<![CDATA[NBC Bay Area - Tony's Home]]> Copyright 2014 http://www.nbcbayarea.com/feature/tonys-home http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/nbc_bayarea_blue.png NBC Bay Area http://www.nbcbayarea.com en-us Thu, 24 Apr 2014 12:12:15 -0700 Thu, 24 Apr 2014 12:12:15 -0700 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Environmental Groups Sue State Over Fracking]]> Wed, 23 Jan 2013 14:37:34 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/baldwinhillsoilfield.jpg

California’s once little-known and little-regulated fracking industry is once again coming under fire from environmentalists.

Several environmental groups on Tuesday filed a lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court, suing state regulators over the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, hoping to force regulators to devise new rules as they extract oil and gas from the Earth.

Click here to read lawsuit.

In April, NBC Bay Area's Investigative Unit first exposed the widespread and unregulated use of hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, to release oil and natural gas taking place in California.

The lawsuit claims the Division of Oil, Gas and Geotherman Resources (DOGGR) failed to properly evaluate the risks of fracking, required by the California Environmental Quality Act. Fracking was used for 600 wells in the state last year.

The lawsuit was filed by an environmental law firm, Earthjustice, on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Earthworks, Environmental Working Group and the Sierra Club.

As it stands today, California does not regulate fracking.

NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit Reporter Stephen Stock  talked to the state's top regulator, Tim Kustic, who acknowledged that California dropped ball on fracking regulation.

You can see that exclusive on-camera interview with Kustic on Wednesday on NBC Bay Area News at 6 and 11 p.m.


MORE:

Read Federal Lawsuit

Read Response To Federal Lawsuit

Read Environmental Working Group Report

Read Proposed California Law AB591

Read DOGGR's Response to NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit

Do you have a story we should investigate?  Contact: TheUnit@NBCBayArea.com

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<![CDATA[Photos Inside Dirty Fremont Plant]]> Fri, 27 Jul 2012 11:07:08 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/186*120/7-25-2012+12-55-38+PM1.jpg

San Francisco Herb and Natural Food Company issued a voluntary recall of 16 products one day after an NBC Bay Area Investigation uncovered a "massive rodent infestation" at the company's Fremont plant.

The company said there are no reported illnesses connected to any of their products.

The items listed in the recall were mostly sold on the internet across the United States, according to the company.

"San Francisco Herb is working with the California Department of Public Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to take corrective measures and address any health concerns."

Click here to see list of recalled products

If you have an item on the list you are supposed to destroy it. If you want a refund remove the white sticker found on the back of the package and contact Dr. Fahimeh Niroomand of San Francisco Herb & Natural Foods Company at 510-770-1215, ex. 115.

The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit has been working on this story for two months.

After the California health department learned of our investigation it issued an embargo of more than a million pounds of product at the Fremont plant, essentially shutting it down.

Here is our initial report that sparked this recall:

The California Department of Public Health has told NBC Bay Area News that a “massive rodent infestation” has lead the state agency to shut down a major East Bay food distributor and request that the company launch a nationwide recall. The actions came after the state learned about a two-month NBC Bay Area investigation.

The state agency placed an embargo on Fremont-based San Francisco Herb and Natural Food Company earlier this month and now has requested that the natural food, tea and herb distributor recall products it has recently sold in California and throughout the country. The embargo prevented the company from selling and distributing more than a million pounds of product in California and to its online customers throughout the world.

“We found a massive rodent infestation throughout the facility including direct product infestation,” Patrick Kennelly, Chief of the Food Safety Section of the California Department of Public Health told NBC Bay Area Chief Investigator Tony Kovaleski. Kennelly said state inspectors also found evidence of  “dead rodent bodies, live bodies, fecal and urine contamination on products.”

According to the company’s website, San Francisco Herb and Natural Food Company has been in business for 40 years. Its warehouse facility is located in Fremont off of Highway 880, just north of the former Solyndra Plant.

Kennelly said the decision to shut down the facility and request a nationwide recall came after state health inspectors discovered a massive rodent infestation in late June, adding that his inspectors found “evidence that products in the facility had been adulterated by filth including rodent excrete and rodent urine.”

He added that state inspectors also discovered rodents burrowing into products.

“It is still a very active infestation in the facility,” Kennelly said. 

According to the state, the owners of San Francisco Herb and Natural Food Company are cooperating with investigators and are expected to announce the company’s voluntary national recall in the next two days.

When asked if the actions were unusual Kennelly responded, “It is very unusual. This is a 150,000 square foot warehouse that has two stories and for us to embargo all the products in that facility because of the massive level of contamination throughout the facility, occurs very rarely.”

NBC Bay Area’s ongoing investigation began in May and in recent weeks Kovaleski contacted the owners of San Francisco Herb and Natural Food Company. The owners offered no comment and declined to review any of the information uncovered by the investigation. The owners hired an attorney who contacted the Investigative Unit at NBC Bay Area and said the company would have no comment.

 

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<![CDATA[VTA Makes Changes After Investigation]]> Fri, 14 Sep 2012 18:46:07 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/vtamain.jpg

The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority has made major changes to its operations following a series of NBC Bay Area News investigations that found problems with the management of VTA’s light rail.

After a two-year delay, riders can now buy light rail tickets with a credit or debit card. In addition, VTA is now cracking down on people trying to game the system and ride the rail for free.

During a recent interview with NBC Bay Area Chief Investigator Tony Kovaleski, VTA General Manager Michael Burns said that he welcomed scrutiny of the transit system and admitted that the reports “did increase the focus” on problems with the credit card readers and fare evasion.

In May, the Investigative Unit uncovered a culture of acceptance at VTA that produced the highest fare evasion rate in the region—7.2 percent.(See archive article here)

In June 2011, the fare evasion rate was as high as 10 percent, according to VTA’s own data. A review of VTA’s 2011 fare inspection records showed that fare inspectors were writing just four citations on average in an eight-hour shift.  

NBC Bay Area staff members rode the light rail for 100 hours and 1,200 miles over the course of a month, and fare inspectors asked them to prove that they had paid for their rides just four times. Hidden cameras found passengers readily admitting that they didn’t buy tickets. Some passengers even bragged about running off of the train without getting caught when fare inspectors drew near.

In a subsequent report, the Investigative Unit found that two years and $6 million after the transit authority purchased credit and debit card readers, riders still could not buy tickets using their debit or credit cards.

VTA management signed a contract in August 2009 that started the process of upgrading the ticket vending machines to accept debit and credit cards. In 2010, VTA’s marketing department paid for signs on every machine that promised the debit and credit card option would be “coming soon.” Two years after those signs were posted the credit and debit card readers were still not functional. Burns said problems with software and difficulties in meeting credit card security standards were partially to blame for the holdup.

Following the two NBC Bay Area investigations, Burns sent a series of internal emails to VTA employees, including one that reads in part: “Let’s not let the recent focus…go by without learning something from it.” Another one reads: “We need all hands on deck to meet or exceed the August date”—a deadline Burns set to fix the VTA’s problems with the credit card machine.

Since the NBC Bay Area investigation, VTA has instituted nearly a dozen policy and procedure changes, allowing VTA to better manage taxpayer dollars.

The transit authority has hired four new fare inspectors, added new signage on light rail platforms and recorded announcements reminding riders to buy tickets before they hop on the train. The transit authority reports that the most recent fare evasion analysis shows more people are now paying to ride the light rail.

In recent weeks VTA also removed the “coming soon” signs, and after two years filled with delays the ticket vending machines now let people pay for tickets with debit or credit cards.

Following the NBC Bay Area investigations, Santa Clara County Supervisor and VTA Board Chairman Ken Yeager said he asked VTA to do a better job managing tax dollars.

“I think there hadn’t been as much focus on it as there should have been,” Yeager told Kovaleski.  

When asked if he thought the problems were going to get fixed Yeager responded, “I do. And can we argue that VTA should have been doing it all along? But it certainly has been raised by you and it got VTA to say, ‘how can we do better?’”

Below is the initial investigation that sparked the changes:

 

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<![CDATA[Secret Rodent Infestation Uncovered]]> Wed, 25 Jul 2012 12:57:30 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/211*120/embargo2.jpg

The California Department of Public Health has told NBC Bay Area News that a “massive rodent infestation” has lead the state agency to shut down a major East Bay food distributor and request that the company launch a nationwide recall. The actions came after the state learned about a two-month NBC Bay Area investigation.

The state agency placed an embargo on Fremont-based San Francisco Herb and Natural Food Company earlier this month and now has requested that the natural food, tea and herb distributor recall products it has recently sold in California and throughout the country. The embargo prevented the company from selling and distributing more than a million pounds of product in California and to its online customers throughout the world.

“We found a massive rodent infestation throughout the facility including direct product infestation,” Patrick Kennelly, Chief of the Food Safety Section of the California Department of Public Health told NBC Bay Area Chief Investigator Tony Kovaleski. Kennelly said state inspectors also found evidence of  “dead rodent bodies, live bodies, fecal and urine contamination on products.”

According to the company’s website, San Francisco Herb and Natural Food Company has been in business for 40 years. Its warehouse facility is located in Fremont off of Highway 880, just north of the former Solyndra Plant.

Kennelly said the decision to shut down the facility and request a nationwide recall came after state health inspectors discovered a massive rodent infestation in late June, adding that his inspectors found “evidence that products in the facility had been adulterated by filth including rodent excrete and rodent urine.”

He added that state inspectors also discovered rodents burrowing into products.

“It is still a very active infestation in the facility,” Kennelly said.

According to the state, the owners of San Francisco Herb and Natural Food Company are cooperating with investigators and are expected to announce the company’s voluntary national recall in the next two days.

When asked if the actions were unusual Kennelly responded, “It is very unusual. This is a 150,000 square foot warehouse that has two stories and for us to embargo all the products in that facility because of the massive level of contamination throughout the facility, occurs very rarely.”

NBC Bay Area’s ongoing investigation began in May and in recent weeks Kovaleski contacted the owners of San Francisco Herb and Natural Food Company. The owners offered no comment and declined to review any of the information uncovered by the investigation. The owners hired an attorney who contacted the Investigative Unit at NBC Bay Area and said the company would have no comment.

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<![CDATA[Innocents Caught in Porn "Copywright Troll" Suits]]> Wed, 04 Jul 2012 15:01:05 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/212*120/xxx+keyboard.jpg

First it was music,  now it's porn. Attorneys for the adult film industry are taking a page from the music industry and filing mass lawsuits to stop porn piracy. They say the illegal file sharing is cutting deeply into profits, and those who play without paying must be stopped. Problem is, Innocent people are getting swept up in the internet dragnet.

Bobbie Jean Thomas, 78, says she is one of them. The disabled senior lives in Richmond with her daughter, who runs a daycare center in the shared space. Thomas says she was shocked and scared last year when she received a letter from her internet service provider saying they were being subpoenaed to release her name because her account's IP address was linked to illegal file sharing.

"I know I didn’t do it, I hardly know how to turn the computer on," Thomas said. "It’s very ridiculous. If I were downloading anything it probably would’ve been some gospel music."

Thomas says she then received a letter from attorney Ira Siegel of Beverly Hills, threatening to sue her for the downloading and sharing of a copyrighted adult film. She's not the only one. NBC Bay Area also spoke with a woman who lives near Austin, Texas, who shared a similar story. She asked not to be named, but says she and her husband, an Iraq war veteran, were accused of file sharing a lesbian porn flick. "On the actual date and time [of the alleged download], we were sitting on the couch watching the "Survivor" finale with our 12-year-old child." She says there's "no way" anyone was illegally sharing porn from her Internet account. She also adds, "We have a password protected, non static IP address."

These two women are just two examples of what attorney Mitch Stoltz calls victims of "copyright trolls." Stoltz is a staff attorney specializing copyright and intellectual property law for the San Francisco- based Electronic Frontier Foundation.

"They don’t really care who they’re targeting; they don’t really care whether people have actually infringed their clients’ copyrights or not," Stoltz said. He says the so-called "trolls" use special software to identify IP addresses they suspect of stealing copyrighted materials. Then they file mass lawsuits against thousands of “John Does” threatening to sue unless the defendant agrees to settle for a few thousand dollars.

"A lot of times they’ll say 'pay us and we’ll go away,'" said Stoltz.

But Las Vegas attorney Marc Randazza, who represents a major adult film company, says in the 30,000 cases he’s pursued – only 4 of the accused were innocent. 

"These companies now will put out a DVD or a movie online and within 24 hours they will find 20 to 30 thousand pirated copies," says Randazza. He says the lawsuits are working to cut down on porn piracy. "We have found since we started this lawsuit campaign that piracy has gone down on my clients’ materials 75 to 80 percent and we have found revenue has gone up. Less people are stealing it, more people are buying it. The right thing is happening."

Randazza is not one of the attorneys involved in the suits . But he insists the number of innocent people who are scared into settlin is tiny. "I think that happens as often as you see a unicorn.  People don’t pay because they didn’t do it. People pay because they did it or it wasn’t them and it was somebody in their household," he says.

Bobbie Jean Thomas says she has no idea how she ended up as a defendant, but insists she is innocent. With the help of her goddaughter, a paralegal, she filed a motion to quash the lawsuit. Nearly a year later, a judge dismissed the entire suit. "I was very relieved," says Thomas. "I’m too old to go to jail for a movie I didn’t even see."

We contacted Beverly Hills based attorney Ira Siegel, and law firm Prenda Law, who is behind the lawsuit involving the Texas woman who spoke to NBC Bay Area. They declined to comment on the cases involving the women in our story.

There are a few things you can do to protect yourself from being named in this type of suit. First, don’t download and share copyrighted material without permission. Second, make sure your internet connection is password protected. That won't guarantee you won’t be named in a lawsuit, but it will prevent other people from using your wifi connection for illegal activity. And if you do receive a letter accusing you of illegally downloading something you didn't find a copyright attorney to help you. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a list of attorneys who have offered to help people at reduced or no charge.

There's a guide here for how you can also file a "pro se" motion, to represent yourself, for minimal cost.
 

 

 



Photo Credit: Getty Images/Rubberball]]>
<![CDATA[Measure B: Who’s Really Behind the Money?]]> Tue, 05 Jun 2012 14:45:01 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Measure+B+1.jpg

In the showdown over pension reform, both sides have one thing in common, they are spending cash to win your vote.

The fight over Measure B in San Jose has drawn more than 1 million dollars in donations.

NBC Bay Area investigative reporter Jenna Susko crunched the data to find out who is behind the money.

Both sides of the Measure B campaign are bringing in donations: Supporters have raised $740,000.  Groups against the measure have received $525,000 in money and services.

Every contribution is detailed in long lists of dates, names, and numbers.

We took a look at the campaign supporting Measure B. On the surface, the biggest single contribution appeared to be $25,000.
The Investigative Unit cross referenced individuals with big name companies.

These four contributors all filed as individuals: Tench Coxe, $25,000, G. Leonard Maker JR., $25,000, William Younger, $10,000, and David Sweet, $1,000.  According to records, they all work for Sutter Hill Ventures in Palo Alto. Combined, they donated a total of $61,000.

NBC Bay Area political analyst Larry Gerston weighed in.

“They’re companies that will have to deal with things such as pensions, and what not as they grow. They probably view this as another impediment to the company’s ability to make money to succeed. So whatever they can do to keep costs down is in their interest when they’re funding these kinds of companies,” said Gerston.

Records show Alicia Goetz gave $10,000. Her husband is a partner at Sequoia Capital, a venture capital firm in Menlo Park.

Four others from that same company also donated: Michael Moritz, $25,000, Douglas Leone, $10,000, Thomas Stephenson, $5,000, and Christopher Lyle, $1,500, spending more than $40,000 to support Measure B. Sequoia Capital says it has no official stance on the measure and therefore, no comment.

Other big donors include:
Garden City Sanitation ($20,000)
Arcadia Development ($25,000)
Devcon President Gary Filizetti ($25,000)

According to city records, Arcadia Development and Devcon have had contracts with San Jose.  Garden City Sanitation is currently under contract with the city.

 “That’s a story that people need to know. Not necessarily to change their minds, but at least to be aware that the money is flowing in, in many respects, from people who have done business with the city and want to continue to business. In other words, let’s stay in the city’s good graces,” said Gerston.

The San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce has contributed $70,000; the most money in support of the measure.

“We recognize the importance of Measure B, so both the Mayor and the Chamber of Commerce and many other partners who felt that Measure B is important, contributed significant amounts of money to make sure that the message got out as to why it is important,” said Matthew Mahood, President of the Chamber of Commerce.

On the flip side, those who oppose Measure B were working the phones during the run up to June 5, in hopes of sinking the measure.

Contributors have given more than half a million dollars in cash and services to the campaign against Measure B. Almost all of it has come from The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

“It is definitely a cause worth fighting for,” Yolanda Cruz told NBC Bay Area.  Cruz is the President of Local 101.  “It’s about protecting the working class and that’s what we’re working for.”

San Jose has grabbed the attention of people across the country. Records show donations are coming in from Texas, Oregon and Arizona in support of this local measure.

Many believe that if San Jose voters come out in support of pension reform, other cities will follow suit.
 

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<![CDATA[NBC Bay Area's Investigative Unit Questions San Jose's Disability Retirement]]> Mon, 21 May 2012 08:19:47 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/11PMSANJOSEDISABILITYPKGWEB2_6528810_722x406_18984646.jpg NBC Bay Area's Jenna Susko investigates San Jose's disability retirement system with concerns that the system has little oversight. This was posted on May 20, 2012 at 11:21 p.m.]]> <![CDATA[CHP Not Acting on Potentially Dangerous School Buses]]> Fri, 27 Apr 2012 08:01:46 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/School-Bus-Stop-Sign-04052012.jpg NHTSA has started a preliminary evaluation of 5,000 International CE school buses built in 2008 after two complaints that the buses stalled without warning. CHP can't tell NBC Bay Area if any of these potentially dangerous buses are in California. This story was published April 23, 2012 at 8:42 p.m.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Lawmakers Kill Plan for Fan Violence Rules]]> Fri, 27 Apr 2012 06:58:59 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/violence.jpg

Democratic assemblyman Mike Gatto plans to reintroduce a bill to stop the growing trend of fan violence at sporting events after the assembly Public Safety Committee shelved the bill this afternoon.

Earlier this year the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit exposed problems at sporting venues throughout California, and the issues caught the attention of state lawmakers. The proposed bill, AB 2464, calls for greater punishments for anyone caught committing violent acts at sporting events. It would create a ban list that would prevent these people from attending games in the future. 

Today lawmakers heard from Manuel Austin Jr., the Los Gatos resident at the center of our investigation, who was a victim of fan violence at Candlestick Park late last year. His family went to the 49ers Steelers game on December 19, but Austin never saw the game. A verbal exchange lead to a pregame fight that left him with a concussion, four missing teeth and a black eye. 

“The fans are not gladiators,” Austin said, “they should not be fighting in the stands. That’s not the venue, that’s not the place.” 

Assemblyman Gatto wants a new law to punish the attackers, which would return a family culture to sports venues in the state. 

“I know a lot of families who are just afraid to take their kids to a ballgame and that’s not the state I grew up in and that’s not the state I want to live in,” Gatto said. “The current system does not work. Right now someone gets into a fight at a game, chances are he goes into the drunk tank and then he’s let off with a slap on the wrist.” 

Assemblyman Gatto’s proposal would require all teams to post signs encouraging fans to report incidents. It would also create a black list banning convicted violent offenders at sports venues from attending future sporting events. 

“I hope something good can come out of this so we can go to games, athletic activity” Austin said. “We need to have a safe venue for people to go and experience athletic competition and enjoy it.”

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<![CDATA[SJ Workers Win Latest Budget Reform Battle ]]> Fri, 27 Apr 2012 07:26:47 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/219*120/sjcityhall.jpg

The language will be changed in San Jose's controversial pension reform ballot measure.

The 6th District Court of Appeals ruled late Tuesday afternoon in favor of city workers when it comes to Measure B.

This comes after employees asked for the wording to be changed claiming it was biased and not impartial.

The court agreed. Read ruling (pdf) here.

In its ruling it ordered all of the changes that city workers requested.

The title of the ballot will be changed from "Pension Reform" to "Pension Modification." The court also ruled some of the language was not neutral.

The Court stated that the new ballot question will read:

PENSION MODIFICATION
Shall the Charter be amended to modify retirement benefits of City employees and retirees by: increasing employees' contributions, establishing a voluntary reduced pension plan for current employees, establish pension cost and benefit limitations for new employees, modify disability retirement procedures, temporarily suspend retiree COLAs during emergencies, require voter approval for increases in future pension benefits?"

 

San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed said he was pleased that the court ruled quickly and that the voters will have a chance to weigh in on the issue.

"It’s time to allow the voters to decide if they want to continue draining money out of services to pay for retirement benefits. City employee unions filed several challenges to Measure B, including two law suits trying to prevent Measure B from coming to the people of San Jose in any form.  In four separate rulings, the Superior Court and the 6th District Court of Appeal have ruled that Measure B passes the legal test to go on the ballot. That's good news for the people of San Jose," Reed said.

Reed, who supports Measure B, also pointed out that in the past decade, San Jose retirement costs have risen from $73 million to $245 million, and now consumes more than 20 percent of the General Fund. He says because of that police and firefighters have lost their jobs, libraries have had to close, and roads have deteriorated.

Reed says Measure B will make changes to the pension system to that San Jose can restore core services and protect the health of the retirement funds.

The ballot can't be printed until the changes are made.

The election is June 5.

Below is an investigative report on the pension reform issue.

View more videos at: http://nbcbayarea.com.

 

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<![CDATA[Bump in the Road for Pension Ballot Measure]]> Fri, 27 Apr 2012 07:26:29 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/elect-p2.jpg

Stop the presses- printing of San Jose's pension reform ballot measure has paused.

The measure, approved by City Council last month to head to the June ballot, was put on hold this afternoon by the 6th District Court of Appeals.

The court filed this document ordering the ballots not be sent to the printer until further notice.

It's in response to an appeal filed by city workers over the language of the measure. They want it changed dramatically.

The attorney for city workers, Robin Johansen, issued this statement:

We are pleased that the 6th District Court of Appeals will consider  our emergency writ seeking to ensure that the ballot question for Measure B is impartial and complies with California election law.

San Jose's mayor, Chuck Reed, provided us this statement:

It’s unfortunate that the City employee unions are still attempting to keep the voters from having a voice on pension reform. While we expected these kinds of legal tactics, they don’t eliminate the need for pension reform and the City will respond to the Court.

The ballot measure would make some reasonable changes to our pension system so that we can restore core services to the community and protect the health of the retirement funds.

Over the past decade, retirement costs have risen from $73 million to $245 million, and now consume more than 20% of the General Fund. As a result, the City has been forced to layoff police officers and firefighters, close libraries and community centers, and watch our roads deteriorate.

It’s time to allow the voters to decide if they want to continue draining money out of services to pay for retirement benefits

The city of San Jose has until Monday to respond to the court's order.

To view our ongoing investigation into San Jose's pension problems, click here.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Stolen Identity Dangers]]> Fri, 27 Apr 2012 07:02:09 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/160*120/102308-Voting-IDs2.jpg

It’s the fastest growing property crime in America according to the Federal Trade Commission: We're talking about identity theft.

The Bay Area is at the center of it all, ranking number 72 among metropolitan areas, with 4,521 complaints filed last year.

California ranks third in the nation per capita for the crime, with 38,607 complaints in 2011.

NBC’s Bay Area's Investigative Unit discovered that local and state cops are only now catching up to the size of the problem.

The percentage of stolen identities and fake ID cards has doubled nationally in the last two years.

Every year eight and a quarter million Californians get a new driver's license, but in a flash all that information on that little piece of plastic can be stolen.

"It's very scary," Alex Reyes is a 25-year-old local college student and a victim of identity theft.

"I feel very violated," Reyes tells NBC Bay Area.

In February someone tried to open a new telephone account using Reyes' social security number, name and address.

"I’m afraid to say this, but it’s a little too easy because everyone’s information is out there," Reyes says.

We spoke with Paige Hanson, manager of educational programs for the private identity security company, LifeLock.

"A lot of law enforcement, this is their first time facing identity theft, identity theft cases," Hanson tells NBC Bay Area, "a lot of it has to do with cyber security."

That’s why Hanson was in the Bay Area recently: to lead a closed-door, all-day seminar teaching law enforcement officers as diverse as federal agents to small town cops how to combat fake and stolen IDs.

"It’s really, how do you stop your community members from falling victim to these scams that expose the entire hard drive of their computer or that might accidently leak their bank account information," Hanson explains.

Identity theft can be a threat to national security when stolen information is used to make false documents.

This government report shows how investigators were able to get fake u-s passports by using stolen identities of children as young as 5 years old and dead people.

We spoke with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Special Agent Anthony Ho last month.

"People can use these high quality IDs for things for like, everything from getting into a bar to potentially getting into areas that are secure," Agent Ho tells NBC Bay Area

And there are local companies in the business of finding a solution.

"It is very serious," Greg Miller, Vice President of JDSU, a Silicon Valley tech company tells us.

JDSU's mission is to pioneer technology that  makes documents and IDs harder to fake and easier to authenticate.

"We have very unique optical effects that can be put onto the document," Miller tells NBC Bay Area, "we also put in things that you cannot see that can only be detected with an instrument or seen through a microscope."

JDSU isn't the only one looking for an answer.

Professor Patrick Kelly teaches Computer Security at the University of San Francisco.

"I don’t think it takes much to do better than we’re doing now," Dr. Kelly tells NBC Bay Area.

He’d like to see the identification system go in a different direction. Instead of passports and drivers’ licenses, Kelly thinks the solution is to make a digital ID bank with layers of encryption and control.

"We want to create a facility so that you can go ahead and create and control your own identity information," Dr. Kelly says, "we want a driver's license to simply be a token, a token that can be authenticated."

However, until stronger systems are created there will continue to be victims who have their information compromised online, like USF student, Elizabeth Farmer.

"It’s a very unsettling feeling to have something like this happen to you," Farmer tells NBC Bay Area, "I was floored."

Somone hacked into Farmer's bank account and made multiple fradulent charges, purchasing gift cards online.

"I was as careful as I thought I could be," Farmer says, "as of right now, I don't even know what preventative measures to take."

Our experts do.

From our interviews we picked up a few tips for you to protect your identity.

To summarize: Be aware of your digital footprint. 

1. Check your credit report annually
 
2. Careful at wi-fi hot spots! You don't know who has hacked into the network and may monitor your movements. Don't use sites requring your personal information or passwords when using hotspots.
 
3.Keep information in secure places- don't leave it lying around the house.
 
4. Monitor passwords and make them tough to crack- they protect your information!
 
For more, see what the FTC recommends.

Do you have something you want the Unit to investigate? Email us: TheUnit@NBCbayarea.com.

Tip us: 1-888-996-TIPS



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[San Jose Pension System Questioned]]> Fri, 27 Apr 2012 06:59:03 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/160*169/calculator-pen-240.jpg

Conflict of interest?

That’s the question some officials are asking about San Jose’s pension system after seeing internal city documents uncovered by the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit.

Now we examine the possible influence city officials have had on what’s supposed to be independent information.

The internal emails tell the story.

“Do you feel like you’ve been lied to?” Watchdog Reporter Jenna Susko asks Police and Fire Retirement Board member David Bacigalupi.

“I do, I do,” Bacigalupi responds.

“And you feel like information has been withheld?” Susko asks.

“It’s obvious from the emails you’ve shown me,” he says, “it’s incredible.”

He’s talking about emails between city employees that show conversations about San Jose’s future retirement costs. They are discussing filtering information.

“My fellow new board members, they are going to be shocked when they see all this,” Bacigalupi comments after seeing the emails.

He’s talking about members of San Jose’s two retirement boards. They oversee multi-billion dollar retirement plans and make critical decisions about how much public money goes toward funding pensions.

To help make decisions, the board hires an independent actuary to analyze the city’s finances and project future retirement costs.

The company currently doing the job is Cheiron.

However, Cheiron’s independence is now being questioned by board members.

“When we use outside consultants the entire foundation of the plan’s concept is built on the fact that they are independent,” Chair of the Police and Fire Retirement Board, Sean Kaldor, tells NBC Bay Area

“Is any amount of influence acceptable?” Susko asks Bacigalupi.

“No, Not at all,” he responds.

We obtained emails between San Jose’s Retirement Services Director, Russell Crosby and that independent actuary, Cheiron.

In this message, Cheiron sent Crosby the draft version of a report to be presented to the board.

Crosby wrote back, requesting Cheiron alter slides.

Cheiron apparently planned to show extending amortization to 25 years, but Crosby was “against” that, so the information was removed.

Click here to see the draft and the final version.

“There is definitely influence going on,” Mike Pisula, an actuary in Pittsburgh, tells NBC Bay Area.

Pisula's company provides actuarial services for smaller municipalities and says he is not a competitor of Cheiron.

We asked him to look through presentations, city emails and public documents then give his professional opinion via satellite interview.

“Overall, do you believe information was withheld that could have affected decision making by the retirement board?” Susko asked Pisula.

“The information on slide six was withheld from the December presentation,” Pisula responds.

The original slide six and the changed version that was actually presented to the board can be viewed here.

“It would have been better to have both the current and prior table side by side,” Pisula tells NBC Bay Area

And Cheiron agreed.

After Crosby asked if both tables were needed in another email, Cheiron’s CEO responded, yes, but Crosby asked him to reconsider and so he acquiesced.

The presentation was changed.

Click here to view the email chain.

Gene Kalwarski is the CEO of Cheiron.

We caught up with him at a Retirement Board meeting last month.

“Has anyone with the city ever asked you to change slides or delete slides from your presentations?” Susko asks Kalwarski.

“No,” Kalwarski pauses, “when you say from the city do you include staff here?”

“I do. I include Russell Crosby,” Susko responds.

“They make suggestions, we give them draft slides, and if we think their suggestions would enhance,” Kalwarski trails off, “there’s give and take so there may be changes, but nothing strikes me as significant here,” he says.

“To say, ‘I don’t like this recommendation and I want you to change it’, that’s not how the process is supposed to work,” Chair of Police and Fire Retirement Board, Sean Kaldor tells NBC Bay Area.

We found other information being withheld. This time from Kaldor.

Kaldor emailed a city employee asking how pay-cuts would affect pension projections in this note.

That city employee, Mike Mohele, sent an email to Russell Crosby, saying

“savings for the 10% reduction in pay would be greater than I calculated.”

However, he says, “I would rather not point this out” to Kaldor, the board’s chair.

You can view the email chain here.

“Does it make you upset to see that?” Susko asks Kaldor as he reads over the emails.

“I would want to know the motivation behind it,” he says, “maybe there was a perfectly good reason, but facts are facts, and I think that’s the job of staff: to provide factual information to the board.”

“And you were not provided that information?” Susko asks.

“That is correct,” Kaldor replies.

“I would be very concerned if I was on that board,” Judy Nadler is a senior fellow in government ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University and is a former mayor of the city of Santa Clara.

We showed her some of the emails.

“Why that information is not being made available to the individuals who are making decisions is inexplicable,” Nadler tells NBC Bay Area, “I think they have good cause to be outraged.”

And some board members are.

“So, you have no doubt in your mind that Russell Crosby over-stepped his boundaries?” Susko asks board member Bacigalupi.

“Absolutely, absolutely,” Bacigalupi responds, “if he worked for me, I’d be looking at the board, recommending termination, but he doesn’t work for me. He works for the city manager and it shows.”

Russell Crosby and his boss, City Manager Debra Figone, declined our requests for an interview.

Instead, Figone issued us this statement.

In it, City Manager Figone says steps have been taken to restructure the Retirement Board already.

She also says "if either of the retirement boards were dissatisfied with the Director of Retirement Services, the board could report their concerns to me. I would consider this feedback as part of the perofrmance appriasal process."

And remember Mike Moehle, the city employee who didn’t want to tell the board’s chair about the real numbers?

Guess where he works now?

At Cheiron. Working on San Jose’s retirement projections.

“Could this be a problem?” Susko asks Nadler about Moehle now working for Cheiron on city projects.

“Yes, it could be,” Nadler replies, “Blending his role as a city official into this role with the contractor raises some red flags for me.”

According to Cheiron’s contract with the city, San Jose employees are “disqualified” from employment (see page 9 of the contract) because it’s a violation of the Revolving Door Ordinance.

Moehle requested a waiver of this policy and the city council approved it August 23, 2011. (See item 3.6)

However, if you look at the dates on these emails, it appears he began working for Cheiron on San Jose projects before he got the OK from the city council.

“I’m hard pressed to understand the critical nature of this fast track process,” Nadler comments on Moehle getting a waiver of the city policy, “I would question whether or not bringing in someone with that much experience, would compromise the independence of the work they do.”

And with so many numbers crunched and data presented, board members say any filtering of information ultimately cheats the taxpayer

“Should the public be outraged by this?” Susko asks board member Bacigalupi.

“They should. They are the ones on the hook for the bill,” Bacigalupi replies, “the system is broken.”
The structure of the retirement system is also in question.

Do you have something you want us to check out?

Email us: TheUnit@nbcbayarea.com

Call us: 1-888-996-TIPS
 

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<![CDATA[Cruise Ship Safety]]> Mon, 23 Apr 2012 10:11:43 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/227*120/cruiseshipsafety.jpg ]]> <![CDATA[Still No Charges After Fan Beating]]> Fri, 27 Apr 2012 06:59:03 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/176*120/137011614.jpg

More than three months after a 49ers game left a football fan bruised and beaten, no criminal charges have been filed against the alleged attacker.

The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit has confirmed that the San Francisco Police Department has been unable to find a single independent witness at the 49ers-Steelers game on December 19, when Manuel Austin Jr. was attacked.

That means no justice for the 66-year-old 49ers fan.

On Wednesday, NBC Bay Area Chief Investigator Tony Kovaleski confronted the SFPD about the stalled investigation.

“Sources in the District Attorney’s department have kind of blamed the San Francisco Police Department for dragging their feet on this case,” Kovaleski told Sgt. Mike Andraychak.

“I wouldn’t say so.” Andraychak responded, “They did ask for additional information.”

He added, “It’s a bit of a task to go back and locate people and locate evidence in a case like this.”

Austin went to Candlestick for the Steelers game with his wife and son back in December -- it was his first game in seven years. He didn’t expect to get punched so hard that he needed stitches in his mouth, dental work to fix broken teeth and weeks to heal a black eye.

“It was horrible and frightening,” Austin told Kovaleski during an interview in February. “I can tell you the truth that I thought I was going to die there. I really mean that.”

Austin’s son witnessed the first punch.

“It sounded like a steak hitting the concrete from about two stories up,” said Manuel Austin III. “I will never forget that sound.”

Then he stepped in and defended his father.

“I believe that if I wasn’t there, these guys wouldn’t have stopped,” he told Kovaleski.

Following the fight, SFPD issued only one misdemeanor citation to one of Austin’s attackers.

“So the guys who beat you are only facing a misdemeanor?” Kovaleski asked Austin in February.

“Yes,” Austin replied.

“And your life has been turned upside down?” Kovaleski asked.

“Yes,” Austin said.

“Is that justice?” Kovaleski asked him.

“In my opinion,” Austin said, “no.”

In an interview with San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, Kovaleski asked why felony criminal charges had not been filed against the man who beat up Austin.

“This is an investigation that is still missing pieces,” Gascon said. “Basically we have critical questions that need to be answered.”

Gascon said he has seen photos of Austin’s black eye and missing teeth after the attack, but he says charges are unlikely without independent eyewitnesses and solid evidence.

“We have requested additional information because we still have a legal standard we must meet,” Gascon said.

The San Francisco District Attorney requested additional information back in December. Just hours before Kovaleski’s scheduled interview with the District Attorney on Wednesday, SFPD finally responded with an update -- but no independent witnesses.

“A coincidence?” Kovaleski asked Gascon.

“Hopefully people have been working hard” he said, “and this happens to be a coincidence that is unrelated to the interview.”

Kovaleski then asked the DA, “Do you believe it?”

“I am going to leave it at that for now,” Gascon said.

Now, nearly 100 days since the beating, the SFPD says it needs the public’s help. If you were at the 49ers game on December 19 and witnessed the attack on Manuel Austin Jr. in section nine in the lower level in the west end zone, you are asked to call the San Francisco Police Department tip line at (415) 575-4444.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[No Action on Controversial Ticket Policy ]]> Fri, 27 Apr 2012 06:59:00 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/49ers-tickets.jpg

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee in February said he would ask the City Attorney to review a policy that allows public officials to receive free tickets to professional sporting events, but so far no such actions have been taken.

The mayor said he would ask for the review after our report on free tickets to 49ers games given to San Francisco leaders last month.

Mayor Ed Lee is trying to explain why the City Attorney has apparently ignored his request to review the policy.

“In that interview you called for the City Attorney to conduct a full review. Has that happened?” NBC Bay Area Chief Investigative Reporter Tony Kovaleski asked San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.

“I think they are still in the process,” the mayor responded.

San Francisco’s mayor believes the review he requested is underway. It’s a review of the city’s program handing out hundreds of free 49ers tickets every season.

Back in February, Supervisor John Avalos explained how the policy works for him: “I get an envelope every year that has tickets for every game and parking passes for the home games,” he told NBC Bay Area. “That’s what every supervisor gets.”

Our investigation questioned free tickets going to San Francisco’s most powerful city leaders, including free tickets for the mayor and the Board of Supervisors.

“The NFC Championship game, you decided to pay for your ticket, why?” Kovaleski asked Board of Supervisors President David Chiu last month.

“It just felt like the right thing to do,” Chiu said. “It was a personal decision.”

We uncovered an interesting contrast: some supervisors turned down the free tickets and paid their way to see the games, while others gave the free tickets to family members.

“It smells if you will,” Kovaleski told Supervisor Avalos last month. “How do you take criticism that you got free tickets to give away to your mother-in-law?”

“It could be a valid concern,” Avalos responded.

“Did she have a public purpose for being there? “ Kovaleski asked.

“Did she have a public purpose for being there?” Avalos paused. “No, she had a personal purpose for being there.”

Mayor Lee stepped in. On Jan. 31, he called for a closer look.

“That will be the first question I ask the City Attorney when I get back to the office,” Mayor Lee told NBC Bay Area. “Let’s take a look at this and see if there are any problems.

Now, six weeks later, NBC Bay Area has learned that nothing has happened.

Emails to the mayor’s Communications Director and San Francisco City Attorney have confirmed that no review of the city’s ticket program has been conducted and none is currently underway.

“What they told us is there is no review.” Kovaleski told Mayor Lee. “Is that what you wanted? “

“No,” the mayor said. “I’ll ask as to why. It may not be a priority.”

It may not have been a priority, but that is changing, apparently.

“Even though nothing has happened in the past six weeks, you still stand behind what you said. You want a full review?” Kovaleski asked the mayor.

“I would like a full review, just to make sure there is no question we are handling this properly,” the mayor responded.

Communications with the City Attorney’s office and the mayor’s Office of Communications have made it clear that no review of the free ticket program followed the mayor’s request back in January.

By all indications the mayor’s statements to us were nothing more than lip service.

We will follow up on his latest promise for a review of those free tickets to 49ers games.

Do you have something you want us to look into? We want to hear from you. Email: TheUnit@NBCBayarea.com
 

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<![CDATA[FAA Moves Towards NextGEN]]> Fri, 04 May 2012 08:26:30 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/119055723.jpg

A $5 million pilot project that is supposed to make the skies safer, cheaper and more efficient took off today at Oakland International Airport.

It's called NextGEN and eventually it will replace older technology nationwide.
 
Right now the project will be tested at Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and Sacramento's airports.

The FAA says the news system uses satellite technology coordinated with ground based tracking. They say the new system will enable air traffic controllers to land airplanes more precisely. The result should allow planes to fly closer together and they will do it with less noise.

This will save time, jet fuel and money for both the airlines and passengers, according to the FAA.

“NextGEN is right now. There are things that we are doing that are improving the use of the air space that will result in a lot of benefits right away,” FAA Acting Administrator Michael Huerta told NBC Bay Area.

“It's one of the nation's busiest. Oakland sits about eight miles from San Francisco and San Jose is about 20 miles to the south. But we've got the group to do it. It's time for these procedures to be changed." said Steve Hefley with the National Air Traffic Controller Association. 

Once implemented, the FAA estimates annual savings for the NextGEN Program will total 2.3 million gallons of fuel, $6.5 million in reduced fuel cost, 23,000 metric tons in reduced CO2 and 1.5 million fewer miles flown. 

This is the sixth NextGEN project to kick off around the country. The FAA hopes to have this satellite based technology fully operational at 21 sites nationwide by 2016. 

 If you have a tip for The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit, email us: theunit@nbcbayarea.com



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Threat of Lawsuit Over California's Controversial Oil Drilling]]> Wed, 29 Aug 2012 17:51:38 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/oil-refinery.jpg

Update: California’s once little-known and little-regulated fracking industry is once again coming under fire from environmentalists…

In April, NBC Bay Area's Investigative Unit first exposed the widespread and unregulated use of hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, to release oil and natural gas taking place in California.

Now, the Center for Biological Diversity officially notified both California’s Bureau of Land Management and the United States Department of the Interior of 60 day notice of intent to sue over fracking.

The Center says it wants to sue to protect endangered species from the after effects of widespread fracking in California…unless the state and the federal government take steps to more closely monitor and regulate the practice.


Original Story:

You've heard of fracking, the controversial practice of splitting rocks underground with high pressure water mixed with chemicals to release natural gas or oil. It's a technique that has raised serious concerns all over the country.

NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit reporter Stephen Stock uncovered that it's also going on right here in California and state regulators are doing nothing about it.

Fracking is usually used to mine natural gas, but it's not natural gas companies here in California are after, it's oil.

While this may come to a surprise to many people, Monterey County resident Steve Craig is very familiar with it. He and his partner moved to the remote countryside more than 30 years ago. They stayed for the lifestyle and now make their living off their fifty acres of land.

"Although it looks like the middle of nowhere to someone in the city, to someone who farms or ranches out here, this is the center of the universe," said Craig.
 

But Craig believes his universe has come under siege by a practice taking place underground. "This is one of four known chemical hydraulic fracking well sites in the county of Monterey," said Craig.

Hydraulic fracturing has been used in small areas throughout California on and off for five decades. But according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) the technique of fracking has become much more popular and more widespread recently. 

"No one thought to look. The state was just covering their eyes and ears," said Renee Sharp, the director of the Oakland off of the Environmental Working Group.

Sharp spent the last year digging up how extensive fracking really is in California. "Cumulatively there have been hundreds and hundreds of wells being fracked," said Sharp. "Today, we can estimate there are several hundred wells being fracked here in California. We don't know exactly."

NBC Bay Area's investigative unit's Stephen Stock asked Sharp if fracking is happening on people's private land without their knowledge. She answered, "Correct. Shocking, but true."


"The state has been turning a blind eye to this even after we basically came to them and presented them with information and said listen there is fracking here, they subsequently told us, don't worry about it, and we're not planning on doing anything."

Sharp estimates that several hundred wells are being fracked just in Kern County. Sharp and her team also found widespread fracking going on in Monterey, Sacramento, Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Los Angeles Counties.

So exactly how many fracking wells are there? Sharp said that EWG doesn't know for sure, because the state of California doesn't require disclosure about its use.

Fremont Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski recently found out about fracking thanks to Sharp's work.

"A year ago I had no idea that every single oil company that is producing oil in California is fracking," said Assemblyman Wieckowski.

Wieckowski chairs the committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials in Sacramento. He's now proposing a new law that would require oil and gas companies to disclose where, how, and how often they use hydraulic fracking.

Stock asked him, "How is it possible that California hasn't regulated this?"

"It certainly got my attention," said Wieckowski. "We need to have just basic information about the frequency to sort of try and get our arms around this big activity called hydraulic fracking."

Sharp and Wieckowski both say their research shows there are almost as many active fracking wells for oil in California as there are fracking for natural gas in Ohio or Pennsylvania. The only difference is those states regulate fracking.

Since there is no California law, even state regulators admit that we don't know how many wells are fracked, what water they're using, or where the waste water is going.

"We know nothing," said Wieckowski.

"Is that acceptable?" asked Stock.

"Not for me, and I think not for the majority of the legislature. Now that they've understood it, I think there is big momentum about getting something done," said Wieckowski

And on Friday, March 23rd 2012, California Governor Jerry Brown told a group of businessmen at a renewable energy conference that he was taking a closer look at the practice. "I'll be on top of it," Governor Brown said. However, he declined to comment on Wieckowski's proposed legislation.

Art McGarr is an expert in earthquake at the US Geological Survey. Since the 1960's he's studied how human mining and fracking can cause earthquakes.

"It causes earthquakes and the game that the engineers play is to make sure that these earthquakes are small," said McGarr. "There have been several instances that these earthquakes caused by hydraulic fracturing are large enough to be felt at the surface."

It's that science couple with the uncertainty of the current extent of fracking that worries Assemblyman Wieckowski.
 

"We are in an earthquake area, said Wieckowski. "What happens then? Not that the well will be compromised but that there will be some release of chemicals."

That lack of knowledge also worries Monterey rancher Steve Craig. "It leaves a huge question, what does stockpiled material, what do (becomes of) semi-abandoned wells that have been fractured four or five or six times, what does it mean, and what will it take to get an oil company in this region to disclose what their intents are."

California's Department of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, otherwise known as DOGGR asked for and received $3.2 million dollars in funding from the legislature in 2010 to hire more workers.

With that money they hired eight associate engineers, two senior engineers, four energy and mineral resources engineers, one environmental scientist, one staff services manager, and one staff attorney to work on Underground Injection Control programs.

However, a spokesperson for the Department of Conservation says UIC does not mean fracking, meaning DOGGR never set up regulations, never began gathering data and never set up any monitoring of fracking which remains unregulated by the state of California.

In an e-mailed statement to NBC Bay Area's Investigative Unit, a spokesperson for the Department of Conservation admitted it "does not currently have hydraulic fracturing-specific regulations."

DOGGR's spokesman also says the department does not have an exact or precise number of how many wells are currently using or have currently used hydraulic fracturing although DOGGR does not believe fracking is as widespread in California as it is in the Eastern United States.

The DOGGR spokesman does admit that the oil and gas industry here in California has shown recent interest in increasing the use of fracking here in the state using new technology.

The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit reached out to Venoco Inc, a company based out of Colorado that has fracked in Monterey County for an on-camera interview. They declined our request, and asked us to contact the Western States Petroleum Association, which we did. They told us they have no knowledge of what drilling Venoco has done in Monterey County.

In other publications, the oil and gas industry has defended the use of fracking. T. Boone Pickens, chairman and founder of BP Capital LLC in Dallas told Bloomberg Businessweek that fracking is safe. "There's nothing wrong with it," Pickens told Bloomberg Businessweek.

Two other environmental groups, The Center for Biological Diversity, and The Sierra Club have now filed a lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

MORE:

Read Federal Lawsuit

Read Response To Federal Lawsuit

Read Environmental Working Group Report

Read Proposed California Law AB591

Read DOGGR's Response to NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit

Do you have a story we should investigate?  Contact: TheUnit@NBCBayArea.com

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<![CDATA[Stimulus Doesn’t Always Mean Jobs]]> Fri, 27 Apr 2012 06:59:00 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/generic+money+new.jpg

How would you spend $9 billion?

That’s how much counties in the Bay Area have received from the federal government’s stimulus program in the three years since President Obama announced the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act . Overall, California has received $63 billion, with 14 percent of that directed to the Bay Area.

The goal was to fund shovel-ready projects, give people jobs, and jumpstart the economy. An NBC Bay Area investigation followed the money to see if those federal stimulus dollars are actually putting people back to work.

Three years ago politicians in Washington and here in the Bay Area touted the urgent need for the federal stimulus package. Published economist and Santa Clara University professor Alexander Field believes the stimulus program has worked.

“People say it hasn’t because we still have a national unemployment rate that’s above 8 percent,” Field said. “But studies by the Congressional Budget Office show without the stimulus program, the unemployment rate would probably be 2 percentage points higher.”

The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit spent weeks analyzing government stimulus data, in partnership with the nonprofit investigative news group ProPublica. Our investigation found that Alameda County received nearly $3.5 billion—more than any other county in the Bay Area. San Francisco and Santa Clara counties followed, each receiving more than $1.5 billion.

All other Bay Area counties have received less than a billion federal stimulus dollars. San Mateo County received $866 million, Contra Costa County reeled in nearly $501 million, and Solano County received more than $292 million.

Sonoma, Napa and Marin counties have received the least amount of stimulus support, bringing in less than $300 million in stimulus funding since 2009.

But our computer analysis shows money approved doesn’t always mean money spent—or jobs created. According to the latest government data, 19 Bay Area stimulus projects funded in 2010 or earlier have not broken ground. That totals more than $70 million. They haven’t created jobs, either.

We found two projects approved more than two years ago that have not even started.

In 2009 the federal government awarded the Port of Richmond $4.3 million for a project to build a fiber optic network to connect the port security system with critical first responders like local police and fire departments.

"Approved in 2009, and here we are in 2012 and how much of the project is finished?” NBC Bay Area chief investigator Tony Kovaleski asked Port of Richmond Development Project Coordinator, Michael Williams.

“Well, none of the project is finished,” Williams replied.

He said delays in other city projects connected to the port security job caused the slowdown in the stimulus project.

“Maybe it’s taken longer than we intended,” he said. “But the project plans to deliver.”

Similarly, over at the Port of Oakland a $7 million high-tech security upgrade has been stalled since 2009. There, it has taken longer than two years to design a fingerprint security access system. Millions of dollars remain unspent, and not a single job has been created.

Port Facilities Security Officer Mike O’Brien told us the port is waiting on the Transportation Security Administration to clear some hurdles before the project can go ahead. He said the federal government has yet to deliver rules on how to implement the port’s biometric security system.

“Consequently, we’re being very careful about designing and constructing a system that meets those federal requirements that haven’t been put out yet,” O’Brien said.

“What do you say to the people at home that are disappointed this project isn’t finished?” Kovaleski asked O’Brien.

“Well, I think we’ve done a lot of design work for these projects,” O’Brien told us. “These projects will be implemented. They will create jobs.”

The Port of Oakland says it will apply for extensions with the government because it will not meet its original deadlines.

Field calls the delays “regrettable.” He said for every stimulus dollar not spent, that’s two dollars not making its way through the Bay Area economy.

That’s a reality felt at local businesses and in the unemployment line.

“Give the money to help people find jobs,” said unemployed San Jose resident Harry Ahn, “and I would be expecting more people to actually be finding jobs.”

Click here to view Bay Area stimulus projects that haven't started.

Click here to view stimulus spending in California by County.

If you have a story we should investigate, email us at: TheUnit@NBCBayArea.com.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[SF Elected Officials Sit at Stick for Free ]]> Fri, 27 Apr 2012 06:59:01 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/176*120/137011614.jpg

All you die-hard 49ers fans- to see your team at Candlestick, you’ve probably paid hundreds.

But if you get elected in San Francisco- you can see the action up-close for free.

Season tickets, parking passes and luxury boxes are all part of the package deal for influential San Francisco leaders.

The tickets are a perk that dates back decades and puts politics and power at an ethical crossroad.

“The relationship between the supervisors and Candlestick Park and the 49ers is really a corrupt relationship,” San Francisco-based attorney and ethicist Peter Keane tells the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit. 

“It’s a situation that simply doesn’t pass the smell test,” Keane says.

Here’s how it works: The city of San Francisco has retained seats at Candlestick Park for every 49er Game dating back to a 1987 amendment of the lease.

It includes 12 luxury box tickets for the mayor, 12 luxury box tickets for the General Manager of the Recreation and Parks Department, 20 luxury box tickets for the Recreation and Parks Commission, 10 other stadium seats for the Recreation and Parks Department and another 22 stadium seats for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

A total of 76 free tickets for every game.

Plus, parking passes, valued at $30 per game.

It’s all laid out in the lease the city has with the 49ers which details that group of seats as being exempt from the lease. That means the city rents all of Candlestick park to the 49ers except those designated seats.

It’s a justification that avoids state laws limiting any gift to politicians.

We’ll explain that in a moment.

First, let’s see who attended:

Mayor Ed Lee tells us he attended about 3 games this year. City records show Mayor Lee received 15 tickets for every game and gave most of them to local non-profits.

Public records show 7 of the 11 San Francisco Supervisors accepted free tickets this season and attended games:

Eric Mar, District 1
Mark Farrell, District 2
Carmen Chu, District 4
Jane Kim, District 6
Scott Weiner, District 8
Malia Cohen, District 10
John Avalos, District 11

“For the NFC Championship game, you decided to pay for your ticket. Why?” Kovaleski asks Board of Supervisors President, David Chiu.

“It just felt like the right thing to do,” Chiu explains, “It was a personal decision.”

Instead of taking the free ride, for the NFC Championship game, the President of the Board of Supervisors reimbursed the city for his tickets.

Supervisor Malia Cohen of District 10 also paid for her NFC Championship game tickets.

Supervisor John Avalos had no problem accepting the tickets throughout the season, going to some games and giving others away, a practice allowed by the city.

“The championship game the other day, I gave them to my mother in law, so she went with a friend of hers,” Avalos tells NBC Bay Area.

California Government Code 89503 puts a cap on the value of gifts local and state lawmakers can accept in a calendar year. Effective January 1, 2011, that limit is $420.

 “They’re public officials, they work for the public, the public has a right to look into this and know what they’re doing,” Bill Lenkeit, Senior Counsel at the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) tells NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit.

The FPPC is an ethics commission of sorts that oversees the public accountability of California public officials.

In September 2009 the FPPC passed this regulation requiring all government agencies distributing tickets to identify a public purpose for the gifting of tickets, making them exempt from gift-laws.  It also mandates the agency fill out a form and post it online, detailing the number of tickets given, who received them and the public purpose for the tickets.

“They’re supposed to serve a public purpose,” Lenkeit says, “more than just going out there and having a hot dog and a beer and watching a game. They’re supposed to be doing something to serve the public.”

“They are justifying it by saying they are serving some sort of purpose by going to the game,” NBC Bay Area Chief Investigator Tony Kovaleski explains to ethicist Keane.

“The only purpose they are serving is having a good time at the game and getting something for free that you and I have to pay for,” Keane responds.

The city uses broad terms like “increasing public exposure” or “increasing public awareness” or “gathering public input on city facilities” as their listed public purposes for attending games which you can view here.

So how does Supervisor Avalos explain the tickets he gave to his mother-in-law?

“Did she have a public purpose for being there?” Kovaleski asks Supervisor Avalos.

“Did she have a public purpose for being there?” Avalos pauses, “No, she had a personal purpose for being there.”

“How do you take criticism that you got free tickets to give away to your mother in law?” Kovaleski asks Supervisor Avalos.

“It could be a valid concern,” the supervisor responds.

A valid concern over a perk for San Francisco’s most powerful now with calls for public accountability some are rethinking the status quo.

“I think I am going to put an end to it for me, personally,” Supervisor Avalos says about taking the 49ers tickets.

“We’ve talked to ethicists and they say this practice should come to an end,” Kovaleski tells Board President Chiu, “what’s your position?”

“I think I could probably support that,” Chiu says.

“This is the first time anybody has questioned it,” Lenkeit with the FPPC tells us, “we’re glad that it’s being questioned,” he says, “if we need to look into it further, we definitely will.”

Mayor Lee tells us he will ask the city attorney to take a closer look to see if there are any problems as well.

Do you have a story we should investigate?  Contact: TheUnit@NBCBayArea.com

 Click here for Part 2: Question for the city's Rec and Park Department.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[State Audit for San Jose]]> Fri, 27 Apr 2012 07:37:09 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/219*120/sjcityhall.jpg

What's the truth about San Jose's finances?

The state wants you to know.

The City of San Jose will open it's books for the state auditor.

The Joint Legislative Audit Committee approved an audit request this morning by a 10-3 bipartisan vote in Sacramento, with one member absent.

Seven state legislators representing South Bay districts requested the audit in this letter earlier this month.

"We want to know once and for all if the numbers are accurate," Assemblymember Jim Beall of District 24 said today in front of the committee. He's one of the state legislators who signed the audit request.

"There are many concerns about projections," California State Auditor Elaine Howle told the committee, "What the members have asked us to do is to look at the source of those actuarial analyses and what amounts the city of San Jose is actually reporting."

San Jose's Deputy City Manager, Alex Gurza was also present.

"The city's fiscal reform plan and actions taken by the city have not been based on pessimistic scenarios, 650 or otherwise," Gurza said to the committee, "The number 650 has been used by our mayor, he has responded as to why he has used it."

The audit will include a review of San Jose's finances over the most recent three fiscal years. It will also look at pension projections used by the city and determine if San Jose and the city's retirement boards followed state-mandated reporting standards.

Democratic State Senator Elaine Alquist was a co-author of the request for the audit and a represents about half of San Jose.

She says, the public has a right to know about San Jose's finances.

"I think it’s fair and it’s time, it’s time to do this," Alquist told NBC Bay Area after the vote.

Other committee members voiced concern over political motives behind the audit

Republican Assemblymember Tim Donnelly of District 59 was one of them. He also spoke with us after the audit was approved.

"Is this audit going to interfere with the reforms that they’re putting forth? I’m concerned that it is and that’s why I voted ‘no'," the Assemblymember told NBC Bay Area.

The committee also voted 12-1 to give the audit priority status.

The State auditor anticipates the audit to be completed in four to five months and cost the state $189,000.

The Mayor's office issued us this statement:

"San Jose does not object to an audit of the city's pension obligations that is fair and objective and follows nationally recognized government auditing standards. Skyrocketing costs for pension obligations and retiree medical benefits (OPEB) have had a dramatic impact on the people of San Jose. This year we paid $245 million for employee retirement benefits, an amount that has tripled in the last decade. Retirement costs now consume more than 20% of the General Fund.

To pay those increased costs, we've been forced to eliminate jobs, close libraries and community centers, lay off police officers and fire fighters, and watch our streets and infrastructure deteriorate.

 As pension and healthcare costs escalated, we were forced to drain money out of services and pour it into retirement benefits. The audit should look at both factors - pension costs and retiree medical benefits - and the billions of dollars of unfunded liabilities and hundreds of millions of dollars in increased costs that they have generated.

 San Jose has been on the cutting edge of recognizing the significance of rising pension costs. There is much to be learned from our efforts, and we look forward to sharing what we have learned with the Legislature as it begins to draft comprehensive pension reform legislation and dealing with the significant unfunded liabilities and rising costs in CalPERS."

Do you have something we should look into?

We want to hear from you: TheUnit@nbcbayarea.com
 

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<![CDATA[Pension Reform: Headed to A Ballot Near You ]]> Fri, 27 Apr 2012 06:59:01 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/CITY+COUNCIL+DAIS.JPG

Pension reform in the city of San Jose is now in the hands of voters.

Today San Jose City Council voted 8-3 to approve pension reform for the June 5, 2012 ballot.

It’s the seventh version of the ballot measure that comes after eight months of negotiating with unions.

The vote comes on the heels of an NBC Bay Area investigation that revealed the mayor may have used an exaggerated number to sell pension reform.

Public comment lasted nearly two hours today.

Some supported the ballot measure, saying long-term reform is needed, but the majority who took the podium microphone spoke-out against the measure.

Citizens expressed concerns over litigation bills if the proposed ballot measure passes.

Others demanded answers about the accuracy of retirement cost projections used by the mayor and asked the council to delay putting pension reform on the ballot until complete information is provided about those projections, insisting the public should have all the facts.

The mayor says no matter the exact price tag, pension reform is urgently needed, arguing, the current pension program is not sustainable.

Other councilman supporting the measure spoke in a press conference prior to the vote, highlighting the burden the current pension system would place on future generations.

As for the projections used by the mayor when talking about pension reform, seven state lawmakers are asking for an audit of the city's finances and future retirement cost projections.

Tomorrow a state audit committee will decide whether to approve that request.

Meanwhile, five council members are also asking questions. The city manager says she will have answers at the end of March.
 

 

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<![CDATA[SJ May Open Books for State Auditors ]]> Fri, 27 Apr 2012 07:28:56 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/160*120/KNSD_State_Money_Grab_Could_Cost_San_070209_78_mezzn_448x336.jpg

Consistent. Transparent. Independent.

That’s what seven California lawmakers say pension plans need to be across California- and they're asking the state auditor for help when it comes to the city of San Jose.

State assembly members and senators representing South Bay districts requested an independent state audit today of the city of San Jose's finances and pension obligations.

This comes after an NBC Bay Area Investigation found Mayor Chuck Reed may have used an exaggerated five-year pension projection to sell pension reform as a ballot measure.

In this letter to the Joint Legislative Action Committee (JLAC) the elected officials ask for the source of the pension cost projections that the mayor and city council have been using for the last year.

The lawmakers say this audit will assist them in targeting a flurry of pension reform bills they plan on proposing this spring which will be applied to cities across the state.

"We have to look at whether or not we need to tighten up and establish pension reforms that include greater financial accountability and transparency in our pension programs," former San Jose City Council member and state assembly member, Jim Beall, said in the press conference.

He said most local pension programs in California operate independently, but state laws govern the conduct of those programs.

"We want to have fair, independent actuarial reports," Assembly Member Beall told NBC Bay Area after the press conference.

"We’re going to look to try to provide a law that gives the voters of California that kind of, pension accountability," Assembly Member Beall said, "We need to have a real consistent, transparent process, so anyone can look at the numbers and say, we know those are the correct numbers, those numbers are based on factual information."

The JLAC will review the request on Wednesday in Sacramento to determine if they will move forward with a state audit.

If they choose to pursue and audit, lawmakers estimate that will take about three month

The mayor's office issued this statement in response to the audit request. They say they would not object to an audit, but believe it should be delayed until after you have a chance to vote on pension reform this June.

Do you have something you want us to look into?

Email: TheUnit@nbcbayarea.com

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<![CDATA[Lawsuit Filed Re: Pension Projections]]> Fri, 27 Apr 2012 08:02:48 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/160*121/Lawsuit+p1+CU.JPG

A lawsuit has been filed today against San Jose Director of Retirement Services, Russell Crosby and former city actuary, Michael Moehle

It was filed by current and former city employees who are participants in the city's pension program.

They allege the retirement board paid an independent consultant to generate a report last June on future retirement costs that used outdated and inaccurate information.

This report produced a dollar figure of $431 million as a five-year retirement cost projection that was used when negotiating pension reform with unions.

The lawsuit claims this report had no benefit to the retirement board and that it was requested for political motives, thus alleging it was a breach of fiduciary duty for Russell Crosby to request it and the board to pay for it. 

Attorney Mark Renner presented the lawsuit at the Police and Fire Retirement Board meeting this afternoon.

We caught up with Renner after the meeting.

"The defendants in this lawsuit had one of the service -providers to these pension plans perform services that had nothing to do with administering the plan and only had to do with supporting an outside political objective," Renner says.

Russell Crosby, one of the defendants, told us he had no comment.

He said in a prior interview with NBC Bay Area that he requested the report on behalf of the city manager's office. Crosby also told us the numbers were accurate with the data that was available at the time.

Do you have something you want us to look into?

Email: TheUnit@nbcbayarea.com
 

 

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<![CDATA[No Calculations for $650 Million, Yet ]]> Thu, 16 Aug 2012 16:40:15 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/160*160/math+on+chalkboard.jpg

The pension drama at San Jose City Hall continues to unfold tonight and council members filing a memo will be waiting one month for answers.

It comes after our exclusive NBC Bay Area Investigation into a questionable pension projection used by the mayor.

Today a firestorm of words at the Rules Committee meeting in response to a memo filed last week by 5 city council members asking to see the math behind the five-year pension cost projection of $650 million used over the past year by Mayor Chuck Reed. 

The most recent five-year projection is $320 million.

In an interview with NBC Bay Area, the Retirement Services Director, Russell Crosby, told us $650 million was an estimate that was off the top of his head in a meeting last February. Crosby said the mayor was told not to use that number as a projection.

Today, council members hoped to find out how that controversial estimate was calculated.

Instead, accusations of political motives went flying.

The mayor said in the meeting this afternoon, "I don't think we should allow use and abuse of city processes for political purposes," referring to the memo request for calculations by the council members.

Councilman Pete Constant of District 1 agreed with the mayor, saying, "I think there is a significant political effort to do anything to delay and obstruct this pension reform ballot measure going forward."

"Political tactics?" District 9 Council member, Donald Rocha asks, "Using that to describe an information request is extremely troubling," he fires back, "I'm pretty disturbed sitting here. I'm just over a year in office and I never expected to hear this kind of response to an information request."

Councilman Rocha was not given an answer to that information request and still doesn't know the math behind the figure $650 million.

The mayor did say what we already knew, that the number came from Retirement Services Director, Russell Crosby.

The mayor said, "It wasn’t an actuarial methodology, he [Crosby] said it was an estimate done internally ," Mayor Reed continues, addressing Councilman Rocha, "so I'm trying to figure out what beyond Russell saying 'it’s an estimate' that you want."

"Using any methodology or was it just a professional estimate using what was in his head?" Rocha asks.

"Well I cant’ answer for what’s in his head," the mayor responds.

The city manager says these questions will be answered at a meeting March 29th.

Council members say they don't understand why it should take so long to produce a document if those calculations do exist.

The mayor issued this response.

Next Tuesday is the last council meeting before the March 9th deadline to put pension reform on the June ballot.

 

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<![CDATA[Money Buys Access In Government ]]> Fri, 27 Apr 2012 06:59:02 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/160*120/cash_money_generic_640x480.jpg

From Sacramento to Washington D.C., in politics money is power. But how much money buys access in the halls of government? And does big money leave the rest of us on the outside looking in on our democracy?

The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit followed the money and found dozens of big Silicon Valley companies are spending millions to gain access to politicians on both sides of the aisle.  We also found that in some cases, the companies gained business from the government.

We dug through five years of state and federal campaign finance records to see what the top corporate officers at 40 Bay Area companies gave. The CEOs, presidents and vice presidents alone gave $11,929,966 to political campaigns and political action committees during the last three campaign seasons.

No one contributed more than Elon Musk.

Musk builds and manages the American dream. From PayPal to Solar City, Spacex to Tesla, the companies Musk helped create define Silicon Valley’s cutting edge technology and commitment to the environment.

Musk has achieved a lot in a relatively short period of time. He founded his first company at age 23, and currently serves as chairman of the high-end electric car company, Tesla Motors, and CEO of the private space exploration company, Spacex.

We also found that Musk is fast becoming a major player in politics.

According to federal and state election records, Musk is the largest single donor among Silicon Valley’s corporate officers in the last two years. Records indicate that he has personally given $336,450 to dozens of candidates and PACS since 2008. Musk gave both Gov. Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman $25,900 each for their 2010 runs for governor. That amount is the maximum allowed by law.

“If you don’t write those campaign contributions, you’re not going to have a seat at the table,” said Daniel Newman, president and co-founder of Maplight, an organization that tracks donations and the influence they can buy.

Newman said he expected to see more money coming out of Silicon Valley, because, as he puts it, the return on investment is so high.

He believes Silicon Valley companies are actually late to the money game.

“The tech companies have been playing catch up over the last years,” Newman said. “You see Facebook (and) Google increasing (their) lobbying spending. This is because these companies are finding out that they have to be Washington players too, just to keep running their businesses the way they want.”

Anno Saxenian, Dean of the School of Information at UC Berkeley, has studied Silicon Valley and its influences since the 1970s. She believes corporate officers at Silicon Valley companies are recognizing what is at stake in the elections, and that they are trying to shape them.

“I think they do increasingly have to be at the table,” she said. “You know, they are engineers. They’d rather just solve problems and get products out the door. But increasingly, I think this is just part of doing business as a big company.”

Despite spending millions, tech companies in the Bay Area are decades, and tens of millions of dollars in political contributions behind other major industries.

“The entertainment, telecom, oil, pharmaceutical, (and) many other companies,” Newman said, “have relationships going back decades, very close ties between lobbyists and members of Congress.”

“So Silicon Valley is just now catching up?” investigator Stephen Stock asked Newman.

“They are just catching up, exactly” Newman responded.

We also found that the campaign contributions fall in different ways along partisan lines.

In the last two federal election years, Democrats got $1,561,845. That is almost twice the amount as Republicans received from Silicon Valley corporate officers. That number is $825,354.

But the same donors gave Republicans $1,610,220—twice the amount as Democrats in statewide races in California. Democrats received $793,499.

“I think Silicon Valley is pretty much split between the Republican/Democrat side of the house, so it’s not a deep partisan divide and it’s more about certain issues that they care about deeply,” Saxenian said. “I think their perception is that they have to because some of these issues are life or death for them. They perceive that regulation that they consider excessive of the Internet will really cut off their lifeblood—certain kinds of reforms of copyright, things like that. There are a number of issues now that they have a big stake in.”

The top political recipients include President Obama, who received $218,700 in 2008. By comparison, Sen. John McCain’s received $97,450 in the same year.

The President has received $47,300 in individual campaign donations from Silicon Valley corporate officers so far this election year.

Presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman were the only republicans to get any individual donations from our list of Silicon Valley corporate officers so far, receiving $3,500 and $500, respectively.

But those same donors also gave lots of money to other republicans, most of whom are from outside the state of California. Powerful senators such as Orrin Hatch of Utah received $29,800, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky got $16,000, and House Speaker John Boehner received $27,500.

“What does all this money buy?” Stock asked Newman.

“Money buys the influence,” he said. “This is a drop in the bucket for them. Yet if they are a big donor to a politician, they are going to get their phone call returned, they are going to get the meetings. So we have companies and lobbyists able to buy access to the politicians for a very small amount of money compared to the billions of dollars that are at stake.”

We discovered that some of the biggest donors do, in fact receive, as well as give, to Washington.

Take Elon Musk, for example. In 2010 he gave $151,300 to federal politicians. That same year, his company, Tesla Motors, closed on a $465 million loan from the Department of Energy.

eBay officers gave $213,400 to federal candidates over the last five years and picked up $4,447,938 in federal stimulus money.

And Yahoo officers gave $47,748 to federal politicos and got $9,921,887 in federal cash.

“It surprises me how little it takes to buy access, buy the votes in Congress,” Newman said. “Now sometimes people in Congress get elected believing a certain way and they’ll continue to vote a certain way and they’ll keep getting money from industry. So I’m not saying that people are changing their vote because of the money. But overall these seats in Congress are bought and influenced by special interests who give candidates the money to get elected and money to stay elected.”

While there is no proof that these political contributions are in any way direct payoffs for federal contracts, these big donations clearly buy access to politics that regular citizens can’t get.

“If this were illegal then writing a check and having a lawmaker vote a certain way would be bribery. But it is legal,” Newman said. “But in my view it is still bribery.”

About 10 years ago Silicon Valley ranked 53rd out of all industries in the total amount of lobbying and spending in Washington. Now, Silicon Valley companies as a group rank fourth nationally in political spending. That is more than $1 billion, or a 250 percent increase in some cases.

All of that money doesn’t count Super PACS, which do not have to disclose who donates, or how much an individual gives. Experts estimate that tens of millions of dollars more are given to Super PACS that we’ll never know about, unless disclosure rules change.

In a statement eBay spokesperson Amanda Miller wrote, “eBay Inc. believes it is important to disclose our lobbying and political activity in a clear and transparent fashion, and we make this information available on our Main Street site. The company does not comment on the personal activities and contributions of our executives and employees.” You can read the full statement here.

Chevron issued a statement saying, “Our lobbying efforts provide Chevron’s perspectives on energy and other public policy issues important to the company.  We lobby ethically, transparently and in a bipartisan manner, in accordance with all laws and regulations.” Read Chevron’s full statement here

Elon Musk and Tesla Motors declined to comment for this story. Adobe, Cisco, Google and Microsoft also declined comment. 

To view the complete California campaign finance records database click here.

To view the complete federal campaign finance records database click here.

If you have a story we should investigative, email us at theunit@nbcbayarea.com



Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[SEC Complaint Filed Against SJ Mayor ]]> Fri, 27 Apr 2012 06:59:02 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/160*120/calculator_640x480.jpg

More pension pandemonium today in the City of San Jose following an NBC Bay Area Investigation into questionable retirement projections.

Another complaint has been filed this afternoon against the Mayor of San Jose, Chuck Reed.

This one is with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in San Francisco.

An attorney representing several unions says in the SEC complaint, that city officials, including the Mayor, did not reveal to potential investors that retirement costs could reach $650 million by fiscal year 2015-2016.

The complaint alleges this failure to disclose occurred while the city was seeking multi-million dollar bonds for the airport and convention center and that a $650 million dollar projection in future retirement costs would jeopardize the city's ability to pay back it's investors.

The complaint cites multiple occasions in which the mayor publicly used the figure $650 million as the five-year pension projection and questions why this "material fact" was not presented to potential investors.

It also claims not disclosing that information is against federal securities law.

This follows an ethics complaint filed two weeks ago alleging the mayor and other city officials misrepresented future retirement costs.

The Mayor's office issued this statement in response to the complaint: 

"This is another bogus complaint full of misrepresentations, which was filed by the union lawyers as a political trick to distract the voters from the fact that our city’s retirement costs have tripled in the last decade to $245 million per year – forcing us to eliminate 2000 jobs, lay off police officers and fire fighters, and lock up libraries. Our extensive bond disclosure documents clearly identify our pension plans’ billions of dollars in unfunded liabilities, the hundreds of millions of dollars in annual retirement costs incurred, and the potential for significant cost increases if actuarial assumptions are changed. The documents also have numerous references to fiscal emergency, our fiscal reform plan and the many public documents that describe the scope of problems we are facing as pension costs escalate."

Do you have more on this story or something else we should investigate?  Contact: TheUnit@NBCBayArea.com

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<![CDATA[Exclusive: Fan Violence Plagues Games]]> Fri, 27 Apr 2012 06:59:01 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/160*120/XLVI-Peter+BW+Stadium.jpg

When you buy a ticket to a sporting event, you hope to see a good game. You probably don’t expect to find yourself in the middle of a fight.
 
You may remember the bloody brawl at the 49ers-Raiders preseason game in August that ended with shots fired and three fans in the hospital. And many also followed details of an opening day fight at Dodgers Stadium that left Giants fan and Santa Cruz resident Bryan Stow with a life-changing brain injury.

Those are just two highly publicized examples of out of control fans. The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit found there are many more that didn’t make the headlines.

“I was punched repeatedly by three distinct individuals,” Manuel Austin Jr. told Chief Investigative Reporter Tony Kovaleski. 

The 66-year-old Los Gatos resident went to Candlestick Park to watch the 49ers play the Pittsburgh Steelers in December. It was his first game in seven years.

“The first few strikes hurt a lot,” Austin said, choking back tears. “After that I could feel my head going back and I could see them, but I couldn’t move.”

He suffered a black eye, broken teeth, and a concussion, and said he lost half his hearing in one ear. He believes he is lucky to be alive.

“I can tell you the truth that I thought I was going to die there,” he said. “I really mean that.”

Austin’s son witnessed the first punch, and then defended his father.

“It sounded like a steak hitting the concrete from about two stories up,” said Manuel Austin III. “I will never forget that sound. I believe if I wasn’t there these guys wouldn’t have stopped.”

We obtained police records and discovered hundreds of instances of fan violence at Bay Area sporting events in the past year.

According to data from the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, at the Oakland Coliseum last season fans at Raiders games received 87 police citations. There were 144 arrests and 448 ejections.

At AT&T Park, police records show for the 2011 Giants season, there were three assaults, 124 fans booked and 559 ejections.

The reports show that Giants-Dodgers games at the ballpark were especially eventful. There were 26 arrests and 113 ejections during nine Giants-Dodgers games at AT&T Park. Our analysis also found that Friday night games produced more fan-related problems than games on any other day of the week.

Many of the reports detail foul language, a disregard for police orders, and excessive drinking.

“What normally leads to trouble is someone who has too much alcohol because it inhibits their ability to make proper decisions,” said Lt. Bill Roualdes of the San Francisco Police Department. He keeps track of incident reports at all Giants games at the ballpark.

“I believe alcohol (is) one of the main causes for people to do things they normally wouldn’t do under the circumstances,” Roualdes said.

In San Jose, our investigation found one assault with a deadly weapon at a San Jose State football game last October. At HP Pavilion, records show nine assaults at Sharks games.

“Is this a real issue in 2012?” Kovaleski asked San Jose Police lieutenant Chris Monahan.

“I think, Tony, it is a real issue that venues need to be aware of,” Lt. Monahan said. “Watching media across the nation we are seeing other fan violence at other sporting events. It’s not just hockey and not just football. So, it is an issue.”

A quick search of fan violence on Youtube produces hundreds of examples. We found videos of fights from New York City to Tampa to Miami. Some commentators on those Youtube videos even describe the phenomenon of fan violence as a troubling epidemic.

“The problem a lot of people have when they get to their favorite sporting event is they probably over-identify with the team,” said sports psychologist Bill Cole. “So I think when people go through those gates, they think, ‘I’m at Disneyland, this isn’t normal life, its special and it’s fantasy-like.’”

“Is it unhealthy when fans get this passionate?” Kovaleski asked Cole.

“I think it is unhealthy,” Cole responded.

Sports sociologist Harry Edwards agrees.

“I think it’s serious because of what it says about where we are as a society and where we are headed as a nation,” he said.

Our analysis of police records found no stadium had more reports of fan violence than Candlestick Park for 49ers games. This past season there were 17 incidents of battery, 201 reported fights and 630 ejections.

According to police records, that December game against the Steelers that the Austins attended was the most violent regular season game of the year. There were 38 fights and 57 ejections.

More than two months later, Manuel Austin Jr. says he is still in pain. 

“I don’t like the idea of waking up with a headache in the morning,” he said. “I don’t like throwing up. I don’t like the pain in my back and neck.”

Austin believes the people who beat him up belong behind bars.

Following the fight, the San Francisco Police Department issued only a misdemeanor citation to one of the attackers. Police have continued their investigation into what happened that night. But two months after the incident, no felony criminal charges have been filed.

“So the guys who beat you are only facing a misdemeanor?” NBC Bay Area Chief Investigator Tony Kovaleski asked Austin.

“Yes,” he responded.

“And your life has been turned upside down?” Kovaleski asked.

“Yes,” Austin said.

“Is that justice?” Kovaleski asked.

“In my opinion,” Austin said, “no.”

In a statement, the San Francisco District Attorney told the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit that the fight involving Manuel Austin Jr. remains under investigation:

“As a general rule, our office does not comment on specifics of an ongoing investigation. Our office has requested and is waiting for information from the SFPD in order to make an informed decision regarding whether or not a case should be filed. Every case and investigation is different and requires careful analysis.  All of the evidence needs to be looked at in its totality, not in its disparate parts. The circumstances of how the altercation began are in dispute.  In a case of mutual combat, we need independent witnesses to help uncover the initial aggressor. If anyone has information regarding this incident, we would ask them to share that with their local police agency.”

The San Francisco 49ers declined our request to discuss Austin’s fight and fan violence on camera, but did provide the following statement:

“The San Francisco 49er are committed to providing a safe game day environment for all fans. That commitment has led to the highest security level rating given by the NFL. Because there is an ongoing police investigation regarding this situation, we will not comment.”

Austin is taking his horrific ordeal and trying to make change. He has sent letters to Congressman Mike Honda, 49ers President and CEO Jed York, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, calling for an end to fan violence.

The Austins hope for the best, but what they experienced at the 49ers Steelers game in December will not be forgotten. Manuel Austin III said that game was his last. 

“I’m a huge sports fan, and I’m done,” he said. “You are not going to see me at any 49ers games again. I’ll just watch it from home. At least there I know I won’t get beat up.”

If you have a story we should investigate, email us at theunit@nbcbayarea.com.



Photo Credit: Peter Hull, NBC 5]]>
<![CDATA[Exclusive: SJ Council Says Show Me the Math]]> Fri, 27 Apr 2012 07:34:37 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/160*120/calculator2.jpg

Show me the math.

That’s what five San Jose city council members are demanding in this memo addressed to the rules committee today.

They’re asking for an explanation behind a 5-year pension projection used by Mayor Chuck Reed.

It comes after an NBC Bay Area investigation revealed the mayor used an inflated number as a “worst case scenario” to help sell a fiscal emergency- a number $250 million higher than the city’s official projection.

That number is $650 million.

Today city council members Kalra, Chu, Campos, Rocha and Pyle signed, sealed and delivered the memo, which says:

“We have not yet heard a detailed explanation of how the $650 million 'estimate' was actually estimated.”

District 2 Councilman Ash Kalra spoke with us today.

"We need to know what the foundation of that number is," Kalra tells NBC Bay Area.

Kalra tells us, he knows from whom the mayor got the $650 million figure, but doesn’t know just how Retirement Services Director Russell Crosby came up with it.

Here’s what Crosby told us earlier this month:

“It was off the top of my head,” Crosby says, adding, “the mayor was told not to use it, that the projection was 400.”

It’s those comments made to us that sparked unions to file an ethics complaint against the mayor two weeks ago with the city election commission. It alleges the mayor, Retirement Services Director and former city actuary, used inflated numbers when pushing for pension reform as a ballot measure.

The election commission voted to pass the complaint on to the city council last week per the advice of their legal counsel, stating the alleged violations did not fall under their authority.

It’s now up to the city council to determine if an investigation is warranted, but today, they’re just asking for more information.

"I had no idea that number was made up out of thin air and if that’s the case we need to know about it and if that’s not the case we need to know about that too," Councilman Kalra tells NBC Bay Area.

The memo asks for calculations on the figure $650 million.

The city contends the number was never used for official city business or while negotiating with unions, but we found internal emails titled “retirement reform negotiations” that reference a May 13, 2011 memo as “the city’s only actual proposal for a ballot measure.” In this memo, the city uses the $650 million projection, multiple times.

This internal email from the mayor’s staff to a Wall Street Journal reporter last year states “if we don’t act, costs will reach $650 million.”

Mayor's staff now tells us this was an oversight and they should have stated it "could reach" $650 million.

Council members expect to discuss the memo with the city manager next week. 

 They hope to see the math that solves the 650 million dollar question at City Hall.

As for the latest 5-year-projection on retirement costs- We also got a hold of this internal email from the city's independent actuary to the Retirement Services Director. 

It states costs are projected to be $320 million.

If the city prepays that amount at a discount, our sources say that brings the number down to around $310 million.

The mayor's staff issued us this statement in response to the memo that was filed:

"This is one of the issues that will be discussed at an upcoming study session on retirement costs. The City paid $245 million in retirement costs this year and the retirement boards' actuaries are predicting that costs will go up over the next 14 years. Due to actions taken by the City Council, the probability of reaching $650 million in retirement costs has been reduced but not eliminated. Changes in various actuarial assumptions could still drive the City's costs up by hundreds of millions of dollars."

Do you have more on this story or something else we should investigate?

Contact:TheUnit@NBCBayArea.com

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<![CDATA[San Jose City Council Makes Demands]]> Thu, 26 Apr 2012 06:54:04 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/219*120/sjcityhall.jpg Show me the math. That's what five San Jose city council members are demanding in a memo addressed to the rules committee today. They're asking for an explanation behind a 5-year pension projection used by Mayor Chuck Reed. It comes after an NBC Bay Area investigation led by Jenna Susko revealed the mayor used an inflated number as a "worst case scenario" to help sell a fiscal emergency- a number $250 million higher than the city's official projection. Here's the follow up report. This story was published Feb. 23, 2012 at 6:32 p.m.]]> <![CDATA[Mid-Air Close Calls ]]> Fri, 27 Apr 2012 08:10:23 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/160*120/airplane-radar.jpg ]]> <![CDATA[San Jose Pension Estimates Questioned]]> Fri, 10 May 2013 17:44:57 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/160*120/resource.jspid109507name100dollars380.jpg

In the city of San Jose, "budget" is the word on the street and is echoing through City Hall.

Salaries have been slashed, services cut and employees have been shown the door over the past year.

It's all in a valiant effort to dodge a potential financial crisis.

But is it an exaggeration?

The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit obtained internal emails, memos and documents which reveal city leaders have not been straightforward when it comes to projected retirement pension costs for San Jose.

Our investigation found the math behind the headlines isn’t adding up.

In the 10th largest city in the country, it’s not surprising that retirement costs are predicted to increase in the next few years.

Mayor Chuck Reed has made sure the public is aware of the urgency in taking action to prevent these future financial burdens.

In his February state of the city address, he says, reforms are needed to " avert fiscal disaster."

Mayor Reed made the media rounds over the last year on TV and in articles like this one, in magazines like Vanity Fair, where he is quoted as saying the projected retirement costs for the city of San Jose could reach $650 million by 2015.

He called the budget “public enemy number one,” in his state of the city. In September he said “San Jose is in a crisis. We have a fiscal emergency a service-level emergency, all driven by sky-rocketing retirement costs.”

He said in multiple press releases, that retirement costs could soar to $650 million by 2015

The mayor took steps to declare a fiscal emergency, which meant pension reform could then head to the ballot.

That sent unions to the bargaining table to decide on the details of how much they would be willing to cut from their pensions to save the city from going under.

“Just devastated and in shock that we could have gone into that much debt in such a short period of time,” Local 21 member Phyllis Dawkins-Thames tells NBC Bay Area.

Dawkins-Thames has worked for the city of San Jose for 30 years and serves on the union negotiating team for Local 21.

She tells us, her union agrees pension reform is needed, but says the figure $650,000,000 had a powerful effect on unions' bargaining, forcing union leaders to consider deeper concessions when it came to their retirement pensions.

"It put a great deal more pressure on us to take further from the employees of San Jose,” Dawkins-Thames says.

But he city’s official projection for retirement costs in 2015 stood at $400 million.

So where did the mayor get the figure $650 million?

He got that figure from Russell Crosby, the City of San Jose’s Retirement Services Director. 

He attributed the number to an off-hand comment he made in a meeting earlier that year.

A comment, that had no calculations or hard numbers to back it up.

“It was a rough estimate,” City of San Jose Retirement Services Director, Russell Crosby tells NBC Bay Area.

“Boy, was I wrong," Crosby says.

It was a comment  that he says was taken too far.

"That was a number off the top of my head," Crosby told us. 

When asked if it was "Off the top of your head?"

“Yes, of course," Crosby replied.

When we asked if  he ever  said to the mayor "look, I don’t really have anything to back this up?"

"Yes,” he repeats, “Yes. His staff yes."

Crosby tells NBC Bay Area he quickly realized he had miscalculated the number and immediately informed the city.

"The mayor was told not to use that number, that the number was 400, that was the projection,” Crosby insists.

But Mayor Chuck Reed tells us, "I don’t recall anyone ever saying not to use that number.”

We asked him, "Nobody ever told you not to use $650 million as a projection?”

"I don't know. I don't remember anyone saying, ‘don't ever use that,’" Mayor Reed replied.

We asked if Crosby was lying.  He said, "I don't know.  I didn’t have the conversation with him."

The mayor also doesn’t know how Crosby came up with the projection, one that’s more than a quarter billion dollars higher than the city’s official projection.

"Do you think you should have sat down with him to find out where he was getting this number instead of just quoting him from a meeting?" we asked the Mayor.

“No,” Mayor Reed replied.  “I understood it was a rough estimate off the top of his head,” he says.

That rough estimate was being questioned behind the scenes.

We obtained thousands of internal city emails.  In one correspondence from Russell Crosby to the City of San Jose’s actuary, Crosby refers to comments made about “no back-up for 650” adding, “let’s do damage control.”

Crosby tells us he wrote that email because he believes 650 should never have been used in the first place.

“Is it wise to use the number 650 million dollars when you really don’t have any hard numbers to back that up?” we asked the Mayor.

“I think you have to be cautious.  ”As the Mayor you have to look out for the taxpayers and citizens of my city and I don’t think you can ignore something like that,”  he tells us.

Around the same time, Crosby asked Cheiron, the external actuary hired by the City of San Jose Retirement Board to come up with a new projection.

Internal emails show Cheiron was instructed to follow certain rules, including using out-dated numbers that did not factor in the pay-cuts and massive layoffs that had taken place earlier in the year.

These calculations became the new projection and pushed the official number up about $30 million- the new projections became $430 million dollars for retirement costs by the year 2015.

“The numbers were accurate with the data that was available at the time,” Crosby tells us in response to that new projection.

However, the Mayor kept selling the projection as $650 million, like at this conference at Stanford University last August.

Remember, unions were still negotiating the details and exact amounts of their concessions regarding pension reform that would be put on the ballot.

Dawkins-Thames, the union representative we spoke with, tells NBC Bay Area she had no idea the number being tossed around was not based on real data.

“I would really like to believe that they wanted to negotiate in good faith, but all the facts right now show it to be that it was done deliberately,” she says.

“I think the number was used to convince the citizens of San Jose that we need to do a very extreme reform on pensions,” Dawkins-Thames continues, “I really believe that this calls for an investigation so that the facts can come out.”

If you factor in pay-cuts and layoffs, it appears San Jose’s pension costs will reach about $300 million by 2015. That’s $350 million less than the figure the Mayor used to sell a fiscal disaster.

“We are trying to avoid a disaster and certainly a $650 million number would be a disaster,” Mayor Reed tells NBC Bay Area.

On Thursday, 5 local unions filed an ethics complaint against the mayor following our report . Read pdf of complaint here.

Do you have a story we should investigate? Email us: TheUnit@nbcbayarea.com
 

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<![CDATA[SF Mayor and Commissioner Free 49er Tickets]]> Fri, 27 Apr 2012 06:59:02 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/TONYFREETIXPT2_59131261_722x406_2193376741.jpg In San Francisco, a win at the ballot box brings power, prestige and season tickets to the 49ers- even for commissioners who aren't elected, but appointed by the mayor.Tony Kovaleski reports the city of San Francisco has retained seats at Candlestick Park for every 49er game according to their lease with the football team. This story was published Feb. 6, 2012 at 12:06 a.m.]]> <![CDATA[Unions Call for Pension Investigation ]]> Fri, 27 Apr 2012 06:59:02 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/219*120/sjcityhall.jpg

Five city unions have filed a formal ethics complaint against high-ranking San Jose officials, including Mayor Chuck Reed. Read the complaint here (pdf).

This comes one day after NBC Bay Area's investigation revealed city leaders have not been straightforward when it comes to future retirement costs.

The complaint alleges Mayor Chuck Reed, Director of Retirement Services Russell Crosby, and former actuary for the city, Michael Moehle, inflated numbers for five-year retirement cost projections. Our investigation found the mayor claimed retirement costs could reach $650 million by 2015 even though the official projection stood at $400 million.

"To find out that there has been dishonesty along the way is difficult to even comprehend," Firefighter Union Local 230 President Robert Sapien said at a press conference.

City employees and union representatives spoke out on Thursday following NBC Bay Area's investigation that revealed some of the retirement cost predictions used by the mayor of San Jose were not based on real data.

“Mayor Reed lied, mislead, and deceived, concerning true fiscal condition of pension plan in San Jose," union attorney Chris Platten said at the press conference.

The complaint alleges that Mayor Reed, Crosby and Moehle, “deliberately misrepresented material facts" by exaggerating projected retirement costs to sell a fiscal disaster.

Crosby told NBC Bay Area, "The Mayor was told not to use that number, that the number was 400, that was the projection."

Mayor Reed tells us, "I don't recall anyone ever saying not to use that number. I understood it was off the top of his head."

Mayor Reed told us on Thursday that he didn't regret using the 650 number. As for the the people who were upset that he used the figure, the Mayor tells us, "They can be upset. It's their right."

San Jose city councilmembers are also speaking out.

District 2 Councilmember Ash Kalra tells us, "I think what this does in some ways is substantiate the fact that this has been a marketing scheme to push a pension reform scheme that the Mayor wants and not necessarily what's best for the city of San Jose."

District 3 Councilmember Sam Liccardo has a different view.

Liccardo tells us, "The point that is important here is: what is the council making decisions based on," he continues, "It's not $650 million just because it appears in the mayor's budget message somewhere in the commentary." 

Councilmember Liccardo emphasizes, that the council made no decisions based on the figure $650 million as projected retirement costs.

"I know and I am confident in my own deicision-making and as I look among my colleagues and the documents we have been relying on, that we've been relying on numbers that have nothing to do with $650 million."

State Assemblymember Jim Beall is now calling for a delay of the city's planned pension reform measure expected to appear on the upcoming June ballot.

Click here to see the story that triggered the fallout.

Do you have a story we should investigate?  Contact: TheUnit@NBCBayArea.com

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<![CDATA[Fake IDs Pose a Security Threat]]> Fri, 27 Apr 2012 06:59:02 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/fake.id.jpg

You need one to get into a bar. To get on a plane. To buy a gun. To prove you're an American.

A lot of power for a flimsy piece of plastic: We are talking about your ID.

Underage college kids have been buying fake IDs for years, flashing them at grocery stores to purchase alcohol and using them as passes into night clubs.

Now, the counterfeit documents are posing problems for federal law enforcement.

NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit found some abuse of that power that federal officials say could be a homeland security threat. Last year Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents intercepted and seized some high-quality fake IDs headed for the Bay Area from Hong Kong.

No arrests were made, but agents admit, the IDs were eerily good- indistinguishable from the real thing. We spoke with Anthony Ho, Deputy Special Agent in Charge at Immigration and Customs Enforcement San Francisco office.

"I don't think people understand that when they are ordering one of these counterfeit documents from overseas and bringing it in, they are committing a felony," Agent Ho says, "they are smuggling a document into the United States."

And they're easy to get. Just go online, like you are now.

The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit found half a dozen websites offering high-quality IDs priced between $50 and $500, based in places like Guangzhou, China, Great Britain and Victoria, British Columbia. Some people using them are not even US citizens.

"I have a California ID that uses my real name, but none of my real information," a Canadian 20-year-old who doesn't want to be identified, tells NBC Bay Area, "I have a South Dakota ID that also uses my real name," she says.

One of her IDs came in a package from China, ordered off the internet. "I worry especially that since I'm not an American that it will have more repercussions for me than a typical American student," she says.

While the 20-year-old tells us she uses the ID as a ticket into local bars- which is serious in itself- federal security experts say, a non-US citizen passing herself off as an American, has major homeland security implications for others using the fakes to cause harm.

"The problem of counterfeit drivers' licenses is not a new one, but what makes this one unusual is the high quality of the documents," Agent Ho tells NBC Bay Area Investigative reporter, Stephen Stock.

"How serious is this?" Stock asks.

"With that technology someone could theoretically get past the TSA checkpoint," Agent Ho says, "so we view that as a potential national security threat."

It's already happened. Back in June, Nigerian national Olajide Noibi was caught with 10 different fake boarding passes and IDs on him while trying to board a Delta flight to Atlanta.

He wasn't caught until he had already flown with the fake IDs from New York to Los Angeles. "You could actually use these IDs to get into areas that you might not be able to with a lesser quality ID.

For example, you might be able to get onto an airplane flight, you might be able to get employment," Agent Ho tells NBC Bay Area.

"It got me my job," a Nicaraguan national who wants to remain anonymous, tells Stock.

The man uses a fake ID because he is living in the bay area illegally. "It was the first thing I did when I got here," he says.

That was 9 years ago.

He used the fake ID to get employment and drive a car.

He said police pulled him over once, and did not notice the ID was a fake.

"If I wanted to go get a fake ID could I go out there and get one right now?" Stock asks the Nicaraguan national. "Yeah," he says, "If you want to pass for another person, we could go get one right now, be done in 4 hours."

"Does it worry you that some bad guy might be using a fake ID to get in the country or get on an airplane and hurt people?" Stock asks. "Since 9/11 it's like one of those things you think about," he says, "if it was easy for me why would it not be easy for whoever?"

ICE has set up a forensic document lab in Washington DC to deal with the problem.

At the lab, they intercept and analyze counterfeit documents from around the world.

"Lucky for us, technology works both ways," Agent Ho tells NBC Bay Area, "Not only does it allow for these IDs to be created, but it also allows the Department of Homeland Security to verify these documents ahead of time and intercept them."

ICE also has issued a basic rule for minimum standards for IDs to more easily identify counterfeits.

For more information on how to spot a fake ID, visit this link or this one.

Do you have a story we should investigate? Contact: TheUnit@NBCBayArea.com

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<![CDATA[Commissioners Cash-in on Free 49ers Tickets ]]> Thu, 13 Sep 2012 18:18:31 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sanfran-49ers-P3.jpg

In San Francisco, a win at the ballot box brings power, prestige and season tickets to the 49ers- even for commissioners who aren't elected, but appointed by the mayor.

The city of San Francisco has retained seats at Candlestick Park for every 49er game according to their lease with the football team.

That means, the city rents all of Candlestick Park to the 49ers except for a group of seats and boxes designated in the lease.

And nobody attended more games for free than the city’s Recreation and Parks Commission- a board appointed by the mayor to 4-year terms.

The 7 commissioners have access to a luxury box every game that seats 20.

The mayor of San Francisco controls 12 tickets per game in a luxury box.

The city’s 11 supervisors each get 2 tickets per game.

The General Manager of San Francisco’s Recreation and Park’s department has a luxury box that seats 12.

His department also receives an extra 10 stadium seats.

Public Records show Recreation and Parks Commissioner Gloria Bonilla used her 2 luxury box tickets to attend 9 games. That’s 18 tickets valued at $3852.

Commissioner Larry Martin didn’t miss a game. He attended 10 games, using 26 luxury box tickets, valued at $5564.

Commissioners Gloria Bonilla and Larry Martin both declined our requests for an interview.

Commissioner David Lee also used the perk, attending 9 games, 18 tickets valued at $3852.

We spoke with the Commission President, Mark Buell about the Commission’s use of the tickets.

“They serve at $97 a month and they put in a lot more time and effore than that,” Buell tells NBC Bay Area Chief Investigator Tony Kovaleski.

“So that justifies getting free tickets to the 49ers game?” Kovaleski asks

“When the 49ers are doing better, it’s a bigger perk,” Buell laughs.

“Should this practice continue?” Kovaleski asks Buell.

“Sadly, I don’t think it’s going to continue because they are moving to Santa Clara,” Buell says, “historically commissions that oversee property have some association with it.”

“If something is wrong, it doesn’t make it right by the fact that you’ve been doing it a long time,” San Francisco-based attorney and ethicist Peter Keane weighs in, “it’s wrong to begin with, it’s wrong now.”

Another recipient of tickets is the Recreation and Parks Department General Manager, Phil Ginsburg.

His department oversees the distribution of tickets and is responsible for defining the public purpose lawmakers have for receiving the tickets and attending the games, as required by California law.

After several calls and emails were not returned from Ginsburg’s staff, NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit stopped by their San Francisco office.

On a second visit, staff agreed to an interview the following day.

An hour before the scheduled appointment, they called to cancel.

A free ticket program with state-mandated accountability to California taxpayers run by a General Manager and directed by 2 commissioners, who by all indication want nothing to do with public accountability.

“The citizens of San Francisco looking at this will say, ‘this isn’t proper,’” ethicist Keane says, “it builds disrespect for government, which is unhealthy.”

Do you ave a story for us to investigate?  Contact: TheUnit@NBCBayArea.com



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Tony Kovaleski, Chief Investigator]]> Fri, 27 Apr 2012 06:59:03 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/NBC_Tony_ID_2.jpg Chief Investigator Tony Kovaleski, a San Jose State University graduate, returns to the Bay Area to lead the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit. #TonysHome]]> <![CDATA[Tony's Home. Get Ready.]]> Fri, 27 Apr 2012 06:59:03 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/Tony_K_5054.jpg ]]> <![CDATA[Behind the Scenes: Tony Kovaleski's Promo]]> Thu, 26 Apr 2012 15:26:38 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/Tony_K_5035.jpg A look at the locations featured in the “Tony’s Home” promo. Introducing chief investigator, Tony Kovaleski, part of the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit. ]]> <![CDATA[More Cars, Not Less, Better for HOV ]]> Fri, 27 Apr 2012 06:59:03 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/7594696_HYBRIDSTUDYREACTION_722x406_2151803733.jpg

If you live or work in the Bay Area, you know that there’s a lot of traffic.

That’s why you would think that removing hybrids from the carpool lane would help congestion.

“The idea was that by having fewer cars now in the carpool lane, the carpool lane would travel faster. Unfortunately, it seems that hope has kind of backfired," says Mike Cassidy.

Cassidy is a civil engineering professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Cassidy decided to study the impact of removing nearly 85,000 hybrid cars from the carpool lane.

The program that began in 2005 to give consumers an extra incentive to buy low-emission cars ended last summer.

Six months of data gathered from roadway sensors along a four-mile section of I-880 near Hayward revealed traffic slowed for everyone.

Cassidy says he showed his report to Caltrans engineers, and they did not want to act on the data.

“Caltrans is an agency that made a decision, and they are not terribly eager to hear inconvenient facts," says Cassidy.

Caltrans spokesperson Robert Haus says the state agency conducted its own study to determine the effect of removing hybrids from the HOV lane.

“There is nothing that can be traced to the sunsetting of this law that has caused significant increase of congestion,” says Haus.

He says the data the state agency collected show traffic patterns haven’t changed greatly since hybrids left the carpool lane.

Caltrans tells NBC Bay Area that changing signs for carpool lanes won’t cost additional money.

Cassidy argues, “I’ve been told by one or two anonymous Caltrans sources that it’s just really much easier for them to expel the hybrids.”

Stuart Cohen, who is the co-founder and executive director of TransForm, says, “Part of it is that all of these laws are temporary. For example, the current system ends in 2015. So, Caltrans doesn’t want to have to set up all new systems, create new signs, and explain them to people for something that might last for three years.”

He believes that hybrids should be allowed back in the carpool lane but with a more nuanced policy “that accounts for time of day that accounts, for congestion, and unfortunately Caltrans and our state really doesn’t want to go to that level of detail."

The only single-occupancy vehicles now allowed in the carpool lane are super-clean plug-in hybrids and hydrogen-powered internal combustion engine cars.

John Boesel, who is the President and Chief Executive Officer of CALSTART, says the fact there are now so many hybrids on the road is a good problem.

“In the short term, yes, there is an increased pollution from the conventional hybrids coming out of the HOV lane. In the long term, this will accelerate even cleaner cars and then we will have even cleaner air going forward.”

But Cassidy predicts traffic conditions will only improve for everyone by increasing, not decreasing, the number of vehicles allowed access to carpool lanes.

“What the study really shows is there is room for the Leaves and the Volts, and there is room for the Prius, and in fact there is even room for a few more vehicle classes,” says Cassidy.

The new policy, which went into effect Jan. 1, allows owners of partial zero-emission vehicles to buy a green sticker to use the carpool lane.

The DMV says it hasn’t sold any of those new stickers because the cars that qualify aren’t available on the market.

Click here to read Cassidy's report.

Do you have a story we should investigate?  Contact: TheUnit@NBCBayArea.com

Links:

TransForm California

CalStart

UC Berkeley Institute of Transporation Studies

Caltrans

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<![CDATA[Investigating Red Light Cameras]]> Mon, 16 Apr 2012 14:04:05 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Red-Light-121911.jpg

You have probably seen red light cameras in cities across the Bay Area. You may have even been nabbed by one.

If you have received a ticket in the mail, you know that the fine for running a red light isn’t cheap.

“How am I going to handle $480 dollars,” said Tina Castro of Sunnyvale, who got a ticket in San Francisco last July.

Hayward resident John Swarr received a ticket at an intersection near his home a year ago. It was $470.

“It was like a slap in the face,” he said. “I feel in actuality, these cameras are ripping off the people who can least afford it.”

Suresh Bazaj got caught on camera at a Fremont intersection in October 2010. When he received a hefty $470 fine in the mail he was furious.

“These cameras have nothing to do with safety,” he said.

And that is the heart of this issue. Some Bay Area politicians want people to believe that red light cameras are all about making the streets safer. But our investigation found that in South San Francisco the number of crashes at intersections with red light cameras is up, not down.

According to South San Francisco’s Police Chief Mike Massoni, the primary purpose of red light cameras is to increase traffic safety and cut down injury crashes.

“Not about money at all,” Massoni said.

South San Francisco’s red light cameras are, in fact, causing the city to lose money. This past year red light camera fines generated $435,162 for the city. But the cameras cost the city $485,259. That is a loss of about $50,000.

Even though the red light cameras have not reduced crashes and have caused the city to lose $50,000, Chief Massoni said they make people more aware of when and how they drive. He says the cameras have a deterrent effect.

An NBC Bay Area News investigation found that California drivers are paying higher fines and fees for running red lights than any other western state. California’s base fine of $100 grows to nearly $500 with add-ons for court construction, court security, emergency medical services and DNA identification penalties.

By contrast, lawmakers in Colorado cap the fine for running a red light at $75. Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, tried to regulate red light cameras statewide.

“We ought to look at the driving public as people we’re trying to keep safe,” Simitian said. “Not as ATM machines for local or state government.”

Simitian proposed legislation that would have prohibited cities and counties from using the cameras to simply raise money.

Late last year Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the bill, but Simitian is already revamping his red light camera legislation and plans to reintroduce it this year. Castro believes California’s photo enforcement program is in desperate need of reform, adding that the cameras should not be viewed as revenue generators for state and local agencies.

“It feels like the government is mugging you and it’s not something I want to tolerate,” she said.

Swarr wants to see more drastic action. “I feel like they should just get rid of the cameras,” he said. “They should just get rid of them.”

Do you have information on this story or something else you think we should investigative?  Email: Tony.Kovaleski@nbcuni.com



Photo Credit: NBC 5]]>
<![CDATA[Chairlift Death Raises Safety Concerns]]> Fri, 07 Mar 2014 19:15:15 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/ski+lift1.jpg

7-year-old John Henderson fell an estimated 60 feet from a chairlift at Sugar Bowl Ski Resort on December 18th, 2011. The Davis resident died two days later at a local hospital.

When asked if policy will change in wake of the fatal accident, John Monson, a spokesperson at Sugar Bowl resort, said “Well, we really aren’t changing practices and procedures because safety is always of utmost importance. “

Monson says an internal investigation along with a state-led inspection of the lift revealed no malfunction.

“I think we had done everything possible as far as you know our diligence to safety. As far as operators and the chair lift itself passed code”, he said.

But Dick Penniman with the Snow Sport Safety Foundation says codes need to be updated. Penniman’s non-profit looks at safety standards at California Ski Areas.

In California, resorts by law don’t have to install safety bars on all lifts. According to Penniman's report, fewer than half of the chairlifts statewide are equipped with safety bars. There is a bar on the lift that John Henderson fell from but it’s still unclear if it was up or down.

In contrast, New York and Vermont require safety bars on all chair lifts.

Other resorts have taken extra safety precautions by installing magnets for ski lifts that hold children to the seat. In Colorado, the State Tramway Board forces ski areas to report all injury falls from a chair lift for any reason. From the data they collected, NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit learned since 2001, at least forty percent of those who fall from lifts are children.

California’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration or CAL OSHA is the agency that inspects the lifts statewide. Spokesperson Dean Fryer says CAL OSHA just makes sure the lifts are up to code, they don’t set the standards.

“The resorts need to work with their manufacturer. How do you make that modification to safe guard a smaller frame size person or a larger frame person instead of just a standard size person, ” said Fryer.

But Dave Byrd from the National Ski Areas Association says that’s not possible. “You have different ski lifts, at different heights, at different locations and different types of terrain serving different parts of the mountain”.

Instead, Monson says it’s the responsibility of the skier or snowboarder, no matter the age, to be safe on the mountain. “We do our job here at the resorts to make sure all lifts are running smoothly and well maintained and operationally up to code. And it’s just a nice reminder to say hey slow down it’s all about fun but make sure you are safe when you are doing”. 

Most ski laws that have been passed in other states require skiers to acknowledge the "inherent risk of skiing", while also requiring ski resorts to reduce the inherent risks. In the last decade, at least four ski lift laws have been introduced. All that made it to the Governor’s desk were vetoed.


In 2010, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed AB 1652 which would have required ski resorts to create an annual safety plan and make information about fatal accidents available to the public. The bill was sponsored by California Ski and Snowboard Safety and lobbied against by the California Ski Industry Association. SB 278 was a similar bill that passed in 2011, but was again vetoed, this time by Governor Brown.  Both Govenors cited the bills were "unnecessary " in their veto messages. 


Related Items:
California Mountain Resort Safety Report
NSAA Lift Safety Fact Sheet
Colorado Tramway Safety Board Chairlift Injury Statistics


If you have more information about this story or anything else I should investigate please contact me at Elyce.Kirchner@nbcuni.com

For all other tips and story ideas please contact The Unit
 



Photo Credit: WIN-Initiative]]>
<![CDATA[SF Politicos Score Free Tickets]]> Mon, 30 Jan 2012 13:14:43 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/49ers-ticketsjpg.jpg

If you're looking for a ticket to the 49ers championship game this weekend, get ready to pay a steep price -- but that doesn't apply to some San Francisco lawmakers.

The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit has found that some of your elected officials are receiving luxury seats for free.

Here’s who is going:
- San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee. He gets a free box at Candlestick Park. It’s a luxury box that includes 12 tickets to the game.
- All 11 members of the city’s Board of Supervisors also receive free seats. They each get two tickets to every home game.
- The San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department that runs the stadium also gets free tickets. The General Manager of the department gets a luxury box with 12 game tickets.
- The seven-member Recreation and Parks Commission gets a suite as well, which seats 20.

“It’s very improper and it is unethical,” Peter Keane, an ethicist and professor of law at Golden Gate University, tells the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit.

“The supervisors getting this type of gift and not paying for it, that has an enormous appearance of impropriety and it shouldn’t be done,” Keane says, “What it says to me is that the supervisors are getting some extra pay that’s coming to them from a very strong economic entity in the city and county in San Francisco: the 49ers.”

The State of California has ethics rules which prevent elected leaders and public employees from accepting gifts exceeding $420 in any year from a single group, but San Francisco has created a loophole in the law.

Here’s how it works: The City of San Francisco owns the land on which Candlestick Park stands. It also owns the stadium. The City leases this land to the 49ers. However, the City says, it has elected not to lease the three box locations and 22 stadium seats. By keeping control of those portions of the stadium, about 66 total tickets, elected leaders argue, they are not receiving anything from the 49ers.

“I think that is a very elitist view the supervisors are taking and it’s something of an insult to the intelligence of people to say, ‘well, San Francisco owns the stadium, the people of San Francisco own the stadium.’ If that’s the case, I should be able to go to the game free, just as they are,” Keane says.

San Francisco’s City Attorney has issued a ruling saying it is okay for the elected leaders to accept the tickets.

Supervisors Mar, Farrell and Elsbernd have told NBC Bay Area they will accept the free tickets.
Supervisor David Chiu has decided not to take the free tickets. He is going to the game and paying the $214 per ticket value.

We have also confirmed some San Francisco lawmakers have donated their tickets to schools and nonprofits.

To see the city’s policy on 49ers tickets: http://sfrecpark.org/Form802AndTicketPolicy.aspx

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<![CDATA[Tony Kovaleski]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2013 18:50:55 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Tony-Kovaleski.jpg

Tony Kovaleski joined NBC Bay Area as the lead investigative reporter at the beginning of 2012. The multiple award-winner comes to NBC Bay Area from KMGH in Denver, where he forced elected leaders to change laws and public policy in Colorado and nationwide, forced disreputable companies to close their doors, and spurred criminal convictions.

His work over more than two decades has been honored with numerous awards for journalism including the duPont-Columbia, Edward R. Murrow, Sigma Delta Chi and National Headliner award. His 24 Emmy Awards include recognition for writing, investigative reporting, live reporting and journalistic enterprise. In 2004 and 2006, the Colorado Broadcasters Association named Tony the state’s “Best Specialty Reporter.” He has been honored several times by the Associated Press and the Radio Television Digital News Association. In 1997, the Texas Associated Press named Tony that state's "Reporter of the Year."

 

During his career he has covered several high-profile national stories, including the 9/11 attacks on New York City, the Kobe Bryant trial, the OJ Simpson trial and verdict, election night 2000 in Austin, Texas, with then Gov. George W. Bush, the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia as well as the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. Tony also reported from the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. Other notable stories include the Timothy McVeigh trial and verdict, Hurricane Brett's assault on the Texas coast in 1999 and the 2002 Hayman Fire in Colorado.

 

His reporting and investigations have been featured on CNN, ABC's Good Morning America, ABC’s "20/20" and CNN’s "Larry King Live."

 

Tony was born in Michigan and grew up in San Jose, Calif. He graduated from San Jose State University with a degree in Broadcast Journalism. He is a faculty member of the National Center for Courts and Media with the University of Nevada’s Reynolds School of Journalism. He is also a member of Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), the professional organization for investigative journalists. During his career, he worked for KIEM-TV in Eureka, Calif., KTVN-TV in Reno, Nev., KTVK-TV and KNXV-TV in Phoenix, and KPRC-TV in Houston.

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