’s prints were a match  to those on a gas can found at the Harris family crime scene. Kinge was convicted of burglary and arson. She was sentenced 17 to 44 years in prison.

This was based on Shirley Kinge’s presence at the murder scene.

Only it wasn’t true. About 2 ½ years into her prison sentence, she was released from prison after an investigation found that David Harding planted her fingerprints from the glass at her workplace onto the gas can in the Harris home.

It wasn’t the only time that Harding and a few other troopers took shortcuts to gather “evidence” to convict someone they thought was guilty of a crime.

Harding pleaded guilty to perjury in two of the four cases investigated. He was sentenced Dec. 16, 1992, to 4 to 12 years in prison and fined $20,000 for fabricating evidence in the four documented cases, according to Wikipedia.

In 2009, New York Court of Claims Judge Nicholas Midey Jr.awarded Kinge $250,000 “based on the emotional and mental anguish she suffered and her loss of privacy and liberty while imprisoned,” according to the Ithaca Journal.

“Midey found that Kinge was the victim of malicious prosecution and negligent supervision of a state police investigator who planted phony fingerprint evidence and gave false testimony linking her to the Harris family slayings.”

These cases serve as a reminder that everyone – the media, police, the public – need to be skeptical about the facts and the evidence.

When I wrote “Tried in the Media” for WHEN, a newspaper executive offered this hopeful insight: “The truth will emerge. Not instantly and always, but it will emerge.”

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Photo: Twin Peaks http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/twin-peaks/images/4244602/title/twin-peaks-wallpaper

Court of Claims case: Shirley Turner Kinge, Claimant v. State of New York, Defendant – filed Dec. 13, 2007 http://caselaw.findlaw.com/ny-court-of-claims/1427693.html

Photo: David Harding – book cover “Good Cop Bad Cop” by Rebecca H. Cofer with David McElligott http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51T0F0370RL._SL500_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-big,TopRight,35,-73_OU01_SS500_.jpg

Photo: Rev. Al Sharpton – Protest March – 1989 – Brooklyn, NY                                    In another case that drew national attention, the Rev. Al Sharpton led the first of dozens of protest marches after 40 white teenagers murdered Yusuf Hawkins, 16, a black teen in the (then) white neighborhood of Bensonhurst in Brooklyn. He led marchers every week for over a year despite catcalls and threats to his life. In 1991, he was stabbed during another march in Bensonhurst. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/06/Al_Sharpton%2C_1989_Protest_March%2C_Brooklyn_NY.jpg/640px-Al_Sharpton%2C_1989_Protest_March%2C_Brooklyn_NY.jpg