Archive for January, 2012

Easy Money
January 30, 2012



If you didn’t see my story on the counterfeit postal money orders popping up in Houston mailboxes click here.  However, after the story aired I realized I left out some helpful information. How exactly can a person tell if something like this is genuine or bogus? Look at the first picture, see the Benjamin Franklin watermark? Yes, ol’ Ben’s face is supposed to be there but you should not be able to see his face while the money order is laying on a table. You should only be able to see Franklin’s face when you hold the money order up to the light. The second tip is the security strip. See how the silvery USPS bars are staggered across the front of the money order? A legitimate postal money order will have a solid security strip, not dashes.


A Superhero Of Our Very Own
January 19, 2012


I have never been a comic book collector, but when I heard Houston was getting it’s very own superhero I had to run out and get the first edition (seriously, Gotham, Metropolis and NYC have been protected long enough). To me the arrival of the Scarlet Spider is interesting on a couple of levels. One–it shows Houston’s entree into pop culture. In my humble opinion I think this signals a big step forward in Houston’s identity on a national level. Two–the first story line shows a very dark side of our city. (I know superheroes aren’t created to protect peaceful towns). I was surprised to see the opening sequence of the comic deal with human trafficking. Unfortunately our fair city has been a major hub for this type of crime for many, many years. I don’t want to spoil the story for everyone, but the first bad guys the Scarlet Spider encounters are responsible for a situation very similar to one several years ago outside Victoria when several illegal immigrants died in a hot 18-wheeler abandoned by a smuggler on the side of Highway 59. I also heard an interview with the character’s creators, who said some of the planned super-villains in the series will be cartel chiefs. Usually when there is a national discussion on the problems of human trafficking and drug trafficking Houston is only mentioned in passing. Most of the conversations are focused on the Texas border, Arizona, NYC and LA. This comic shows (albeit in a fantastical way) that Houston’s problems have become part of the national consciousness. So while Houston’s architecture, friendly faces and vibrancy have finally been deemed worthy of “super protection”, our city also has enough real life problems to give comic book writers years worth of story lines. But fear not brave citizen, the next time you see a scarlet blur zipping along our sky line rest easy–the Scarlet Spider is on the case.

A Warning From Mexico
January 17, 2012






Color me a little surprised when I saw a travel warning from the Matamoros office of Mexico’s National Chamber of Commerce regarding south Texas, in particular Brownsville. I just happen to be down on the border working on a story and saw the warning appear in The Brownsville Herald. According to the paper the statement urged businessmen and Mexican Nationals to use “maximum precaution” when travelling to Brownsville. The statement pointed to a recent shooting at the Sunrise Mall in Brownsville (police say the shooting happened after an argument over a fender bender in the parking lot). I met with Brownsville’s interim police chief, Orlando Rodriguez, about another matter today and asked in passing what he thought of Mexico’s warning. “I was surprised because I don’t understand what the concern is,” said Rodriguez. The interim Chief said the shooting has nothing to do with border problems or drug trafficking. Rodriguez said he believes the warning was more along the lines of a “jab” at the US because of the multiple and frequent travel warnings issued by our State Department regarding travel to Mexico. Rodriguez made two more points. One, Brownsville and other Texas border communities are growing quickly, in part, because of Mexican nationals moving to the US to escape rampant violence (something not lost on the minds of the Mexican government). Two, Brownsville’s annual homicide rate rarely cracks double-digits.

A Daughter’s Mission
January 16, 2012

Sometimes in the mundane world of federal court filings a gem shines through. I came across a case involving a supposed CIA operative, his daughter’s dogged quest for information and the country of Cuba. Court records read Sherry Sullivan of Maine was awarded $21 million dollars in the death of her father, Geoffrey Francis Sullivan. That judgement was against Cuba.  Here’s the back story according to the lawsuit. Sullivan’s father was an Air Force and Army National Guard veteran who began flying secret CIA missions to help subvert Castro’s regime. Records filed as part of the lawsuit claim in the early 60s  Sullivan and another man participated in several anti-Castro missions, including the bombing of the Esso oil refinery in Havana. The lawsuit claims Sullivan was either shot down or crashed off the coast of Cuba in October of 1963.  The lawsuit quotes several sources who say Sullivan was imprisoned in Cuba, while his partner died. The lawsuit also cites several individuals who, over the years, reported seeing Sullivan or an “American pilot” in a prison cell. The last report of a Cuban national spotting Sullivan was in 1991 according to the lawsuit.  Sullivan has since been declared legal dead, even though he has never been found. In 2007 Sullivan’s daughter filed a lawsuit in  Maine against Cuba, claiming her father’s imprisonment and believed death violated the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.  Since Cuban never responded to the lawsuit a judge awarded Sullivan’s daughter $21 million dollars. Now that lawsuit has landed in Houston federal court. Sullivan’s attorney filed an action to get Cuba to pay what it owes. Sullivan’s attorney declined to speak with us until after Cuban officials are formerly served with this latest legal filing. Sullivan still has never learned concretely what happened to her father five decades ago.

Here is the lawsuit: Sullivan 1, Sullivan 2

Here is a link the Bangor Daily News article that was written when the multi-million dollar judgement was issued: