News & Current Affairs

June 22, 2009

Miami’s tent city for sex offenders

Filed under: Health and Fitness, Latest, Politics News, Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 2:07 pm

Miami’s tent city for sex offenders

A Miami law is forcing many of the city’s sex offenders to sleep rough under a bridge, reports Emilio San Pedro for the BBC’s Americana programme.

Tents set up by released sex offenders under a road bridge in Miami

As many as 70 released sex offenders live in the camp

The area under the Julia Tuttle Causeway in downtown Miami has in recent years become the unlikely home for a growing community of about 70 convicted sex offenders.

They have ended up living in a makeshift tent city under one of the causeway’s bridges because of a local law which prohibits those who have sexually abused minors from living within 2,500 ft (760m) of anywhere where children congregate, such as schools, libraries and parks.

After the local laws were enacted, Florida’s correctional authorities found there was virtually nowhere else for these people to live and began dropping them off at the bridge.

Some of them have even been issued with driving licences with the bridge listed as their home address.

‘Trash mounting’

“Welcome to American justice,” said Dr Pedro Jose Greer, the Dean of Florida International University’s Department of Humanities, Health and Society, as he met me under the bridge to discuss the squalid conditions at the camp.

“We have people living together with mental and physical illnesses in an environment where people can’t possibly sleep because of the cars going by overhead – where you can smell the urine and see the trash mounting all around us.”

Dr Pedro Greer
This is the stupidest damn law I have ever seen and it’s purely mandated by revenge without any consideration for the well-being of these people
Dr Pedro Greer
Campaigner

Dr Greer has for decades been a leading advocate in Miami for homeless people and their right to receive adequate medical and social services.

He told me that he has become increasingly angry over the last few years at the existence of this camp and the lack of an alternative way to reintegrate these convicted sex offenders into society.

“What we’re doing is we’re saying ‘let’s take the people that we most despise, that did some of the most egregious things in society and let them all get together and not supervise them and let them wander around the community’,” he tells me with a clear sense of frustration in his voice.

“This is the stupidest damn law I have ever seen and it’s purely mandated by revenge without any consideration for the well-being of these people – who deserve better despite the severity of their crimes,” he says.

No money

As we walk around the camp, with its tents and makeshift huts, lack of running water, electricity or any form of sewage, I meet Isaias, a 35-year-old Latino and former US Marine, who has been living at the camp for over two years.

He tells me how the state authorities simply drop offenders like him under the bridge and – as he puts it – let them fend for themselves.

“They don’t give us no water, no food, no portable toilets, no money – nothing,” he tells me.

Julio
I’ve only been here five days but I can’t believe these criminal conditions we live in
Julio

Isaias – who served five years in prison for having sexual relations with a 16-year-old girl and is now out on parole – says that all that he and many of his neighbours under the bridge want is to be able to attempt to lead a normal life and move beyond their criminal past.

“I can’t live with my wife and my daughter. I would like to have a normal life and be able to become a productive member of society again, but society is not giving us that chance,” he tells me.

I then ask him if – as a father himself – if he can understand why society harbours such anger for people who have committed these sorts of crimes.

“I would understand it – yes – as a father but at the same time I cannot expect that a person who committed this kind of crime against my own child should then come out of jail and be forced to live like an animal – as we’re doing here,” he says.

A few metres away I meet Julio – a 62-year-old Cuban immigrant, who served 10 years in prison for abusing a 12-year-old girl. He is a recent arrival at the camp and is finding it very difficult to adjust.

“The conditions here are terrible. I’ve only been here five days but I can’t believe these criminal conditions we live in. I have absolutely nothing and no-one to give me any form of assistance at all. I wonder if I’ll ever get out of here,” he concludes.

Too sensitive

The problem for people like Julio is that the serious nature of the crimes they committed makes it very difficult for them to get much sympathy from the local community or from local politicians – who for the most part have found the issue too sensitive and downright controversial to become involved.

However, earlier this month, one City of Miami commissioner, Marc Sarnoff, did just that.

With the backing of the city government, he wrote a letter to the state governor, Charlie Crist, asking him to shut the camp down.

He based that request on the fact that there is a small island that serves as a weekend park for boaters and their children that lies within the existing local boundaries.

I’m not here to support or endorse anything with regard to sexual offenders. However, they are living in squalor
Marc Sarnoff
City Commissioner

I met Mr Sarnoff on a sunny morning at a local park, where some boys were playing baseball with their coach.

He told me that his top priority remained protecting these children from sex offenders like the ones who lived at the camp.

“Let me be absolutely clear. I’m not here to support or endorse anything with regard to sexual offenders. They are my least bit of concern,” he tells me.

“However, they are living in squalor. I don’t think human beings will stay in that condition. They’re going to start leaving and what we thought was a good law of 2,500 ft to keep them away from our children will eventually push them back into the population.”

Mr Sarnoff hopes that the letter to Governor Crist will force the state either to find some alternative place to house the sex offenders or force some form of legal action that will get the state’s courts, which are not beholden to the desires of the electorate, involved.

For the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and others like Dr Greer – who believe the offenders have already served their time in prison and deserve the right to attempt to get on with their lives – the camp’s existence and the desperate conditions there serve as a troubling reflection of the values of modern-day Miami.

“The question is – have we become a society that doesn’t let you die but lets you suffer? Do we just say we’re living in the Middle Ages – an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth?” Dr Greer told me after we had finished touring the camp.

“I think we’ve gone beyond that.”

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August 19, 2008

Florida braced for tropical storm

Florida braced for tropical storm

Map

The US state of Florida is braced for Tropical Storm Fay, which is thought to have claimed dozens of lives on its rampage through the Caribbean.

Forecasters warned Fay could reach hurricane force as it approached the Florida peninsula.

The storm’s center has already crossed Florida Key West with winds near 60mph (97km/h), flooding some roads.

Florida’s Governor Charlie Crist warned that Fay threatened a “major disaster”, but he insisted the state was prepared.

With a state of emergency in place, Mr Crist said some 500 national guard members had been deployed, with another 8,500 on standby.

The US National Hurricane Center said the storm still had the potential to top sustained winds of 74 mph (119 km/h) by the time it hits the west coast of Florida early on Tuesday.

Across Florida at least 22 school districts, a number of colleges and a university have canceled classes.

HOW HURRICANES FORM
NOAA satellite image showing tropical storm Fay over Cuba (17 August 2008)
Sea surface temperatures above 26.5C (79.7F)
A pre-existing weather disturbance
Moisture in the atmosphere
Favourable conditions, such as light winds or weak wind shear

Residents of Miami have been stocking up on bottled water, fuel and other vital supplies.

The main highway linking the Keys to the mainland was choked with traffic on Sunday as thousands of tourists evacuated.

But not everyone was hunkering down – hundreds of surfers flocked to Miami beaches to take advantage of the huge swells created by the storm.

In Cuba, Fay caused some flooding and damaged a number of homes, although no deaths were reported.

But a number of lives were lost in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

The worst incident was in Haiti, where a truck carrying up to 80 passengers plunged into a swollen river.

Officials there said more than half the passengers were missing, with many feared drowned.

Fay is the sixth tropical storm of the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season.

Two of the tropical storms so far, Bertha and Dolly, have reached hurricane strength.


Has Tropical Storm Fay affected you? Are you in Florida preparing for the storm to hit? Send us your comments

August 17, 2008

Fay brings rain, wind to Cuba en route to Florida

Fay brings rain, wind to Cuba en route to Florida

HAVANA, Aug 17 (Reuters) – Tropical Storm Fay brushed Cuba’s southern coast with gusty winds and heavy rains on Sunday and was expected to move ashore overnight before heading toward Florida as a likely hurricane.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said maximum sustained winds were 50 mph (80 kph), but Cuban forecasters said gusts up to 66 miles per hour (110 kph) had been recorded at Cabo Cruz, which juts out into the Caribbean.

In its latest advisory, the hurricane center said Fay was cruising parallel to the coast at 17 miles per hour (27 kph) about 135 miles (215 km) west-southwest of the Cuban city of Camaguey, and 285 miles (460 km) south-southeast of Key West, Florida.

Fay, which killed at least five people when it struck Haiti and the Dominican Republic on Saturday, was crossing over warm waters — 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) — and expected to strengthen before going ashore in Cuba’s central provinces, forecasters said.

The hurricane center predicted Fay, the sixth storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, would move slowly across Cuba overnight before emerging in the Florida Straits or Gulf of Mexico on Monday.

It said Fay could be near hurricane strength before striking Cuba and may be a hurricane, which means winds of at least 74 mph (118 kph), when it reaches Florida’s west coast.

Hurricane watches were posted along much of Cuba’s southern and northern coasts, including Havana, and in southern Florida.

Heavy rains were reported in some Cuban coastal provinces but so far only minor flooding and damage had occurred, officials said.

Rains up to 8 inches (20 cm) were possible, the Cuban Meteorological Institute said.

People in flood-prone areas were being evacuated, as were foreign tourists staying at coastal resorts in the storm’s path, they said.

In Guantanamo, the weather was not bad enough to stop the annual Carnival celebration, said Pedro Alvarez, 35, a resident of the coastal city that neighbors the controversial U.S. military detention center where the Bush administration holds more than 200 accused terrorists.

“Up to now there has been just a very light, off-and-on rainfall, so much so that last night the people continued celebrating Carnival,” he told Reuters.

FLORIDA EVACUATION

In the Florida Keys, 90 miles (144 km) north of Cuba, officials on Sunday initiated a Keys-wide evacuation of visitors. Anyone planning to visit the area in the next few days needs to postpone their trip, they said.

In Florida’s upper Keys, recreational vehicles, trucks hauling boats and other traffic were heading north and leaving the string of islands at the state’s tip, according to police.

“Traffic is reported to be bumper to bumper, but is flowing smoothly, albeit slowly,” the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department said.

At a briefing at the state’s emergency response center in Tallahassee, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican, said the state had geared up for the storm. “Florida is prepared. We are ready. We are vigilant,” he said.

About 500 Florida National Guard troops have been deployed and some schools that were to open on Monday will be closed.

The hurricane center said it expected Fay to eventually hit Florida’s western coast, which is well east of the United States’ oil and natural production in the Gulf of Mexico.

But Shell Oil Co said on Saturday it was pulling 200 workers from offshore platforms as a precaution and on Sunday said it would take another 200 out.

In addition to the hurricane alert in Cuba, tropical storm warnings and watches were in effect for the Cayman Islands and southeastern Florida.

August 7, 2008

US claims informant is fraud boss

US claims informant is fraud boss

TJMaxx strore in California

TJX, which owns TJ Maxx, was one the firms whose records were hacked

A former informant of the US secret service has been accused  of being the ringleader in the country’s biggest and most complex identity theft case.

The US Department of Justice claims that Albert “Segvev” Gonzalez and 10 others stole, and then sold more than 40 million bank card numbers.

They allegedly got the data by driving around, finding vulnerable internet networks, and accessing shop records.

Prosecutors said the alleged fraud was an “international conspiracy”.

“During the course of the sophisticated conspiracy Mr Gonzalez and his co-conspirators….hacked into wireless computer networks of major retailers,” said the US Department of Justice.

The method, known as “wardriving”, involves tracking down vulnerable internet wireless signals and using systems to decipher credit and debit card information from a retailer’s system.

While technology has made our lives much easier it has also created new vulnerabilities
Michael Sullivan,
US secret service director

The Department of Justice said that companies affected included TJX Companies, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Boston Market and Barnes & Noble among others.

MasterCard spokesman Chris Monteiro told the BBC: “If a cardholder is concerned at all about the security of their account they should immediately contact their issuing financial institution.”

‘New vulnerabilities’

While the Department of Justice has not put a price on the scale on the scam it says it is the largest and most complex identity fraud to date.

“While technology has made our lives much easier it has also created new vulnerabilities,” said US secret service director Michael Sullivan.

“This case clearly shows how strokes on a keyboard with a criminal purpose can have costly results,” he added

He urged consumers, firms and governments worldwide to develop further ways to protect sensitive personal and business information and detect those that “conspire to exploit technology for criminal gain”.

Perry Tancredi, senior product manager for fraud detection at payment security company VeriSign said that: “Regardless of how strong the security measures, and how vigilant, the weak part of the chain is there is always a human who is responsible and who has overall control over the information.”

Charges

Mr Gonzalez of Miami has been charged with computer fraud, wire fraud, access device fraud, aggravated identify theft and conspiracy.

Mr Gonzalez, who is in New York in pre-trial confinement, now faces a maximum penalty of life is prison.

Charges were also listed against Christopher Scott and Damon Patrick, both of Miami.

The other named individuals in the case were Maksym “Maksik” Yastremskiy of Kharkov, Ukraine, Aleksandr “Jonny Hell” Suvorov of Sillamae, Estonia.

Charges were also levelled against Hung-Ming Chiu and Zhi Zhi Wang, both from China, and someone known only by the nickname “Delpiero”.

Sergey Pavolvich, of Belarus, and Dzmitry Burak and Sergey Storchak, both of Ukraine, were also charged.

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