January 1, 2002 Managing Editor Regular News Public service grants awarded Foundation awards $10 million in legal aid grants Mark D. Killian Managing EditorThe Florida Bar Foundation awarded close to $10 million in IOTA grants December 7 to Florida legal aid providers and devoted another $1 million to “special purpose” programs to help meet the legal needs of the poor.William H. Davis, chair of the Foundation’s Legal Assistance for the Poor Grant Committee, said this year’s general support grants are equal to what was awarded last year, halting a trend which had seen Foundation funding for legal aid to the poor decline by 8.3 percent last year and 7 percent the previous year.“This year, thankfully, we are not going to be required to make any cuts over the funding from last year,” Davis said. “We certainly were not able to award what was requested but many of the programs — because the committee had previously announced we wanted to have level funding — asked for the same grant amount they got last year.”Davis said cuts in bank interest rates over the past few years have taken a toll on the IOTA program. In the past, the program has raised as much as $19 million a year to fund legal aid, administration of justice, and law student assistance projects. From 1993 until 1998, annual grant allocations were kept relatively stable through the use of the IOTA contingency reserve — which was established before bank interest rates began to drop — and by allocating more and more of the Foundation’s income to legal assistance to the poor programs and less to the administration of justice and law student assistance projects.The Foundation also was able to offset declines in IOTA contributions by the favorable returns it received on its investments. The reserve funds, however, are now depleted, and investment income is down.The applications for general support grants for local programs are based upon a per capita formula, depending upon the number of poor people in a county.Services are provided through staff and pro bono attorneys. The cases handled are determined through local community priorities set by local boards of directors. Predominantly, the cases handled are family, housing, income maintenance, and consumer matters.The Foundation’s board of directors approved the general support grants on the recommendation of its Legal Assistance to the Poor Grant Committee.Of the funds distributed, $5 million went to general legal services programs that also receive Legal Services Corporation funds; $1.2 million went to legal aid organizations that do not receive any LSC money; slightly more than $1 million was awarded to immigration service projects; $423,000 was provided for legal assistance to the institutionalized; $30,000 went to law school clinical projects; and almost $1 million was awarded to statewide legal aid programs. LSC Programs Foundation grants for general support to programs which also receive LSC funding include: Bay Area Legal Services, $607,126; Central Florida Legal Services, $458,845; Florida Rural Legal Services, $673,859; Greater Orlando Area Legal Services, $212,098; Gulf Coast Legal Services, $457,487; Jacksonville Area Legal Services, $360,527; Legal Aid Services of Broward County, $449,653; Legal Services of Greater Miami, $582,119; Legal Services of North Florida, $419,087; Northwest Florida Legal Services, $228,804; Three Rivers Legal Services, $324,466; and Withlacoochee Area Legal Services, $259,098.IOTA general funding grants awarded to organizations which do not also receive LSC funding include: Brevard County Legal Aid, $72,387; Clearwater Bar Foundation, $32,740; Community Law Program, $42,817; Cuban American Bar Association, $28,479; Dade County Bar Association, $256,062; Heart of Florida Legal Aid Society, $96,190; Lee County Legal Aid Society, $48,176; Legal Aid Foundation of the Tallahassee Bar Association, $32,151; Legal Aid Society of Collier County, $32,095; Legal Aid Society of Manasota, $16,506; Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, $238,581; Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association, $292,064; Okaloosa County Legal Aid, $22,652; and the Seminole County Bar Association Legal Aid Society, $54,331. Immigration Services Foundation grants to organizations which provide immigration services include: American Friends Service Committee, $111,030; Dade County Bar Association, $67,412; Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, $572,845; Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center Homeless Project, $65,190; Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association, $124,208; and Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, $77,725.Grants for legal assistance programs for the institutionalized or incapacitated went to Florida Institutional Legal Services, $217,126; the Florida Justice Institute, $149,432; and the Guardianship Program of Dade County, $56,958.IOTA grants for law school clinical projects in the amount of $5,000 each went to Florida State University, Nova Southeastern University, St. Thomas University, Stetson University, the University of Florida, and the University of Miami.General support grants for statewide projects went to Florida Legal Services, $873,773, and Southern Legal Counsel, $75,342. Special Purpose Grants The Florida Bar Foundation also gave slightly more than $1 million in special purpose grants to four legal aid programs providing representation that federally funded programs can no longer offer.The money will be used to fund class actions, migrant farm worker representation, policy advocacy, and cases that might generate attorneys’ fees. Federal legislation enacted a number of years ago prohibits programs that accept Legal Services Corporation funding from working in those areas.To file class actions and cases that might generate fees, the Foundation awarded Florida Legal Services for policy advocacy, $311,251; FLS Migrant Farmworker Justice Project, $376,713; the Florida Justice Institute, $162,911; Southern Legal Counsel, $134,389; and the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, $118,454.The 2002 grant year will mark the 20th time IOTA funds have been awarded in the legal assistance for the poor category. Florida’s IOTA program, the first in the nation, has awarded more than $133 million in IOTA LAP grants over the program’s 19-year history. Foundation seeks directors The Florida Bar Foundation articles Eight positions on The Florida Bar Foundation’s board of directors will be filled this year under the Florida Supreme Court approved governance plan which provides for 18 of the 29-member Bar Foundation board to be selected equally by the Florida Supreme Court, The Florida Bar Board of Governors, and the board of directors of the Bar Foundation.The six at-large seats to be filled for three-year terms beginning July 1 are currently held by: William S. Graessle, Jacksonville; and Judge Florence Snyder Rivas, Tallahassee (Florida Supreme Court appointees); Daryl D. Parks, Tallahassee; Lawrence J. Phalin, Orlando (Florida Bar Board of Governors appointees); Patrice Pilate, Viera; and Kathleen McLeroy, Tampa (Foundation appointees). Graessle and Rivas are not eligible for additional terms. One at-large position will be filled for a one-year term beginning July 1 to fill the unexpired term of William H. Davis, Tallahassee, who was elected secretary-treasurer of the Foundation effective July 1. Applicants for the at-large positions who are members of The Florida Bar also must be members of the Bar Foundation. Bar Foundation members include annual contributors, Foundation Fellows, and participants in IOTA.The eighth board seat to be filled is for a public member currently held by Georgina A. Angones of Miami, who is eligible to serve a second two-year term. The public member position will be filled by a joint Bar/Foundation Nominating Committee.Since 1981, the Foundation’s principal activity has been setting policy and overseeing operation of the Florida Supreme Court’s IOTA program. The court established the IOTA program to fund legal aid for the poor, improvements in the administration of justice, and loans and scholarships for law students. The Foundation board also oversees the Foundation’s formal fundraising program, sets investment policies, Foundation policies generally, and adopts the annual operating budget.Persons interested in applying for any of the eight Foundation board positions should obtain the appropriate application form. Applications for positions to be filled by the Supreme Court, Foundation (at-large seats), or the joint Bar/Foundation nominating committee (public member seat) may be obtained from the executive director of The Florida Bar Foundation, Suite 405, 109 East Church Street, Orlando 32801-3440.Completed applications for these seats must be received by the Foundation by February 15. (The Florida Bar will give separate notice for the two positions to be filled by The Florida Bar Board of Governors. See the Notice on page 2.)The Florida Bar Foundation Board of Directors embraces the concept of diversity. According to the Foundation, “a diverse membership makes the board stronger, and its work for the Foundation more relevant to the society in which we live.” The Foundation strongly encourages minorities, women, and persons with disabilities to apply for service on the board. To help achieve the broadest participation, The Florida Bar Foundation “Expense Reimbursement Policy” provides modest reimbursement for most out-of-pocket expenses incurred during board service.Applicants will be advised in writing of action taken by the selecting authorities. O’Malley to lead the Foundation Tampa’s Andrew M. O’Malley has been elected president-elect designate of The Florida Bar Foundation by its board of directors.Meeting December 7, the Foundation board also elected William H. Davis of Tallahassee secretary/treasurer.O’Malley will assume the Foundation presidency in 2002-2003, following William L. Thompson, Jr., of Orange Park, who will take office when the term of Darryl Bloodworth, Jacksonville, expires in June.The names of O’Malley and Davis were placed in nomination by the Foundation Nominating Committee, which consists of Bloodworth, and past Florida Bar Foundation presidents A. Hamilton Cooke, James A. Baxter, Rene V. Murai, and Neal R. Sonnett. The Florida Bar Foundation is seeking nominations for its 2002 Medal of Honor Awards.The Foundation has two categories for the medal of honor award. A nominee for the first category must be a member of The Florida Bar who has demonstrated dedication to the objectives of the Bar: “…to inculcate in its members the principles of duty and service to the public, to improve the administration of justice, and to advance the science of jurisprudence.”Nominees in this first category also must be Florida residents who are actively engaged in a profession relative to the practice of law including, but not limited to, practicing lawyers, judges or teachers in the legal field. Recent recipients in this category are: Steven M. Goldstein, William O.E. Henry, Justice Richard W. Ervin, Burton Young, Samuel S. Smith, Joseph W. Hatchett. Last year’s award was presented to Patrick G. Emmanuel.Nominees are also being solicited for a second medal of honor award category. This category recognizes the achievement of nonlawyers, or lawyers not actively engaged in the practice of law. Nominees must have made an outstanding contribution to the improvement of the administration of justice in Florida through research, writing, or other deeds of such character and quality that, in the judgment of the Foundation, warrant the highest award that can be bestowed by the Foundation.Nominees in the second category also must be Florida residents and may be members of The Florida Bar. Recent recipients in this category are: The Rev. Fred L. Maxwell for his leadership and perseverance in seeking permanent housing for the homeless in Orlando, Gene Miller for his integrity and passion as an investigative reporter for The Miami Herald in the coverage of the murder trials of two wrongfully convicted death row inmates, and John B. Orr, Jr., for his courageous stand against a package of bills filed in the 1956 Florida Legislature’s special session whose purpose was to perpetuate school segregation.The Medal of Honor awards will be presented at the annual dinner of the Foundation during The Florida Bar Annual Meeting June 20, at the Boca Raton Resort and Club.Nominations should list the specific achievements which would qualify an individual to receive a medal of honor and should include a brief biographical sketch of the nominee.Nominations should be sent to: The Florida Bar Foundation, Medal of Honor Awards Program, Post Office Box 1553, Orlando 32802-1553, (800) 541-2195, (407) 843-0045. Nominations also may be faxed to (407) 839-0287 or sent via e-mail to email@example.com.The deadline for submission of nominees is January 30. The Florida Bar Foundation recently awarded $152,500 to public service programs at seven Florida law schools.IOTA Public Service Fellows programs range from traditional civil legal clinics to developing public policy proposals focusing on the legal needs of women and children to advocacy for the disabled. In addition to direct public service work, law students also undertake projects to involve other students in public service activities.The funds are awarded directly to the law schools, which select students based on demonstrated commitment to pro bono and public interest work.“Not only do the fellows help provide legal services, but they get exposed to that kind of work and, hopefully, will be more prone to enter into it either as a legal service attorney or a pro bono attorney later in their careers,” said William H. Davis, chair of the Foundation’s Legal Assistance for the Poor Grant Committee.The presence of the program on the campus for each law school also provides an awareness in the student body of the importance of public interest law practice, as a career and as a pro bono activity.Florida Coastal will receive $14,000; Florida State University will receive $23,000; Nova Southeastern University will receive $23,000; St. Thomas University, $20,000; Stetson University, $23,000; the University of Florida, $22,100; and the University of Miami, $27,400. Foundation seeks Medal of Honor nominees
Senator wants to clean up Florida Constitution Gary Blankenship Senior Editor The chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee is launching a two-year program aimed at streamlining the Florida Constitution, although the panel has been warned that will be a difficult task and could have unintended consequences.Sen. Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden, discussed his plans with other committee members at a January 12 meeting. He said he wanted to get statutory-type provisions out of the state’s basic charter, but otherwise not make any significant changes to the document.The panel also heard from former Florida State University Law Dean and President Sandy D’Alemberte, who cautioned there are likely several obstacles to such an effort.Committee members questioned Webster about his plans after they finished other business before D’Alemberte was scheduled to appear at Webster’s invitation. Webster did say the job would be too big to accomplish in one year and it likely would be the 2006 session before any recommendations make it to the full House and Senate.In response to a question from Sen. Steven Geller, D-Hallandale Beach, Webster said he wants to have an article-by-article review of the constitution with a look at when, how, and why each provision was added.“If it did not meet the criteria of belonging in a basic document, we would get rid of it,” he said. “What we’re talking about are things that belong in statutes. There are things that clearly belong in statute and things you and I could agree on [that should not be in the constitution].”Webster added while he thinks there are some legitimate basic constitutional issues that need to be changed, that will not be included in the streamlining review.“I think I have a pure heart in what I’m asking to do, which is give the people the opportunity to vote on a constitution that would be like a constitution — instead of a collection of statutes,” he said.Geller said he would work with Webster on the issue but questioned whether the legislature could adequately grapple with such a large issue.“I’m concerned there’s a certain degree of hubris in having us do it,” he said. “I hope we would not be enacting changes that would bitterly divide this legislature and the people of the state of Florida but might pass by a narrow margin.”Sen. Skip Campbell, D-Tamarac, asked if Webster’s rewrite would include changes in the initiative process for proposing constitutional amendments, something lawmakers have discussed both this and last year.Webster replied while he expects the committee to look at that issue, it would be in a separate bill from the constitutional rewrite. He noted that any change would have to pass committee scrutiny in both the House and Senate, pass both chambers by a three-fifths vote, and then be approved by voters.D’Alemberte, a state and federal constitutional expert, said it could be difficult to make any changes for several reasons, and that alterations could have unintended consequences. Noting his service in the House, D’Alemberte said he backed constitutional changes that made the amendment initiative process easier, an action he now regrets.(Lawmakers have been concerned that special interests are using the initiative process to bypass the legislature and enact provisions not suitable for the constitution. Recent votes have included protections for pregnant pigs, a vote ordering — and then rescinding — a high-speed rail system, and a battle between doctors and lawyers over medical malpractice issues.)And while people have a reverence for and are reluctant to change the U.S. Constitution, those same feelings don’t apply to state charters, D’Alemberte said.“I’m really skeptical about your ability to do it,” he said. “The length of the constitution comes out of one emotion that we are not going to be able to get over any time soon, and that emotion is distrust.”That distrust is evident in provisions dividing executive powers between the governor and a Cabinet, D’Alemberte said, and in setting up independent agencies outside of executive oversight.Nor is the urge to amend anything new. He noted that in the 85 years after the 1885 constitution was adopted, 211 amendments were proposed and around 145 were approved — an average of more than three per election.“The nature of the distrust seems to be shifting a bit,” D’Alemberte said. “The initiative process seems to be used to give explicit instructions to the legislature — the limitations of class size, the details of pre-K [class instruction]. That’s something that’s fairly new.”He offered three suggestions to the committee:• They should look at the proposal from the League of Women Voters — which D’Alemberte has reservations about — to allow citizens to propose statutory changes by initiative instead of just constitutional changes. “It invites people to put statutory language in the statutes, not the constitution,” he said.• The legislature could build on the requirement that each amendment be accompanied by a fiscal disclosure and provide forums for education and debate on proposed amendments.• The legislature could provide more information to existing institutions concerned with constitutional issues. Those include the Constitution Revision Commission, (which D’Alemberte chaired in 1978) a citizens’ panel that reviews the constitution every 20 years, and the Tax and Budget Reform Commission, which looks at fiscal issues and meets 10 years after the CRC. D’Alemberte said the citizens who serve on those panels could be given more thorough background about the constitution and related issues before they begin their work.Sen. Carey Baker, R-Eustis, asked what principles the committee should follow in carrying out Webster’s quest.D’Alemberte replied they should bear in mind that “unless something is denied in the constitution, it’s permitted.”He also said lawmakers should avoid meaningless affirmative statements.“We can put language in the constitution that says we’ll have a healthy environment, but it really doesn’t do anything,” he said.Sen. Alex Villalobos, R-Miami, said he would oppose a statutory initiative procedure, saying bills in the legislature get an extensive fiscal and staff analysis as well as debate, which might not happen in a referendum. “I think we’d be acquiescing our constitutional mandate as a bargaining chip [for reform],” he said.D’Alemberte said he was also dubious about that and said the legislature should look at other states with statutory initiative referendums, including California. Some observers feel the California system works poorly and burdens the state with unnecessary, unrealistic, and, sometimes, conflicting mandates.D’Alemberte closed with a warning that any attempt to streamline the constitution would be a challenge.“It’s fraught with a lot of danger and could become its own evil,” he said.After the meeting, Webster, a former House speaker and longtime member of both the House and Senate judiciary committees, noted that some might think it odd that a nonlawyer Judiciary Committee chair (he is an engineer and air-conditioning contractor) would undertake the project, but he’s seen a need for several years.“This is a document that does not need to be filled with a lot of detail about how things work,” he said. “My idea is to give the people a chance to vote on a pure document.”Webster acknowledged it might be a difficult project. “I don’t know if we could even get it out of this committee.”Webster said he welcomes input from The Florida Bar’s newly formed Special Board Committee to Study the Florida Constitutional Amendment Process, which was created at the request of President-elect Alan Bookman. That came after board members expressed concerns the state’s charter was becoming cluttered with unnecessary provisions. February 1, 2005 Senior Editor Regular News Senator wants to clean up Florida Constitution
April 15, 2006 Regular News House spending plan anticipates Art. V increases House spending plan anticipates Art. V increases Mark D. Killian Managing Editor The House has tentatively set aside $1.26 billion to fund the Supreme Court, the trial courts, state attorneys, public defenders, the Justice Administrative Council, the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Program, and the Capital Collateral Regional Counsels, according Rep. Jeff Kottkamp, R-Cape Coral.Reporting March 30 at the House Fiscal Council, Kottkamp — who chairs the Judiciary Appropriations Committee — went through some of the highlights of the spending plan, including $18 million in new money for the state attorneys and public defenders to meet their “ever-increasing workloads.”“This is by far a historic new funding level for our state attorneys and public defenders,” Kottkamp said. “We are doing something different this year in taking back, really, what the legislature should be doing, which is allocating these monies on a regional basis based on need. We have come up with a formula to treat both the state attorneys and the public defenders on a level playing field.”Kottkamp said $2.1 million in additional funding has been allocated for the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Program to serve additional children in need of representation in the state’s court system.Another $6.45 million has been budgeted for construction, innovation, and improvements to courthouses in 22 small counties, Kottkamp said, including Baker, Bradford, Calhoun, Desoto, Franklin, Gadsden Gilchrest, Glades, Gulf, Hardy, Hendry, Holmes, Jackson, Levy, Liberty, Nassau, Putnam, Suwannee, Taylor, Union, Wakulla, and Washington counties.“We have put some funding in every single member request,” Kottkamp said.Kottkamp also said $16.7 million has been allocated for maintenance and repairs to the Supreme Court building for significant upgrades and repairs to the structure.“Part of that will be set aside for beefing up security for the Supreme Court, which will provide bullet-proof windows and perimeter security, as well,” he said.Another $1.9 million will go to improving safety and security at several of the states district courts of appeal.“With respect to the trial courts, we have funded additional law clerks, court reporters, court interpreters, and the mediation and arbitration program,” he said.Kottkamp also said $211,000 in recurring funds has been earmarked for court system technology to help with implementation of the Jessica Lunsford Act, which beefs up punishment and monitoring of child sex offenders.“We also have increased collections in the indigent criminal trust fund that led to the reinvestment of those monies into technology and assistance to the public defenders in several areas,” Kottkamp said.The Fiscal Council also approved an amendment — offered by Kottkamp and Rep. Jack Seiler, D-Pompano Beach — that redirected “$4.5 million from the due process contingency fund in the state court system to critical court system priorities.”
Lindsay Lohan in her March 2013 mug shot.Troubled actress Lindsay Lohan’s April Fools Day joke announcement that she’s pregnant didn’t go over so well given that the Merrick native is facing a 90-day sentenced of court-ordered drug rehab—again.The 26-year-old Mean Girls star posted on Twitter, “Its official. Pregnant …” The tweet sparked a flurry of speculation over whether Lohan—who’s dating City of the Sun guitarist Avi Snow—was serious or her account was hacked until she deleted the post Tuesday and followed up with, “April Fools. Where’s everyone’s sense of humor?”Some thought she was serious, offered congratulations and urged her to prepare for motherhood. Others blasted Lohan, whose rap sheet has continued to grow after several brief stints in Los Angeles jail in recent years.She was on probation for stealing a necklace when she was arrested last fall for assaulting a woman in a Manhattan nightclub the same day California authorities charged her with lying to police and reckless driving in a crash, causing a judge to revoke her probation.She pleaded no contest in March to the latest California crimes and was sentenced to 90 days in a lock-down rehab clinic to be treated for alcohol and prescription drug addiction, 30 days of community service and 18 months of psychotherapy, starting May 2.Lohan is scheduled to appear on the Late Show with David Letterman next Tuesday to promote her guest appearance on Charlie Sheen’s FX series Anger Management and her role in Scary Movie 5, which hits theaters next month. Sign up for our COVID-19 newsletter to stay up-to-date on the latest coronavirus news throughout New York
Sign up for our COVID-19 newsletter to stay up-to-date on the latest coronavirus news throughout New York A Brentwood father pleaded not guilty Wednesday to an indictment charging him with second-degree murder and manslaughter in the death of his seven-week-old daughter. Angelo Deleon, 51, appeared in State Supreme Court in Riverhead, where a judge set bail at $250,000 cash or bond.Suffolk County prosecutors alleged that the infant, Genesis Deleon, was shaken to death by her father on Oct. 30 at their Brentwood home. He was her lone caretaker that day, prosecutors said. Deleon was also charged with reckless assault of a child for a separate incident that allegedly occurred several days before the girl’s death. He pleaded not guilty to that charge as well. Deleon’s next court date is Dec. 17.
Sign up for our COVID-19 newsletter to stay up-to-date on the latest coronavirus news throughout New York [dropcap]D[/dropcap]iane Gaines took her usual position along the pews inside Bethel African Methodist Episcopal church in Babylon.The last few days had been a whirlwind, with Gaines taking calls from members of the community lobbying her to continue the job she had been doing for more than 15 years. Meanwhile, her own thoughts had become clouded as she nervously contemplated her future.Gaines was in need of a sign, a gentle nudge that would help put her mind to rest. She wanted to follow her heart, but she knew the road would be turbulent and laden with pitfalls.She wheeled herself into church that Sunday in October 2010 with her eyes wide open.Gaines had already been through a gauntlet of obstacles. A popped blood vessel in her spine at 24 years old has relegated her for the rest of her life to a wheelchair. Then came a breast cancer diagnosis at age 40.Gaines, a single mother of three, pushed on. Her faith never wavered. If this was His plan, then so be it. She’d accept the mission He had set forth for her.But Gaines’ journey hit a roadblock in 2010 when the Nassau County-based Women’s Opportunity Resource Center (WORC), which she served as executive director, was shut down by its parent organization, Education and Assistance Corporation (EAC) due to a lack of funding.For 25 years, the program helped downtrodden women who had been in and out of trouble with the criminal justice system receive vital services in order for them to effectively re-enter society, possibly earn a GED, perhaps enroll in college, and hopefully land a job, support a family. Some had been sexually and physically abused in the past. The emotional scars ran the gamut. They were drug dealers and drug abusers. Many others made a career out of petty crimes.WORC’s mission was simple: reduce recidivism and help women climb out of a dark and lonely abyss through vocational training, educational courses, workshops, counseling, health services and emotional support.Gaines lamented what would happen to destitute Long Island women if WORC ceased to exist. Convincing people to fund the program would be a tireless endeavor, yet something was pushing her toward reviving it.About one month after WORC shut down, Gaines decided to stop worrying and instead put all her faith in God.Peering at the pulpit that Sunday, Gaines recognized the youth pastor preaching that morning as the son of a WORC graduate. What some would consider a coincidence, Gaines interpreted as divine intervention.“I can’t run from this,” she recalled.The next day Gaines got to work. After registering WORC with the Nassau County Clerk’s office, she headed over to Fulton Avenue in Hempstead to inspect an unoccupied office space. The landlord inquired about her budget. She didn’t have one, Gaines admitted.“I have God,” she told him.ResistanceDiane Gaines, executive director of WORC, helps women who have been incarcerated get back on their feet. Gaines visited the African American Museum of Nassau County on Aug. 27 to accept a $55,000 grant from the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office. (Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)Gaines, who had been raised Catholic, discovered the African Methodist Episcopal church two decades ago. She made the switch after a professional mentor suggested she attend a service at Mt. Olive AME church in Port Washington—and she’s been hooked ever since.The AME church has been in existence for more than two centuries, quietly going about its business spreading the Gospel worldwide and helping improve the communities its members call home. The first AME church was founded by a free slave in Philadelphia shortly after the official end of the American Revolution. The church’s congregation now numbers three million people—spanning 39 countries on five continents.Suddenly the church’s bucolic lifestyle was interrupted on June 17 when bullets violently began flying inside Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., the oldest AME church in the South, during Bible study. When the alleged gunman finally ended the carnage, nine lives had been lost, with the church’s venerable pastor among the dead.Dylann Storm Roof’s motives were made clear by his venomous justification for the rampage.“You are raping our women and taking over the country,” Roof reportedly told one of his victims inside the historic church during the slayings. On Sept. 3, prosecutors in Charleston announced they’d be seeking the death penalty.A supposed manifesto reportedly posted on a website registered by Roof last February paints a disturbing portrait of a man painfully uncomfortable living in an America where the KKK has largely become irrelevant and hate-fueled attacks by other disciples are, in his view, too infrequent.“I have no choice,” it reads, according to The New York Times. “I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites (sic) in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”Fueled by racism, Roof allegedly slaughtered nine God-loving people after an hour of Bible study—a common event held every Wednesday at each AME church in the country.AME members of Long Island were just leaving Bible studies of their own when news of the bloodshed began to surface.“I felt violated,” 64-year-old Anita Scott says inside Bethel AME Church in Freeport. Scott was raised in the AME and has family in South Carolina.“This is my home,” she says on a quiet summer day inside Bethel. “I felt like someone had come in there and raped us…I just wonder: How can someone raise their child to hate?”The mass murder sent a shockwave across LI, which is home to 14 AME churches—seven each in Nassau and Suffolk counties, including Bethel Copiague, where congregants will celebrate its 200th anniversary this month. LI is also home to St. David AME Zion church in Sag Harbor, a defunct AME church built in 1840 that is rumored to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad and housed a trapdoor that once hide slaves. Its pastor at the time was also a noted abolitionist, according to historians.The AME church has always been a symbol of black resistance, says Rev. Craig Robinson, pastor of AME Bethel Church in Bay Shore. Therefore, it’s not out of the question that one of its churches would be used to hide blacks from their slave masters. (The existence of the Underground Railroad on LI has been the subject of much debate.)The murderous rampage on a summer evening in Charleston evoked visceral reactions and brought back memories of the church’s birth in the late 1780s (the exact date is unknown), when white Methodists insisted that blacks move to the back of St. George’s Methodist Church in Philadelphia. But it was Richard Allen’s act of defiance at the end of the 18th century that laid the groundwork for the eventual formation of the AME church. Allen, a revered black preacher and member of St. George’s, decided to lead a walkout, a pivotal moment in the history of black resistance.Richard Allen founded the first AME Church in Philadelphia after he was told he could no longer worship at St. George’s Methodist Church. He is also considered one of America’s first black activists.Ever since Richard Allen preached his religious views to a new congregation, the AME has been at the forefront in the fight for equality. Allen, a former Pennsylvania slave, had already earned his freedom. He had become a roving Methodist preacher, touring southern states, creating a burgeoning following, and inspiring destitute slaves and free blacks alike.Regarded as one of the country’s first black activists, Allen refused to live a compliant life. He saw the church—an independent black church, more accurately—as a place of refuge and a spiritual haven, where blacks could pray freely and speak openly, without resentful stares from white Methodists.“The existence of the African Methodist Episcopal Church is a glaring example of black resistance to racism, to oppression,” says Robinson.The mass murder of the “Emanuel 9” at the hands of a man allegedly motivated by his hatred toward blacks spawned yet another national conversation about America’s deep-seated racism. During his eulogy of Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the Mother Emanuel pastor and South Carolina state senator killed in the rampage, President Obama referenced the Confederate flag, revered by many in the South as a symbol of their heritage.“Removing the flag from this state’s capitol would not be an act of political correctness; it would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers,” Obama told a packed audience in Charleston on June 26, six days after the shooting. “It would simply be an acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought—the cause of slavery—was wrong, the imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people, was wrong. It would be one step in an honest accounting of America’s history; a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds.”The shooting did more than just cause blood to spill, tears to cascade for days, and stir emotional debates on race, guns, and, most passionately, the Confederate flag. The tragedy also served as a reminder of the AME church’s vital role as a champion of black rights and as a leader in the community.AME congregations nationwide form a tight-knit community made up of deeply devout parishioners who make it their mission to use the church to improve the lives of people in their respective neighborhoods. For decades, generations of AME members have seen racism firsthand. Mother Emanuel itself had to be rebuilt after it was burned to the ground in the 1830s amid controversy over a foiled slave revolt instigated by Denmark Vesey, one of the church’s co-founders.“At the heart of Allen’s moral vision was an evangelical religion—Methodism—that promised equality to all believers in Christ,” writes Richard M. Newman in Freedom’s Prophet, recognized by some as the definitive biography on Allen’s life. “Indeed, one of Allen’s best claims to equal founding status was his attempt to merge faith and racial politics in the young republic.”Visit an AME church on any Sunday and you’ll typically find a motivated congregation that utilizes Scripture and sermons as tools to better their neighborhoods. Many AME churches operate food pantries, youth groups, a women’s missionary society, health programs, Alcoholics Anonymous, and a bevy of other vital social programs. Those with larger congregations may offer more expansive services; sometimes they collaborate.“We’re not insulated; we’re not boxed in,” says Rev. Stephen Lewis, pastor of Bethel AME Church in Freeport. “We’re bold enough to go outside and invite people.”The AME church is constantly looking outward, says Margaret Davis, first lady of Bethel AME church in Babylon.The AME church is “like the fueling station where you get the gasoline that you need,” says Davis. “Get pumped and go on out there and make the cycles and change lives.”Voice of the VoicelessRev. Lisa Williamson, the pastor of Mt. Olive AME Church in Port Washington, with parishioner Edith Hall holding a framed photo of the nine people killed at Mother Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina in June. (Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)The pastors who lead congregations on Long Island have traveled very different paths to get where they are now, but they all share common goals.Rev. Lewis, the pastor at Bethel AME Church in Freeport, arrived from northern Pennsylvania. Rev. Keith Hayward, originally from Bermuda, has been the pastor of Bethel AME in Copiague for the last three years. Prior to his arrival, he also pastored a church in Pennsylvania. Rev. Dr. Lisa Williamson of Mt. Olive AME in Port Washington previously served at Trinity AME in Smithtown. Born in Venezuela, she’s grown fond of her small church on a quiet, idyllic tree-lined street in Port Washington.Rev. Craig Robinson, 29, arrived in Bay Shore last year. The sprawling South Shore hamlet feels very much like his hometown of Ferguson, Mo., Robinson says, adjusting his tall, burly frame as he relaxes in the front pew inside Bethel AME Church in Bay Shore.The unassuming church sits adjacent to the Long Island Rail Road tracks and is less than a block from bustling 2nd Avenue. With its vaulted ceilings and ubiquitous stained glass windows, the unpretentious 150-year-old AME house of worship evokes its humble beginnings. The ground beneath it trembles as trains shriek east and west, an omnipresent rat-a-tat often adds to the soundtrack of Robinson’s Sunday sermons.After entering the church and getting a sense of his surrounding, Robinson called his mom back home in Ferguson and reported the eerie similarities between Bay Shore and his hometown: large groups of people struggling to get by, dilapidated cookie-cutter houses dotting the neighborhood, families scrounging for food. But like Ferguson, Bay Shore has its wealthy parts, mostly waterfront properties boasting dazzling views of the Great South Bay.Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb, was the site of intense protests following the police shooting death of Michael Brown in August 2014. Robinson eventually moved to St. Louis, where he attended St. James AME Church. He was only 17 when he first began preaching.In June 2014, an AME bishop appointed Robinson as the pastor of Bethel AME Church in Bay Shore. In order to be ordained, a prospective AME pastor is required to earn a master’s degree in divinity. Pastors are then appointed by bishops for one-year terms and are either reinstated or reassigned to a different AME church, perhaps in another state. Pastors never know if they’ll lead a church for more than a year.As with anyone coming into a new neighborhood, the pastors try to ascertain the makeup of the community and the issues people face. Robinson realized quickly that the church’s food pantry helped shine a light on families stricken by poverty.A black ribbon hangs outside Mt. Olive AME Church in Port Washington in remembrance of the nine people slain during Bible study in South Carolina.The issues facing other communities are not much different.When Williamson arrived in Port Washington she realized there was an affordable housing problem. The pulpit provides Williamson with a powerful megaphone that allows her voice to be heard, but it’s her ability to go outside the church and speak with community leaders and public officials that helps bring issues out of the darkness and into the sunlight.“Every good preacher should have a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other hand,” Williamson says.When a member of the Port Washington Police Department unfurled a Confederate flag outside his house on the Fourth of July holiday, Williamson invited members of the community and the police commissioner to the church for a frank discussion on the flag’s presence in their neighborhood, which attracted a small but passionate group.“A lot of the people went to school with him,” Mt. Olive AME member Edith Hall tells the Press. “They felt really hurt because they knew this officer.”“I don’t think they fully understand what that flag represents and that’s something we did at that meeting,” adds Williamson. “One young woman gave the history [of the Confederate flag], and through the history she explained why when we see it, all these emotions come up. If I see a Confederate flag my impression is you do not care for me as an African American.”Among her duties, Williamson says, is establishing a working relationship with the Port Washington Police Department, which is headquartered less than a mile south of Mt. Olive.“As a pastor, we know you have to establish a relationship with law enforcement, unfortunately because of the history,” Williamson tells the Press.“Social justice, community activism,” she adds, “that’s what we were borne out of. And with the climate in the country now, we’re even getting ready to do it on a much larger scale.”Long Island has a long history of racial tension. One of the largest KKK rallies outside the South took place in Nassau in 1922, according to The New York Times. Two years later, some 30,000 spectators watched 2,000 robed Klansmen parade through Freeport. Those unresolved issues linger on today.A report published by the Syosset-based nonprofit ERASE Racism in January found that LI remains one of the most segregated regions in the country, with “segregation between blacks and whites remaining extremely high and segregation between Latinos, Asians and whites increasing.” The same report also noted that only 3 percent of black students and 5 percent of Latino students have access to the highest performing schools in Nassau and Suffolk counties, compared to 28 percent of whites and 30 percent of Asian students.There’s also the ongoing issue of affordable housing. Last year, the US Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the Town of Oyster Bay, alleging that it violated the Fair Housing Act by giving preference to residents of the town, which is majority white. That same summer a Mineola landlord agreed to a $165,000 settlement in a case in which he was accused of discriminating against blacks. Two nonprofits, including ERASE Racism, sent both black and white “testers” to the complex and had them inquire about vacancies. The black tester was told there were no rooms available, yet four hours later the white tester was shown an available one-bedroom apartment.AME pastors relish the opportunity to be more than just religious leaders confined within the walls of their church.“I came with this mindset: I was not sent to just pastor Bethel church, I was sent to pastor this community,” says Hayward, who was assigned to Bethel AME in Copiague in January 2012.Pastors like Hayward say they’re following the path forged by Allen more than two centuries ago.“If there’s legislation in this community that is not for the holistic healing and development of people, you will hear my voice,” Hayward says recently from across a large brown desk inside his spacious office at Bethel AME in Copiague. “If the school district is not providing our children the holistic education and the procedures and protocols are not correct, they will hear my voice.”‘To Strengthen Those Things That Remain’Rev. Keith Hayward outside historic Bethel AME Church in Copiague. The church will be celebrating its 200th anniversary this month. (Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)Celebrating its 200th anniversary this month, Hayward’s church does everything from holding toy giveaways and fundraisers to hosting Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous meetings on Wednesdays, running a weekly GED program in partnership with SUNY Farmingdale, and a two-hour seminar about diabetes every Tuesday for six weeks in the fall. And that’s not all.Hayward is especially proud of the “Fatherhood Initiative,” which he instituted upon his arrival in Copiague. The six-week program reconnects troubled fathers with their children following a protracted separation, perhaps due to incarceration or a frayed relationship, whatever the reason. The results have been “phenomenal,” so far, Hayward says with pride.“Some of the men have been back here on a Sunday morning and have had their children with them,” he says. “Even the mothers of the children are more appreciative of the fact that the fathers are more engaged in their children’s lives.”Hayward always keeps his ear to the ground. The pastor recently learned of an illiterate 9-year-old boy.“That was grievous to me,” he says, struggling to hide his displeasure. Hayward immediately set a goal to have the child reading before classes resumed this fall.The child had slipped through the cracks because of troubles at home, but the church stepped in to fill the void that the school district had been unable to.“He’s not at the point where we can’t reach him,” Hayward says.Hayward could very well be the unofficial mayor of Copiague, and Bethel AME its city hall. His influence is everywhere: the county legislature, judicial system, police, school districts, neighboring businesses (Toys ‘R’ US donates to the church). Bethel AME now has 325 congregants, up from about 100 before Hayward was appointed pastor. Bible study attracts on average 110 people each week.Hayward’s church was initially founded in Amityville in the 19th century but has since moved to neighboring Copiague. The church still owns its original property on Albany Avenue as well as an adjacent cemetery, where the last burial took place in 1897, he says. These days the parcel where the original church once sat is vacant but the community takes advantage of the open space for recreational activities.There’s a piece of Scripture in the Book of Revelations that Hayward lives by: “To strengthen those things that remain.” In Hayward’s case, it’d be the community that he’s hoping to uplift.“I base my ministry on that one Scripture,” he says.It’s social outreach projects like these that are happening all the time at AME churches across the Island.At Bethel AME in Freeport, Lewis speaks proudly of “Joshua Generation,” a program designed to reach young people in the community. More than 50 youngsters visit the church on Friday nights, he says, “because, really, they have nowhere else to go.”Instead of roaming the neighborhood, they take part in physical and educational activities, participate in Bible study, and, if someone in the community has been generous with donations, travel to sporting events in the area.“We keep them involved,” Lewis says.AME’s faithful take pride in the work they do outside the church.Diane Gaines was able to re-establish WORC in 2010, using her savings to pay for rent in Hempstead and reaching out to members of the church and public officials for support. She was able to secure thousands of dollars in funding from the AME church through a Women’s Missionary Society program dubbed “Project Possible.”Several years ago, then-Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice provided WORC, which was renamed The Woman’s Opportunity Rehabilitation Center, with a $20,000 grant from the office’s asset forfeiture fund—money seized during investigations. That number jumped to $50,000 last year, Gaines says in her fourth floor office along Franklin Avenue in Hempstead.Gaines is sitting in her wheelchair, her phone constantly ringing and the sound of students and volunteers scurrying in and out. It’s a busy Thursday morning in late August at WORC. The small group of volunteers is hastily preparing for an event at the African American Museum of Nassau County, the only such museum in the Northeast, where acting Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas will be on hand to award WORC a $55,000 grant.Gaines wheels her way through the museum across the street and gazes at the crowd. The room is lined with enlarged U.S. Postal Service stamps of prominent blacks. There’s one of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Ella Fitzgerald and Rosa Parks. Judging by the celebrity-like reaction she inspires from friends and admirers, Gaines could one day bless that very same wall.“Anyone who meets Diane can’t help but be impressed by just her enthusiasm and her advocacy and her passion and commitment to women,” Singas tells the crowd of about 30 people. “It’s contagious.”The DA’s office is in the unique position of trying to help the very people it’s supposed to prosecute—that is, coordinating with the criminal justice system to provide alternatives to incarceration to women charged with low-level offenses.“We think of our office as a place where we can be sort of proactive,” Singas tells the Press. “We put a lot of our money into crime prevention, so a lot of these programs with women and younger offenders and young children—they have to pay their debt to society but at the same time they don’t have to wear this as a stigma for the rest of their lives.”Aside from helping women who previously have been incarcerated, WORC often takes in women—with the help of the DA’s office and Nassau County judges—as an alternative to incarceration.“I’ve seen lives changed,” Joyce Lewis, an AME member and WORC volunteer, tells the Press.Students who previously looked lost now “have a shimmer of hope,” she says, adding: “Selfishly I would like to see fast growth, but I’ve seen seeds planted, I’ve seen hope, and I’ve seen the chance for a change.”“I know this is the work that God called me to do,” Lewis beams.Much of the credit goes to Gaines, WORC volunteers and former students say.“My life has changed dramatically because of the WORC program,” says Victoria Roberts, who graduated WORC after a 13-year battle with drugs and now works as Nassau County’s Reentry Coordinator, which helps individuals get back on their feet after state incarceration.At one point, Roberts was homeless, out of work, and lost her two kids to foster care. She’s fought tirelessly since. She turned her life around, got her children back, has a home.“I owe it all to Ms. Gaines,” she says of her success. “She [has] three daughters but she has a multitude of daughters. There are many women who can stand up here and tell stories similar to mine and we owe it all to Ms. Gaines.”When Wendy Priester first met Gaines she was a mess, battling anger issues. After one day at WORC she told Gaines not to expect her back. She ended up returning the next day.Gaines helped her find a part-time job, she tells the audience, tears streaming down her cheeks. Finally, everything started falling into place.“I’m about to buy my first house,” she says, the room erupting in applause.With tears surging and her voice cracking, Priester turns toward Gaines and leans in for a hug.About a dozen AME members are in attendance, many of whom are WORC volunteers.Gaines asks them to stand up to be recognized for their work.She then asks a man named Johnny to sing one of her favorite songs. He doesn’t hesitate.“I won’t complain,” he sings, as his voice begins to soar. “Sometimes the clouds hang low. I’ve asked the Lord why so much pain. He knows what’s best for me. These weary eyes, they can’t see, so I’ll say, Thank you, Lord! Thank you, Lord! I won’t complain.”It’s easy to understand why Gaines chose that song.“She’s such an inspiration,” says Jacqueline Watkins, 72, of Amityville, another AME member. “I’ve never heard her complain. Always positive. I lost my husband just about three years ago; she was always encouraging to me.”Gaines, who is affectionately known as “Ms. Gaines,” credits her faith and the AME church.“I just believed that this was a mission from God,” she says, back inside WORC’s Hempstead office. “That God wanted me to do this.”“I would not have re-established the WORC program without my faith,” Gaines says, reflecting on that life-changing Sunday at Bethel AME in Babylon.“It’s my faith that keeps me going now.”It’s that faith AME members turned to on the night of June 20.Faith and PoliticsRev. Craig Robinson considers slavery America’s original “birth defect.” Robinson, the pastor of Bethel AME Church in Bay Shore, grew up in Ferguson, Missouri, the cite of often intense protests following the police shooting death of Michael Brown. (Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)The Sunday following the Charleston slayings, Rev. Robinson stood at the pulpit with a heavy heart and raised a litany of questions swirling through the minds of millions of members worldwide:“Why did it happen?”“Why that church?”“Why such violence?”“Why such hate?”“Why?”To find the answers, Robinson says that all one has to do is peer into America’s past.“For what we have witnessed in the massacre at Mother Emanuel is in my estimation history’s chickens coming home to roost,” he told his congregants.“We have seen this before in the treatment of slaves on Southern plantations,” he added. “We have seen this before in the bodies that were lynched and mutilated and burned from America’s inception up into the early parts of the 20th century. We have seen this before in the removal of Africans from their motherland, in the removal of Native Americans from their ancestral land, by force if necessary… We have seen all of this before.”Robinson was conducting Bible study the evening bullets rang out inside Mother Emanuel.One glance at his phone afterward prompted a whirlwind of emotions: first confusion and disbelief followed by extreme anguish.As he absorbed all that had transpired that evening, Robinson couldn’t help but recognize the feeling that was sinking in.“I think I felt the same way about this that I did with Trayvon Martin,” Robinson says. “I think it’s just the pervasive presence of violence against the black community, black bodies, black institutions.”“And so you both have a deep emotional connection with all of it,” he adds. “Whether it’s Trayvon Martin or Eric Garner or any of those people, you feel a sort of personal connection. But then you also have a somewhat sort of numbness to it because you’re very clear of the history that much of this violence is rooted in. And so…you’re sort of lamenting, you’re sort of calling God into question publicly as well as praying for hope.”The self-effacing pastor portrays a calm demeanor amid heightened tension in black communities. Robinson has preached about the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Akai Gurley, as well as the tragic slayings of two NYPD officers fatally shot in an ambush last December, which further inflamed the political discourse. His sermons are a collection of current events woven within Holy Scripture reflecting God’s will.“The shooter had much to draw on as material for how he would dispense his brand of hatred,” he tells his congregation. “And if we are going to move forward from this together, people of all walks life, all ethnicities and races must come and talk truthfully about these issues and facts. The fact that America, in all its ideals, has an underside, and that place has been where the oppressed, including many in the black community, have found themselves for centuries.“There are tons of raw material for our shooter to draw on,” he continues. “But there are some deeper issues than just our history. The other question that comes up in my mind is: What happened to his heart? What happened to make this man so callous in the execution of his mission? What happened that made him forsake the voice of reason and good, the voice that told him not to shoot because these people were so nice to him? What happened to his heart, his compassion, his basic humanity?”Robinson has a lot to say, even when the pews are empty.“Like in most of these places, whether it’s Charleston or Bay Shore or Ferguson, the issues far predate anybody that has the wherewithal to try to change it,” Robinson tells the Press. “When you’re talking about a Confederate flag, even though the Confederate flag has a bunch more recent history, you know, you’re talking about a history of racism and slavery and the dehumanization of an entire group of people that spans 300 years. You can’t just undo 300 years of history.”Rev. Hayward agrees.The pastor was traveling on the New Jersey Turnpike when news reports of the horrific slayings came through his radio. Two hours earlier, Hayward was also teaching Bible study.“That hit me in a way that I’ve never felt,” Hayward says of the bloodshed.He talks about a persistent “racial divide” in the country, how when Africans were taken from their homelands they were transformed into slaves. He recalls the time Richard Allen was told, “You’re no longer allowed to pray at this altar.”Still, he keeps his faith.“So, when this young man set out to do evil, God has turned it around for good,” says Hayward. “He has brought people together in South Carolina that had not embraced each other before.”Hayward may take his cues from God, but he finds inspiration in how people have reacted since the shooting.The number of people who attended Bible study at Mother Emanuel skyrocketed to 250 in the weeks after the attack, he explains.“Love wins,” he says.People who never had shown interest in the AME church have now become members, Hayward says.“Love wins,” he repeats.“The church was born out of racism, Mother Emanuel the struggle and challenges they’ve been through was out of injustice and racism,” Hayward adds. “Bethel Church in Copiague dwells in a community that has racial divide and hate. I’ve met some phenomenal Caucasian men and women on this Island that have become good friends—there’s another side to this. Love wins.“When we show love, we produce love,” he continues. “I think that what we need to do is look at the value of individuals. What if God treated us the way we treated ourselves? But because he doesn’t, love wins—every time.”Similarly, Rev. Williamson of Mt. Olive in Port Washington went to church on the Sunday following the massacre planning to deliver a message of hope. Peruse the Bible and you’ll find something in the text that helps you find a way to overcome tragedies, she says.Williamson is not surprised that a half-century since the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act were signed into law that blatant racism still exists.The AME church was born out of racism, she says, echoing Hayward, therefore it knows how to respond to hate. And it will continue do so, whether it’s inside the hallowed walls of its churches or at community forums and at demonstrations.“What we’re doing now,” she tells the Press, “is we’re responding in a much more organized and political way: to say after the cameras are gone and it’s no longer a headline story, we’re still going to hold this nation accountable to 42 million of its citizens.”,Alure cube,Alure cube,Alure cube
Sign up for our COVID-19 newsletter to stay up-to-date on the latest coronavirus news throughout New York Two Long Islanders were among a dozen suspects arrested for their alleged roles in a sophisticated crime ring that stole $12 million in electronics and ink cartridges from stores in 28 states and then sold the stolen goods online, prosecutors said.Kevin Cerrato, 22, of Elmont, and 53-year-old Roger “Captain Rog” Ringhiser of Long Beach were charged Wednesday in Manhattan court with enterprise corruption, money laundering, criminal possession of stolen property and conspiracy. Investigators dubbed the 10-month probe culminating in a 41-count indictment “Operation Sticky Fingers.”“Retail theft is becoming increasingly organized, with crime rings preying on businesses and creating a vicious cycle that ultimately harms consumers, when the costs are passed on in the form of higher prices,” New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said, calling the case “one of the largest-ever busts of a retail theft ring.”Authorities said they seized more than 5,300 stolen electronics and ink cartridges and more than $7.7 million from the defendants’ homes, financial institutions and Amazon and PayPal merchant accounts. The crews targeted Staples, Office Depot, BestBuy and other retailers for over 20 years and resold the stolen items for up to half their retail price, according to investigators.The crew mapped out their often daily thefts in advance and used custom-made vests known as “bazookas” that concealed large amounts of merchandise, prosecutors said. They also used “kryptonite” devices to deactivate security alarms at store exits, authorities said. In addition, they allegedly monitored store security personnel by using short-wave radios.The crews then shipped the goods to the alleged ringleader’s home, where investigators tracked shipments, Schneiderman’s office said. While investigators were executing a search warrant, five packages of stolen merchandise arrived, authorities added. The crews were also caught on surveillance videos, prosecutors said.The suspects face between eight and 25 years in prison, if convicted.
by: Henry MeierThe financial industry’s push for a faster more efficient payment system in this country is finally gaining some traction. The question is: are the changes coming fast enough to satisfy consumer demand now that Apple has inserted itself into the payments system?Yesterday the Federal Reserve issued a report on updating the payments system. It concludes that:“the U.S. payment system is at a critical juncture in its evolution. Technology is rapidly changing many elements that support the payment process. High-speed data networks are becoming ubiquitous, computing devices are becoming more sophisticated and mobile, and information is increasingly processed in real-time. These capabilities are changing the nature of commerce and end-user expectations for payment services. Meanwhile, payment security and the protection of sensitive data, which are foundational to public confidence in any payment system, are challenged by dynamic, persistent and rapidly escalating threats. Finally, an increasing number of U.S. citizens and businesses routinely transfer value across borders and demand better payment options to swiftly and efficiently do so.”The Fed’s next step is to use the report as a framework for further discussion within the financial industry about what steps can be taken to quickly implement needed changes. If all this sounds a bit too slow it’s because events are quickly outpacing the Fed’s ambitions. continue reading » 1SHARESShareShareSharePrintMailGooglePinterestDiggRedditStumbleuponDeliciousBufferTumblr
ShareShareSharePrintMailGooglePinterestDiggRedditStumbleuponDeliciousBufferTumblr by: Melinda PetersonIn February, the CFPB took action against three mortgage companies, Flagship Financial Group , American Preferred Lending , and All Financial Services , for allegedly violating Regulation N, Mortgage Acts and Practices Advertising. This rule prohibits “any person to make any material misrepresentation, expressly or by implication, in any commercial communication, regarding any term of any mortgage credit product.”While Regulation N outlines multiple prohibited representations, the CFPB addressed two in their action against these mortgage companies; misrepresenting affiliation with a government entity and misrepresenting payments.Each of these companies allegedly sent out direct mail advertisements that looked like government notices and appeared that the source of the ad was a government agency. One contained a heading “PURSUANT TO THE FEDERAL HOUSING ADMINISTRATION (FHA) HUD No. 12-045,” and instructed recipients to call an “assigned FHA loan specialist,” while the actual name of the mortgage company was buried in the disclaimer.In addition to misrepresenting government affiliation, the CFPB alleged that one company sent out misleading advertisements regarding required payments. The ad included a statement that “There is no monthly payment or repayment required whatsoever for as long you or your spouse live in the home.” The CFPB considers this misleading because the borrower is still required to pay for insurance and property taxes. Also, the loan could become due and payable upon death of the borrower, even if the non-borrowing spouse still lives in the home. continue reading »
by: Peter StrozniakClaudia A. Rawes, the former manager/CEO of the $10.4 million Centra Health Credit Union, pleaded guilty Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Lynchburg, Va. to embezzling more than $1 million from the credit union since the early 2000s.In court documents, Rawes admitted she wrote checks from the Lynchburg-based credit union’s corporate account to make payments on her personal credit card.To cover up the use of these corporate checks, she would deduct funds from certain members’ accounts. She replaced the money from CHCU’s corporate account so no shortfalls appeared on members’ accounts.Because Rawes’ theft created an increasingly large deficit in CHCU’s corporate account, she began altering the corporate account statements to avoid scrutiny from state and federal regulators. continue reading » ShareShareSharePrintMailGooglePinterestDiggRedditStumbleuponDeliciousBufferTumblr