Thursday, September 1, 2011

Community Corruption & Fascism in Modesto

2011-09-01 "Government Sponsored Thieves: How local politicians are stealing public funds"
from "Modesto Anarcho" news journal [http://www.modestoanarcho.org/2011/09/government-sponsored-thieves-how-local.html]:
Recently, local politicians and those on the city council have called for a "tough-on-homeless" approach. Citing the threat of crime, business people and politicians like Mike Moradian and Councilman Joe Muratore would like to make public parks private and have a private police force patrol them. In doing so, they tell us that crime would be reduced and the homeless would be driven out of the downtown. Of course, this has nothing to do with creating a safer community and everything to do with making the area safe for business investors; investors that people like Muratore represent and can make money off of. Furthermore, a recent scandal in the city’s power structure shows that the local elites have been breaking their own laws; laws which could land some of them in jail.

Since early 2009, local politicians have been profiting from government funds aimed at fighting the depressed housing market. Recently, a group of nonprofits, government agencies, and faith-based organizations have been accused of severe mismanagement and embezzlement of federal funds that were meant to create jobs and provide housing for poor and working people. After information was leaked from an insider, many city and community bureaucrats have been placed in the spotlight, causing a scandal within the local power structure. While working class people in the Valley have been forced to work jobs for statistically lower and lower pay, and many can't afford basic housing costs, local officials and business elites and have been lining their pockets with public money.
According to the City's website[1], “Modesto applied for and received $25 million from the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program to be distributed through the Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) to help create jobs and stabilize declining property values in neighborhoods.” This money should have gone to benefit potential homeowners and renters with incomes between 50-120% of Area Median Income ($24,275 - $58,260 for Stanislaus County[2]), and local contractors and laborers who would do necessary repairs. This of course has not been the case.
On July 10th, HUD received an anonymous e-mail from a Stanislaus Housing & Support Services Collaborative member outlining their concerns [3]. The veteran member of more than five years[3] requested that their name be kept confidential for fear of being fired[3]. According to the Modesto Bee, The document contained the following claims[3]:
• Three members of the executive committee work for agencies that receive HUD Supportive Housing Program grants, "yet provide supposed oversight and review of their own projects with no input from the" collaborative.[3]
• Executive committee members Gibbs, Michele Gonzales and Glenn Hutsell "rigged" the application review process to get funding for their "pet projects" year after year.[3]
• The executive committee failed to review whether HUD grant recipients were complying with a grant's requirements. If they had done so, they would have spotted the problems at Community Housing and Shelter Services, a Modesto nonprofit that nearly closed because of mismanagement.[3]
• The Homeless Management Information System, a software program designed to record and store information about the homeless and their needs, still is not running after four years.[3]
• Some executive committee members provided fraudulent information on a 2010 HUD grant application.[3]
All this of course, goes against basic HUD guidelines[4], designed to prevent influence in the decision-making process and financial gain or other benefits from receiving grant funds. This new information, regardless of merit, was enough for HUD's Office of Inspector General (OIG) to take a closer look.[5]
Because of the conflicts of interest involving city officials and their private enterprises, the OIG may take as long as six to nine months to complete the investigation[6]. Julie Hannon with the Modesto Parks, Recreation and Neighborhoods confirmed that SCAP received more than $7 million in taxpayer dollars to renovate 21 foreclosed homes[7]. It was later discovered, as KCRA.com reported, that "Stanislaus County Community Assistance Program is being criticized for allowing family and staff to live in government-subsidized homes that are supposed to be for low-income residents."[7]
Hannon confirmed [8] that Denise Gibbs' parents were living at 913 Rumble Road after $340,000 in taxpayer money was spent buying and renovating the 2,383-square-foot home, and that four to five other homes were occupied by SCAP employees or their relatives[8]. An auditing firm, Moss Adams, that works for the City Council was supposed to begin their investigation in July, but has since been replaced by the HUD's OIG[5]. Leo Briones, "a Southern California political consultant who speaks for SCAP," [9], said the agency will cooperate with city auditors[10]. Members of the organization admit to the allegations and say that these acts are legal because the residents meet the income requirements of the program[8]. As reported in the Modesto Bee on July 6th, "All told, as many as six of the twenty houses renovated by SCAP have been occupied by employees of the agency or their family members. According to SCAP's agreement with the city, the homes were supposed to serve as rental housing for people with special needs, such as seniors, people with debilitating diseases, or families at risk of homelessness." [11]
Joe Gibbs, Grant Writer and Development Director for SCAP[3], received a bonus of more than $637,000 for writing grant proposals according to the Modesto Bee [12]. This is on top of his regular pay. That’s $637,000 of public money, which was supposed to go towards helping Modesto families but instead went to an official who was already highly paid. In fact, Joe and his wife Denise are SCAP's two highest-paid employees[13], raking in more than $712,000 last year[12], and more than $1.32 million in four years[12]. After the Modesto Bee revealed how much he was earning[12], Gibbs agreed to forgo $436,471 of what he said he was owed [14]. In doing so, he claimed that his "contractual agreement was made with fairness and proper legal standards in mind,[12]" although Pastor Darryl Fair, Chairman of SCAP's Board of Directors, says that after "reviewing SCAP's financial data for the year 2010, the board realized… the 4 percent incentive to our director of business and program development exceeded what was appropriate for a nonprofit agency to offer." [12]
Photograph showing Gibbs:


The same Darryl Fair has recently resigned from Stanislaus Housing & Support Services Collaborative's executive committee, along with at least five others that may or may not include Gibbs[10]. SCAP's new board includes Chairman Jonathan Dattilio of Lincoln, Vice Chairman Patrick Pokorny of Riverbank, Secretary Daniel Malakauskas of Stockton, and Tom Drury of Modesto [10]. They are also currently recruiting others in order to meet their guidelines of seven members[10].
On August 2nd, the city notified Councilman Joe Muratore[15] and his business partner Ryan Swehla[15] of a likely conflict of interest after it was found that Benchmark Commercial Real Estate Services, which they own together[15], was paid a $62,500 commission[15] for the sale of an apartment complex to Trinity Renovations[15], which is also co-owned with Swehla[15]. Trinity also hired Mike Moradian to complete the property inspections through his company Peace of Mind Home Inspections[16]. Moradian is the President of the La Loma Neighborhood Association (LLNA) [17] and sits on the city's Blue Ribbon Commission on Homelessness [18](see The New Map of Modesto in Modesto Anarcho #17 for more information). Moradian has been a fierce crusader against homelessness, trying to shut down the expansion of a drug and alcohol treatment center in the Airport District [17] and helping to push anti-homeless initiatives in the city. Both Moradian and Swehla also played a major role in getting Muratore on the council back in 2009 through their influence with the LLNA[19], and the group no longer retains its non-profit status[20]. Benchmark and Trinity were thus nicely poised to funnel funds into the personal bank accounts of government sponsored thieves and their elitist friends.
Photograph showing Moradian


As it was reported in the Modesto Bee on August 18th, Muratore was also found guilty of illegally voting in the council decision that initially allowed the city to accept federal housing funds[15]. Since then, Trinity has had it's NSP funds frozen[6] and been barred from working with the HUD program[6]. Muratore admitted guilt to the accusation and the $62,500 commission has been returned[6]. At a Modesto City Council meeting regarding SCAP on August 3rd, 2011, Muratore said he promptly had his attorney notify the California Fair Political Practices Commission after checking logs and “discovering” that he had placed a vote [15]. The FPPC response was a warning letter with no administrative prosecution or fines[15]. Muratore said that at the time that he was as an inexperienced official when he had made the vote.[15]
But, while this Harvard grad plays dumb, Muratore may face federal prosecution or at the least his expulsion from the council. It’s also telling that while businessmen like Muratore and Moradian have called for a ‘tough on homeless’ approach, including a recent push to have a private security force patrol the parks for homeless people, they have broken more laws than any homeless person with an open container. While they attract support from the upper-middle and some of the working classes through a tough on crime stance, in reality they only care about the law when it rules in their favor. For rich elites like Muratore and Moradian, the law and the police are instruments to use at their will, and against us. Moradian and Muratore’s “tough on crime” fa├žade is just a smokescreen for a push to gentrify and develop the downtown; free of lower and working class elements. Surely, just as they have used the SCAP, they will seek to make money from this displacement of poor people as well. Hopefully this scandal exposes people to the swindlers that people like Muratore and all his friends are; willing to take public money that is designed to help people and make themselves even richer.
Photograph showing Muratore


The current SCAP scandal, just as the current crisis unfolding with the Modesto Police Department and the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department, shows us several things. Firstly, that those in power have organized amongst each other in order to siphon money out of the public’s hands and straight into their pockets. The politicians get the deals, and then have their companies or their friends' companies do the work, looking the other way when they take hundreds of thousands of dollars right off the top. Secondly, this scandal proves that those masquerading as our “leaders” have never had our interests at heart. This isn’t a problem of a few bad apples, but a whole rotten tree. The network of business interests and political big-wigs all needs to be pushed out and overthrown. Thirdly, the corruption going on at City Hall is the same as that within the Federal Government and corporations. Our money goes to fund wars and the bailout of banks, while the CEOs kick back and make record-breaking profits. We must take power into our own hands; we must not wait for the elites in downtown Modesto or Washington D.C. to swindle us again while people are without money, food, and shelter.
The time is now to take what we need and occupy it. We shouldn't wait for government officials to screw us over when we can take over hundreds of abandoned foreclosed houses and apartment units ourselves. Talk with neighbors, agree not to call the police, fix the place up, move right in. If an eviction notice comes, tell the bank to shove it. Get together with family and neighbors to drive off inspectors and the cops. Our neighborhoods become vacant save for boarded-up buildings while the bankers grow rich and the Muratores of the world do as they please. Its time for all of them to go, and for all of us to bring this corrupt system down.

Citations:

Citation 1: "Neighborhood Stabilization Program 2." City of Modesto. Accessed 02 Sep 2011. [http://www.modestogov.com/nsp2/]

Citation 2: "State and County Quick Facts." U.S. Census Bureau. Accessed 02 Sep 2011. [http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/06/06099.html]

Citation 3: "Member Criticizes Stanislaus Homeless Aid Panel. Kevin Valine. Modesto Bee. 18 Aug 2011 [http://www.modbee.com/2011/08/18/1821832/member-criticizes-homeless-aid.html]

Citation 4: HUD Guidelines. Document 14169. HUD.Gov City of Modesto, California [http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/documents/huddoc?id=DOC_14169.pdf]
"Forty (40) of these homes will be specifically allocated to provide housing  for special needs households who are in need of permanent housing. All activities will benefit households whose income is at or below 120percent of area median income, with 25percent of the funds for households at or below 50percent area median income."

Citation 5: "Modesto Auditor Off SCAP Probe." Modesto Bee. Ken Carlson. 03 Aug 2011. [http://www.modbee.com/2011/08/02/1801069/modesto-auditor-off-scap-probe.html]

Citation 6: "Modesto Councilman's Firm Benefitted From Sale of Apartment Complex." Ken Carlson. Modesto Bee. 03 Aug 2011. [http://www.modbee.com/2011/08/03/1802526/modesto-councilmans-firm-benefitted.html]

Citation 7: "Modesto Nonprofit Under Investigation." KCRA.com. 28 July 2011. [http://www.kcra.com/news/28384117/detail.html]

Citation 8: "New Question Surface for Modesto Nonprofit." J.N. Sbranti. Modesto Bee. 28 Jun 2011. [http://www.modbee.com/2011/06/27/1751953/new-questions-surface-for-nonprofit.html]

Citation 9: "Luxuries at Modesto SCAP Homes Described," by Ken Carlson, Modesto Bee, 03 Aug 2011 [http://www.modbee.com/2011/08/02/1800648/modesto-nonprofits-role-under.html]

Citation 10: "SCAP Turns Over Documents to Modesto." Ken Carlson. Modesto Bee. 01 Jul 2011. [http://www.modbee.com/2011/06/30/1756905/scap-turns-over-documents.html]

Citation 11: "More Trouble for Modesto Nonprofit Agency Scap." Ken Carlson. Modesto Bee. 06 Jul 2011. [http://www.modbee.com/2011/07/06/1764704/more-trouble-for-scap.html]

Citation 12: "Cashing In: Salaries of Modesto Housing Agency Attract Federal Scrutiny." J.N. Sbranti. Modesto Bee. 30 May 2011. [http://www.modbee.com/2011/05/28/1709062/federal-investigators-probing.html]

Citation 13: "Stanislaus Community Assistance Project." Informational graph. Modesto Bee. Accessed 02 Sep 2011. [http://media.modbee.com/smedia/2011/05/28/23/Scapcomp.source.prod_affiliate.11.pdf]

Citation 14: "SCAP Worker Gives Up $436k." Ken Carlson. Modesto Bee. 03 Jun 2011. [http://www.modbee.com/2011/06/03/1717879/scap-worker-gives-up-436k.html]

Citation 15: "Modesto Councilman Muratore Broke Law With Vote, State Says." Ken Carlson. Modesto Bee. 18 Aug 2011. [http://www.modbee.com/2011/08/17/1820405/muratore-broke-law-with-votestate.html]

Citation 16: "Modesto CIty Hall Facing Questions of Favoritism." Ken Carlson. Modesto Bee. 21 Aug 2011. [http://www.modbee.com/2011/08/20/1824048_p2/city-facing-questions-of-favoritism.html]

Citation 17: "Modesto Mission Dispute Resolved." Ken Carlson. Modesto Bee. 05 Apr 2011. [http://www.modbee.com/2011/04/06/1631944/mission-dispute-resolved.html]

Citation 18: "Boards, Commissions, and Committees: City of Modesto Blue Ribbon Commission on Homelessness." City of Modesto. Accessed 02 September 2011. [http://www.modestogov.com/council/boards/cag.asp?id=29]

Citation 19: "With Cities Squeezed, Neighborhood Groups Catch On." Leslie Albrecht. Modesto Bee. 22 Apr 2010. [http://www.modbee.com/2010/04/22/1139118/with-cities-squeezed-neighborhood.html]

Citation 20: "Words Matter." Carmen Sabatino. The Voice of Modesto. 30 Aug 2011. [http://voiceofmodesto.org/wordpress/?p=2439]

Citation 21: "Modesto Puts Brakes On Neighborhood Rehab Program." Central Valley Business Times. 03 August 2011. [http://www.centralvalleybusinesstimes.com/stories/001/?ID=19039]

Comment:
Just take a small sample, and soon you see the unseen.
If only knew all of these people and who they are related to, you would truely be astonished.
* The Hub Master: [http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1295981851#!/harold.a.petersonIII?sk=friends&v=friends]
* [http://www.facebook.com/gosner?ref=ffa#!/profile.php?id=1446678860&sk=friends&v=friends]
* [http://www.facebook.com/gosner?ref=ffa#!/profile.php?id=1670791404&sk=friends&v=friends]
* [http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1295981851#!/profile.php?id=525467407&sk=friends&v=friends]
* [http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1295981851#!/profile.php?id=100000014458390&sk=friends&v=friends]
* [http://www.modbee.com/2011/09/01/1841274/a-couple-of-good-men-in-modesto.html]
* [http://www.facebook.com/duane.hutton?sk=friends&v=friends]


2012-06-07 "Police Write Ordinance for City Council that Criminalizes Homeless Camps and Occupy Movement"
from "Modesto Anarcho" news journal [http://www.modestoanarcho.org/2012/06/police-write-ordinance-for-city-council.html]:
On Tuesday, June 5th, in a 6-1 vote, the City Council passed an ordinance that would make forms of illegal camping a misdemeanor within Modesto. Despite an over-whelming majority of the crowd coming out to shout down the ordinance, calling it a "war on the poor," and claiming that it was leading Modesto into "a police state," everyone on the Council voted in favor of the move except the new Mayor, Garrad Marsh. But Marsh's nay vote didn't come out of his love for the homeless or freedom itself, he was simply concerned that it didn't contain language that would allow parents with homes to allow their children to camp outside. As for those with children and without homes, perhaps if they couldn't eat cake, they could eat whatever the Mission was serving that night...
 The decision for the camping criminalization ordinance came when a subcommittee of the City Council allowed members of the Modesto Police Department to write up and create the ordinance [http://www.modbee.com/2012/06/03/2226879/modesto-council-targets-homeless.html]. But the criminalization of camping is not just aimed at stamping out the homeless. According to the Modesto Bee [http://www.modbee.com/2012/06/05/2229770/modesto-council-passes-anti-camping.html]:
[begin excerpt]
City officials said the camping ordinance will give police a tool to deal with makeshift camps that increasingly are appearing in Modesto. It also will give police the authority to break up any camps tied to the Occupy movement and prohibit residential property owners from charging rent to campers.
Under the ordinance, anyone who stores personal property, including camping paraphernalia, on public or private property without consent of the owner can be cited on a misdemeanor. Those convicted could be sentenced to jail and probation.
[end excerpt]
Council members claim that the push for the ordinance came after businesses began complaining of homeless people living in the back of parking lots along McHenry Ave. as well as from people who have complained that they "can't walk their dogs" along the canal on Briggsmore Ave., due to homeless encampments.
We find this recent criminalization of both the homeless and the Occupy Movement in Modesto to not be at all surprising, although it shows the direction in which local elites are heading; giving themselves the legal tools to lock-up, displace, and fine those which threaten downtown development and those who would seek to possibly organize against it. We do not find this latest move surprising because over the past year, City Council members, either through the general council or through subcommittees, have helped produce a variety of ordinances all aimed at removing the homeless from the downtown area through criminalization. These include a ban on dumpster-diving [http://anarchistnews.org/?q=node/2925], which further criminalized the act of digging through the garbage and threatens the would be trash expropriator with fines and up to six months in jail. The ordinance was pushed by both the La Loma Association, a notoriously anti-homeless group and the Modesto Police Department. There was also the shutting down of a public park, Paperboy Park, or Rose Garden Park, in 2010, which was located across from the Library [http://www.modestoanarcho.org/2011/06/new-map-of-modesto-budget-cuts.html]. Joe Muratore, a city council member who is also involved in the La Loma Association, helped back the ordinance [http://www.modestoanarcho.org/2011/02/joe-muratore-elected-with-your-taxes.html] [http://www.modestoanarcho.org/2011/03/la-loma-association-fights-anti.html]. He claimed that homeless people were ruining the park and making non-homeless people afraid to use it. Paperboy Park became the first park in Modesto that went from public to only being available to those who paid a user fee. Muratore wanted to continue this work even further with the creation of a private park police force that would harass the homeless, youth, and others in local parks and enforce various municipal codes [http://www.modestoanarcho.org/2011/08/joe-muratores-committee-proposes.html].
 There is also the looming question of where homeless people will go? The answer from the police, the City Council, and the business interests is quite clear: either into institutions, or hopefully out of Modesto for good. In a recent expose, the Modesto Bee discussed how the local jail is filling up with homeless people who are incarcerated because it is the only place where they can receive medical treatment and also because it is the only place where they can be 'treated' for mental illness [http://www.modbee.com/2012/05/20/2207052/special-report-mental-healthcare.html]. With homelessness on the rise in the local area, compounded and made worse by the economy, increased evictions, and the foreclosure crisis, as well as continued repression of the homeless community, we will only see an increase in the amount of homeless people incarcerated, locked up, and thrown in mental facilities simply for the crime of not having a place to live.
Students at MJC camped out as part of 'Occupy MJC' to protest rising fees. Now, they could face jail time for such an act.

While many will point out that there has not been any sizable Occupy protests and encampments in Modesto, this new ordinance was in part crafted with the understanding that the police could use it in the event that ever such a movement did develop and protesters needed to be scared with possible jail time. Occupy encampments have appeared in other Valley cities such as Sacramento, Merced, Fresno, and Stockton, so it is not far fetched to believe that if the movement was to expand again that camps could spring up here. Furthermore, such anti-camping laws could also be used against Central Valley activists attempting to occupy foreclosed buildings. If police could claim that those inside foreclosed homes are 'camping,' instead of 'squatting' or 'refusing to leave their homes,' then they could easily threaten occupants with misdemeanor charges.
According to City Councilman Dave Geer, police will use their "discretion," and only target "problem" camps and will not use the law to "harass" the homeless [http://www.modbee.com/2012/06/05/2229770/modesto-council-passes-anti-camping.html]. But of course, this is the same police department that shoots people claiming they have guns which turn out to be spatulas [http://www.modestoanarcho.org/2010/09/rip-fransisco-moran-murdered-by-modesto.html]. These are the same police that shoot out a deaf man's back windows' because he's too busy screaming "I'm deaf," to respond to their commands [http://www.modestoanarcho.org/2010/12/modesto-wikileaks-police-insider-sheds.html].
What is clear is that such an ordinance has nothing to do with improving the quality of life for most people in the city, and instead, bending to business interests and controlling a population of people seen as outside of the law. It is also an attempt to stop Occupy protests before they become larger in the Modesto area - strategic thinking on the part of the police and the elites in the City Council.
Marsh: "If you're poor, you're screwed!"

 The City Council is made up largely business owners and property developers types who stand to gain from the removal of the poor in the downtown and the coming in of new capital investments. In a recent forum hosted by Marsh [http://cvar.org/a-community-conversation-on-the-future-of-modestos-downtown/], which featured annoying bourgie local muckie muck Chris Richie (X-Fest, etc), Pete Janopaul (who plans to turn the former downtown post office into upscale lofts [http://www.modbee.com/2012/04/21/2168210/developer-has-lofty-ambitions.html]), developer John Giver, as well as a presentation by developer supa-star Joe Minicozzi, who works with a "for profit real-estate company." Joe argues that city governments can increase their revenue by concentrating urban development in their cores with mixed zoning: having lofts and upscale apartments next to fine dining and nice hair saloons [http://www.theatlanticcities.com/jobs-and-economy/2012/03/simple-math-can-save-cities-bankruptcy/1629/]. From Minicozzi's presentation:
[begin excerpt]
Per-acre, our downtowns have the potential to generate so much more public wealth than low-density subdivisions or massive malls by the highway. And for all that revenue they bring in, downtowns cost considerably less to maintain in public services and infrastructure.
[end excerpt]
For developers turned politicos like Muratore, this of course is a wet dream. The city can increase tax revenue by fixing up and re-developing old buildings that are vacant (which surprise, surprise, is exactly that kind of business that Muratore is in!), and making the downtown into a concentrated money making focal point and a play ground for the wealthy and upscale consumers. It's this same kind of 'good old boy' system, in which politician businessmen swinging back room deals with their other businessmen friends that got Muratore in hot water last year, when the SCAP scandal hit and some of Muratore's businesses were involved [http://www.modestoanarcho.org/2011/09/government-sponsored-thieves-how-local.html]. Who cares if the communities of Airport, West-Side, South-Side, Prescott, and working class neighborhoods throughout the city have major problems and in many cases, lack basic services such as sidewalks? For the city elites, what's important is that revenues coming into the city coffers continue to increase and the town continues to look more white, more upper-class, and less like it is now.
 It's only in looking at the ultimate goal of 'downtown revitalization' and 'development' that we can begin to see a strategy for local elites becoming clear [http://www.modestoanarcho.org/2010/12/why-is-downtown-dead-homelessness.html]. It makes sense for political, police, and business interests to come together to support each other in a push for greater repression of the poor and the suppression of grassroots organizing. That question as always, is that if they are organized around their interests, why aren't we?


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