Tag Archive: Community Education Centers

No Remorse: A dangerous convict in a halfway house escapes and commits murder

David Goodell in jail bragged that he would kill his girlfriend while he was already planning his escape. After being transferred to a Community Education Centers (CEC) halfway house in Newark Goodell feigned illness, was taken to a hospital and broke loose. Within hours he murdered Viviana Tulli. After being apprehended a Lieutenant Corrections Officer says Goodell was potentially one of the most dangerous guys he has had in his jail.

You can see and hear Goodell in the Bergen County Jail on a new MSNBC episode of LOCKUP: New Jersey – No Remorse premiering Saturday at 10:00pm. You can catch a preview here, or watch the video here after the show has aired. LOCKUP has been running other New Jersey jail episodes which you can view here.

During Saturday’s episode there is an interview with Viviana’s sister Stella Tulli-Makowski who talks about the loss to her family. Stella has said “David Goodell, in my opinion, has now become the poster boy for someone who should have never set foot in a halfway house, let alone paroled early.”

At a Bergen Record editorial board meeting in June 2012, Governor Christie was asked if he would consider reaching out to the family of Viviana Tulli. Christie called the question unfair. He said the incident happened when Democrat Jon Corzine was governor. “So to ask me that question presupposes that I have responsibility for something … that didn’t happen on my watch,” he stressed. That claim was false. The incident occurred in August 2010, eight months after Christie took office.

Who knows? Maybe Christie is a fan of Lockup and will see the show. Will he feel any remorse? Will he call Stella? Will he bring reform to halfway houses – a problem he prefers to minimize and ignore? (His campaign has received CEC donations and his political confidante Bill Palatucci used to work for CEC.) Will the Legislature which held hearings on the matter finally take action? You can read the excellent NY Times exposé of  NJ halfway houses UNLOCKED here.

Stella in July 2013 out of frustration wrote a diary for Blue Jersey, One year later AFTER Assembly hearing for Halfway House reform. She continues her crusade. She says what happened to her sister and her family could happen to anyone.  

One Year Later: Where Is The Promised Halfway House Reform?

In 2010 David Goodell, while serving a four-year prison term for an assault conviction, escaped custody of a Newark halfway house run by Community Education Center (CEC). Hours later he murdered Viviana Tullli. On Thursday in court he pleaded guilty to the brutal murder. He said “I grabbed her by the neck and strangled her.” This killing, among other grave problems, formed a part of Sam Dolnick’s N. Y. Times June 2012 riveting investigative report Unlocked.

One year after the report and after two legislative hearings that promised action, Stella Tulli, sister of the deceased, had to relive the memory Thursday of Viviana’s murder with no consolation that our government was taking action to reform halfway houses and prevent such atrocities in the future. She said on Friday, “The guilty plea did awaken a lot of pain today. I feel like the day after I was told of her death. After a while people get tired of hearing about it, but I still continue.”

Stella Tulli testified with heart-felt emotion before both the Senate and Assembly hearings in July. As Sam Dolnick reports yesterday, “After the hearings, lawmakers introduced a package of more than a dozen bills that would reshape the halfway house system, increasing regulation and overhauling the contracts with the private companies. None of those bills have been approved.” Instead legislators created a task force. During the past year Stella Tulli says she e-mailed legislators who were on the hearings, and some responded but others did not.

Prior to the release of the N. Y. Times’ scathing series Governor Christie said at a CEC facility  this is “someplace where the work is purely good.” “Places like this are to be celebrated.” After release of the report Christie said his administration “takes its responsibility to properly administer this program very seriously.” Nonetheless, he line-item vetoed two important provisions which Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37) wrote into the Budget bill. His approach has been to sweep halfway house problems under the rug, use line item vetoes, and only grudgingly make minimal changes.

Christie’s numerous connections to CEC, CEC’s significant donations to his campaign, and Christie’s overriding belief in privatization all serve to create conflicts of interest. As the NY Times series documents, Governor Christie’s championing of CEC started in 2001 when he and law partner William Palatucci became registered lobbyists for CEC. Palatucci went on to become a vice President of CEC and close confidante of the governor. Two years ago Christie attended the wedding of the daughter of John Clancy, Founder and Chief Executive of CEC. Christie hired the groom, Samuel Vivattine, to work as an assistant in his office. Paul Krugman in a N. Y. Times piece concludes, “What we are witnessing is a corrupt nexus of privatization and patronage that is undermining government across much of our nation.”

Christie, Palatucci, & Jersey

Late last year, Bill Palatucci, friend and mentor of NJ Gov. Chris Christie, left Community Education Centers for the law firm of Gibbons, PC.

Community Education Centers, CEC, calls itself “A leading provider of offender reentry” is the company to which New Jersey has outsourced halfway houses.

It is also the company that allows felons to – in words Mitt Romney might use – “Self-Parole” and “Self-Pardon” – to walk away at will. The New York Times covered this at length. The Times, not known for sensationalist reporting, described Community Education Centers half-way houses as places where “bedlam” reigns.

Palatucci said that his resignation from CEC had nothing to do with Governor Christie’s re-election campaign. He also said that he wants to have time to work on Republican campaigns in 2013.

If Gov. Christie runs his campaign the way Community Education Centers runs their half-way houses I expect Mr. Christie to lose his re-election campaign.  

A Sign of Progress in Halfway House Reform

Following legislative halfway house hearings four months ago, Assemblyman Chales Mainor (D-31) Chair, Law & Public Safety Committee, has introduced five new bills. They could have a substantial impact on halfway house operators (particularly the largest, Community Education Centers), inmate security and services, and public safety. Mainor is joined by primary sponsors Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-15), Gilbert Wilson (D-5), Daniel Benson (D-14), Nelson Albano (D-1) and Joseph Cryan (D-20). The text of the bills has not yet been posted, but the brief description of each and my comments in brackets, suggest that key issues are being addressed:

  •  A3502 – Requires DOC to conduct quarterly site visits at residential community release programs. [In the past there have been insufficient monitoring site visits.]

  •  A3503 – Establishes “Task Force To Review Residential Community Release Programs” to review this State’s halfway houses and make recommendations concerning security and inmate services. [A lack of security and inmate services have been a significant problem.]

  •  A3504 – Prohibits pre-trial county inmates charged with first, second, or third degree crimes from being placed in halfway houses. [Placing such inmates in halfway houses, never designed for such prisoners, has been a major cause of violence, escapes, and drugs.]

  •  A3505 – Requires the Division of Purchase and Property to award contracts to halfway houses; sets forth certain contract requirements. [Removes contracting from Department of Corrections, which has mismanaged the awarding and overseeing of operators, and creates needed new standards.]

  •  A3506 – Requires residential community release programs to file certain financial disclosure documents with DOC. [There has been a lack of halfway house financial transparency and incidents of overbilling.]

    These bills and others still need to wend their way through the legislature and may face opposition from Governor Christie who has blocked previous reform efforts. They are a good start.  

  • CEC Investigation: The Dirty Little Secrets of EHCA – Part VIII

    Stella Tulli recounts the events of her sister’s murder by a CEC escapee, and her own painful, frustrating and hear-breaking experiences in this Blue Jersey diary.

    Following Monday’s Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee’s aggressive questioning, particularly of CEC, we learned more about this secretive private organization and the calamitous disarray at its halfway houses. However, Blue Jersey research into CEC’s non-profit arm – Education & Health Centers of America (EHCA) – reveals disturbing new details. EHCA was created to circumvent the law that requires only non-profits can receive halfway house contracts from the Department of Corrections (DOC). We have learned that EHCA reduces transparency, adds unnecessary costs to the halfway house operation, allows selected individuals to receive dual compensation, lets CEC retain profits in EHCA which are nontaxable, offers no firewall between the two firms, and donates to organizations from which it seeks favors for CEC.

    EHCA’s most recent non-profit 990 tax filing provides a wealth of information. In the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011, EHCA received $71,049,271 in revenue from NJ State & local governments. It passed on only $69,038,017 to CEC as a “support service fee,” to run the halfway houses. EHCA kept $2,011,254 (2.8% of EHCA revenue). With EHCA, CEC gained a second entity to divert NJ government funds away from direct CEC services and into separate coffers controlled by CEC.

    What did EHCA do with its $2,011,254? First of all, $664,435, which could have been spent on inmate services, was treated as EHCA retained earnings and added to its fund balance. As an entity designed theoretically as a “pass through” organization to get funds to CEC for program purposes, it became a repository to divert funds and allow John Clancy as Chair of both CEC and EHCA to do as he wished. These retained earnings held by the non-profit EHCA are nontaxable, whereas, if they were retained as profit by the for-profit CEC they would be subject to tax. In effect, EHCA reduces CEC’s taxes.

    Here are some additional uses for the $2,011,254 pocketed by EHCA. John Clancy paid himself $350,000 as Chair of EHCA, claiming to work 30 hours per week for EHCA – an entity which represents only a fraction of CEC’s total activities in 15 states. This salary excludes whatever he received from CEC as its Founder and CEO to which he likely dedicates the majority of his time. In the process he is using a NJ non-profit organization receiving our government funds  to pay for work most likely performed on ventures in other states. The total compensation costs of this “pass through” agency for its officers, directors, trustees and key employees was $581,863. Other salaries were $262,292, and employee benefits and payroll tax were $84,855.  A lot of costs just to pass government funds to CEC.

    Other expenses included legal: $112,332 and accounting: $31,500. With no real difference between the two entities, EHCA added occupancy costs: $60,019, office expenses: $22,073 and other costs for insurance and depreciation.

    During Assembly testimony Dr. Robert Mackey, CEC Senior Vice President, testified about the required “firewall” erected between CEC and EHCA. Nonetheless, Dr. Mackey stated he received part of his salary from EHCA and that his responsibilities span many states.  Assemblyman Joe Cryan (D-20) rightly scoffed at the notion of a “firewall” as Mackey and Clancy work for both organizations. Not mentioned by Dr. Mackey was that Maria Carnevale, as an employee of EHCA with compensation there of $102,600, is also listed in the CEC website as part of the “CEC Management Team” as Assistant to John Clancy, presumably with an additional salary.

    Beyond the fold: more about the fake firewall, donations, the impact of EHCA, and the need for change.

    CEC Investigation: The Clamor and Urgency Grow – Part IV

    The Senate and Assembly are each now considering launching an investigation into NJ halfway houses, most of which are operated by Community Education Centers (CEC). Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) has approved the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee to launch an investigation if committee Chairman Senator Robert Gordon (D-38) wishes to proceed. Assemblyman Charles Mainor (D-31), chair of the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee, has said, “We definitely want a hearing and we want to concentrate on finding out why there are so many escapes going on, along with the recidivism, along with the crime that’s being committed by people that are escaping.”

    Prior to the release of the NY Times’ scathing report on CEC and halfway houses, Governor Christie said at CEC’s Delaney Hall in 2010, this is “someplace where the work is purely good.” “Places like this are to be celebrated.” Just months before an inmate was murdered there. After release of the report Christie said his administration “takes its responsibility to properly administer this program very seriously.” Nonetheless, he line-item vetoed two important provisions which Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37) wrote into the Budget bill. Christie has been aware of these problems since even before becoming governor. His approach has been to sweep them under the rug, use line item vetoes and only grudgingly make minimal changes.

    Christie’s numerous connections to CEC, CEC’s significant donations to his campaign, and Christie’s overriding belief in privatization all serve to create conflicts of interest. As the NY Times series documents, Governor Christie’s championing of CEC started in 2001 when he and law partner William Palatucci became registered lobbyists for CEC. Palatucci went on to become a vice President of CEC and close confidante of the governor. Since Christie took office 1,300 halfway house inmates have escaped, one of whom went on to murder a woman within hours of escaping from a CEC facility. Last summer Christie attended the wedding of the daughter of John Clancy, Founder and Chief Executive of CEC. Christie hired the groom, Samuel Vivattine, to work as an assistant in his office. Paul Krugman in a NY Times piece concludes what we are witnessing is a corrupt nexus of privatization and patronage that is undermining government across much of our nation.

    It is not surprising that a wide variety of media and individuals have raised a hue and cry. See below the fold outraged editorials and commentary, as well as responses from two apologists/defenders.  

    CEC Investigation: Blue Jersey Finds The Problems Are Not Just in NJ – Part III

    Governor Christie on Friday curbed an effort by the Legislature to improve oversight of the state’s privately run halfway houses. However, evidence accumulates that the problems reported in the New York Times are not restricted to New Jersey. Community Education Centers (CEC) runs most of the facilities in our state and operates in about twelve other states. One of its sites is Cheyenne Mountain Re-Entry Center (CMRC) in Colorado Springs where press reports and a whistle-blower raise troubling questions.

    What the whistle-blower is reporting – below the fold.

    CEC Investigation: Christie And The Watchdogs – Part II

    “The company that runs these halfway houses, Community Education Center, is for-profit, operated by a good friend of Christie, and in fact for a while he was a registered lobbyist for the company. The half way houses are apparently shot through with violence, drug usage, rape, and runways. Christie allies say it is just the liberal agenda of the Times, but it is surely more serious than that. If in fact, Christie has been negligent on this issue, it has enormous implications. Just remember how the Republicans used the Willie Horton parole from Governor Mike Dukakis’ prisons to hit him over the head for being soft on crime.” The Romance Is Over: Michael Riccards, Executive Director of NJ Hall Institute of Public Policy

    In Part I there was an explanation of how Community Education Centers’ (CEC) recent contributions of $600,000 to many political campaigns have created significant conflicts of interest and how the sheer breadth of matters to investigate make it difficult for any one legislative committee to conduct an independent review. Individual legislative committees, however, can develop bills to address particular issues. Such is what just happened with amazing speed when over a few day a bill to require the State Auditor to review Department of Corrections’ halfway house contracts was quickly passed by committees of both houses and is now poised for floor votes.  

    Christie has, indeed, “been negligent on this issue.” When Chris Christie assumed the governorship in 2010 the State Commission on Investigations (SCI) had already issued a 2009 report highlighting gang presence in prisons (how, why, & what to do about it), and the State Comptroller was in the midst of preparing a report to be published in 2011 that “exposed crucial weaknesses in state oversight of halfway houses.” Christie’s own press spokesman Michael Drewniak, as a former Star Ledger Department of Corrections reporter, was already aware of the problems in 1997. He wrote an article about how CEC set up a separate “non-profit” agency to obtain Department of Corrections grants and funnel money to CEC. The Comptrollers’ report questions the legality of this arrangement. DOC over the years has authorized and “supervised” many CEC contracts. In effect, through State watchdog reports, interaction from DOC, Christie’s own spokesperson, and many press articles there was ample information available to Christie about the numerous, serious shortcomings of CEC.

    What did Governor Christie then do? As the Star Ledger reported in 2010 he wanted to reduce the budgets and “consolidate the state’s watchdog agencies by placing the offices of the comptroller, inspector general, Medicaid inspector general and the State Commission of Investigation under one roof – Christie’s.” This from a governor who had fiercely prosecuted government-related crime and exposed a broad web of state-wide payola? Fortunately, Christie’s efforts at taking control of these agencies failed, and they remain now as they were.

    In Part III there will be more information about the key role these agencies can provide in further investigative actions.  In addition, more responsiveness is needed from the Attorney General’s office.

    In the meanwhile on the list of both the Senate and Assembly for voting today is S927 which requires the State Auditor to review DOC privatization contracts. The review is supposed to determine any malfeasance on the part of DOC and whether the privatization cost is less than in-service operation would be. Although the State Auditor has audited different State prisons and DOC administration, this would represent the first time they have audited any halfway houses. As a result, in addition to the past efforts of the SCI and the Comptroller, we would now have the involvement of the State Auditor as a third watchdog. It will be interesting to see if any Republicans support the bill or any Democrats oppose it.  

    CEC Investigation: There’s A Lot Of Dirt In Them Thar Hills

    Eleven months after an inmate was killed at CEC’s Delaney Hall, Governor Christie served as keynote speaker for its 2010 10th-anniversary celebration. He said, “This is where I need to be, because even as governor, you treasure the times when you can come and be someplace where the work is purely good.”

    Following the New York Times three-part series, countless other newspaper articles over the years, NJ Comptroller Boxer’s report, an SCI report Gangs in Prisons, information from prisoner advocacy groups, and many Blue Jersey diaries, the need for a full independent investigation of Community Education Centers (CEC) is apparent. Its facilities are not places where “the work is purely good.”

    The problem as Charles Stile points out is that founder William Clancy, his family, and CEC since the early 1990’s have donated over $600,000 to elected officials at the state and local level. That’s a lot of dirt and many enriched hills. Essex County has proven particularly fertile ground for CEC, but Clancy’s largesse has included governors of both parties and officials in counties where CEC operates or would like to operate. Particularly troubling has been Governor Christie’s past participation as registered lobbyist for CEC, his frequent visits to the centers where he spews praises, his acceptance of donations, failure to address publicized problems, and his close relationship with CEC Senior Vice President William Palatucci.

    In addition to the largesse, which constitutes conflicts of interest for those who might investigate CEC, the problem for any investigatory group is the sheer number of issues to be examined: “pay-to-play,” public safety when inmates “walk away” from a facility, violence, rape, and drugs within the institutions, lack of quality counseling and education, lack of financial accountability and collusion with local authorities to obtain business.  

    With so many pockets of enriched hills and so many varieties of dirt, what group is independent enough with sufficient staff and skills to attack the problem?

    Charles Mainor (D-Hudson), Chair of the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee, is one of two individuals who has called for legislative hearings. How independent can he be, however, as his county houses and receives monies for CEC’s Talbot Hall in Kearny. In Part I of the NY Times series he was quoted as being asked for his estimate of how many people escaped from halfway houses in 2011. “I have heard of no more than three,” he responded. According to state records, the number was 452. Another member of the committee Sean Kean (R-30) in the NY Times article appeared dismissive, saying about the escapes, “It’s not really a problem. It’s a cheaper way of doing business, so that’s why it behooves us to use that option.” In summary, this committee is not a promising group to investigate the matter.

    Senator Barbara Buono is the other individual who has expressed concern, stating, “They should be held accountable for their failures.” One of her key staffers said that with the current budget issues on the front burner, she has not yet developed a strategy on how to move forward. She is Vice Chair of the Senate Oversight Committee. Although she has received a combined $2,600 in donations in 2010 and 2011, she has shown the independence and fervor necessary to undertake such an investigation. She has not discussed the matter yet with Chair Robert Gordon (D-38), nor Paul Sarlo (D-36), neither of whom reside in a county where CEC operates. However, another committee member Teresa Ruiz (D-29) is a part of the Essex County Democratic machine which is probably the largest recipient of CEC largesse. With a small committee and an even smaller staff it would be difficult for this group to undertake such a far-ranging investigation.

    Because of conflicts of interest and the broad scope necessary, a legislative investigation does not seem the best course. Individual committees, however,  can review matters within their purview and promote legislation. There is currently a Senate bill (S927) sponsored by Jeff Van Drew (D-3) and Steven Sweeney (D-3) which would require the State Auditor to review Department of Corrections privatization contracts to determine whether privatization yields a reduction in costs and whether there was any malfeasance on the part of DOC with the contract. It has been reviewed by two committees, however, the identical Assembly bill (A1880) has seen no committee action. If the bill were to gain passage it would represent a step forward, with some dirt removed, but large mounds still remaining.

    There are other more promising venues for investigation which will be discussed in Part II of this diary.  There is a lot of dirt, a lot of hills and we need heavy duty equipment to level the land.  

    NJ’s Prison Industrial Complex

    An article in today’s NYTimes points out,  

    The conviction that private prisons save money helped drive more than 30 states to turn to them for housing inmates. “There’s a perception that the private sector is always going to do it more efficiently and less costly,” said Russ Van Vleet, a former co-director of the University of Utah Criminal Justice Center. “But there really isn’t much out there that says that’s correct.”

     

    Private prisons pay staff less but the result is often more violence and inmate mistreatment. Private prisons also have a habit of only accepting healthier inmates and under-spending on those who are ill. more below…