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COMBATING SLUMLORDS: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on August 25, 2016 at 1:53 am

City agencies need to see landlords for what they truly are–as, at best, potential predators, if not actual ones. And to act on that knowledge. 

As Niccolo Machiavelli warned:

“All those who have written upon civil institutions demonstrate…that whoever desires to found a state and give it laws, must start with assuming that all men are bad and ever ready to display their vicious nature, whenever they may find occasion for it. 

“If their evil disposition remains concealed for a time, it must be attributed to some unknown reason; and we must assume that it lacked occasion to show itself.  But time, which has been said to be the father of all truth, does not fail to bring it to light.”

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Niccolo Machiavelli

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

This holds true across the United States. But it also holds true in San Francisco–the “renters’ paradise” where the District Attorney’s Office hasn’t prosecuted a slumlord in decades

Part Two of this series presented a series of badly-needed, long-overdue reforms for the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection (DBI). This is the agency charged to ensuring safe housing conditions for San Francisco residents.

This concluding part will cover the remainder of those needed reforms. 

  • Landlords should be required to bring all the units in a building up to existing building codes, and not just those in need of immediate repair.  
  • Landlords should be legally required to hire a certified-expert contractor to perform building repairs. To save money–that they can well afford to spend–many landlords insist on making such repairs despite their not being trained or experienced in doing so. They thereby risk the health and/or safety of their tenants. 
  • DBI should not view itself as a “mediation” agency between landlords and tenants. Most landlords hate DBI and will always do so. They believe they should be allowed to treat their tenants like serfs, if not slaves, raise extortionate rents anytime they desire, and maintain their buildings in whatever state they wish. And no efforts by DBI to persuade them of its good intentions will ever change their minds.   
  • Above all, DBI must stop viewing itself as a regulatory agency and start seeing itself as a law enforcement one. The FBI doesn’t ask criminals to comply with the law. It applies whatever amount of force is needed to force their compliance. William Tecumseh Sherman, speaking of the rebellious Southern states, said it best: “They cannot be made to love us, but they may be made to fear us.”  
  • The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office should create a special unit to investigate and prosecute  slumlords.  Prosecutors should offer rewards to citizens who provide tips on major outrages by the city’s slumlords.  

  • Install Rent Control protections for tenants on fixed incomes. San Francisco is notorious for having the highest rents in the nation. A one-bedroom apartment runs $3,448 a month. Even those in the vaunted high-tech industry spend most of their income on rent.
  • For tenants on fixed incomes–seniors, disabled, students–the predatory greed of landlords amounts to a staged-in eviction notice.  Social Security recipients did not get a cost-of-living increase this year because there had not been a rise in the price of gasoline. But the fact that many of them do not own cars doesn’t mean that the price of everything else–such as groceries–hasn’t sharply risen.  
  • Allowing landlords to jack up rents to the fullest extent possible every year will eventually drive out all tenants who are not multimillionaires. In fact, an unknown portion of this City’s homeless population doubtless stems from the ability of landlords to gradually raise rents above tenants’ ability to afford them.  
  • In 1979, San Franciscans passed a Rent Control law to protect tenants against predatory rent hikes and unfair evictions. As a result, a landlord can only raise a tenant’s rent a certain percentage every year. This is set by the set by the Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Board, more popularly known as the “Rent Board.”  
  • But there is a gaping hole in the law: Once a tenant moves out, the landlord can jack up the rent as high as he wants. This is why the average rent in San Francisco is priced beyond most middle-class wage-earners. 
  • In addition, landlords are allowed to charge tenants yearly fees to maintain the existence of the Rent Board. This is both unfair and insulting, since the Board was created to protect tenants from predatory landlords. Most tenants have far less money to pay such fees than do landlords, who are free to raise rents every year. And landlords–unlike tenants–can and do write off Rent Board fees on their taxes every year. Thus, landlords–not tenants–should be paying the fees.  

As Robert F. Kennedy wrote: “Every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves. What is equally true is that every community gets the kind of law enforcement it insists on.”

COMBATING SLUMLORDS: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on August 24, 2016 at 12:28 am

The San Francisco Department of Building Inspection (DBI) has long been outmaneuvered by predatory, law-breaking landlords.

And San Francisco renters–many of them elderly, poor and/or disabled–have been the victims of landlord greed, neglect and/or harassment.

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Among the reforms that DBI should immediately enact:

  • Hit slumlord violators with a fine–payable immediately–for at least $2,000 to $5,000 for each health/safety-code violation.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.
  • 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.  
  • 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.  
  • In addition. he would be hit again with a fine at least twice the amount of the first one.  
  • Inspectors for DBI should be allowed to cite landlords for violations that fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Public Health (DPH). They could then pass the information to DPH for its own investigation.  
  • If the DBI inspector later discovered that the landlord had not corrected the violation within a designated time-period, DBI should be allowed to levy its own fine for his failure to do so.
  • 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.

  • 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 the necessary assistance. As matters now stand, many residents are confused by the conflicting jurisdictions of both agencies.  
  • 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.
  • The Inspection Division should operate independently of DBI. Currently,  too many high-ranking DBI officials tilt toward landlords because they are landlords themselves.
  • DBI should create a Special Research Unit to 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.
  • Turning DBI into a revenue-producing agency 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.  
  • DBI should legally require landlords to rehabilitate a unit every time a new tenant moves in, or have it examined by a DBI inspector every two years.  A tenant can occupy a unit for ten or more years, then die or move out, and the landlord immediately rents the unit to the first person who comes along, without making any repairs or upgrades whatsoever.
  • Slumlords, unlike drug-dealers, can’t move their buildings from one street or city to another. If they want to make money in San Francisco, they will have to submit to the jurisdiction of landlord-regulating agencies.  
  • DBI should require landlords to post their Notices of Violation in public areas of their buildings–on pain of serious financial penalties for failing to do so. When DBI orders a slumlord to take correction, s/he is the only one who is notified.  If that slumlord refuses to comply with that directive, s/he is the only one who knows it. Given the pressing demands on DBI, weeks or months will pass before the agency learns about this violation of its orders. Tenants have a right to know if their landlord is complying with the law–so they can promptly notify inform DBI if a violation is occurring. 

  • Landlords should be legally required to give each tenant a list of the major city agencies (such as DBI, the Rent Board and the Department of Public Health) that exist to help tenants solve problems with their housing.
  • DBI should launch–and maintain–a citywide advertising campaign to alert residents about its services. Everyone knows the FBI pursues bank robbers. But too many San Franciscans don’t even know that DBI exists, let alone what laws it enforces. This should be an in-your-face campaign: “Do you have bedbugs in your apartment? Has your stove stopped working? Are you afraid to ride in your building elevator because it’s always malfunctioning? Have you complained to your landlord and gotten the runaround? Then call DBI at—- Or drop us an email at_____.”

COMBATING SLUMLORDS: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on August 23, 2016 at 12:04 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 were sentenced in September, 2013, 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?”  

Everybody in San Francisco knows who the slumlords are. But the District Attorney’s Office hasn’t criminally prosecuted a slumlord in decades. 

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 charged with ensuring that apartment buildings are in habitable condition.  

Under San Francisco law:

  • 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.  

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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.

COMPUTER SECURITY: “WE DON’T CARE, WE DON’T HAVE TO”

In Bureaucracy, Business, Entertainment, Law, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on April 14, 2016 at 12:07 am

It’s the nightmare-come-true for corporate America.

Name-brand companies, trusted by millions, hit with massive data breaches.

And with a series of keystrokes, the most sensitive financial and personal information of their employees and/or customers is compromised.

Among those companies:

  • Target
  • Kmart
  • Home Depot
  • JPMorgan/Chase
  • Staples
  • Dairy Queen
  • Anthem, Inc.
  • Sony Pictures
  • Primera Blue Cross
  • U.S. Postal Service

Click here: Data Breach Tracker: All the Major Companies That Have Been Hacked | Money.com

And as of July 15, 2015, Ashley Madison joined this list.

Ashley Madison is, of course, the notorious website for cheating wives and husbands.

Launched in 2001, its catchy slogan is: “Life is short.  Have an affair.”

One of its ads featured a photo of a woman apparently kneeling at the feet of a bare-chested man, her hand passionately clawing at his belt. Next to her was the caption: “Join FREE & change your life today. Guaranteed!”

Ashley Madison - Ashley Madison Agency

Now millions of its clients may find their lives changed in ways they never imagined–and for the worse.

Ashley Madison claims to have more than 37 million members.  And now, untold numbers of them may find their lives changed forever.

Its hackers were enraged at the company’s refusal to fully delete users’ profiles unless it received a $19 fee.

Referring to themselves as “The Impact Team,” they stated in an online manifesto: “Full Delete netted [Avid Life Media, the parent company of Ashley Madison] $1.7 million in revenue in 2014.  It’s also a complete lie.

“Users almost always pay with credit card; their purchase details are not removed as promised, and include real names and address, which is of course the most important information the users want removed.”

On July 20, Avid Life Media defended the service, and said it would make it free.

Adultery-dating website Ashley Madison hacked

The hackers demanded: “AM [Ashley Madison] AND EM [Established Men] MUST SHUT DOWN IMMEDIATELY PERMANENTLY.

“We have taken over all systems in your entire office and production domains, all customer information databases, source code repositories, financial records, emails.

“Shutting down AM and EM will cost you, but non-compliance will cost you more.”

The hackers threatened to “release all customer records, including profiles with all the customers’ secret sexual fantasies and matching credit card transactions, real names and addresses, and employee documents and emails.”

Avid Life Media assured its customers that it had hired “one of the world’s top IT security teams” to work on the breach:

“At this time, we have been able to secure our sites, and close the unauthorized access points. We are working with law enforcement agencies, which are investigating this criminal act.”

This statement gives new meaning to the phrase, “Closing the barn door after the cow has gotten out.”

And it raises the question: Why wasn’t this “top IT security team” hired at the outset? 

After all, its database is a blackmailer’s dream-come-true. Yet apparently its owners didn’t care enough about the privacy of their customers to provide adequate security.

On August 18, 2015, the hackers began releasing their pirated information.

As usual during a corporation’s data breach, Ashley Madison issued a reassuring statement: “We are working with law enforcement agencies, which are investigating this criminal act.

“Any and all parties responsible for this act of cyber-terrorism will be held responsible.”

Eight of those customers (so far) have decided to hold Ashley Madison responsible. They have filed lawsuits against the company in California, Georgia, Minnesota, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas.

They seek class-action status to represent Ashley Madison’s 37 million users.

The lawsuits claim negligence, breach of contract and privacy violations. They charge that Ashley Madison failed to take reasonable steps to protect the security of its users, including those who paid the $19 fee to have their information deleted.

If they win–and force the owners of Ashley Madison to pay up big-time–this could set a precedent for lawsuits by other victims of such data breaches.

An October 22, 2014 “commentary” published in Forbes magazine raised the highly disturbing question: “Cybersecurity: Does Corporate America Really Care?”

And the answer is clearly: No.

Its author is John Hering, co-founder and executive director of Lookout, which bills itself as “the world leader in mobile security for consumers and enterprises alike.”

Click here: Cybersecurity: Does corporate America really care?

“One thing is clear,” writes Hering. “CEOs need to put security on their strategic agendas alongside revenue growth and other issues given priority in boardrooms.”

Hering warns that “CEOs don’t seem to be making security a priority.” And he offers several reasons for this:

  • The sheer number of data compromises;
  • Relatively little consumer outcry;
  • Almost no impact on the companies’ standing on Wall Street;
  • Executives may consider such breaches part of the cost of doing business.

“Sales figures and new products are top of mind,” writes Hering. “Shoring up IT systems aren’t.”

The key to sharply reducing data breaches lies in holding greed-obsessed CEOs financially accountable for their criminal negligence.

Only then will their  mindset of “We don’t care, we don’t have to” be replaced with: “We care, because our heads will roll if we don’t.”

“A TEAM PLAYER”: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on April 11, 2016 at 12:04 am

In 1959, J. Edgar Hoover, the legendary director of the FBI, declared war on the Mafia.

He set up a Top Hoodlum Program and encouraged his agents to use wiretapping and electronic surveillance (“bugging”) to make up for lost time and Intelligence.

But Hoover also imposed a series of restrictions that could destroy an agent’s professional and personal life.

William E. Roemer, Jr., assigned to the FBI’s Chicago field office, was one of the first agents to volunteer for such duty.

In his memoirs, Man Against the Mob, published in 1989, Roemer laid out the dangers that went with such work:

  1. If confronted by police or mobsters, agents were to try to escape without being identified.
  2. If caught by police, agents were not to identify themselves as FBI employees.
  3. They were to carry no badges, credentials or guns–or anything else connecting themselves with the FBI.
  4. If they were arrested by police and the truth emerged about their FBI employment, the Bureau would claim they were “rogue agents” acting on their own.
  5. Such agents were not to refute the FBI’s portrayal of them as “rogues.”

 

If he had been arrested by the Chicago Police Department and identified as an FBI agent, Roemer would have:

  1. Definitely been fired from his position as an FBI agent.
  2. Almost certainly been convicted for at least breaking and entering.
  3. Disbarred from the legal profession (Roemer was an attorney).
  4. Perhaps served a prison sentence.
  5. Been disgraced as a convicted felon.
  6. Been unable to serve in his chosen profession of law enforcement.

Given the huge risks involved, many agents, unsurprisingly, wanted nothing to do with “black bag jobs.”

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The agents who took them on were so committed to penetrating the Mob that they willingly accepted Hoover’s dictates.

In 1989, Roemer speculated that former Marine Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North had fallen victim to such a “Mission: Impossible” scenario: “The secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions….”

In 1986, Ronald Reagan’s “arms-for-hostages” deal known as Iran-Contra had been exposed.

To retrieve seven Americans taken hostage in Beirut, Lebanon, Reagan had secretly agreed to sell some of America’s most sophisticated missiles to Iran.

During this operation, several Reagan officials–including North–diverted proceeds from the sale of those missiles to fund Reagan’s illegal war against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

In Roemer’s view: North had followed orders from his superiors without question. But when the time came for those superiors to step forward and protect him, they didn’t.

They let him take the fall.

Roemer speculated that North had been led to believe he would be rescued from criminal prosecution. Instead, in 1989, he was convicted for

  • accepting an illegal gratuity;
  • aiding and abetting in the obstruction of a congressional inquiry; and
  • ordering the destruction of documents via his secretary, Fawn Hall.

That is how many employers expect their employees to act: To carry out whatever assignments they are given and take the blame if anything goes wrong.

Take the case of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., the world’s biggest retailer.

In March, 2005, Wal-Mart escaped criminal charges when it agreed to pay $11 million to end a federal probe into its use of illegal aliens as janitors.

Agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided 60 Wal-Mart stores across 21 states in October, 2003. The raids led to the arrest of 245 illegal aliens.

Federal authorities had uncovered the cases of an estimated 345 illegal aliens contracted as janitors at Wal-Mart stores.

Many of the workers worked seven days or nights a week without overtime pay or injury compensation. Those who worked nights were often locked in the store until the morning.

According to Federal officials, court-authorized wiretaps revealed that Wal-Mart executives knew their subcontractors hired illegal aliens.

Once the raids began, Federal agents invaded the company’s headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., seizing boxes of records from the office of a mid-level executive.

Click here: Wal-Mart Settles Illegal Immigrant Case for $11M | Fox News

Of course, Wal-Mart admitted no wrongdoing in the case. Instead, it blamed its subcontractors for hiring illegal aliens and claiming that Wal-Mart hadn’t been aware of this.

Which, of course, is nonsense.

Just as the FBI would have had no compunctions about letting its agents take the fall for following orders right from the pen of J. Edgar Hoover, Wal-Mart meant to sacrifice its subcontractors for doing precisely what the company’s executives wanted them to do.

The only reason Wal-Mart couldn’t make this work: The Feds had, for once, treated corporate executives like Mafia leaders and had tapped their phones.

Click here: Wal-Mart to review workers – Business – EVTNow

Which holds a lesson for how Federal law enforcement agencies should treat future corporate executives when their companies are found violating the law.

Instead of seeing CEOs as “captains of industry,” a far more realistic approach would be giving this term a new meaning: Corrupt Egotistical Oligarchs.

A smart investigator/prosecutor should always remember:  

Widespread illegal and corrupt behavior cannot happen among the employees of a major government agency or private corporation unless:

  1. Those at the top have ordered it and are profiting from it; or
  2. Those at the top don’t want to know about it and have taken no steps to prevent or punish it.  

That’s something to remember the next time a scandal hits a major corporation or government agency.

 

“A TEAM PLAYER”: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on April 8, 2016 at 12:41 am

Recruiters for corporate America routinely claim they’re looking for “a team player.”

This sounds great–as though the corporation is seeking people who will get along with their colleagues and work to achieve a worthwhile objective.

And, at times, that is precisely what is being sought in a potential employee.

But, altogether too often, what the corporation means by “a team player” is what the Mafia means by “a real standup guy.” 

That is: Someone willing to commit any crime for the organization–and take the fall for its leaders if anything goes wrong.

FBI Chart of Mafia Families during the 1960s

Consider this classic example from the files of America’s premier law enforcement agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

On November 14, 1957, 70 top Mafia leaders from across the country gathered at the estate of a fellow gangster, Joseph Barbara, in Apalachin, a small village in upstate New York.

The presence of so many cars with out-of-state license plates converging on an isolated mansion caught the attention of Edgar Crosswell, a sergeant in the New York State Police.

Crosswell assembled as many troopers as he could find, set up roadblocks, and swooped down on the estate.

The mobsters, panicked, fled in all directions–many of them into the surrounding woods.  Even so, more than 60 underworld bosses were arrested and indicted following the raid.

Perhaps the most significant result of the raid was the effect it had on J. Edgar Hoover, the legendary director of the FBI.

J. Edgar Hoover

Up to that point, Hoover had vigorously and vocally denied the existence of a nationwide Mafia. He had been happy to leave pursuit of international narcotics traffickers to his hated rival, Harry Anslinger, director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN).

But he had been careful to keep his own agency well out of the war on organized crime.

Several theories have been advanced as to why.

  1. Hoover feared that his agents–long renowned for their incorruptibility–would fall prey to the bribes of well-heeled mobsters.
  2. Hoover feared that his allegedly homosexual relationship with his longtime associate director, Clyde Tolson, would be exposed by the Mob. Rumors still persist that mobster Meyer Lansky came into possession of a compromising photo of Hoover and Tolson engaged in flagrante delicto
  3. Hoover knew of the ties between moneyed mobsters and their political allies in Congress. Hoover feared losing the goodwill of Congress for future–and ever-larger–appropriations for the FBI.
  4. Hoover preferred flashy, easily-solved cases to those requiring huge investments of manpower and money.

Whatever the reason, Hoover had, from the time he assumed directorship of the FBI in 1924, kept his agents far from the frontlines of the war against organized crime.

Suddenly, however, that was no longer possible.

The arrests of more than 60 known members of the underworld–in what the news media called “a conclave of crime”–deeply embarrassed Hoover.

It was all the more embarrassing that while the FBI had virtually nothing in its files on the leading lights of the Mafia, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics had opened its voluminous files to the Senate Labor Rackets Committee.

Heading that committee as chief legal counsel was Robert F. Kennedy–a fierce opponent of organized crime who, in 1961, would become Attorney General of the United States.

So Hoover created the Top Hoodlum Program (THP) to identify and target selected Mafiosi across the country.

Since the FBI had no networks of informants operating within the Mafia, Hoover fell back on a technique that had worked wonders against the Communist Party U.S.A.

He would wiretap the mobsters’ phones and plant electronic microphones (“bugs”) in their meeting places.

The information gained from these techniques would arm the Bureau with evidence that could be used to strongarm mobsters into “rolling over” on their colleagues in exchange for leniency.

Hoover believed he had authority to install wiretaps because more than one Attorney General had authorized their use.

But no Attorney General had given permission to install bugs–which involved breaking into the places where they were to be placed.  Such assignments were referred to within the Bureau as “black bag jobs.”

So, in making clear to his agent-force that he wanted an unprecedented war against organized crime, Hoover also made clear the following:

Before agents could install electronic surveillance (an ELSUR, in FBI-speak) devices in Mob hangouts, agents had to first request authority for a survey. This would have to establish:

  1. That this was truly a strategic location;
  2. That the agents had a plan of attack that the Bureau could see was logical and potentially successful; and, most importantly of all
  3. That it could be done without any “embarrassment to the Bureau.”

According to former FBI agent William E. Roemer, Jr., who carried out many of these “black bag” assignments:

“The [last requirement] was always Mr. Hoover’s greatest concern: ‘Do the job, by God, but don’t ever let anything happen that might embarrass the Bureau.”

HELL IN THE RENTERS’ PARADISE: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on January 1, 2016 at 12:57 am

Slumlords would have everyone believe that San Francisco is a “renters’ paradise.”  A place where hard-working landlords are routinely taken advantage of by rent-avoiding bums who want to be constantly pampered.

On the contrary: It’s not renters who hold “untouchable” status, but slumlords themselves.

If you doubt it, you need only review the case of slumlords Kip and Nicole Macy.  They waged a two-year war on their rent-paying tenants to force them out of their South of Market building.

The reason: The Macys wanted to get them out of their rent-controlled apartments so they could rent these out to tenants who could afford extortionate rents.

For two years, the police and district attorney’s office stood by while the Macys aimed threats, vandalism, illegal lockouts and violence at their law-abiding tenants.

The Macys have since been convicted and will be sentenced to four years and four months imprisonment.  But this case is a rarity for the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.

Meanwhile, thousands of San Francisco tenants have lived with rotting floors, nonworking toilets, chipping lead-based paint and other outrages for not simply months but years.

But San Francisco tenants need not be put at the mercy of greedy, arrogant slumlords.  And the agencies that are supposed to protect them need not be reduced to impotent farces.

The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office should create a special unit to investigate and prosecute  slumlords.  Prosecutors should offer rewards to citizens who provide tips on major outrages by the city’s slumlords.

And the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection–which is charged with guaranteeing the habitability of apartment buildings–should immediately adopt a series of long-overdue refirms.

By doing so, it can:

  • 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.

In Part 2 of this series I outlined 14 such reforms.  In this concluding column, I will outline the remaining eight:

  1. DBI should order landlords to post their Notices of Violation in public areas of their buildings–on pain of serious financial penalties for failing to do so. When DBI orders a slumlord to take corrective action, s/he is the only person who is notified.   Thus, if that slumlord refuses to comply with those directives, s/he is the only one who realizes it.  Given the pressing demands on DBI, weeks or months will pass before the agency learns about this violation of its orders.  Tenants have a right to know if their landlord is complying with the law.
  2. DBI should launch–and maintain–a city-wide advertising campaign to alert residents to its services.  Everyone knows the FBI pursues bank robbers, but too many San Franciscans do not even know that DBI exists, let alone what laws it enforces.  This should be an in-your-face campaign: “Do you have bedbugs in your apartment?  Has your stove stopped working?  Are you afraid to ride in  your building elevator because it keeps malfunctioning?  Have you complained to your landlord and gotten nowhere?  Then call DBI at —–.  Or drop us an email at ——.”
  3. Landlords should be legally required to give each tenant a list of the major city agencies (such as DBI, Department of Public Health and the Rent Board) that exist to help tenants resolve problems with their housing. 
  4. Landlords should be legally required to rehabilitate a unit every time a new tenant moves in, or at least have it examined by a DBI inspector every two years.  A tenant can occupy a unit for ten or more years, then die or move out, and the landlord immediately rents the unit to the first person who comes along, without making any repairs or upgrades whatsoever.
  5. Landlords should be required to bring all the units in a building up to existing building codes, and not just those in need of immediate repair.
  6. Landlords should be legally required to hire a certified-expert contractor to perform building repairs.  Many landlords insist on making such repairs despite their not being trained or experienced in doing so, thereby risking the lives of their tenants. 
  7. DBI should not view itself as a “mediation” agency between landlords and tenants.  Most landlords hate DBI and will always do so.  They believe they should be allowed to treat their tenants like serfs, raise extortionate rents anytime they desire, and maintain their buildings in whatever state  they wish.  And no efforts by DBI to persuade them of its good intentions will ever change their minds.
  8. Above all, DBI must stop viewing itself as a mere regulatory agency and start seeing itself as a law enforcement one.  The FBI doesn’t ask criminals to comply with the law; it applies whatever amount of force is needed to gain their compliance. Niccolo Machiavelli said it best: If you can’t be loved by your enemies, then at least make yourself respected by them.

As Robert F. Kennedy wrote: “Every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves.  What is equally true is that every community gets the kind of law enforcement it insists on.”

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

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on December 31, 2015 at 12:01 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 onlyif 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 dividedamong 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 Inspectorsbe 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, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on December 30, 2015 at 2:32 pm

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 were sentenced in September, 2013, 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.

THE GOOD NEWS IN THE ASHLEY MADISON SCANDAL

In Bureaucracy, Business, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on August 26, 2015 at 9:50 am

It’s the nightmare-come-true for corporate America.

Name-brand companies, trusted by millions, hit with massive data breaches.

And with a series of keystrokes, the most sensitive financial and personal information of their employees and/or customers is compromised.

Among those companies:

  • Target
  • Kmart
  • Home Depot
  • JPMorgan/Chase
  • Staples
  • Dairy Queen
  • Anthem, Inc.
  • Sony Pictures
  • Primera Blue Cross
  • U.S. Postal Service

Click here: Data Breach Tracker: All the Major Companies That Have Been Hacked | Money.com

And as of July 15, Ashley Madison joined this list.

Ashley Madison is, of course, the notorious website for cheating wives and husbands.

Launched in 2001, its catchy slogan is: “Life is short.  Have an affair.”

One of its ads featured a photo of a woman apparently kneeling at the feet of a bare-chested man, her hand passionately clawing at his belt.  Next to her was the caption: “Join FREE & change your life today.  Guaranteed!”

Ashley Madison - Ashley Madison Agency

Ashley Madison claims to have more than 37 million members.  And now, untold numbers of them may find their lives changed forever.

Its hackers were enraged at the company’s refusal to fully delete users’ profiles unless it received a $19 fee.

Referring to themselves as “The Impact Team,” they stated in an online manifesto: “Full Delete netted [Avid Life Media, the parent company of Ashley Madison] $1.7 million in revenue in 2014.  It’s also a complete lie.

“Users almost always pay with credit card; their purchase details are not removed as promised, and include real names and address, which is of course the most important information the users want removed.”

On July 20, Avid Life Media defended the service, and said it would make it free.

Adultery-dating website Ashley Madison hacked

The hackers demanded: “AM [Ashley Madison] AND EM [Established Men] MUST SHUT DOWN IMMEDIATELY PERMANENTLY.

“We have taken over all systems in your entire office and production domains, all customer information databases, source code repositories, financial records, emails.

“Shutting down AM and EM will cost you, but non-compliance will cost you more.”

The hackers threatened to “release all customer records, including profiles with all the customers’ secret sexual fantasies and matching credit card transactions, real names and addresses, and employee documents and emails.”

Avid Life Media assured its customers that it had hired “one of the world’s top IT security teams” to work on the breach:

“At this time, we have been able to secure our sites, and close the unauthorized access points. We are working with law enforcement agencies, which are investigating this criminal act.”

This statement gives new meaning to the phrase, “Closing the barn door after the cow has gotten out.”

And it raises the question: Why wasn’t this “top IT security team” hired at the outset?

After all, its database is a blackmailer’s dream-come-true. Yet apparently its owners didn’t care enough about the privacy of their customers to provide adequate security.

On August 18, the hackers began releasing their pirated information.

As usual during a corporation’s data breach, Ashley Madison issued a reassuring statement: “We are working with law enforcement agencies, which are investigating this criminal act.

“Any and all parties responsible for this act of cyber-terrorism will be held responsible.”

Eight of those customers (so far) have decided to hold Ashley Madison responsible. They have filed lawsuits against the company in California, Georgia, Minnesota, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas.

They seek class-action status to represent Ashley Madison’s 37 million users.

The lawsuits claim negligence, breach of contract and privacy violations. They charge that Ashley Madison failed to take reasonable steps to protect the security of its users, including those who paid the $19 fee to have their information deleted.

If they win–and force the owners of Ashley Madison to pay up big-time–this could set a precedent for lawsuits by other victims of such data breaches.

An October 22, 2014 “commentary” published in Forbes magazine raised the highly disturbing question: “Cybersecurity: Does Corporate America Really Care?”

And the answer is clearly: No.

Its author is John Hering, co-founder and executive director of Lookout, which bills itself as “the world leader in mobile security for consumers and enterprises alike.”

Click here: Cybersecurity: Does corporate America really care?

“One thing is clear,” writes Hering. “CEOs need to put security on their strategic agendas alongside revenue growth and other issues given priority in boardrooms.”

Hering warns that “CEOs don’t seem to be making security a priority.”  And he offers several reasons for this:

  • The sheer number of data compromises;
  • Relatively little consumer outcry;
  • Almost no impact on the companies’ standing on Wall Street;
  • Executives may consider such breaches part of the cost of doing business.

“Sales figures and new products are top of mind,” writes Hering. “Shoring up IT systems aren’t.”

The key to sharply reducing data breaches lies in holding greed-obsessed CEOs financially accountable for their criminal negligence.

Only then will their  mindset of “We don’t care, we don’t have to” be replaced with: “We care, because our heads will roll if we don’t.”

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