Investigative

Bingo Hall Operated for Years Without Permit

Contra Costa Times

For more than four years, the city allowed a bingo hall to operate in one of its toniest neighborhoods, neglecting to fingerprint its owners, who had a criminal past, or collect a financial report or any proof that the organization running the operation was a legitimate nonprofit, as required by law.

In California, bingo halls must be run by nonprofits and use the majority of their revenue to support charitable work. They’re also required to submit a financial report to the city each year and have it audited. But the organization that ran Marina Bay Bingo, which drew visitors from all over the Bay Area, never did either, police and city officials acknowledged this week. It operated under the radar for more than four years until it was shut down in late November.

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Richmond struggles to find homes for residents of troubled development

East Bay Times

A year after the city voted to shutter a publicly run housing complex plagued by rodents, mold and structural problems, not a single tenant has been relocated, Richmond officials acknowledged this week.

In March 2014, the city ordered the Hacienda public housing project in central Richmond to be shut down, after revelations about the decrepit conditions for the mostly disabled and elderly residents, including a foundation that was separating from the walls and squatters camping on the premises. Almost a year later, none of the people living in 101 units have been relocated, although some have moved on their own.

Read the story here.

Painkillers causing more overdoses, driving heroin addiction

San Jose Mercury News
april_rovero

Randy Davis, a 53-year-old laborer, was taking various painkillers for a shoulder injury that didn’t get better after surgery. As the pain worsened, the Castro Valley resident began crushing the pills, then snorting them to get instant relief. In May 2013, his sister found him slumped over on his bed after he overdosed on the pills. By the time the ambulance arrived, Davis was dead.

Over the past 10 years, the number of Bay Area residents who had opiates — including commonly used prescription painkillers such as OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin — in their bodies when they died has grown steadily, doubling and in some areas tripling, according to a Bay Area News Group investigation.

Last year, 220 people died as a result of opiate overdoses in Alameda, Contra Costa Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, nearly twice as many as a decade ago, according to numbers compiled from coroner reports. Opiate overdoses have also resulted in sharply rising emergency room visits and hospital stays, which doubled in Alameda and Santa Clara counties in 2013 and grew by nearly 60 percent in Contra Costa. Read the story

Investment Fund Accused of Defrauding Investors Out of More Than $700 Million

San Jose Mercury News

Phyllis Christopher and her former husband spent years pinching pennies so they would be comfortable in retirement. As part of their financial plan, the couple invested their savings — more than $600,000 — into a fund run by Bar-K, a Lafayette company. But when they tried to cash out in 2007, fund manager Walter Ng told them that the funds were not available because of “a minor cash flow problem.” Christopher recalls sitting in the investment office and crying upon hearing the news. Her first thought: She would have to sell her house.
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Despite Repeat Violations, Metal Shop Still in Business

Oakland Tribune
March 2014

A piece of metal being melted down for scrap slipped from a worker’s grasp and flew more than a quarter mile before smashing into a car where a man was resting before his shift. It sounds like a bizarre accident. Instead, it was one of a number of work-place accidents that have plagued one San Leandro metal shop.
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Why Is Health Care So Expensive In America?

Health-Care-Dollars1

May 26, 2013
Voice of San Diego

When you shop for groceries or clothes, you can choose what you buy based on price.

But when it comes to health care — arguably one of the most important services that impact our quality of life — no such luxury exists. There are no clear prices and little choice, especially if you are restricted to a certain doctor or hospital by your insurance plan.

Earlier this month, the federal government released a massive database of prices hospitals charge Medicare, aimed at increasing transparency and accountability in the powerful health care industry. The information, released for the first time ever, put a spotlight on the exorbitant price of health care, and the wide variation in what consumers can expect to pay when they get sick or injured, including in San Diego.

Read the full story

Multiple Violations Found at Local Nursing Homes

nursing_homesMarch 2013
AOL.com

With the senior population exploding in Sonoma County and elsewhere in the country, nursing homes and assisted living facilities are doing brisk business.

But an investigation into Petaluma nursing homes shows numerous violations at the facilities, ranging from the minor to potentially life-threatening.

At Petaluma Health and Rehabilitation, residents’ call bells were often not promptly answered, leaving bed-bound patients waiting for more than 30 minutes, according to a 2011 survey report conducted by Department of Health and Human Services inspectors.

A resident who said he had been sexually abused by staff and asked to contact the police was not allowed to do so while others spoke of nurses who walked in on them while they were using the bathroom and woke residents up at night with their loud chatter.

Other violations include failing to properly deal with a resident who was verbally abusing other residents and not locking patients’ beds, resulting in falls when the beds rolled away.

Read the full story

(PDF only as Patch.com has removed many past stories)

Lax Regulations for Massage Generate Booming Shadow Industry in California

flickr December 2012
 AOL.com

Illicit massage spas are exploiting weak city ordinances and a lack of statewide enforcement to run businesses that are fronts for prostitution, including in Petaluma.

On Rubmaps.com, a user-generated directory of massage spas with “happy endings” that include five Petaluma locations, clients can rate masseuses on breast size, attractiveness and sexual services they are willing to perform.

On MyRedBook.com, a young Asian woman with bare shoulders strikes a provocative pose and promises customers at one Petaluma spa an “unrushed, full body massage with a soft touch.”

Being licensed by the California Department of Consumer Affairs is a requirement for most healthcare professionals, including chiropractors, acupuncturists, dentists, optometrists and occupational therapists. But nothing similar is required for massage therapists, a loophole that poses a risk for both the workers and consumers, critics say. Click here to read the full story

He’s No Angel

They once called him a savior who helped his fellow immigrants. Today, Edwin Parada is accused of defrauding local families out of more than $1 million. 
carmenJune 2008
SF Weekly

It was evening when the stranger knocked on Carmen Ruiz‘s door. The young man with ruddy cheeks and gel in his hair said that he had heard from an acquaintance that Ruiz, a 57-year-old grandmother of three, was having a hard time making payments on her home.

Ruiz had indeed gone looking for help in the community, inquiring at a local travel agency about someone who could lend her money or help refinance her mortgage. There, she was told about a real estate agent who was known to help fellow Latinos, “an angel who had done so much for people.”

Now this angel stood on Ruiz’s front steps and was asking to come in. His name was Edwin Parada and he was a pastor at a local church, he said. Ruiz welcomed him into her tiny home and quickly began pouring out her troubles. Read the full story

Silicon Shame

Winter 2002
el Andar


An investigative series into the dangers of one of Silicon Valley’s most unsuspecting industries and its impact on minorities; El Andar magazine 2001 Runner-up for Best Investigative Story in the New California Media’s Ethnic Press 2002 Awards. To read the entire series, click here.


I. The Clean Room Paradox

An industry long touted as clean, may be deadly for workers, many of them people of color 

armida

For Armida Mesa, getting a job at IBM was a dream come true.

“I thought I’d be taken care of for life,” says Mesa, who was proud to be on the payroll of one of the leaders of the electronics industry, a manufacturer of disk drives, software, and computer chips.

Then in 1985, after working for the company for nearly twenty years, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. In the “clean room,” Mesa was in frequent contact with chemicals such as isopropyl alcohol and epichlorophydrin, a known carcinogen.

“You keep on living your life and you don’t really analyze that this stuff is making you sick,” the 56 year-old says today. “You just don’t think about it.”

Now Mesa is one of fifty clean room workers taking part in a lawsuit accusing IBM and other high-tech companies of “withholding vital information that workers could and would have used to protect” themselves. The suit, filed by San José attorneys Amanda Hawes and Richard Alexander, also targets suppliers of chemicals used in the industry — from freon and xylene to acetone and arsenic — including Shell, Eastman Kodak, and Dupont Corporation. “They knew what they were exposing them to,” says Hawes, “but chose to not do anything about it.” Read the full story.


II. Silicon Jungle

Long Hours, Per-Piece Rates Norm for High-Tech Home Workers 

Toiling long hours at a factory for a salary below the minimum wage seems something straight out of Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.”  But for many immigrants living in Silicon Valley, it’s an everyday reality. Working 10 to 12 hours a day at the electronics companies dotting this part of Northern California, they are a crucial component of an industry where every pause means lost money.They work robotically around the clock, sometimes not stopping even once they return home. It’s a hidden population, comprised of mostly Southeast Asian immigrants, many of whom do not speak English or know their rights. Read the full story.


III. On Questionable Grounds

brownfields

With land becoming such a hot commodity in the Silicon Valley, contractors don’t care where they build. Some have looked to blighted areas, some with a history of contamination, as a chance to create yet another business park or residential neighborhood, often at a discounted price. And the scariest part of all is that there is virtually no oversight.

Known as brownfields, these lots were once considered off limits and fenced off, but they are now being marketed all over the South Bay, made even more attractive by a handsome discount that can be as high as fifty percent.

“The perception is that they are contaminated,” says Arnold Peters, a policy analyst for the Senate Environmental Quality Committee in Sacramento. “But nobody knows for sure. And nobody wants to spend money to find out.” Read the full story.

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