Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Odds and Ends….
February 10, 2012

 

Last year I did several stories on a FDA investigation into what federal inspectors determined were tainted alcohol wipes. The company at the center of this is Wisconsin based Triad Group. These wipes prompted several lawsuits from people who claimed a nasty bacteria called Bacillus cereus made them sick. A Houston family is among those suing the company; claiming these wipes led to the death of their toddler. These pads were one of the most widely used alcohol pads in the country. The company eventually shut down production after truck loads of products were seized. Now FDA officials are reporting those products have been destroyed. Below is a copy of an email I received from FDA officials regarding the status of the investigation and the company.

* Although FDA ultimately approved a “reconditioning plan” that does not mean that FDA allowed the seized articles to be put back into commerce. Reconditioning, as the term is used in FDA consent decrees, refers to bringing the articles into compliance with the law, which in many cases means destroying the seized articles.

* As the correspondence indicates, under the approved reconditioning plan all seized articles that were finished products were destroyed. Also, seized articles that were in-process (i.e, being produced) were destroyed.

* Ultimately, under the approved reconditioning plan, the only seized articles that were not destroyed were un-expired raw materials that had been received by H&P but never opened.

* Approximately 50 truck loads of finished goods, 13 truck loads of raw chemical ingredients, and 5 bulk tank trailers of in-process materials were destroyed. The articles destroyed included both articles that had been seized and other materials in H&P’s possession that had not been seized (such as recalled and returned product).

* Pursuant to the injunctive requirements of the consent decree the firm may not resume operations until FDA notifies the firm in writing that it may resume operations.

* Consistent with paragraph 17 of the consent decree, the government has informed the clerk of court that the bond can be released. The bond was canceled after the reconditioning and destruction under the approved reconditioning plan was completed under the supervision of FDA. The injunctive provisions of the Decree spell out what the firm needs to do in order to resume manufacturing drugs and medical devices.

* FDA’s correspondence to the firm outlined the deficiencies with proposed reconditioning plans, and required necessary detail.

* The firm is currently not permitted to manufacture drugs or devices.

* The firm will not be permitted to resume operations until FDA is satisfied that it can do so in full compliance with the decree and the law. If the firm is ultimately permitted to resume operations, paragraph 23 of the consent decree permits FDA to take take swift and broad action in the event violations occur.

I also recently updated a story about several lawsuits and increased scrutiny over the use of medical mesh to treat Pelvic Organ Prolapse. Here is a link to the most recent story.  Now comes word that several lawmakers have filed a bill that would tighten the way the FDA “clears” medical devices for market. The FDA is facing a lot of criticism over its process process medical devices. Here is a link to story about the proposed law.

My last update is about the amount of cash seized at airports in our region. If you have ever traveled internationally then you are familiar the Customs form that asks if you are traveling with more than $10,000 in currency. If you are carrying more than $10,000 in currency you have to declare the money. If you don’t declare the cash and Customs and Border Protection Officers find the money, then it is seized and becomes property of the federal government. I am constantly coming across cases filed in federal court regarding international travelers who lie to Customs officers about the amount of money they are carrying on their trip. I just checked with Customs and Border Protection and found for fiscal year 2011 officers seized $2,134,901 in cash from travelers at airports from Corpus Christi to Dallas. Check, please!

 

 

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: 

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/08/19/news/maine-woman-wins-lawsuit-against-cuba/

 

A 911 Text?
April 7, 2011

I am working on a story for tonight at 10 o’clock about the federal government’s push to create Next Generation 911, or NG911. This would allow people across the country to send a text message to 911. I know sending a text sounds easy, but when it comes to texting 911 the technical hurdles are piling up. I’ll explain more when I finish the story, but for now I would like to know whether you would like to have the option of sending a text message to 911. Take a second to answer my poll and leave me message with your thoughts. I’ll announce the results and some of your comments tonight at 10 o’clock.

Be careful when donating to Japan relief…
March 15, 2011

That’s the word from the Texas Attorney General’s Office. Unfortunately whenever a tragedy strikes the scam artists are not far behind. Here’s the statement from the AG…

Consumer Alert: Beware of Charitable Scams During Japan Relief Effort

 
In wake of the earthquake and resulting tsunami that has caused widespread disaster in Japan and some areas of the United States, the Office of the Attorney General is cautioning generous Texans to carefully vet relief organizations before making any charitable contributions.

By doing a little research, well-meaning Texans can ensure their dollars actually help the recovery effort and aid victims – rather than funding fraudulent scams set up to capitalize on a tragedy.

Texans who are solicited for charitable contributions to relief efforts by telephone, text message, e-mail, mail, social networking sites or otherwise should consider the following:

• Ensure the relief organization is legitimate. Ask for credentials, including the soliciting entity’s exact name and telephone number, particularly if the purported relief organization is not well known.
• Call the charity directly and confirm that the solicitor is actually working for that organization.
• Watch for questionable charities using names that closely resemble the names of well-known charities.
• Find out how the donation will be used.
• Be wary of appeals that are long on emotion and short on descriptions about how charitable contributions will aid the recovery effort.
• Don’t succumb to high-pressure tactics and demands for an immediate decision. A legitimate charity welcomes background checks on their operations.
• Never give a credit card or bank account number to an unknown solicitor.
• Never give cash and never agree to give money to a courier. Write a check to the charity directly – not the soliciting individual – and get a receipt.

For information about specific relief operations currently underway, Texans should contact the American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP). AIP is a national charity watchdog service that assists donors with identifying reliable charitable organizations. Texans should visit their Web site at http://www.charitywatch.org.

Texans who wish to file a complaint with the Office of the Attorney General regarding suspicious e-mail charity solicitations may call the Consumer Complaint Hotline at (800) 252-8011 or file a complaint online at http://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov.

 

Watch Out For The Lightining Bolt…
March 10, 2011

My tens of readers know that I regularly search federal court filings for interesting stories. Normally mail theft is not a charge that sends the hairs on the back of my neck into a frazzle, but in the case I came across it is who the mail belonged to that piqued my interest. According to court documents, Andre Moore is accused of stealing mail sent to the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. NUNS! I don’t care what your belief system is, this is just begging for “bad juju” to be brought down on your head. According to investigators, Moore worked for the sisters. Part of Moore’s duties was to pick up the mail. According to the federal court affidavit, Moore opened several letters sent to the Sisters and took “cash and gift cards.” Here is a copy of the filing. sisters

Youngest Mexican Police Chief a No Call, No Show–Update.
March 7, 2011

 

UPDATE—Associated Press reporting that Valles Garcia now seeking asylum in the US because of death threats. Here’s the latest article…

EL PASO, Texas (AP) — A young woman who received death threats

after recently becoming police chief of a violence-plagued Mexican

town is in the U.S and seeking asylum, Mexican and U.S. officials

said Tuesday.

Marisol Valles Garcia, 20, made international headlines when she

accepted the top law enforcement job in Praxedis G. Guerrero, a

township near the Texas border that has been overcome by drug

violence. Her predecessor was kidnapped, murdered and decapitated

in July 2009.

Garcia is now in the U.S. and will be allowed to present her

case to an immigration judge, according to a statement from U.S.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The town is in the Mexican

state of Chihuahua, where ombudsman Gustavo de la Rosa confirmed

that Garcia was in the U.S. and said she has initiated a formal

asylum petition.

Neither ICE nor De la Rosa would say where Garcia was staying,

citing privacy and security concerns.

Drug violence has transformed the township of about 8,500 people

from a string of quiet farming communities into a lawless no man’s

land only about a mile from the Texas border. Two rival gangs — the

Juarez and Sinaloa drug cartels — are battling over control of its

single highway, a lucrative drug-trafficking route along the Texas

border.

Residents have said Garcia had received death threats, and the

ombudsman said there may have been at least one attempt to kidnap

her. Local officials said they had given her a leave of absence

from March 2 through March 7 to travel to the U.S. to tend to

personal matters, but she never returned.

Garcia was officially fired Monday for apparently abandoning her

post. Police will answer to the mayor until a new chief is

appointed, the city government’s statement said.

Garcia was still a criminology student when she accepted the job

in October to oversee 12 police officers. At the time, she said she

wanted them to go door-to-door looking for criminals and teaching

values to the families.

Since I’ve covered so many stories on the drug violence in Mexico I have been following the story of the 20-year-old woman who took over as Police Chief in the town of Praxedis G. Guerrero. Many couldn’t decide if this was a brave or foolish move. Nonetheless, Marisol Valles Garcia took a job no one wanted and did it, she says, out of civic duty. The position had been vacant since 2009 when the last police chief was murdered. Now, word is coming out of Mexico that Valles Garcia has abandoned her post because of death threats. Can’t say I blame her… Here’s the article from the Associated Press.

MEXICO CITY (AP) — A 20-year-old woman who made international

headlines when she accepted the job as police chief in a violent

Mexican border town was fired Monday for apparently abandoning her

post after receiving death threats.

Marisol Valles Garcia was given permission to travel to the

United States last week for personal matters but failed to return

to Praxedis G. Guerrero as agreed, according to a statement from

the city.

“In the absence of (Valles Garcia’s) presence on the

agreed-upon day and since there was no notification of a need to

extend the period of her absence, the mayor has decided to remove

her from office,” the statement read.

Local news media have reported that Valles Garcia was seeking

asylum in the United States, but there has been no confirmation of

that and her precise whereabouts were not clear Monday.

On Friday, Chihuahua state Human Rights Commission official

Gustavo de la Rosa Hickerson said Valles Garcia’s relatives and

friends told him she had received telephone threats against her

life the previous weekend.

A local official accompanied the 20-year-old police chief this

week to the international bridge connecting El Porvenir to Fort

Hancock, Texas, he said.

De la Rosa Hickerson and city officials tried to contact Valles

Garcia by cell phone amid increasing speculation that she was

seeking refuge, but were unable to reach her.

Valles Garcia was named police chief of Praxedis G. Guerrero in

October. The town had been without a police chief since her

predecessor was shot to death in July 2009.

Drug violence has transformed the township of about 8,500 people

from a string of quiet farming communities into a lawless no man’s

land.

Two rival gangs — the Juarez and Sinaloa drug cartels — are

battling over control of its single highway, a lucrative

drug-trafficking route along the Texas border.

“Good night. It’s time to die.”
February 1, 2011

I came across this story while searching federal court filings. Almost a year ago Juan Jose Castillo-Cruz was charged with murdering his wife. According to documents filed in federal court the couple spent most of February 4th, 2010 arguing before Monica Leija went to sleep with her three-year old son and five-year old daughter. Investigators wrote the couple’s little girl saw Castillo lean over the bed, whisper to her mother, “Good night. It’s time to die,” before shooting her in the head. Investigators stated the little girl then said her father told her to go to the bathroom and clean up because “mommy threw up ketchup all over her.” According to court filings Castillo dropped the kids off at his mother’s house the next day and disappeared. Castillo was charged with murder in state court, but investigators believe he is hiding out in El Salvador. To increase the pressure, investigators have now charged Castillo with the federal crime of Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution. This allows law enforcement to lay the groundwork to extradite Castillo back to the U.S. if he is caught. According to the affidavit, Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos stated her office would extradite Castillo and asked for the UFAP charges to be filed.