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Posts Tagged ‘WAR ON DRUGS’

HELL IN THE RENTER’S PARADISE: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, Law, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on May 19, 2014 at 12:19 am

To hear slumlords tell it, San Francisco is a “renters’ paradise,” where obnoxious, lazy, rent-evading tenants constantly take advantage of hard-working, put-upon landlords.

Don’t believe it.

On April 25, the tenants of the Fillmore Apartments–a rent-controlled building in the Lower Haight area of San  Francisco–received letters from their landlord.

The letters demanded that those tenants prove that they had a $100,000 minimum annual income and a credit score of at least 725.  Those who couldn’t prove such status would be evicted.

Then fate–in the guise of Hoodline, an online San Francisco newsletter–intervened.

When Hoodline published the story, local and even national media attention was immediate–including ABC News, Fox News and Business Insider.

Suddenly, a “change of heart” overcame the landlord.  In a second letter to his tenants, he stated:

“After reflection and guidance, I hereby rescind the April 25, 2014 correspondence to you.

“The information contained was flawed.

“My apologies for the confusion created.”

Click here: San Francisco landlord apologizes after leaving note saying tenants must make over $100,000 | abc13.com

Although the income and credit score requirements outlined in the original letter could have been legally applied to  new tenants, they would not have been legal grounds for evicting current tenants.

That could be the “flawed” information to which the second letter was referring.

How could a landlord try to pull off such a flagrantly illegal maneuver in a city that’s supposedly a renter’s paradise?

Easy.

Even in the city misnamed as a “renter’s paradise,” slumlords are treated like gods by the very agencies that are supposed to protect tenants against their abuses.

Many landlords are eager to kick out long-time residents in favor of new, wealthier high-tech workers moving to San Francisco.  An influx of these workers and a resulting housing shortage has proven a godsend for slumlords.

The power of slumlords calls to mind the scene in 1987′s The Untouchables, where Sean Connery’s veteran cop tells Eliot Ness: “Everybody knows where the liquor is. It’s just a question of: Who wants to cross Capone?”

Many tenants have lived with rotting floors, bedbugs, nonworking toilets, mice/rats, chipping lead-based paint and other outrages for not simply months but years.

Consider the situation at the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection (DBI), which is supposed to ensure that apartment buildings are in habitable condition:

  • A landlord is automatically given 30 days to correct a health/safety violation. If he drags his feet on the matter, the tenant must live with that problem until it’s resolved.
  • If the landlord claims for any reason that he can’t fix the problem within one month, DBI doesn’t demand that he prove this.  Instead, it automatically gives him another month.
  • A slumlord has to work at being hit with a fine—by letting a problem go uncorrected for three to six months.
  • And even then, repeat slumlord offenders often avoid the fine by pleading for leniency.
  • That’s because many DBI officials are themselves landlords.

But the situation doesn’t have to remain this way.

DBI could:

  • Vastly enhance its own prestige and authority
  • Improve living conditions  for thousands of San Francisco renters, and
  • Bring millions of desperately-needed dollars into the City’s cash-strapped coffers.

How?

By learning some valuable lessons from the “war on drugs” and applying them to regulating slumlords.

Consider:

  • At least 400,000 rape kits containing critical DNA evidence that could convict rapists sit untested in labs around the country.
  • But illegal drug kits are automatically rushed to the had of the line.

Why?

It isn’t simply because local/state/Federal lawmen universally believe that illicit drugs pose a deadly threat to the Nation’s security.

It’s because:

  • Federal asset forfeiture laws allow the Justice Department to seize properties used to “facilitate” violations of Federal anti-drug laws.
  • Local and State law enforcement agencies are allowed to keep some of the proceeds once the property has been sold.
  • Thus, financially-strapped police agencies have found that pursuing drug-law crimes is a great way to fill their own coffers.
  • Prosecutors and lawmen view the seizing of drug-related properties as crucial to eliminating the financial clout of drug-dealing operations.

It’s long past time for San Francisco agencies to apply the same attitude–and methods–toward slumlords.

Such reforms must start with the Department of Building Inspection (DBI)–the primary agency charged with protecting tenants.

Presently, there is no bureaucratic incentive for DBI to rigorously control the criminality of slumlords.  But this can be instilled–by making DBI not merely a law-enforcing agency but a revenue-creating one.

And those revenues should come from predatory slumlords who routinely violate the City’s laws protecting tenants.

Among those reforms it should immediately enact:

  1. Hit slumlord violators up-front with a fine–payable immediately–for at least $2,000 to $5,000 for each health/safety-code violation.
  2. The slumlord could reclaim 75-80% of the money only if he fully corrected the violation within 30 daysThe remaining portion of the levied fine would go into the City coffers, to be shared among DBI and other City agencies.
  3. This would put the onus on the slumlord, not DBI. Appealing to his greed would ensure his willingness to comply with the ordered actions.  As matters now stand, it is DBI who must repeatedly check with the slumlord to find out if its orders have been complied with.

MEXICO: WHERE CORRUPTION IS KING

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on March 5, 2014 at 12:00 am

The photo says it all.

Taken on February 22, it shows Joaquin Guzman, the widely-feared kingpin of the notorious Sinaloa Cartel, in the custody of Mexican Marines.

The Marines had launched a surprise, early-morning raid on the condominium where he was staying in Mazatlan, Sinaloa.

Taken without a shot being fired, Guzman was paraded before photographers.  Yet, even with his hands cuffed behind his back, the fear generated by his name was such that all the Marines in the photo wore black masks over their faces.

His nickname might be “El Chapo”, or “Shorty,” owing to his 5’6″ height.  But there is nothing aborted about the extent of his power.

Guzman became Mexico’s top drug kingpin in 2003 after the arrest of his rival, Osiel Cardenas, head of the Gulf Cartel.  Since then, he has been considered the “most powerful drug trafficker in the world” by the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

High-ranking officials in the U.S. Department of Justice hailed the arrest and announced they would seek Guzman’s extradition to the United States for trial.

There were two solid reasons for doing this:

  1. Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel smuggles multi-ton cocaine shipments from Columbia through Mexico to the United States–the world’s top consumer.
  2. Arrested in 1993 and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment, Guzman lived like a king in prison–until he bribed his guards to smuggle him out in a laundry cart.  In Mexico, such treatment for drug kingpins is typical.

But even if Guzman spends the rest of his life in prison, his drug empire will go profitably rolling on.

Anyone who doubts this need only read Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields.

Written by Investigative Reporter Charles Bowden and published in 2010, Murder City offers a terrifying, and almost lethally depressing, portrait of what happens when a city–and a country–disintegrates.

Ciudad Juárez lies just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. A once-thriving border town, it now resembles a failed state. Notorious as the place where women disappear, its murder rate exceeds that of Baghdad or Mogadishu.

It’s so overwhelmed with the violence of drug trafficking that its leading citizens—police, politicians, even the drug lords—find it safer to live in El Paso.

Hundreds of millions of narco-dollars flow into Juárez each week, and the violence and corruption that follow yield 200 to 300 murders each year.

Among the casualties of that violence:

  • A reporter–who has dared to expose cartel-corrupted members of the Mexican Army–is forced to flee to the United States with his young son.
  • A beautiful woman who became the mistress of one drug cartel leader is gang-raped by members of a rival cartel.
  • A teenage killer for the cartels is now being hunted for having run afoul of his murderous bosses.

This is a city–and a country–where virtually no one is safe.

  • Mexican police pay big bribes to be assigned to narcotics enforcement squads.  The reason: Not to suppress the rampant drug trafficking but to enrich themselves by seizing and selling those narcotics.
  • Residents awaken at dawn to find bodies of the drug cartels’ latest victims dumped on streets–their hands, feet and mouths bound with silver and gray duct tape.
  • Mexican policewomen are often snatched off the streets and raped–by members of the Mexican Army.
  • Honest policemen–and even police chiefs–are routinely gunned down by cartel members.

If there is any one story in Murder City that symbolizes the total corruption of a society awash with drugs and the profits they produce, it is this:

A Mexican priest serves as confessor to drug lords.  They, in turn, believe their confessions to be safe, as they are supposed to be heard only by the priest and God.

But one of the drug lords wears a large gold crucifix, which the priest secretly covets.

So he turns from drug lord confessor to police informer–and the Mexican police raid the next drug lord gathering and confiscate a large quantity of narcotics.

The police don’t intend to turn in the seized narcotics.  Instead, they will sell these for their own profit.

And as a reward for his cooperation, the priest is given the large gold crucifix–which he blesses and consecrates to his God.

Who, exactly, is behind all these killings?

And why?

And who, if anyone, is in charge of Juárez–or Mexico?

Bowden states it is difficult to answer such questions because the Mexican press has been thoroughly corrupted by drug cartel monies or terrorized by drug cartel hit squads.  Reporters have been murdered–by the cartels and the army–for writing anything about killings, the army or the cartels.

The world of Murder City is a nightmarish one:

  • Members of drug cartels live like kings.
  • Their bribes and violence have corrupted all branches of the Mexican government, military and police forces.
  • Ordinary Mexicans live in grinding poverty, thanks to American factories paying starvation wages

When you leave its pages, you are grateful that you can safely put its evil behind you–unlike the residents of Juarez who remain trapped in its web.

For residents of this failed nation-state called Mexico, it’s too late.  Such endemic corruption can never be fought successfully.

HELL IN “THE RENTERS’ PARADISE”: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, Law, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on June 24, 2013 at 12:25 am

The “war on drugs” has some valuable lessons to teach the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection (DBI) which is charged with protecting tenants against predatory landlords.

Consider:

  • At least 400,000 rape kits containing critical DNA evidence that could convict rapists sit untested in labs around the country.
  • But illegal drug kits are automatically rushed to the had of the line.

Why?

It isn’t simply because local/state/Federal lawmen universally believe that illicit drugs pose a deadly threat to the Nation’s security.

It’s because:

  • Federal asset forfeiture laws allow the Justice Department to seize properties used to “facilitate” violations of Federal anti-drug laws.
  • Local and State law enforcement agencies are allowed to keep some of the proceeds once the property has been sold.
  • Thus, financially-strapped police agencies have found that pursuing drug-law crimes is a great way to fill their own coffers.
  • Prosecutors and lawmen view the seizing of drug-related properties as crucial to eliminating the financial clout of drug-dealing operations.

It’s long past time for DBI to apply the same attitude–and methods–toward slumlords.

DBI should become not merely a law-enforcing agency but a revenue-creating one.  And those revenues should come from predatory slumlords who routinely violate the City’s laws protecting tenants.

By doing so, DBI could vastly:

  • Enhance its own prestige and authority;
  • Improve living conditions for thousands of San Francisco renters; and
  • Bring millions of desperately-needed dollars into the City’s cash-strapped coffers

Among those reforms it should immediately enact:

  1. Hit slumlord violators up-front with a fine–payable immediately–for at least $2,000 to $5,000 for each health/safety-code violation.
  2. The slumlord would be told he could reclaim 75-80% of the money only if he fully corrected the violation within 30 days.  The remaining portion of the levied fine would go into the City coffers, to be shared among DBI and other City agencies.
  3. This would put the onus on the slumlord, not DBI. Appealing to his greed would ensure his willingness to comply with the ordered actions.  As matters now stand, it is DBI who must repeatedly check with the slumlord to find out if its orders have been complied with.
  4. If the landlord failed to comply with the actions ordered within 30 days, the entire fine would go into the City’s coffers–to be divided among DBI and other agencies charged with protecting San Francisco residents.
  5. In addition, he would be hit again with a fine that’s at least twice the amount of the first one.
  6. Inspectors for DBI should be allowed to cite landlords for violations that fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Public Health.  They can then pass the information on to DPH for its own investigation.
  7. If the DBI Inspector later discovers that the landlord has not corrected the violation within a designated time-period, DBI should be allowed to levy its own fine for his failure to do so.
  8. If DPH objects to this, DBI should propose that DPH’s own Inspectors be armed with similar cross-jurisdictional authority.  Each agency would thus have increased motivation for spotting and correcting health/safety violations that threaten the lives of San Francisco residents.
  9. This would instantly turn DBI and DPH into allies, not competitors.  And it would mean that whether a citizen called DBI or DPH, s/he could be assured of getting necessary assistance.  As matters now stand, many residents are confused by the conflicting jurisdictions of both agencies.
  10. DBI should insist that its Inspectors Division be greatly expanded DBI can attain this by arguing that reducing the number of Inspectors cuts (1) protection for San Francisco renters–and (2) monies that could go to the general City welfare.
  11. The Inspection Division should operate independently of DBI.  Currently,  too many high-ranking DBI officials tilt toward landlords because they are landlords themselves.
  12. DBI should create a Special Research Unit that would compile records on the worst slumlord offenders.  Thus, a slumlord with a repeat history of defying DBI NOVs could be treated more harshly than a landlord who was a first-time offender.
  13. Turning DBI into a revenue-producing one would enable the City to raise desperately-needed revenues—in a highly popular way. Fining delinquent slumlords would be as unpopular as raising taxes on tobacco companies. Only slumlords and their hired lackey allies would object.
  14. Slumlords, unlike drug-dealers, can’t move their operations from one street or city to another.  Landlords aren’t going to demolish their buildings and move them somewhere else.

HELL IN “THE RENTERS’ PARADISE”: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, Law, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on June 21, 2013 at 12:01 am

To hear slumlords tell it, San Francisco is a “renters’ paradise,” where obnoxious, lazy, rent-evading tenants constantly take advantage of hard-working, put-upon landlords.

Don’t believe it.

And in case you’re inclined to anyway, consider the story of Kip and Nicole Macy, two San Francisco slumlords who recently pled guilty to felony charges of residential burglary, stalking and attempted grand theft.

Kip Macy

Nicole Macy

Determined to evict rent control-protected tenants from their apartment building in the South of Market district, they unleashed a reign of terror in 2006:

  • Cut holes in the floor of one tenant’s living room with a power saw–while he was inside his unit.
  • Cut out sections of the floor joists to make the building collapse.
  • Threatened to shoot Ricardo Cartagena, their property manager, after he refused to make the cuts himself.
  • Changed the locks to Cartagena’s apartment, removed all of his belongings and destroyed them.
  • Created fictitious email accounts to appear as a tenant who had filed a civil suit against the Macys–and used these to fire the tenant’s attorney.
  • Cut the tenants’ telephone lines and shut off their electricity, gas and water.
  • Changed the locks on all the apartments without warning.
  • Mailed death threats.
  • Kicked one of their tenants in the ribs.
  • Hired workers to board up a tenant’s windows from the outside while he still lived there.
  • Falsely reported trespassers in a tenant’s apartment, leading police to hold him and a friend at gunpoint.
  • Broke into the units of three tenants and removed all their belongings.
  • Again broke into the units of the same three victims and soaked their beds, clothes and electronics with amonia.

The Macys were arrested in April, 2008, posted a combined total of $500,000 bail and then fled the country after being indicted in early 2009.

In May, 2012, Italian police arrested them and deported them back to America a year later.

Having pled guilty, they will be sentenced in August to a prison term of four years and four months.

How could such a campaign of terror go on for two years against law-abiding San Francisco tenants?

Simple.

Even in the city misnamed as a “renter’s paradise,” slumlords are treated like gods by the very agencies that are supposed to protect tenants against their abuses.

The power of slumlords calls to mind the scene in 1987’s The Untouchables, where Sean Connery’s veteran cop tells Eliot Ness: “Everybody knows where the liquor is. It’s just a question of: Who wants to cross Capone?”

Many tenants have lived with rotting floors, bedbugs, nonworking toilets, mice/rats, chipping lead-based paint and other outrages for not simply months but years.

Consider the situation at the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection, which is supposed to ensure that apartment buildings are in habitable condition:

  • A landlord is automatically given 30 days to correct a health/safety violation. If he drags his feet on the matter, the tenant must live with that problem until it’s resolved.
  • If the landlord claims for any reason that he can’t fix the problem within one month, DBI doesn’t demand that he prove this.  Instead, it automatically gives him another month.
  • A slumlord has to work at being hit with a fine—by letting a problem go uncorrected for three to six months.
  • And even then, repeat slumlord offenders often avoid the fine by pleading for leniency.
  • That’s because many DBI officials are themselves landlords.

But the situation doesn’t have to remain this way.

DBI could:

  • Vastly enhance its own prestige and authority
  • Improve living conditions  for thousands of San Francisco renters, and
  • Bring millions of desperately-needed dollars into the City’s cash-strapped coffers.

How?

By learning some valuable lessons from the “war on drugs” and applying them to regulating slumlords.

Consider:

  • At least 400,000 rape kits containing critical DNA evidence that could convict rapists sit untested in labs around the country.
  • But illegal drug kits are automatically rushed to the had of the line.

Why?

It isn’t simply because local/state/Federal lawmen universally believe that illicit drugs pose a deadly threat to the Nation’s security.

It’s because:

  • Federal asset forfeiture laws allow the Justice Department to seize properties used to “facilitate” violations of Federal anti-drug laws.
  • Local and State law enforcement agencies are allowed to keep some of the proceeds once the property has been sold.
  • Thus, financially-strapped police agencies have found that pursuing drug-law crimes is a great way to fill their own coffers.
  • Prosecutors and lawmen view the seizing of drug-related properties as crucial to eliminating the financial clout of drug-dealing operations.

It’s long past time for San Francisco agencies to apply the same attitude–and methods–toward slumlords.

In my next column I will lay out how this can be done.

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