Extra money for native well being boards? Massachusetts lawmakers are engaged on it. | Central Berkshires

Local health officials in Berkshire County and across the state, which are on the forefront of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, could be standing up for an infusion of state funds. That is, if the statehouse legislators on Beacon Hill agree on a final version of the measure, as part of the $ 3.82 billion spending package Adopted by the State Senate last week.

Why it matters

According to the budget change tabled by Senator Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, who represents Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester counties, local and regional health officials would receive $ 95 million in grants aimed at cost-saving community services from small towns aim.

That would be on top of the $ 118 million earmarked for public health, according to Senate President Karen Spilka’s office. With the help of the American Rescue Plan Act and federal surpluses, the Senate bill provides more than $ 1 billion in total health care spending.

What’s at stake

Whether local health officials will see the public health reforms included in Comerford’s amendment depends on negotiations under way this week between House and Senate leaders. It is one of the few differences between the bills tabled by either side of the legislature that need to be reconciled in order to vote on a final draft ARPA spending before the winter break.

“The goal is to get the bill on the governor’s desk by Thanksgiving,” said State Representative William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox. “I’m very optimistic that things will be ironed out. I am a great champion of Tri-Town Health. “

The regional agency has served Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge since 1929.

The proposal, approved by the State Senate, adopts reforms based on a 2019 report by the Special Commission on Local and Regional Public Health. The report called on state and local officials to pay to modernize the local public health system, standardize and ensure health reporting that all local health authorities comply with existing regulations and laws.

The commission found that 78 percent of the 105 cities in Massachusetts with fewer than 5,000 residents don’t even have a single full-time public health worker. As boards of directors are funded by local wealth taxes, they also reflect existing regional economic gaps, with poorer communities generally spending less on public health.

“In Massachusetts, where you live determines how safe and healthy you are likely to be,” the commission report said.

What’s the local influence?

“While we are fortunate enough to work in communities that value our department and public health, others are not as fortunate,” said James Wilusz, general manager of Tri-Town Health, which works with seven other cities in recently formed Southern Berkshire Public Health works collaboratively. “There are serious injustices and a lack of adequate resources and personnel. We need real dollars to build and maintain an even broader public health system. “

According to Wilusz, “the pandemic has exposed significant weaknesses in our local public health systems and now is the time to act and build better regional, smaller and more efficient systems.”

“The pandemic has shown all of us the importance of monitoring the health of local people, developing, implementing and monitoring programs to prevent the spread of communicable diseases, and identifying and supporting our most vulnerable community members,” said Amy Hardt, senior public nurse for the collaboration.

The additional government funding could also benefit the Berkshire Public Health Alliance, which is overseen by the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.

As COVID-19 spread in Massachusetts, some cities lacked the staff and resources to efficiently contact and communicate with state and local officials on the Massachusetts Virtual Epidemiological Network.

Health inspectors juggled their local pandemic responses, rapidly evolving advice on public health and restrictions on Baker administration, changes in contact tracing, and their day-to-day work in monitoring other diseases in their communities.

The bottom line

Under the Senate bill, the state would annually channel funds to local health authorities and regional health districts based on population, social and economic data and the existing level of shared services. Local and regional health authorities that are slow to meet the standards set by reforms could experience lower funding.

The bill calls for grants to promote multi-city sharing agreements. The grants would complement, rather than replace, existing funding received by local and regional health authorities, and would be separate from the annual funding required by the bill.

The Senate plan requires public health professionals to develop statewide standards similar to national standards for inspection, epidemiology, communicable disease investigation and reporting, permits and other local public health responsibilities, along with standards for education, professional development and data reporting.

These experts include the local board of directors for health, health organizations, academic experts, and members of the state’s special commission on local and regional public health.

According to the Senate’s bill, health departments would have to submit a report to the country by December 1 each year to prove that they were in agreement with the new standards.

Information from the State House News Service, the Boston Business Journal, and the Boston Globe was included in this report.

Massachusetts Police Can Simply Seize Your Cash. The DA of One County Makes It Close to Unattainable to Get It Again. — ProPublica

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This story was produced in partnership with WBUR.

Devantee Jones-Bernier was spending an afternoon at a friend’s apartment in Worcester, Massachusetts, when police banged on the door, looking for drugs. They found marijuana in the unit, where several people had gathered, but not on the 21-year-old college student. Police took his iPhone and $95 in cash.

The district attorney’s office charged him and seven others in May 2014 with drug offenses, but later dismissed them against Jones-Bernier and all but one person. Despite that, law enforcement officials held onto his money and phone.

Under a system called civil asset forfeiture, police and prosecutors can confiscate, and keep, money and property they suspect is part of a drug crime. In Massachusetts, they can hold that money indefinitely, even when criminal charges have been dismissed. Trying to get one’s money back is so onerous, legal experts say it may violate due process rights under the U.S. Constitution. It’s especially punishing for people with low incomes.

Four years passed before the Worcester County district attorney’s office tried to notify Jones-Bernier, as required by law, about the status of his money. The office ran a newspaper notice, three times over three weeks, listing Jones-Bernier’s name in tiny legal type alongside more than 100 others involved in separate seizures. The ads said the district attorney intended to keep their money, and those who wanted to fight back had 20 days from the final ad to respond in civil court.

Jones-Bernier had no clue about the ads so he didn’t respond.

Massachusetts is an outlier among states when it comes to civil forfeiture laws. Prosecutors in the commonwealth are able to keep seized assets using a lower legal bar than in any other state.

“It’s out of step with justice,” said Louis Rulli, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who specializes in public interest law. “It produces unjust results and cries out for reform.”

Amid rising national attention to the issue, other states have rewritten their laws, and the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of a man whose car was seized during an arrest on a small drug sale. But Massachusetts has not budged.

WBUR took an in-depth look at Worcester County, which ranks among the top counties for forfeitures in the state. An examination of all forfeitures filed there in 2018 found that of the hundreds of incidents, nearly 1 in 4 — or 24% — had no accompanying drug conviction or criminal drug case filing.

And that is likely conservative; another 9% of seizures had no publicly available court records, meaning there were no charges or courts sealed the records.

In an investigation with ProPublica, WBUR also found that Worcester County District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. regularly stockpiles seized money, including that of people not charged with a crime, for years, and sometimes decades.

In more than 500 instances between 2016 and 2019, WBUR found that funds had been in the custody of the DA’s office for a decade or more before officials had attempted to notify people and give them a chance to get their money back. One case dated back to 1990.

The yearslong delays raise “obvious due process concerns,” according to Sam Gedge, an attorney at the Institute for Justice in Arlington, Virginia, a nonprofit that has studied the issue and advocated for changes to forfeiture laws across the country. “The notion that you have the government waiting even two years — but certainly two decades — to commence forfeiture proceedings is, if not unprecedented, then extraordinarily rare.”

Gedge said the latitude granted to law enforcement in Massachusetts in civil forfeitures reflects broad problems with the system nationwide. In general, he said, “It’s much easier for the government to take your cash, your car, your home, using civil forfeiture than it is to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal court.”

Early, in an interview, said his office obeys the law.

“We follow all the rules that the court gives us,” he said. As for the long delays in filing forfeitures, “We try and get these wrapped up as expeditiously as we can,” Early said.

But for hundreds of people in Worcester County, it’s been anything but expeditious. There’s no oversight by the state when it comes to how long district attorneys wait to notify people that, without a court fight, their money will stay in law enforcement’s hands. And there is no public reporting of criminal conviction rates tied to forfeitures.

In the absence of that information, WBUR set out to compile the data. To evaluate the county’s record, WBUR analyzed all the Worcester County forfeitures in 2018, a year chosen to allow sufficient time for related criminal cases to have concluded. The analysis included the review of thousands of pages of records in several courts and included forfeitures from 396 seizures.

Among those, there were more than 90 instances where people lost money or cars, taken most often during traffic stops, frisks and home searches — even though there weren’t related drug convictions or drug charges. Law enforcement still held onto the cash and property.

Civil forfeitures are big business in Worcester County, where Early has been the elected district attorney since 2006. His office brought in nearly $4 million in forfeitures in just the latest four years, from fiscal 2017 through 2020, according to analyses by the state’s trial court.

Where that money goes is notable. In almost all cases, the proceeds are split 50/50 between the Worcester County district attorney’s office and the local or state police department that handled the seizure. That’s legal in Massachusetts, but it’s a system rife with conflicts of interest because the offices confiscating the money also stand to benefit from it, lawyers and civil rights advocates say.

Early has been criticized by the state auditor for spending forfeiture funds on a Zamboni ice-clearing machine and tree-trimming equipment. Over the years, his office has posted photos on its website of Early handing out checks for “Drug Forfeiture Community Reinvestment,” to pay for baseball and softball fields or to support a cheerleading team.

Early said he’s proud that his office has spent large sums of confiscated money on youth programs and drug prevention. “I love taking the drug dealers’ money. I love taking their lifeblood and putting it back into the community,” he said.

But WBUR’s analysis shows many of the people who lose money to Early’s office are not charged with dealing drugs.

A civil forfeiture notice published in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette in 2016 from the Worcester County DA notifying more than 700 people to take legal action if they want to dispute the DA’s claims to their money.


Credit:
Jesse Costa/WBUR

Preying on the Poor

While the system has evolved into a significant revenue source, it started as a remnant of old English law. Civil forfeiture was pioneered at the federal level in 1970, touted as a tool in the war on drugs. The idea was to financially weaken big drug dealers and gangs by allowing police to take their money, property and drugs.

When the drug forfeiture law was adopted in Massachusetts in 1971, it required prosecutors to show a “preponderance of evidence” to support a seizure. Specifically, they had to establish that seized property or money was “more likely than not” involved in a drug crime. In 1989, Massachusetts lawmakers eased the rules to the current “probable cause” standard, the least demanding burden of proof in the American legal system. Massachusetts was not alone at the time, but it’s the only state that in the intervening years has not reinstated a higher level of proof, according to an Institute for Justice report.

Police in this state can take money or belongings based merely on the reasonable suspicion that someone is involved in drug activity. Often police cite people appearing nervous, carrying rolls of $20 bills or traveling on what officers call a “well-known route used by drug traffickers” as the justification for seizure.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2019 ruled unanimously on a civil forfeiture case, Timbs v. Indiana, that the state’s forfeiture of a man’s $42,000 Range Rover was unconstitutional. The court found that confiscating his vehicle was “grossly disproportionate” to the seriousness of his crime — the sale of $225 worth of heroin — and violated the Eighth Amendment protection from excessive government fines, as well as the 14th Amendment right to due process.

The Timbs ruling was cited this year in a case involving a Massachusetts woman whose car was confiscated for six years after police suspected it was connected to drug trafficking charges her son was facing. The son died before prosecutors finished trying the case. The woman faced no charges. The Berkshire County district attorney finally released the vehicle, after a high-profile legal group stepped in to sue the DA on her behalf.

In other New England states, people have a better chance of getting their belongings back from seizures.

Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont all require some form of criminal conviction for the forfeiture of property. And in Rhode Island, prosecutors must meet the preponderance-of-evidence standard. In federal cases too, the law has changed from probable cause to a higher standard of proof; the government must show that property is “likely” connected to a crime in order to forfeit it.

And Maine has gone a step further. It recently passed a bill to abolish civil forfeiture, becoming the fourth state in the nation to do so. The law now requires a criminal conviction before law enforcement can permanently take property.

The Massachusetts forfeiture law was originally intended to go after people involved in large drug rings. But Rulli, the University of Pennsylvania professor, said there has been a shift in how forfeiture is deployed at the street level, targeting people involved in petty crimes or marijuana sales, or no crime at all.

“This became a very lucrative area of revenue. And as a result it got applied to ordinary folks,” rather than focusing solely on drug kingpins, he said.

WBUR’s analysis of Worcester County forfeitures from 2017 through 2019 found that more than half of the seizures in these cases were for less than $500. In one incident, Fitchburg police seized $10 from a man listed as homeless. In another, Sturbridge police took $10 from a 14-year-old boy.

State Rep. Jay Livingstone, who represents the Back Bay, Beacon Hill and parts of Cambridge, is a former assistant district attorney for Middlesex County. He said civil forfeiture tends to disproportionately affect poor people, and he’s witnessed law enforcement “taking small amounts of money from people that really can’t afford it.”

After filing two unsuccessful measures to overhaul the forfeiture system in Massachusetts, Livingstone now has a third reform measure pending in the Legislature’s Joint Committee on the Judiciary that would require a conviction and provide legal counsel to the indigent.

Navigating the system to reclaim money is an enormous challenge, in part because forfeiture falls into a complicated, two-pronged legal track in Massachusetts.

First, police seize money under suspicion of drug activity and pass the matter on to the district attorney. The DA’s office, if it decides to file a criminal drug charge, generally does so within a few weeks in district court.

Separately, the DA files a forfeiture case in a different, civil, court system — typically the state Superior Court. The civil and criminal cases are not linked in court databases, adding to the complexity of navigating the system and making oversight of the outcomes difficult.

Beyond the opaque court process, those in charge of civil forfeitures — district attorneys and police — face little public accountability when it comes to seizing money from residents, and what happens to the confiscated cash and property.

The only public accounting of how the money is spent is the information DAs now must report to the state treasurer’s office, as part of the Legislature’s 2018 criminal justice reform. But those reports don’t disclose all the spending and are not itemized beyond broad categories, such as “other law enforcement purposes.”

A state commission formed in 2019 to study the forfeiture system had little luck obtaining more data from the DAs. During commission meetings, including one in June, officials said DAs had ignored their requests, as well as questions about how they collect and spend confiscated funds.

The commission recently released its recommendations to the Legislature, proposing a number of changes to check the power of law enforcement. Chief among them are raising the burden of proof for forfeitures and removing the financial incentive to keep seized assets, by requiring that the money be sent to the state’s general fund. The proposal also seeks stronger reporting to the state and a set minimum amount of money eligible for forfeiture.

Early said he has now adopted a minimum of $1,000 for civil forfeitures, a policy he updated a day after receiving WBUR’s questions and a week after the commission issued its report. But he defended past forfeitures of small sums, saying any alleged drug money is bad for neighborhoods.

“If I can get $5 or $10, $20, $50, $200, $50,000 or $100,000, it’s all going into my prevention efforts,” Early said.

Some of the commission’s proposed changes are likely to face opposition. Many in law enforcement argue that civil asset forfeiture helps take down major drug traffickers, stripping criminals of resources and destabilizing organized crime. And officers do find drugs in many instances, as they did in a 2018 case where Worcester police, along with members of a drug task force, busted a heroin distribution ring and seized $30,414 in cash.

Norfolk County District Attorney Michael Morrissey represented all DAs on the state commission. In one of its recent meetings, he said his office uses forfeiture funds to pay for extraditions and warrants. In a subsequent interview, Morrissey said he believes some of the commission’s proposed changes are reasonable, but warned that if those funds were to dry up, the Legislature “should start thinking about how much money they’re going to have to backfill my budget.”

Early said he relies on confiscated money to pay for investigations into drugs and human trafficking, for expert witnesses and witness protection. Without that money, he said, it’s possible his office would need the state to increase his budget.

He argued that there’s no conflict of interest in law enforcement keeping confiscated funds. As for raising the burden of proof to a preponderance of evidence, Early now says he’s for it.

In the DA’s Hands

None of the proposed reforms address how long a DA can hold seized funds. Money confiscated by police sits in limbo until the DA files a forfeiture case in civil court. Early’s office has amassed hundreds of thousands of dollars by routinely waiting years to file civil forfeiture actions, without notifying individuals of the status of their money and effectively holding it hostage until court proceedings commence. This includes the 500 cases WBUR found that lingered for more than a decade.

Early blamed police for being slow at times to turn over seized cash to his office, but did not name specific departments. He also said it’s his office’s practice to wait for criminal cases to conclude before filing civil forfeitures. That doesn’t explain the yearslong delays, however.

Legal specialists said waiting years, if not decades, to file forfeiture motions may violate an individual’s due process rights.

“It’s exactly what the framers of the Constitution were concerned about … a state coming in, depriving someone of their property and, really, you can’t do anything about it,” said Nora Demleitner, a professor at the Washington and Lee University School of Law. “It’s very hard, procedurally, the way this is set up, to act against [the state].”

Early disagreed with critics and said interested parties are provided an opportunity to respond in court. “In no way, shape, or form do we look at that as an infringement on people’s rights,” he said.

But last week, Early said he now plans to tighten the window for filing a civil forfeiture to within two years of a criminal case concluding.

Wyoming’s Supreme Court ruled last year that waiting even nine months to file a civil forfeiture case was too long. The court said the state attorney general’s office violated an Illinois man’s due process rights by delaying a forfeiture filing that followed a traffic stop. The man was never charged with a crime, and the state was ordered to return $470,000 seized from his trunk on an interstate highway.

The majority of states require DAs to take action within 90 days of a seizure or the conclusion of a criminal case. But in Massachusetts, there is no deadline for DAs to file a civil forfeiture action in court. The only legal obligation is that DAs must eventually notify people by mail or newspaper notice that they intend to keep property.

Many of Early’s delays reflect his stockpiling of cases. His office has a practice of combining dozens of unrelated incidents into large forfeiture cases. The long waits can mean people seeking to reclaim money never receive court notices, often because of outdated addresses.

In the last five years, the Worcester County DA packaged more than 1,270 people into 16 cases, involving more than $350,000, according to WBUR’s analysis. Nearly three-quarters of the seizures in these cases were more than three years old by the time the forfeiture was filed. In one instance, Early’s office folded more than 700 incidents into a single case.

Take, for instance, Commonwealth of Massachusetts vs. Twenty Eight Thousand Three Hundred Fifty Six Dollars Fifty Cents ($28,356.50) In United States Currency. At first glance, the sum seems to reflect proceeds from a substantial drug bust. But court documents actually list 109 separate names and seizures — including one as low as $11 — spanning nearly 20 years.

Among the names in this giant batch in 2018 was Jones-Bernier, whose $95 had been taken four years prior. He was listed in an ad the DA’s office ran in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, as having no known address. Jones-Bernier didn’t know his name had appeared there until he was contacted by WBUR. He said Early’s office could have sent a letter to his home address, which was on his driver’s license at the time of the arrest.

“There’s no way they could have NOT found my address,” he said. “It seems like a lazy attempt to try to resolve an issue that they knew they created.”

Jones-Bernier never got his property back. DA Early declined to comment on the case.

Early said his staff determined it was “better to package” cases and deal with them as a large group in the interest of “judicial economy” — meaning it would cost his office more money to file each case individually.

Of more than 1,000 seizures included in forfeiture cases from 2017 through 2019, Early’s office returned seized money to only 16 people, according to data obtained through a public records request.

Early, 63, was a defense attorney for 17 years before becoming district attorney. Much of his life has been steeped in politics, both as the son of a longtime U.S. congressman and now as DA for the past 15 years. And he has faced controversy in his long tenure. Last year, the State Ethics Commission alleged that Early and an assistant violated conflict of interest law by having a state trooper alter an embarrassing police report involving a district judge’s daughter arrested for driving under the influence.

Early and his attorney have maintained he did nothing wrong. The case is ongoing.

On the campaign trail in 2018, an opponent grilled Early for his office’s use of forfeited money, including the purchase of official cars for him and an assistant and the $985 Zamboni.

That ice resurfacer was included in a 2013 report by the state auditor that found more than $50,000 in expenditures lacked adequate documentation on what law enforcement purpose they served. It flagged funding for such items as upkeep of tennis and basketball courts.

Early’s office defended the Zamboni purchase at the time, saying it was for city rinks where members of the county diversion program worked, and that the athletic court upkeep was for a summer youth program. State law permits district attorneys to use up to 10% of forfeited funds for drug-related rehabilitation and education programs if they “further a law enforcement purpose.”

The audit report said Early’s office lacked transparency in how forfeited proceeds were accounted for and distributed, and said it should better document confiscated funds “to ensure all case information is correct, it receives all the judges’ forfeiture orders, and local police departments properly account for funds in their possession.”

In a mandatory post-audit review a few months later, Early’s office told the auditor it was establishing procedures to improve tracking of forfeited funds, according to public records obtained from the auditor’s office.

The auditor has not followed up with the Worcester DA about these procedures since then. Early’s office said that after the audit, they asked police departments for an update on seized funds and now communicate with them “regularly.”

The Struggle to Get Money Back

In theory, anyone can fight to get their seized property back. But unlike in criminal cases, there is no right to a free, court-appointed attorney in civil forfeiture. For many people, it’s impossible to pay an attorney the several thousands of dollars it can cost to pursue their property. Often, a lawyer’s fees would exceed the value of the seized money.

Many people never try to get their money back. Some lack the language skills to wage a legal fight; others just want to avoid tangling with law enforcement. And then there’s the tight, 20-day, window to respond — among the shortest in the country, according to a WBUR review of state statutes. It leaves little time for a letter to be rerouted from an incorrect address, or for the property owner to hire an attorney.

As a result of these hurdles, the majority of civil forfeiture cases are ruled in the district attorney’s favor by default, meaning people took no action to get their money back. In Worcester County, 84% of forfeiture cases in fiscal 2019 were default judgments, according to data from the trial court.

Even when people do take action to get their money back, the district attorney may have other plans for it. One resident found that out the hard way.

Northbridge police and members of the Blackstone Valley Drug Task Force stormed into Laura Wojcechowicz’s house on a September evening as she was getting ready for bed.

“The SWAT came and … they barged right in and held the gun to my chest, told me, ‘Sit the f— down, don’t you f—ing move. Who’s in the house?’” she recalled.

Wojcechowicz, a 52-year-old grandmother, works part-time as a personal care attendant but said her hours were cut back because of the pandemic.

She didn’t know it then, but police were executing a search warrant. They suspected her partner of 30 years, William McPhail, was selling drugs from the home the two share.

She said the police told her, “We’re not here for you.”

But at least $4,800 that she says belonged to her ended up in the hands of the police, even though she was not a target of the investigation.

“There was money in the safe that was in a little wooden box. … It had a little lock and it was all $100 bills,” she recalled. “And I put it in there and I put it in Bill’s safe.”

On the evening of Sept. 30, 2020, law enforcement records show, police found the $4,800 in McPhail’s safe — alongside an unspecified amount of cocaine and heroin. Even though she did not personally face charges, to get the seized money back, Wojcechowicz would have to prove it belonged to her and that it had no connection to the drugs.

It was going to be a steep climb. Wojcechowicz, like anyone fighting a forfeiture in Massachusetts, was in essence guilty unless she could prove her innocence.

Early’s office sought and received a detailed accounting of her finances over a five-month period, according to emails reviewed by WBUR. She said the cash was a combination of state pandemic unemployment assistance, federal stimulus funds and money from her mother.

“She has produced all of her bank records,” said Joseph Hennessey, a Worcester defense attorney who is working on Wojcechowicz’s case pro bono. “She has produced all that, and they’re still not satisfied.”

Without resources and a lawyer, it’s virtually impossible to get one’s money back. “The indigent community doesn’t have the ability to fight for the return of the money, so they are the target. They lose out on all of these seizures,” Hennessey said.

And Early’s office has shown it doesn’t need to find drugs or file criminal charges in order to keep seized property. In court filings, the DA lists victories in such instances and cites them as precedent.

In some cases, district attorneys will accept a deal, according to interviews with seven lawyers who have worked on forfeiture cases in Massachusetts. Prosecutors will often drop criminal charges or seek lighter sentences, the lawyers said, if a defendant gives up all or part of the cash that was seized.

“One of the things that we would have to do in order to get someone a better plea deal was to sign off. Basically, my client would have to sign over their money,” said Arielle Sharma, an attorney with the Boston nonprofit Lawyers for Civil Rights and a former criminal defense attorney in Worcester. “It’s cash for freedom, right?”

After weeks of back-and-forth, Early’s office rejected the documentation Wojcechowicz had provided to show the seized money belonged to her. Her partner, McPhail, was facing two years in county jail. Wojcechowicz’s lawyer told her if she dropped the fight for her money, McPhail would have a better chance at less jail time.

A judge in the case said the forfeiture had to be resolved before he would sentence McPhail.

Wojcechowicz said she felt she had no choice but to agree to give up the money.

McPhail pleaded guilty to two counts of drug possession and another two counts of possession with the intent to distribute. He was in jail for 47 days, but avoided the rest of the term. He is currently on probation.

What Philadelphia Reveals About America’s Homicide Surge

Early’s spokeswoman, Lindsay Corcoran, in statements said the office does often agree to “concessions” on charges, “but these are in no way linked to any forfeiture.”

In this case, she said there was no deal: “Our office is following the law and all forfeiture proceedings are ultimately decided by a judge.”

Since losing the money, Wojcechowicz’s finances have been tight. She said she’s had to think twice about her spending, even to fill the gas tank.

“It stops me from going to do stuff with my grandkids,” she said. “My mother helps me out a lot. It was a big hit.”

Rahsaan Hall, director of the Racial Justice Program for the ACLU of Massachusetts, said the state Legislature needs to adopt more protections for people like Wojcechowicz.

Hall, who served on the state’s civil forfeiture commission, said the recommendations before lawmakers are a good starting point. But he urged the Legislature to go further, by requiring a criminal conviction in order to keep someone’s money.

He said the state’s civil forfeiture laws, as they stand now, are “a stain on our identity.”

This story was supported by the Pulitzer Center.

WBUR investigations editor Christine Willmsen and senior investigative reporter Beth Healy contributed to this report.

Milford Massachusetts COVID-19 federal reduction cash $8.5 million

MILFORD – Millions of dollars in federal COVID-19 aid could arrive in Milford, just as the city looks at Acquisition and operation of your own drinking water system.

“If (the purchase of the Milford Water Company) comes through, it will be important that we use these funds to ensure we meet the capital needs and improve the infrastructure for the water company,” said Milford Finance Director Zachary Taylor. “It’s really amazing that it’s available to us.”

The city is expected to receive $ 8.5 million in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act 2021, often abbreviated as ARPA. Taylor said Milford’s stake is part of $ 350 billion earmarked for states, territories and local governments.

On Monday, the city will vote on the purchase of the private Milford Water Company, the culmination of a multi-year effort to get local control over water quality and prices.

More:Should Milford buy a private water company for $ 79 million? The voters will decide on Monday.

The 2021 ARPA funding differs from the 2020 funding from the same source, which was more focused on tackling the pandemic directly.

“This new wave of federal funding is more like pandemic recovery,” Taylor said.

This includes approved spending for small businesses, families, and hard-hit industries; improved pay for frontline workers; Water, sewage and broadband infrastructure projects; and continue work to contain COVID-19 and address more pressing health needs.

Taylor suggests that the city split the money three ways, leaving between $ 1 million and $ 1.5 million.

If his recommendations are approved, $ 6 million will be allocated to purchase the water company. It is said to partially handle part of the $ 12 million in ongoing improvement projects for the system.

Another $ 500,000 to $ 1 million could go to the Geriatric Authority, he said, which operates a local nursing home, Countryside Health Care of Milford.

“I think it’s certainly no secret that the healthcare industries, especially nursing homes and care facilities, have been hit the hardest,” said Taylor.

About the same amount of money would go to the Milford Board of Health as it continues what Taylor called his “Advanced Health Mission”. This essentially includes work in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Selected board members asked Taylor to see if the city’s key workers could get scholarships. Member Thomas O’Loughlin estimated that about 120 employees could see between $ 500 and $ 1,000 per person.

“I’m talking about if we even look at our guards decontaminating rooms here, decontaminating facilities, cleaning up the police station behind people who have had COVID, and actually giving it to police officers and firefighters,” O’Loughlin said. “And then the cops and firefighters who came to work every day … I think it would go a long way to give them a scholarship.”

Board member selected Paul Mazzuchelli also asked Taylor to investigate the city’s broadband internet needs to ensure employees, especially those who work remotely, have what they need.

“We are in the third decade of the 21st century,” said Mazzuchelli, “and we should be as attuned to IT as possible, especially now.”

The city doesn’t have to decide on spending until 2024, which is the deadline for spending money for most of the allowable categories. For water infrastructure, the city has to commit to projects that use the money by this year, but it has until 2026 to actually spend it.

Alison Bosma can be reached at 508-634-7582 or abosma@gannett.com. Find her on Twitter at @AlisonBosma.

In Advertising and marketing Stunt, Massachusetts Bar Accepts Monopoly Cash

By Jonny Lupsha, Current Events Writer

A Worcester bar accepted Monopoly money on Thursday as part of a marketing campaign. Ralph’s Tavern accepted the board game tender in exchange for hot dogs and non-alcoholic jell-o-shots in hopes of securing a lot of land for a local special edition of the game. Marketing efforts need to recognize what customers value.

Comprehensive marketing plans include describing how a product or service is offered and its value to potential and existing customers. Photo by Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock

People often mistake marketing for being simply TV commercials or ads in the newspaper or on the internet. On the contrary, Ralph’s Tavern in Worcester, MA recently found out that Marketing is an exercise in what customers value.

On Thursday, the bar accepted Monopoly money for hot dogs and non-alcoholic jell-o-shots for two hours. This was done to attract attention and secure a plot of land on the board of a Worcester edition of the popular Monopoly game.

In the video series Critical Business Skills for Success, Dr. Ryan Hamilton, Associate Professor of Marketing at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, defined marketing for what it really is.

More than a clever ad

“The biggest mistake people make when they think about marketing is to define it too narrowly – many companies view marketing as something that is done after a product is developed and simply needs to be sold,” said Dr. Hamilton.

The job of marketing is to create added value for customers, not just communicating value that has already been created. Marketing does this by understanding who the customer is, what they value and how they can deliver that value better than the competition. “

Dr. Hamilton said he believed that the value of a product should only be determined from the point of view of the customers who want to buy it. Additionally, he said innovation and value are not born solely in laboratories, but must be brought together with a range of customers who value them.

Then those innovations and values ​​must be explained to customers in a way that customers can understand, at a price customers are willing to pay, and sold in stores where customers are willing to buy.

In other words, if no one is buying the “Next Big Thing,” it doesn’t matter how well it was done. One such example was the Apple Newton in the 1980s, the first tablet computer. It was badly marketed and sales bottomed out. Motorola suffered the same fate with the Envoy in 1994. It wasn’t until Palm introduced the PalmPilot in 1996 and began targeting its customers that the market blew up.

Commit suicide in marketing—Or not?

Marketing can seem incredibly counter-intuitive at times. Ralph’s Tavern in Worcester knows that there is nowhere for them to spend Monopoly money or give their employees as paychecks. However, they added some social value to their bar – the ability to connect with others – by implying that people would be happy to buy food while using Monopoly money.

Also, because Monopoly money is so cheap, they offer the customer a monetary value. A piece of paper hot dog made out of a snap is easier to sell than asking for hard-earned paychecks.

Some hospitals have followed similar strategies in order to provide non-monetary value to people. “In a radical departure from decades of legal advice, some major hospital systems have moved from a policy of ‘do not admit anything that may be used against us later in court’ to a policy of openness and honesty with patients when mistakes are made. “Said Dr. Hamilton.

“This new postponement makes no sense when patients, the customers of the hospitals, are primarily looking for monetary value. By admitting a mistake to someone who can sue you for misconduct, you’re essentially handing over your checkbook and asking them if they’d like to borrow your pen too. “

However, hospitals hypothesized that malpractice claims are driven by psychological values ​​- patients’ desire to feel respected, heard, and empowered. In a place like a hospital, where someone is particularly vulnerable, they will react badly when the hospital builds their defenses.

So what happened “When some hospitals adopted this new system to provide non-monetary, psychological value to patients by admitting mistakes, sincerely apologizing, and giving patients full information, something amazing happened: malpractice lawsuits actually went down.”

For some hospitals, admission of wrongdoing is really a card to get out of jail.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, The Great Courses Daily

The Massachusetts State Treasurer’s Workplace of Financial Empowerment Companions With Cash Expertise To Supply Free Monetary Literacy Course To Native Group Schools

State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg founded the Office of Economic Empowerment in 2014. Its mission is to implement a range of economic empowerment initiatives, including closing the racial and gender pay gap, prioritizing racial justice, improving access to financial education, improving college affordability, and investing in STEM careers and education . In line with the stated goals of OEE, this new program offers students a path to improve their financial future. By providing free access to financial education, the OEE aims to gain access to instruments and resources that help improve economic conditions of competition.

“People of all ages and backgrounds need the skills necessary to navigate today’s financial environment,” said the treasurer Deborah B. Goldberg. “By partnering with Money Experience, we can provide local community college students with a vital resource that will enable them to budget, save, invest and be financially sound.”

“Money Experience is an innovative tool that our community college students use to plan their financial future and plan for both the expected and unexpected events in their lives. This tool also provides a great opportunity to demonstrate the tremendous value of a community college education to highlight offers Massachusetts Residents “said Tom Sannicandro, Director of the Massachusetts Association of Community Colleges (MACC). “We are grateful for Treasurer Goldberg’s work on such critical initiatives to strengthen the economy and appreciate this important partnership.”

Money experience Basics provides a unique, engaging way to teach financial education online. Using an immersive life simulator and graphic novel, the personalized approach focuses on quality of life and personal priorities, helping students gain an overview of how their lifestyle and financial decisions affect their future. Students first set priorities for each phase of life and then make a variety of professional, personal, and lifestyle decisions. As each decision is made, they will see how it aligns with their priorities, affects their quality of life, and affects their finances. The financial model uses real-world data to calculate the entire lifecycle of a person’s financial decisions, including average salaries for different jobs, rents in different cities, interest rates, cost of living, and more.

“As a Massachusetts We are pleased to have the Office of Economic Empowerment on board as a customer. By adding Money Experience to its state-approved list, the OEE can offer Essentials to so many students in our community, “he said Jeet singh, Founder and CEO of Money Experience. “We strongly believe that life skills are a vital part of a young person’s education. When planning for the future, it is important to understand how money works in life, and we want to help each and every student create a future that will which matches his own personal needs, goals and priorities. ”

Money Experience is deeply rooted Massachusetts, complies with the Massachusetts Student Privacy Agreement and has worked with a range of organizations – from high schools and colleges to nonprofits and financial institutions – to improve financial literacy across the state and position the next generation of residents for financial success.

All Massachusetts Community colleges wishing to access the course can apply to the OEEs website. Licenses are continuously distributed via April, 30th2022.

About MACC
MACC represents the fifteen Massachusetts Community Colleges and works on behalf of the Presidents and their local advocacy, communication, and collaboration boards to empower community colleges for the benefit of students, communities, and the Commonwealth.

Via the Massachusetts Treasurer’s Office of Economic Empowerment
On her first day in office, Treasurer Goldberg established the Office of Economic Empowerment, under the direction of an Assistant Treasurer, with a conscious aim to implement a range of economic empowerment initiatives, including closing the race and gender pay gap, eliminating racial justice, and improving it access to financial literacy, improve college affordability, and invest in STEM careers and education.

About money experience
Part of the corporate family founded by quoted Boston Tech entrepreneur Jeet singh and Joe ChungMoney Experience is an educational technology company that addresses the need for personal finance literacy among young people and adults. Money Experience is headquartered in One Kendall Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts. https://www.moneyexperience.com/

Media contacts:

Hollywood agency for money experience
Caitlin Snider
E: [email protected]
P: (508) 353-0430

SOURCE Money Experience

Massachusetts senator desires to let student-athletes earn cash from third-party endorsements as NCAA pushes off determination

While March Madness brings in more than $ 1.1 billion in revenue for top universities and college sports regulators, Senator Barry Finegold says it’s time to give athletes a piece of the pie.

“Who are the real winners?” Finegold, a Democrat from Andover, asks about the lucrative business of college sports.

In 2019, college sports programming raised $ 18.9 billion through ticket sales, television deals, clothing stores, and merchandise sales, according to the NCAA. Some of the money goes to schools, where it covers the salaries of six-figure coaches and state-of-the-art stadiums, but none of that goes into players’ pockets as per NCAA rules.

It’s a funding formula that Finegold – once an amateur soccer player himself – says it’s time to change. This is the second term that Finegold has tabled its bill to legalize endorsements for physical education students in Massachusetts. However, he says this is more relevant today than ever.

“There’s a lot of talk about justice and fairness right now – most of these athletes have lower socio-economic status,” Finegold told the Herald in a recent interview. “In D1, high-priced recruits make all this money for these schools and what is the ultimate benefit? So many drop out of school early, not getting the full benefit from college and hoping for professional careers, but that can be a tough road to hacking. ”

Finegold’s bill would allow student-athletes to receive compensation for using their name, image, or likeness without affecting the student’s eligibility – something that is currently not allowed under NCAA rules. College players could also participate in professional sport drafting without compromising their college status and gaming ability, and would allow them to keep scholarships. It also allows student-athletes to hire agents and would set up a “Catastrophic Sports Injury Fund” to compensate student-athletes who suffer retirement injuries.

The latest NCAA data shows that the graduation rate among athletes has slowly increased over the past two decades. Around 90% of athletes who started college in 2013 have graduated. However, according to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, there is still a significant racial gap in graduation rates for black athletes, with graduation of about 73% last year.

Public support to provide student-athletes with name, image, and likeness opportunities has increased in recent years. The NCAA itself has now committed to changing the rules as a patchwork of state laws emerges. Finegold’s bill is modeled on California’s Fair Pay to Play Act, which was passed by lawmakers in 2019. Florida passed a similar bill last year.

“The NCAA is best positioned to offer a consistent and fair approach to name, image and likeness to all athletes at the national level,” the organization said in a statement. A vote in January to pass a new set of rules that extends the rules for names, image and likeness to athletes was postponed indefinitely.

The NCAA Board of Governors backed rule changes last April to allow athletes to receive compensation for third-party endorsements. The then chairman of the NCAA Board of Governors, Michale V. Drake, described the issue of endorsement for sports students as “uncharted territory” at the time.

Two Massachusetts girls indicted on expenses stemming from $100M dwelling well being care fraud and cash laundering scheme

The government is seeking civil forfeiture of five properties and 40 financial accounts and investments

Posted: Feb 2, 2021 / 12:23 PM EST
Updated: February 2, 2021 / 12:24 PM EST

BOSTON (USDOJ) – Two women were arrested Sunday and charged with $ 100 million in connection with a $ 100 million home nursing fraud program. The government also filed a civil lawsuit seeking the loss of five properties and 40 financial accounts, as well as investing in a system to launder illicit profits.

Faith Newton, 52, from Westford and Winnie Waruru, 41, from Lowell have been charged with a health fraud conspiracy. a count of healthcare fraud – Aid; and a conspiracy to pay and receive setbacks. Newton was also charged with a number of money laundering conspiracies and seven money laundering cases. In addition, Waruru has been charged on two counts of making false statements and one case of making false statements on a health matter. Newton and Waruru were arrested yesterday and will appear in federal court in Boston at 1:30 p.m. Monday

According to the indictment, Newton was a partner and operator of Arbor Homecare Services LLC from January 2013 to January 2017. Waruru was a licensed practical nurse who worked as a home nurse at Arbor. It is believed that Newton and Waruru conspired to use Arbor to defraud MassHealth and Medicare worth at least $ 100 million by committing healthcare fraud and paying kickbacks to get referrals. Newton then allegedly laundered the illicit profits.

Specifically, it is alleged that Arbor was not trained by Newton and other employees, was billed for home health services that were never performed or not medically necessary, and for unauthorized home health services. Arbor developed through Newton and other employment relationships to pay setbacks for patient referrals regardless of the requirements of medical need. They also entered into bogus employment with the patients’ family members to provide home health services that were medically unnecessary and were routinely billed for fictitious visits that Newton knew did not take place. As claimed in the civil lawsuit, Newton targeted vulnerable, low-income, disabled, and / or depressed and / or addicted patients, either directly or through Arbor.

According to the indictment, Waruru and Arbor MassHealth billed Waruru’s qualified care visits, many of which were not made. Waruru also passed cash payments from Newton on to an Arbor patient in order to keep that patient.

Newton reportedly used the laundered proceeds of the $ 100 million program to buy multiple homes and a Maserati, and fund investment accounts, a lavish lifestyle, and numerous financial transactions. In the civil forfeiture proceedings, five properties in Westford, North Andover, Chelmsford and Dracut are to be forfeited to the United States and the contents of 40 bank accounts and / or investments are forfeited.

The healthcare fraud, healthcare conspiracy conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and money laundering charges each see a prison sentence of up to 10 years, three years of custody release and a fine of up to $ 250,000 or double the money in the laundry . The conspiracy to pay setbacks, make false statements, and make false statements in the healthcare sector calls for up to five years’ imprisonment, three years of custodial release, and a fine of up to $ 250,000 each. Sentences are passed by a federal district judge based on U.S. sentencing guidelines and other legal factors.

United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling; Phillip M. Coyne, US Department of Health Special Representative, Inspector General’s Office, Investigative Office; Ramsey E. Covington, assistant special commissioner for the Internal Revenue Service in Boston; and Joseph R. Bonavolonta, special envoy for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Field Division, announced today. Assistant US attorneys Rachel Y. Hemani of Lelling’s Health Care Fraud Unit and David G. Lazarus, head of Lelling’s Asset Recovery Unit, are following the cases.

The information contained in the court documents are allegations. The defendants are presumed innocent unless and until they have been found unequivocally guilty in a court of law.