Tag Archive: Bill Palatucci

Murder victim’s sister slams Christie corrections chief’s remarks

Something has bothered me all week since Bill Orr’s excellent post, Gary Lanigan’s Head: Stuck in the Sand. Lanigan, to refresh you, is Christie’s Corrections Commissioner. He’s not concerned about security and safety issues at NJ’s halfway houses, despite the fact it took the New York Times to get our state government to pay much attention, despite escapes during Hurricane Sandy (seriously, the system fails because of … weather?), and concerns that Christie friend/advisor/contributor till recently ran the corporate privatizer responsible for most of the issues. Lanigan’s job encompasses not only security concerns but also the rights of inmates and the community.

That said, his remarks to Senate Budget were so casual, as if he doesn’t take seriously how easily the system we’ve now let tycoons take over can be tricked by inmates. Yesterday, I chatted with Stella Tulli, whose sister was murdered by a man who fled a CEC facility by pretending to be sick. As irritating as Lanigan’s remarks were to me, they were something else beyond that for her. I thought part of what she wrote in Bill’s post deserved to be pulled up to our front page (which she gave permission for). Here’s how it looks to Stella:

I have a personal interest in the way the halfway house situation is going… I feel the need to speak and remind everyone who reads this on my family’s dealings with this situation..

My 21 year old sister was murdered by a CEC inmate who faked a seizure, transported to hospital and bc of  not having any law enforcement with him, he escaped.

He then met up with my sister and ended her life.

This may be a small “anecdote” to Lanigan, but to my family and myself- our lives continue in a nightmarish reality.. Reading this garbage from Lanigan and seeing how much time it is getting to move on halfway house reform is another punch to the gut.

It floors and appalls me that Gary Lanigan is not bothered in the least on this situation.  

The corrections commissioner in Pennsylvania admits there is a problem with the halfway house system, yet this guy can’t bring himself to admit it. I can only assume the more he tells himself it isn’t a problem, it isn’t.  seems as if he needs to convince not only himself, but the lemmings as well.

Gary Lanigan’s Head: Stuck In the Sand

As reported by the Star-Ledger, New Jersey State Corrections Commissioner Gary Lanigan had the audacity to tell members of the state Senate Budget Committee today he has no major concerns about how halfway houses are run in New Jersey. “I think our program is working,” he said.

However, he stated he has not yet completed a report on the facilities mandated by the legislature. So how does he even know if the program is working? He does not, but he is certainly trying to defend his boss Gov. Christie who has supported the New Jersey halfway houses and shown little interest in reforming them. Christie has been particularly unconcerned about the largest and most egregious provider Community Education Centers, whose Senior Vice President until recently was Bill Palatucci, a friend and close advisor of the governor.

Other states have adopted performance incentive funding programs as explained in a report by Vera Institute of Justice. This approach is based on the idea that that if a provider returns fewer offenders to prison, the state incurs fewer costs, and some portion of the state savings should be shared with the provider. It uses measures like employment and education while incorporating “best practices” to achieve better outcomes.

The horrors of our halfway houses were brought into a sharp focus in a New York Times series UNLOCKED in June 2012. Today the Commissioner responded, We have very little violence in our halfway houses, calling the violence depicted in the New York Times series “anecdotal.” What the Commissioner should be seeking is better outcomes, not sticking his head in the sand.  

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.  

Hotshot Reporting 2012: Best Reporting by Traditional News Media

In 2012, there were a lot of things we might never have known if good journalists, good editors and their news outlets had not devoted resources to uncovering them. Sometimes this was simply a matter of going through mountains of paper or on line communication that is public record as a matter of law. But somebody had to do it, which usually means somebody else would rather it stay hidden.

Here for 2012, are some that really impressed us here at Blue Jersey, with thanks to the news organizations, and their editors & reporters for what we now know because of their work:  

Associated Press on Surveillance of NJ Muslims AP’s 24-part 2-year probe of NYPD’s secret surveillance (by the questionably-named ‘Demographics Unit’) of Muslim students, neighborhoods and places of worship in New Jersey.

UNLOCKED: Sam Dolnick’s New York Times exposé  of the consequences of New Jersey’s privatized halfway house system run by Christie pal Bill Palatucci, which led to hearings in both houses of the NJ legislature, Palatucci’s exit out CEC’s back door, and at least one lawsuit, by the sister of murder victim Viviana Tulli, killed at the hands of a CEC escapee.  (Note: Bill Orr tracked the aftermath of questionable policies by CEC for Blue Jersey).

Dolnick was looking at CEC and how Christie and Essex party boss Joe D were connected to it almost 18 months ago.

Star-Ledger brought to light the video of a mentally disabled man getting a beat down by state police as well (as well as the fact that authorities initially cleared the trooper of wrongdoing before Star-Ledger began to make inquiries.

Sal Rizzo at Star-Ledger was responsible for the Ledger’s in-depth examination  of how closely legislation from Christie & NJ Republicans matched bills written by fake-charity American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Trenton Times recently pored over 500 pages of emails and documents after TCNJ employees fall sick during chemical use in roof reconstruction on the campus. And that includes shedding light on internal emails about how TCNJ school officials, concerned staff members might require inconvenient building transfers to somewhere on campus where they wouldn’t feel ill at work, encouraged “hand holding” by administrators and the school’s environmental health officers to get workers to “live with” the odor that was making them feel sick.

Mary Pat Christie Defends Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund

An interview article in today’s Star-Ledger with Mary Pat Christie indicates that the embryonic Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund is taking steps to create a credentialed and more robust organization. The interview addresses concerns about the fund raised in three Blue Jersey diaries, particularly, Think Twice Before Donating to Christie’s Hurricane NJ Relief Fund, as well as here and here.

After listing several donors to HSNJRF, including Hess and AT&T, the Blue Jersey diary raised a conflict of interest concern: “These large firms may be seeking to curry favor with Governor Christie.”  In the Star-Ledger article Mrs. Christie says, “to suggest that somebody could be currying favor, it just doesn’t ring true.”

The Blue Jersey article pointed out that “HSNJRF states it is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization but does not indicate whether contributions are tax deductible.
In fact the IRS Tax Exempt database does not list HSNJRF as a tax exempt group.” Mrs. Christie said, “The application for federal tax-exempt status was submitted Friday and, once approved, the exemption will be retroactive.”  The fund apparently was raising money and representing itself as a 501 (c) (3) organization before it applied to the IRS. Ultimately, it is only the IRS which will determine whether HSNJRF meets the criteria. Even after a disaster and even if the principals are well known people, this should have been made clear: the IRS often responds slowly so it may be some time before donors learn whether their contributions are indeed tax exempt.

The Blue Jersey article noted that unlike other relief  funds there would be no “rapid distribution of monies or assets” as implied in early statements. Mrs. Christie said, “they have not yet determined how to distribute the money.”

The Blue Jersey diary indicated that early on “There was no discussion with a board of directors as to goals, objectives and action plans because no board existed.” The S-L article indicates “More trustees may be added, but for now the first lady [said] Bill Palatucci, a Republican national committeeman and the governor’s close friend, and Jerry Zaro, a Democratic fundraiser and economic czar under Gov. Jon Corzine are registered as the trustees of the fund.”  It is good that now two Board members have been appointed but more are needed to be effective.

As a close confidante, donor, and fundraiser for Governor Christie, Bill Palatucci’s appointment does not reduce the concern for conflicts of interest. Palatucci’s management position at the much-maligned Community Education Centers (from which he just resigned) and his defense of this halfway house organization do not inspire confidence. The also maligned informant Solomon Dwek claimed Jerry Zaro was a “big help when certain approvals were needed.” Zaro was never charged with any wrongdoing.  

Senate Halfway House Testimony Reveals The Horrors

Today’s Star-Ledger article on the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee Hearing on halfway houses reported on the early segment of this event which in total went from 2:00 PM to about 6:00 PM. The session began with a “politically correct” but on-point exposition of shortcomings presented by Comptroller Boxer. The early segment then moved into a full-throated defense by Department of Corrections Commissioner Gary Lanigan and Community Education Centers founder John Clancy. It was not until late in the afternoon when counseling, corrections, and foundation individuals testified about the true depth of the problem.

The Star-Ledger reported: Sen. Barbara Buono asked Clancy how she can reconcile his testimony, which provided glowing reports about operations at CEC, with the newspaper expose, the comptroller’s report and a report by the State Commission on Investigation. “Are they all fiction?” she asked. Personally I don’t think Clancy and Lanigan fooled the legislators.

It was in the unreported later part of the day when experts testified about lack of oversight and security, large numbers of inmates failing drug tests, lack of real programs, the revolving door of inmates going back and forth between prison or jail and halfway houses, inmates’ ease in getting contraband, low staff salary levels, secrecy maintained by the sites, lack of true cost information, and more. They made suggestions including performance contracting (reaching outcomes as a basis for payment), incentives to reduce escapes including third party review, opening up bidding to allow more competitors, and obtaining more of the available federal grant matching funds.

At the end Chair Senator Robert Gordon summarized some possible solutions: develop legislative tightening of contract procurement, increase staffing, improve staff training, assure that pre-adjudicated inmates not be sent to halfway houses, have uniformed officers in sites, and use performance contracting. For another take on yesterday’s hearing, read today’s N Y Times article.

On Monday at 10:30 AM the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee will hold its own hearing. Members will have the benefit of having learned what was disclosed during the Senate hearing and being able to pursue issues further.    

Heated Senate Hearing on Halfway Houses Starts at 2:00 PM

The long-awaited Halfway House drama starts at about 2:00 PM with a hearing of the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee. There were many warnings of problems culminating in the N Y Times series Unlocked. Now the investigation begins.  

Key scheduled witnesses will include:

  • Comptroller Matthew Boxer whose June 2011 audit revealed serious problems and provided 26 recommendations for changes. A key question is what changes have been made?

  • John Clancy, CEO of Community Education Centers, whose firm received last year $71 million of the $105 million our government spent on such facilities.  His operation came under withering criticism in the NY Times articles and is now believed to be in financial distress.

  • Gary Lanigan, Commissioner of the Department of Corrections, who since 2010 was reponsible for monitoring CEC and other halfway houses.

    Members of the Senate committee are: Robert Gordon – Chair, Barbara Buono – Vice-Chair, Thomas Kean, Joseph Kyrillos, Teresa Ruiz, and Paul Sarlo. In firstamend07’s diary, he asks whether the event will be “fight or fluff.” The Democrats have lots of ammunition, but some of the witnesses will be wily and obfuscate, while Republicans will try their best to protect their governor who has praised and enabled CEC.

    For more information see CEC Investigation: Our Leaders Take Action – Part VII.  

    The debate will become heated so make some popcorn and listen to both sides on the legislative website.

    Deciminyan will be live Tweeting up a storm @bluejersey.

    This is open thread…

  • 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: Time for An Independent Investigation

    The New York Times this week is publishing a three-part article series with a horrific inside view of NJ’s hafway houses, most of which are operated by Community Education Centers (CEC). There is extensive documentation of drugs, gangs and sexual abuse within the facilities, lack of qualified educators and counselors, inmates just walking out and committing awful crimes, a tangled web of CEC’s donations to politicians, collusion with local officials to receive grants, and concerns raised by State Comptroller Boxer about how CEC account for funds provided by the State.

    Governor Christie today issued the following press release:  

    “We have increased monitoring of halfway houses with enhanced site visits, fines for noncompliance and a new inspection monitoring system… I am calling on the Department of Corrections Commissioner Gary Lanigan to immediately step up inspections of all halfway houses and report any violations and recommendations for changes to the deputy chief of staff for policy.”

    Typically Christie provides us with a quick, short, meaningless response to serious allegations. Such is weak-hearted effort to call for reform, let the issue die down, and then cover it with a rug. Such has been the experience in the past.

    As some Republican and Democratic legislators and local officials as well as Governor Christie accept sizable campaign money from CEC, it is time for an independent investigation. There is too much that is rotten within CEC. It greases its way to lucrative contracts, pays a few top executuves lavishly, mistreats its inmates, endangers the public, and hides its accounting of government funds with opaque non-transparency.

    Enough is enough. It is time for detectives, forensic accountants, grant mangement specialists, lawyers, correction specialists, “pay-to-play” experts,  and ethicists to remove the veil, unearth the wrong-doing, and make recommendations for changes.  

    Barbara Buono statement on halfway house escape rates

    “The disclosure of the high-rate of escapees from the halfway houses is an indictment of the administration on one of its most important public safety responsibilities. The fact that it includes so many violent criminals who have again committed violent crimes, including murder, makes their failure to operate the corrections system responsibly extremely disturbing.

    “Too many prisoners have escaped too easily and too many of them are a dangerous threat to others.

    “The fact that corrections officials don’t have even a basic understanding of the problem inspires very little confidence in their ability to perform their law-enforcement responsibilities. And the fact that they have turned a significant portion of the corrections job over to a profit-making business shows that they have their priorities wrong. They should be protecting the public, not turning a profit for a politically-connected company.

    “It’s a tragedy that more people were victimized by the escapees who were supposed to be under the control of the corrections system and it is a shame that they have taken very little corrective actions. They should be held accountable for their failures and do all that is necessary to put them to an end.”