Tag: Freedom of Information

Prominent developer targets anonymous blogger in First Amendment battle

by on Aug.17, 2011, under Investigations, Multimedia, What's New

A story written for BrowardBulldog:

A First Amendment battle has erupted between a prominent South Florida developer and a blogger, who so far has only been identified as “John Doe.”

Raanan Katz, a minority owner of the Miami Heat, and his family-owned company R.K. Associates are suing the anonymous blogger for defamation and libel for reports he claims are false and malicious.

The blogger’s Fort Lauderdale attorney, Robert Kain, argues in court papers that his client is a “citizen journalist” deserving of First Amendment protection because his reporting on Katz is about “matters of public concern.”

“Doe is an anonymous citizen journalist critically reporting what he considers to be abusive litigation tactics and prior criminal convictions by a well know public person Raanan Katz and Katz’ companies,” the papers say.

Katz’s filed the case in state court in June, but it has since been removed to federal court in Miami. Katz dropped an additional claim for false advertising against the blogger last week.

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Friend of Rep. Borris Miles runs Costa Rican ‘medical tourism’ firm; HISD approves $600K contract with doc linked to same firm

by on Jul.24, 2011, under Investigations

An investigation for Texas Watchdog:

Friend of Rep. Borris Miles runs Costa Rican ‘medical tourism’ firm; HISD approves $600K contract with doc linked to same firm
Wednesday, Jul 13, 2011, 07:55AM CST
By Trent Seibert & Jennifer Peebles

A state lawmaker and Houston schools vendor who arranged all-expenses-paid trips to Costa Rica for Houston schools trustee Larry Marshall has a friend and business associate who runs a Costa Rican medical tourism company — the same company that played a major role in the medical tourism event Marshall attended in Costa Rica in November.

State Rep. Borris Miles, a Democratic state House member from Houston whose insurance agency services some of the Houston schools’ flood insurance policies, is an associate of DiCarlos Davis, a Houston businessman who is CEO of International Healthcare Access. The firm’s website touts weight loss services, cancer treatments, dental care and cosmetic procedures that are available from its affiliated doctors in Costa Rica.

Records show Davis’ firm was a major participant in the November medical tourism “familiarization trip” that Marshall attended in Costa Rica, a trip Miles has said he arranged. Miles has said he wants to help people lower their health care costs by exploring medical tourism.

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Wife of Houston ISD trustees president Paula Harris’ campaign manager does $75K in no-bid consulting for HISD

by on Jul.24, 2011, under Investigations, Multimedia, Video, What's New

An investigation for Texas Watchdog:

Wife of Houston ISD trustees president Paula Harris’ campaign manager does $75K in no-bid consulting for HISD
Tuesday, Jun 28, 2011, 08:55AM CST
By Lynn Walsh and Jennifer Peebles

The Houston school system has paid the wife of the school board president’s campaign treasurer $75,000 in no-bid work over the last two years as a consultant, arranging classes and after-school programs on subjects including CPR, English as a second language, jazz dance and parenting.

Demetra C. Jones, the wife of prominent Houston lawyer Franklin D.R. “Frank” Jones Jr., and her businesses have been paid $78,110 by the Houston Independent School District since 2009, records released by the school system show.

Frank Jones is the campaign treasurer for Paula Harris, who was elected to the HISD trustees in 2007 and who became the trustees’ president in January. Frank Jones has also done legal work for the Houston schools, including serving as lead negotiator for the school district when it hired current Superintendent Terry Grier away from the San Diego, Calif., schools two years ago.

Demetra Jones is the former longtime head of human resources and risk management for Harris County Precinct One, working under County Commissioner El Franco Lee for two decades. She previously served as office manager in City Hall for state Sen. Rodney Ellis when he was a Houston city councilman some 20 years ago, and was public affairs manager for Ellis’ Houston investment bank, Apex Securities, according to two resumes available online.

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Houston ISD tech vendors spent ‘significant funds’ to entertain trustees Larry Marshall, Manuel Rodriguez, court filing alleges

by on Jul.24, 2011, under Investigations, Multimedia, Video, What's New

An investigation for Texas Watchdog:

Houston ISD tech vendors spent ‘significant funds’ to entertain trustees Larry Marshall, Manuel Rodriguez, court filing alleges
Thursday, Jun 23, 2011, 09:08AM CST
By Lynn Walsh and Jennifer Peebles

Vendors selling computer equipment to the Houston public schools spent “significant funds” to entertain school trustees Larry Marshall and Manuel Rodriguez, attorneys representing whistleblowers and the federal government allege in court documents, calling the payments “unlawful” and “designed to secure business from” the Houston schools.

Meanwhile, the court documents also allege that one of the Houston Independent School District’s top officials in the early part of the last decade, Cathy Mincberg, had an extramarital affair with a consultant whom the school district paid more than $5 million — a consultant she was reported by the local press to have had a hand in hiring.

The federal government has taken over as lead plantiff in the lawsuit, and court filings do not elaborate in court filings on what, specifically, the “significant funds” included or how much money was involved. Calls for comment to the plantiff’s lawyers were not returned.

The revelations come on the heels of reports that a Houston schools vendor, insurance agent and state Rep. Borris Miles, offered to arrange all-expenses-paid trips to Costa Rica to most of the school system’s trustees last year — and that Marshall went on two of the trips. It also follows reporting by Texas Watchdog that school trustees president Paula Harris voted on $28 million in contracts that included work for a company owned and run by one of her closest friends.

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HISD vendor state Rep. Borris Miles offered trustees all-expenses-paid Costa Rican trip, email shows

by on Jul.24, 2011, under Investigations, What's New

An investigation for Texas Watchdog:

HISD vendor state Rep. Borris Miles offered trustees all-expenses-paid Costa Rican trip, email shows
Thursday, Jun 16, 2011, 06:27PM CST
By Lynn Walsh, Trent Seibert and Jennifer Peebles

A state representative who services the Houston Independent School District’s flood insurance policy — and who is a close friend of two HISD trustees — offered to arrange an all-expenses-paid trip to Costa Rica to a majority of HISD’s trustees, according to an e-mail obtained by Texas Watchdog.

State Rep. Borris Miles, a Houston Democrat, offered in November to take most of the trustees to Costa Rica, saying he was arranging the free trip at the behest of the government of that Central American nation, the email shows.

It also shows Miles also offered to allow each trustee to bring along a guest, and wrote that the Costa Rican government would waive deductibles on “medical tourism” procedures, effectively offering the trustees and their guests deep discounts on the services.

It was not immediately clear whether any of the HISD trustees took Miles up on the offer. Three trustees reached by phone Thursday afternoon said they didn’t remember getting the e-mail. A fourth said he deleted it.

“I remember receiving it and thinking it was strange and deleting it,” said trustee Harvin Moore.

The revelation of the trip offer comes on the heels of Texas Watchdog’s recent story revealing that HISD trustees president Paula Harris, a close friend of Miles, voted on contracts that included work for a company run by another close friend, Pearland businesswoman Nicole West.

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Houston ISD trustees president Paula Harris voted on millions of dollars in contracts involving close friend’s firms

by on Jul.24, 2011, under Investigations, Multimedia, Video, What's New

An investigation for Texas Watchdog:

Houston ISD trustees president Paula Harris voted on millions of dollars in contracts involving close friend’s firms
Thursday, Jun 09, 2011, 06:07AM CST
By Lynn Walsh

When the Houston Independent School District has a problem, it increasingly looks to Nicole West to solve it.

Need schools painted or fences installed? HISD hired Nicole West’s firm Westco. Need security cameras and burglar alarms installed at schools? It hired Westco. Need drapes dry cleaned for a school auditorium? It paid Westco to do it.

Need elementary school students tutored in reading? HISD paid Nicole West to tutor them. Need a high school decorated for a rededication ceremony? It paid Nicole West. Need an ambulance on standby for a high school football game? It hired another of West’s firms, a small, private ambulance service.

And when the nation’s seventh-largest school district wanted to hire a private investigations firm to track down truant high-schoolers, it didn’t pick any of the big PI firms in Houston, some of whom have dozens of investigators and have been in business for decades. It instead hired a small firm, only a few years old, owned and run by Nicole West. With two licensed investigators today, the firm’s current legal address with the state is West’s residence in Pearland.

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From Russia, with love? HISD procurement chief tries to find Russian bride online for subordinate

by on Jul.24, 2011, under Investigations, What's New

A story written for Texas Watchdog:

From Russia, with love? HISD procurement chief tries to find Russian bride online for subordinate
Friday, Jul 08, 2011, 08:32AM CST
By Lynn Walsh and Jennifer Peebles

“I live in Russia and am simple woman with good heart.”

“I the young woman, me of 29 years, I the blonde live in Russia, city Vologda.”

“I hope that you that the man which are possible can not only my friend, but also grow fond of me.”

Earl Finley needed to get married, his boss thought. So Stephen Pottinger did what any caring boss would do: He asked Finley for his personal e-mail address — and then, without telling Finley his plans, he went to online dating sites that specialize in connecting American men with Russian women, assumed Finley’s identity, and communicated with lovely Russian ladies who then sent Finley rambling e-mails (and photos of themselves) about how they were lonely and were looking for a guy with a good heart like him.

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Houston teachers’ union rep went on all-expenses-paid Costa Rica trip with trustee Larry Marshall, Rep. Borris Miles

by on Jul.24, 2011, under Investigations, What's New

A story written by Texas Watchdog:

Houston teachers’ union rep went on all-expenses-paid Costa Rica trip with trustee Larry Marshall, Rep. Borris Miles
Friday, Jun 24, 2011, 08:03AM CST
By Lynn Walsh

A representative of Houston’s largest teachers’ union went on one of the all-expense-paid trips to Costa Rica offered by Houston school system vendor state Rep. Borris Miles last year — after a union leader says the group “didn’t want to get cut short” by the Houston school system.

Zeph Capo, an executive board member for the Houston Federation of Teachers, said he went on the trip, which Miles arranged and for which the Central American nation’s government picked up the tab.

“I went because they were potentially looking at a plan where they would ship our employees overseas to have medical stuff done,” Capo told Texas Watchdog. “So, went down there to look and see what that stuff was.”

Capo said he believes he went in April of last year and that no other Houston Independent School District trustees except for Larry Marshall were on the trip with him.

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‘Blatant racism,’ Houston ISD trustee Larry Marshall says of Texas Watchdog, Houston Chronicle ethics coverage

by on Jul.24, 2011, under Investigations, What's New

A story written for Texas Watchdog:

‘Blatant racism,’ Houston ISD trustee Larry Marshall says of Texas Watchdog, Houston Chronicle ethics coverage
Friday, Jun 17, 2011, 05:35PM CST
By Lynn Walsh

A Houston school trustee who went on all-expenses-paid trips to Costa Rica arranged by a politico who does business with the school district says he has probably voted on school contracts involving companies owned or run by friends — and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Larry Marshall, a four-term trustee of the Houston Independent School District, said there was nothing wrong with those votes or with the votes cast by trustees president Paula Harris, who voted to approve contracts involving a company owned by a close friend. He also labeled as “racism” the recent coverage by Texas Watchdog and the Houston Chronicle concerning ethics in HISD.

In a brief phone interview this afternoon, Marshall said having a friend involved with a school district vendor shouldn’t prompt a trustee to recuse themselves. “Number one, it’s not a requirement” to do so, he said. “Number two, simply because you serve on the board, you don’t end your relationships with friends. You are a volunteer on (the) board of education, and that should be an issue that should be totally separate.

“I think it would be extremely inappropriate to start removing yourself from voting on a contract simply because you have a friend. Members of your culture have done it for years — it’s never been an issue. It only becomes an issue when it happens to someone who is a part of an underrepresented group.”

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Houston ISD trustee Larry Marshall held fundraiser on Rep. Borris Miles-arranged Costa Rica trip; see photo and source documents

by on Jul.24, 2011, under Investigations, What's New

A story written for Texas Watchdog:

Houston ISD trustee Larry Marshall held fundraiser on Rep. Borris Miles-arranged Costa Rica trip; see photo and source documents
Friday, Jun 17, 2011, 10:50AM CST
By Lynn Walsh and Jennifer Peebles

Houston Independent School District trustee Larry Marshall took up state Rep. Borris Miles’ offer of free trips to Costa Rica and travelled to the Central American nation twice, Marshall told the Houston Chronicle yesterday.

Meanwhile, campaign finance disclosures show that Marshall held a fundraising dinner for campaign donors — in Costa Rica — around the time he told Mellon he was in that country on a trip arranged by Miles, who does business with HISD.

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