Archive for January, 2010

Can I Get My Money Back?
January 15, 2010

In the aftermath of Hurricane Ike one of the investigations I worked on involved thousand of FEMA trailers sitting in storage lots around the country. Here’s a link to the original story. This investigation came as a result of hundreds of people being left homeless along the Texas coast while FEMA refused to allow Hurricane Ike victims to use these trailers. Even more galling was that taxpayers spent more than $2 billion dollars to buy these trailers after Hurricane Katrina. The plan was to use these trailers for future disasters. However, concerns about high levels of formaldehyde prompted the government to stop using the trailers. FEMA wouldn’t even allow the public to buy these trailers.  As result these trailers have sat, unused for years (some were never used, sent brand new to a storage lot). That was not the end of the spending. Storage lots cost money and for the last several years the taxpayers have spent $115 million dollars a year in storage fees because the lots were all privately owned. Now I’ve learned the government is finally putting thousands of these trailers up for auction at one of its largest sites in Hope, Arkansas. Before this auction FEMA had only auctioned off a handful of these trailers as scrap. These were trailers damaged to the point no one could use them. After the Hope auction its unknown whether FEMA will auction the trailers sitting in a field in Purvis, Mississippi and near Jasper, Tx. Maybe the tax payers can at least get some of the billions it has spent on a this government boondoggle. I think Congressman Ted Poe said it best, “They have to understand that the ‘E’ in FEMA stands for emergency and that’s right now!”

File This Under Scary….
January 13, 2010

We see so many stories of cars being burglarized. People losing lap-tops, PDA’s, cash, CD’s, the list goes on and on. What we don’t see very often is a cop’s car being burglarized. No, not an actual police vehicle, but an officer’s personal car. At the end of the year HPD Lt. H. Lopez got stung by a thief who broke into his personal car while it was parked in the driveway of his home. What did said thief get away with? According to police records his HPD ID card, his lieutenant’s badge, Smith and Wesson hand-cuffs, .40 caliber Glock pistol magazine, Olympia WS-300M digital voice recorder, Motorola headset and City of Houston issued AT&T cell phone. That’s quite a haul for any thief. Now, whoever the nut-job is that ripped off this lieutenant, can run around pretending to be a cop. The tough thing for cops is that they are cops 24 hours and day, seven days a week and can be called out at a moment’s notice, so they leave certain pieces of equipment in their cars. Lt. Lopez called me and said, “A lot of suspects target our cars because they know there’s a chance they’ll find stuff.” Unfortunately, police have not been able to find Lieutenant Lopez’ belongings. This type of theft is actually not as uncommon as some people may think. I’m not saying it happens all the time, but I’ve covered at least a dozen of these cases in the last few years. It is not just police officers. I remember covering one such story involving a DEA agent who was part of the Agency’s SWAT team. Let’s just say the thieves made off with enough hardware to invade a small country. Scary to think about, but cops are targets just like the rest of us.

Don’t Panic, It’s Just Another Scam
January 7, 2010

 

I received an e-mail this morning from a viewer and thought it would be a good reminder for everyone to not fall for this classic phishing scam. Adam wrote,The following is copied and pasted from a scam e-mail I received today regarding my Bank of America account. Since I do not have an account with this bank and the link described will disappear shortly you may want to warn your viewers about this type of e-mail supposedly from Bank of America.” 

Dear Valued Member, 

We noticed invalid login attempts into you account online from an unknown IP address .
Due to this, we have temporarily suspended your account.
We need you to update your account information for your online banking to be re-activated
please update your billing information today by clicking

here https://bankofamerica.com/secured/updates After a few clicks,

just verify the information you entered is correct.
Sincerely,

  

BOA Member Services Team  

P.S. The link in this message will be expire within 24 Hours . You have to update your payment information

� 2009 BOA LLC. All Rights Reserved. 

Adam had an easier time dismissing this scam because he doesn’t have an account with BOA. However, this type of scam has been sent under the auspices of all banks. These e-mails are getting more sophisticated and some of the links you are asked to click will look official. Most scam artists are banking (pun intended) on a person’s knee-jerk panic that they won’t have access to their money. Just know that if your account has truly been compromised your bank will not send you an e-mail, the bank will CALL you. Also, the bank will certainly not send you an e-mail with a link that expires in 24 hours. If you receive an e-mail like this one and are still concerned it is legitimate then all you have to do is call your bank to find out if there is a problem with your account. If you do click on the link provided then you’ll be asked to enter a battery of personal information the scam artists will use to steal your identity. If you receive one of these e-mails report it to your bank and report it to the feds at www.ic3.gov.

Posthumous Pardons
January 7, 2010

I came across this bit of information while searching rulings made by the Texas Attorney General. It surprised me because I didn’t realize the law was unclear on this point. The question posed to the AG was whether the Governor of Texas has the authority to grant posthumous pardons? A little background first…this issue was presented to the AG because of the case against Timothy Brian Cole. In 1986 Cole was convicted of rape and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Cole consistently maintained his innocence. In 2008 DNA tests proved Cole was an innocent man. Unfortunately Cole died from an asthma attack in prison in 1999. The judge presiding over the court of inquiry wrote, “Was Tim Cole innocent of the charges against him? Yes. The evidence is crystal clear that he died in prison an innocent man, and the Court finds to a 100% moral, legal and factual certainty that he did not commit the crime for which he was convicted.” As you may know a wrongfully convicted person is entiteled to compensation from the State. Last year Governor Perry signed legislation that also allowed relatives of a deceased person to receive the compensation that would have gone to the wrongfully convicted family member. In that legislation the wording mentions, “posthumous pardon”. However, Perry’s office insists the Texas Constitution does not expressly give the Governor the authority to grant posthumous pardons. So the AG was asked for a ruling on the issue and got one…sort of. The AG rules the Texas Constitution does not deny the Governor that authority and, in essence, ruled that if the Board of Pardons and Parole and the courts didn’t have a problem with a posthumous pardon then the Governor should not have a problem granting one. Here’s the AG’s ruling.

UPDATE: Here’s a statement sent out by Perry’s Office today.

“I’m pleased to learn that the Attorney General’s ruling has opened the door to the ability to grant posthumous pardons,” said Gov. Perry. “I have spoken with Tim Cole’s mother about this good news, which finally gives his family the opportunity to officially clear his name. I hope the Board of Pardons and Paroles will act swiftly in sending a recommendation to my desk so that justice can finally be served.”

Holiday Cash!
January 4, 2010

Just getting back to work from a long holiday break and I came across a quartet of cases filed by the US Attorney’s Office. These cases caught my eye because the four events all happened within two days and all at Bush Intercontinental Airport. Customs agents seized more than $176,000 in cold hard cash from international travellers. Here’s the breakdown..

1) November 24th–Concepcion and Francisco Salgado traveling from Houston to Mexico City. Feds write the husband and wife were caught with $78,882 in their luggage. After being questioned (and before all the cash was found) the couple claimed to only have $9,000 and $4,000 respectively.

2) November 24th–Imran Sattar traveling to Dubai. Court records read Sattar was caught carrying $21,028, but claimed he only had $9,000 on him.

3) November 26th–Hamid Parvizi travelling to Amsterdam. ICE agents said Parvizi had about $20,026 in his wallet and briefcase. Court records read Parvizi initially told agents he was only carrying $10,000.

4) November 26th–Valentine Osigboh traveling to Nigeria. Agents write Osigboh was carrying $56,700. Feds said Osigboh, an experienced international traveler, told them he was running late for a flight and didn’t want to take the time to declare that he had more than $10,000 in cash on him.

If you have ever flown internationally then you are familiar with a Customs form that requires travelers to declare whether they are carrying more than $10,000 in cash. If you lie on this form you can be charged with perjury. Even though these cases happened at the end of November the US Attorney’s Office didn’t file the seizure complaints until the end of December. These cases are all civil, not criminal. I have not seen any corresponding criminal cases filed in conjunction with the cash seizures. I spoke with Greg Palmore over at ICE and he said Customs agents check for international travelers carrying large sums of cash everyday. However, Palmore said the seizures usually pick up around the Holiday season. I’ll keep watching to see if any of these cases get filed on the criminal side.