The FBI built a database that can catch rapists — almost nobody uses it

By T. Christian Miller, ProPublica  FBI-seal

This story was co-published with The Atlantic.

QUANTICO, Va. — More than 30 years ago, the Federal Bureau of Investigation launched a revolutionary computer system in a bomb shelter two floors beneath the cafeteria of its national academy. Dubbed the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, or ViCAP, it was a database designed to help catch the nation’s most violent offenders by linking together unsolved crimes. A serial rapist wielding a favorite knife in one attack might be identified when he used the same knife elsewhere. The system was rooted in the belief that some criminals’ methods were unique enough to serve as a kind of behavioral DNA — allowing identification based on how a person acted, rather than their genetic make-up. (more…)

Evidence of police dishonesty leads to overturned convictions nationwide

Editor’s note: This story by Nancy West was sponsored by the Fund for Investigative Journalism and hosted by Vermont’s VTDigger. West founded the New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism, which will launch its news website NHinDepth on Sept. 1. 

Debra Jean Milke

Debra Jean Milke

Maybe Debra Jean Milke masterminded the murder of her tow-haired son Christopher in Phoenix just before Christmas 1989 to collect the 4-year-old’s $5,000 life insurance policy.

Or maybe – as Milke has insisted all along – she was just the innocent victim of a corrupt cop with a proven pattern of lying who was out to win a conviction. (more…)

More Medicare Advantage audits in South Florida and elsewhere reveal overcharges

By Fred Schulte, Center for Public Integrity medicarecard

Government audits just released as the result of a lawsuit detail widespread billing errors in private Medicare Advantage health plans going back years, including overpayments of thousands of dollars a year for some patients.

Since 2004, privately run Medicare Advantage plans, an increasingly popular alternative to traditional Medicare, have been paid using a risk score calculated for each patient who joins. Medicare expects to pay higher rates for sicker people and less for those in good health. (more…)

Federal judge tosses out town’s RICO suit against residents seeking public records

By Dan Moffett, The Coastal Star 

Martin O'Boyle, left, and Christopher O'Hare

Martin O’Boyle, left, and Christopher O’Hare

Gulf Stream’s legal offensive against residents Martin O’Boyle and Chris O’Hare suffered a huge setback late last month when a federal judge in West Palm Beach threw out the town’s federal racketeering suit against the two men.

U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Marra said that, while he was sympathetic with the town’s “very difficult situation” because of the hundreds of public records requests O’Boyle and O’Hare had filed, their actions did not meet the legal standards for suing under the RICO statute. (more…)

Collision course: With wary eye on big trucks, bike riders seek safe space on city streets

By Bridget Huber, FairWarning truckcycle

On a July afternoon in New Orleans last year, Philip Geeck was riding his bicycle in a marked bike lane on a busy street. Approaching an intersection, he came up alongside a tractor-trailer truck hauling a tank of chemicals. Geeck, 52, was at the 18-wheeler’s midpoint when suddenly, without signaling, the truck began to turn right, witnesses say.

Victor Pizarro was driving nearby and watched in horror as the scene unfolded. He saw a look of confusion on Geeck’s face as the trailer came toward him. Geeck, an experienced cyclist known to his friends as “Geric,” tried to get away from the truck but couldn’t make it. First his wheel went beneath the semi’s enormous rolling tires, then his foot, then his entire body was dragged under. “It just kind of sucked him in,” Pizarro said in an interview. (more…)

Off-Road industry looks to Congress to put brakes on safety regulation

By Myron Levin, FairWarning 

Photo: Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association

Photo: Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association

Manufacturers of off-road vehicles have mounted fierce resistance to proposed federal rules aimed at reducing rollover crashes that have killed hundreds of riders. After failing to persuade the Consumer Product Safety Commission to shelve the rules, the companies have turned to Congress to run interference.

Powered by an aggressive social media campaign and political donations, a measure moving in the House and Senate would impose a two-year ban on regulating the popular trail machines known as recreational off-highway vehicles, or ROVs. (more…)

Meet the ‘Dark Money’ phantom; Ohio lawyer at nexus of nonprofit network is conservatives’ secret weapon

By Carrie Levine, Center for Public Integrity 

The West Chester, Ohio, office of Langdon Law LLC, led by David Langdon — a little-known but powerful force behind numerous organizations with conservative political agendas. Photo: Carrie Levine/Center for Public Integrity

The West Chester, Ohio, office of Langdon Law LLC, led by David Langdon — a little-known but powerful force behind numerous organizations with conservative political agendas. Photo: Carrie Levine/Center for Public Integrity

WEST CHESTER, Ohio — Just outside Cincinnati, tucked among insurance agencies, hair salons and a yoga studio, is the nexus of one of the nation’s most mysterious networks pouring secret money into elections.

“Langdon Law LLC Political, Election Nonprofit and Constitutional Law,” reads its small sign, which faces the building’s parking lot rather than the street.

On a Tuesday afternoon last month, that parking lot was empty. No one answered the Langdon Law office door. Phone calls went unreturned. Unlike other heavy-hitting political lawyers, David Langdon doesn’t grandstand.

But don’t overlook him. (more…)

How Medicare Advantage investors made billions off loose government lips

By Fred Schulte, Center for Public Integrity medicarecard

The third of February 2011 was mostly a ho-hum day on Wall Street­ — but not for companies offering Medicare Advantage plans. Several of those firms hit the jackpot, tacking on billions of dollars in new value after federal officials signaled they might go easy on health plans suspected of overcharging the government.

The stocks took off after the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services advised the health plans in a memo that it was rethinking a move to ratchet up audits of the privately run Medicare plans. Some of these plans are run by publicly traded insurance companies whose fortunes can rise and fall significantly upon news of a change in Medicare policy. (more…)

Talc-Ovarian cancer link sparks growing legal battle

By Myron Levin, FairWarning 

Deane Berg, who filed a first-of-its kind lawsuit blaming her ovarian cancer on Johnson & Johnson talc powders

Deane Berg, who filed a first-of-its kind lawsuit blaming her ovarian cancer on Johnson & Johnson talc powders

Deane Berg’s doctor called her in the day after Christmas, 2006, to give her the crushing news. She’d had her ovaries removed, the pathology results were back, and they could not have been much worse.  Berg had stage III ovarian cancer, and her prognosis was poor.

Despite her 25 years as a physician’s assistant, Berg, then 49, knew next to nothing about ovarian cancer. Grappling with the “why me?” question, she studied the risk factors, finding just one that could apply: regular use of talcum powder for feminine hygiene.

Talc powder might be a cause ovarian cancer–who knew? It turned out that some people did. (more…)

Another Startling Verdict for Forensic Science

By Ryan Gabrielson, ProPublica hairevidence

With the introduction of DNA analysis three decades ago, criminal investigations and prosecutions gained a powerful tool to link suspects to crimes through biological evidence. This field has also exposed scores of wrongful convictions, and raised serious questions about the forensic science used in building cases.

This week, The Washington Post reported the first results from a sweeping study of the FBI forensic hair comparison unit, finding that 26 of 28 examiners in the unit gave flawed testimony in more than 200 cases during the 1980s and 1990s. Examiners overstated the accuracy of their analysis in ways that aided prosecutors. (more…)

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