Tag Archive: William Palatucci

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.”

CEC Investigation: Our Legislators Take Action – Part VII

After years of groups and individuals raising warning signs about problems in halfway houses, the issue was placed in stark relief in a N Y Times devastating series of articles Unlocked by Sam Dolnick. On Thursday the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee chaired by Bob Gordon (D-37) and vice-chaired by Barbara Buono (D-18) will hold a hearing. On Monday the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee chaired by Charles Mainor (D-31) and vice chaired by Gilbert Wilson (D-5) will hold another hearing. The goals are to understand the problems and bring about solutions.

The Problems: Past articles in the Blue Jersey CEC Investigation series have highlighted serious improprieties regarding halfway houses – particularly those of Community Education Centers (CEC), which last year received $71 million out of $105 million in government expenses. It is a story of CEC’s Founder John Clancy who used a dubious agreement from a prior Attorney General to set up a shell non-profit company and then through large political contributions, lobbying, PR, a well connected legal VP, and friendship with a U.S. attorney and later governor to create a large corrections corporation. With insufficient monitoring from the Department of Corrections (DOC), this company ran facilities that bred an atmosphere of inmate drugs, escapes, violence, gangs, rapes, and deaths. With unqualified staff, security was compromised, the public at large was placed in danger with unnecessary escapes, and the goal of helping to reduce recidivism was given short shrift.

Christie confidante and CEC Senior Vice President, William Palatucci aided, abetted and defended CEC. Governor Christie as a lawyer at Dughi and Hewitt, as U.S. Attorney, and later as governor at a minimum praised and enabled the activities of CEC. He failed to implement remedies that other more responsible parties were calling for over the years, and he may have done so willfully and improperly. Now we are at the point where the valid role of halfway houses is being discredited, and the largest company in New Jersey is facing such severe financial problems that the DOC might need to take over at a moment’s notice thousands of inmates lodged annually in CEC facilities. CEC failings are not confined to NJ DOC contracts, but extend to those held by NJ local governments and such states as Texas, Alabama, and Colorado.

There are numerous solutions. The agreement that allowed CEC to use a non-profit organization as a front, in contravention to established regulations, should be ended for any future contracts and possibly existing contracts. CEC was able to build a monopolistic position, and it is now time to enable legitimate non profits to compete fairly for DOC contracts small and large. The Boxer audit laid out key recommendations for remedies, and it is essential to establish what progress DOC has achieved so far and to assure the recommendations are met. Dangerous inmates should not be lodged in halfway houses. The security and living conditions of inmates need to be improved. Process measures must be established to assure that the goals of reducing recidivism through drug treatment, job readiness, and other skills preparatory to re-entering the general population are being well administered. More qualified staffing is important. Pay-to-play regulations urgently need strengthening. People like Governor Christie should be disabused of the notion that privatization brings huge savings, as previous studies have shown that such savings are scant. Goals should include integrity, safety, and reducing recidivism not an elusive search for savings.

Below the fold are suggestions for some of the individuals who should testify and what questions legislators might ask the individuals.

 

CEC Investigation: The Puppeteer and His Puppets – Part VI

“The allegations of civil rights and corrupt government and contractor practices [at halfway houses] are very serious and disturbing. There is a political circle of individuals and relationships that basically controls State government and certain local governments. This circle conspires to protect itself and its members from appropriate oversight and accountability. This practice must end.” – Senator Ronald Rice (D-28)

Key members of this circle are CEC Founder & CEO John Clancy, Governor Christie, and CEC Senior Vice President and Christie confidante William Palatucci. Another member is Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, about whom much has been written regarding Delaney Hall, immigration detention, Essex County Jail, and CEC campaign contributions. But that is an Essex County story which may not feature in the July Senate and Assembly investigations of State Department of Corrections (DOC) ccontracts. Yet another story revealed by Blue Jersey was CEC’s mismanagement at Cheyenne Mountain Re-Entry Center in Colorado. For CEC the malfeasance involves contracts with NJ state, local government, and other states.

The nexus of Clancy, Christie, and Palatucci

Puppeteer: Let’s call Founder John Clancy the puppeteer. The origins of CEC go back to 1979 when he was a youth services county employee and decided there was money to be made through drug and alcohol treatment for those incarcerated. He was so successful that in 2007 private equity firms Primus Capital and LLR Partners invested $53 million in Community Education Centers. Primus boasted that CEC was “the nation’s largest provider of offender re-entry services with 97 facilities in 22 states and revenues in excess of $200 million.” Today CEC is even larger thanks to a little help from his puppets.

Puppets and what they do

Chris Christie joined the law firm of Dughi & Hewitt in 1987 which represented CEC. “It appears that between 1994 an 1996, CEC made good use of its legal counsel and most likely, its political connections, to strike a deal with the AG’s office to allow CEC to use Education and Health Centers of America (EHCA) as a shell to comply with the state’s legal requirement that only non-profits can hold contracts with the state to operate halfway houses.” Perhaps, it was just coincidental that another member of the law firm at the time was William Palatucci, who had joined in 1992. Fast-forward to 2011 when EHCA’s Form 990 (NJ non profit tax return) indicates that on $71 million in revenue from our state and local governments, $350,000 was spent on John Clancy’s compensation as Chair of EHCA, exclusive of whatever he received from CEC.

In 2000 and 2001 both Christie and Palatucci were registered lobbyists for CEC. In 2005, after representing CEC for 14 years, Palatucci joined the company as its Senior Vice President and General Counsel. His ongoing close relationship with Christie includes helping run Christie’s gubernatorial campaign, serving as co-chair of the governor’s inaugural committee, sitting on the board of Reform Jersey Now which raised money to promote Christie policies, and being a member of the Legislative Apportionment Commission.

As US Attorney, Christie attended the ribbon cutting ceremony in 2007 for CEC‟s new corporate headquarters and the ten year anniversary celebration in 2008 of Talbot Hall. By 2008 with lots of cash, a U.S. attorney as a friend, a well-connected legal V.P., a dubious, sweet-heart deal on EHCA, little DOC oversight, and weak competitors, Clancy must have been asking himself, “What’s not to like?”

But it gets even better for Clancy thanks to more help… also warning signs… and let’s not forget CEC donations beyond the fold  

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.  

Rutgers Group Negotiating Corrections Privatization

All along it was presumed that the William Palatucci company Education Health Centers of America would attain the RFP to privatize in prison inmate education. It has now been discovered that New Jersey’s own State University is in the privatization business!

Led by Ned Lipman and Ken Karamicheal, the Office of Continuing Professional Education is currently negotiating RFP 12-X-22048 which would privatize inmate education beginning in September.

The irony is that CWA represents employees at both Rutgers and in Corrections.

Is Rutgers now in the anti-union privatization business?    

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…