G.W. Schulz

‘He’s not going anywhere’


› gwschulz@sfbg.com

Minutes before two San Francisco police officers shot to death 25-year-old Asa Sullivan, their colleagues urged them to back off and call a hostage negotiator, newly released documents show.

Twice, cops on the scene suggested that officers Michelle Alvis and John Keesor back away from the Parkmerced attic where Sullivan was pinned down.

Recently released court records shed considerable new light on the June 6, 2006, shooting that ended with the unarmed Sullivan dead, his body raked by 16 bullets.

The records offer a narrative account of the early moments of an episode that’s taken a bizarre series of twists since Alvis and Keesor, saying they feared for their lives, killed the troubled young man who’d been working at Goodwill and had a young son.

The police communications log portrays a tense situation:

"Stand by, he’s gonna be a 148, stand by," San Francisco police officer Paulo Morgado says into his radio. Section 148 of the state Penal Code is radio vernacular for resisting arrest.

Moments pass before an unidentified officer makes an appeal over the air for a retreat. "Hey, why don’t we just pull back really quick, set up a perimeter, and just try to get him later?"

Instead, Alvis announces that she has Sullivan at gunpoint. "He’s not going anywhere," she says. He won’t show his hands or allow himself to be taken into custody, Alvis and Morgado say into their radios.

Minutes tick by. Sullivan is warned that a dog from the K-9 unit will bite him. Officer Erik Leung, on the floor below the attic, makes a second attempt at reason. "Why don’t we slow it down, see if we can get a hostage negotiator or something, because this guy’s not listening to us."

Then, "He has something under the insulation," a dispatcher types just as the K-9 unit arrives.

"Shots fired, shots fired!" yells Sgt. Tracy McCray. Alvis and Keesor empty their magazines, plugging as many as 26 rounds into the attic, with 16 hitting the target.

Sullivan had no gun, it turned out. An eyeglasses case was later found near his hip, but Alvis admits she didn’t wait to see what was in his right hand after Sullivan made a "sudden movement."


Reams of court records detailing the shooting became available earlier this month as evidence in a lawsuit filed by Sullivan’s family.

Early motions in the family’s federal suit, which names the city and county of San Francisco, Police Chief Heather Fong, and officers present when the shooting took place, were filed under seal. But some evidence previously marked confidential has emerged among publicly accessible court documents as the parties move toward an October trial date.

The records include transcripts of audio dispatch recordings, sworn depositions and declarations from the officers, reports from law enforcement policy experts, and photographs of the attic where the shooting occurred.

"The evidence is pretty strong [that] Asa did not point anything at the officers, that the officers had no reason to believe Asa was armed," the family’s Oakland lawyer, Ben Nisenbaum, told the Guardian.

A former deputy chief of the Los Angeles Police Department hired as a consultant by the family’s lawyers argues in a report filed with the court that the officers exacerbated the situation by using repeated sharp commands and didn’t rely on proper diffusing tactics with a subject they knew was distressed and had a diminished capacity. The attic placed them at a tactical disadvantage, and there’s no logical reason why the officers didn’t pull away from it, notes the report by consultant Lou Reiter.

"Their presence in the manner they chose to deploy it simply invaded the zone of safety for Sullivan," Reiter’s report states. "This is known to further agitate the subject in these types of police encounters. No one coordinated the efforts to enable the dispatch of negotiators, which would have been consistent with San Francisco Police Department General Order 8.02 Hostage and Barricaded Suspect Incidents."

Officers in the attic that night say Sullivan refused recurring instructions to show his hands and acted aggressively. They testified that he threatened violent resistance, telling them, "I’m not going back to jail," "Shoot me, I’m not coming out of here," and "Are you ready to earn your medal?" They say leaving the attic and taking their attention off Sullivan would have made them vulnerable.

The officers were also unaware at the time that Sullivan had a no-bail arrest warrant. There’s still a dispute today over what grounds the officers had at the time to effect an arrest of Sullivan, or why they believed there was sufficient cause to enter the apartment.

Alvis, a six-year veteran of the force, did not return a message left at her home. A police spokesperson, Sgt. Wilfred Williams, confirmed for the Guardian that officers Keesor and Alvis are still employed by the department but he couldn’t provide any additional details, calling them personnel-related. He also couldn’t comment on pending litigation.

Several local agencies conduct parallel investigations when a subject is killed by police officers, including the department’s homicide and internal affairs units, the District Attorney’s Office, and if prompted, the Office of Citizen Complaints, an independent body that responds to allegations made by civilians of excessive force and other police misconduct.

Those findings in the Sullivan killing had not been available previously under the California Public Records Act and local sunshine laws due in part to a state Supreme Court ruling issued in late 2006 that blocks an array of law enforcement records from disclosure, including those stemming from disciplinary investigations.


Officer Morgado arrived at the townhouse address of 2 Garces Drive at Parkmerced, near San Francisco State University, around 8:40 p.m. June 6 after a neighbor called to report that the front door was swinging open and that it was a possible "drug house."

The unit hadn’t exactly hosted any church youth groups in recent months. Two men on the lease had supposedly given notice to move out the prior winter but hadn’t left, and management was charging them month-to-month.

Kathleen Espinoza, Asa’s mother, told the Guardian her son was struggling to find a place to stay and went to 2 Garces after she moved to Los Angeles in search of a lower cost of living.

Friends and acquaintances drifted in and out of the townhouse; some frequently smoked pot and meth, according to the deposition of one man who stayed there. The neighbors complained to police. One tenant testified that just before the shooting, he fought with another Parkmerced resident who occasionally came around the townhouse. The man allegedly hurled a bicycle at him, slicing open his elbow. A white shirt was used to soak up the gushing blood and police who saw it hanging near the front door relied on the stained garment to justify entering the apartment to check on the welfare of the people inside.

As back-up units arrived, Sullivan’s friend, Jason Martin, was discovered in a locked second-floor bedroom and placed in handcuffs. Keesor heard shuffling coming from above them and says he saw debris flaking from a ceiling entrance to the attic.

Three officers climbed into the cramped, pitch-black space before drawing their guns on Sullivan. Only their flashlights enabled them to see the darkly clothed man who appeared to be hiding amid the blown-in insulation and between a pair of two-by-fours.

"Let’s give the dog a nice bite on this guy," one officer said over the radio after a K-9 unit was called. The group considered using a gun that shoots beanbags but decided against it, believing that the space was too small and that the weapon could kill Sullivan by accident.

Officer Keesor took the lead in talking to Sullivan. "I asked him what was going on. I asked him who he was. Questions along that line," Keesor recalled in a deposition.


Sullivan was responsive to most of the questions. He was sweating profusely, and the cops said they believed he was high on cocaine or meth. A medical expert later hired by his family’s lawyers testified that the amount of both substances found in his body through an autopsy were at very low levels and likely didn’t contribute to his behavior that night.

Sullivan did have a history of depression, and the consultant, Douglas Tucker, a psychiatry professor at UC San Francisco, described him as "an unhappy and volatile individual who acts impulsively." A man who stayed at the townhouse, David Russell, testified that Sullivan was quiet and wellmannered and excelled at chess.

What happened in the next few minutes is where the testimony conflicts.

Just as an officer announced over the radio that the K-9 unit had arrived, Alvis says Sullivan’s right arm moved suddenly. But the officer said she did not see his hands or arms outstretched or pointed at anyone. Morgado says he witnessed Sullivan’s right shoulder move, but never saw his hand come out of the insulation. Keesor, however, stated that Sullivan "punched his arms straight out and pointed an object, [a] long, black slender object, which at that moment I believed to be a gun, towards the direction of officer Alvis." The officers say their view of Sullivan was partially obscured by wide ducts passing through the attic.

Reached at his Bay Area home, Keesor declined to comment. "I can’t speak about this case, you know that," he said. A call to Matt Dorsey, spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office, which is representing the officers, was not returned.

Nisenbaum says Keesor "is the only officer there who claims that Asa had anything in his hand," meaning a weapon.


Alexander Jason, a private crime scene analyst and former San Francisco patrol officer hired by attorneys for the city, contends the eyeglasses case may have been snapped shut, producing a sound interpreted as a gunshot. He also concluded that blood spatter on Asa’s right arm was consistent with his having stretched out his arm "as if aiming a gun."

But there was no gun, so it’s possible that one officer simply spooked another. "I heard gunfire and believed he was shooting at officer Alvis and I fired my weapon," Keesor testified. Bullets apparently pounded through the floor of the attic and narrowly missed an officer standing in the bathroom below Sullivan.

"At the end of the day, they’re looking for excuses," Nisenbaum said. "That’s all it is."

US District Judge Jeffrey White ruled Aug. 5 that there were enough unanswered questions for the case to be heard by a jury after both parties filed motions for summary judgment. The city has since taken that decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, meaning it may be well past October before a trial begins.

Asa’s mother, Kathleen Espinoza, says she has nothing against the police and that one of her close relatives works in law enforcement. "I’ve never been through something like this," Espinoza said. "I’ve never had anybody in my family die in such a horrible way. It’s been really hard. I’ve been on jury duty once in my life, when I was in college."

The funeral director told Espinoza he’d never seen a body in worse shape than Sullivan’s and that the reconstruction for an open-casket ceremony was tedious. Espinoza placed sunglasses on his face because his eyes were gone. She says Sullivan never wanted to die.

"I want Asa to be vindicated…. He never meant them any harm," she said.

Money for nothing


› gwschulz@sfbg.com

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi seems to be feeling pretty confident in her reelection prospects this November, despite an independent challenge by high-profile peace mom Cindy Sheehan.

But that hasn’t stopped the San Francisco Democrat from raising big bucks from scores of interest groups who are contributing to her campaign committee and to the political action committee she controls, known as PAC to the Future.

Most of the money she’s raising is going toward assuring her continued power in Washington by giving it to the campaigns of other Democratic members of Congress, particularly those facing tough election battles that could threaten the party’s House majority.

Pelosi’s reelection committee has raised $2.36 million over the past two years, hundreds of thousands more than the average House member, according to federal campaign disclosure records and data maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Her PAC raised an additional $585,000 during the current election cycle and spent $769,000, much of which has also gone to other candidate committees in payments of $5,000 and $10,000.

Many newly elected Democrats in the House represent conservative constituencies, and with her blessing they sometimes vote with Republicans to distance themselves from the party’s perceived liberal leaders like Pelosi, according to a new book published this month, Money in the House: Campaign Funds and Congressional Party Politics (Perseus, 2008). Democratic leaders in the meantime have continued a phenomenal fundraising spree to help protect those House members.

"Speaker Pelosi’s extraordinary financial commitment to her party, and especially to her party’s vulnerable members, illustrates the overriding emphasis congressional parties and members place on money," writes author Marian Currinder, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Government Affairs Institute. "And her encouragement of selective ‘opposition votes’ demonstrates the complexity of governing in a highly partisan and highly competitive political environment."

Even the day-to-day reelection expenses of Washington’s unrivaled leading lady are outsize, as Pelosi’s spending records show. In June 2007, she celebrated her 20th year in Congress with a glitzy fundraiser held in the capital’s Union Station that cost at least $92,000 and featured a performance by soul singer Patti LaBelle.

The bill included $25,393 for a slick video production; $61,105 on catering, rentals, and securing the site; $2,000 for hairstyling and wardrobe assistance insisted on by LaBelle; $2,824 on flower arrangements; and $1,396 for chocolates from a Pennsylvania-based confection maker.

Pelosi spent at least $650 from her campaign on makeup for the steady string of appearances she made after being sworn in as House speaker in January 2007. An annual fundraiser held this year at the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco cost $23,454 for catering and other expenses.

As for the top contributors to Pelosi’s reelection committee, they include several members of the Gallo family, proprietors of the E&J Gallo Winery, who gave a total of $23,000 through maximum individual donations of $4,600. The Modesto-based company has long made contributions to both parties, particularly enriching candidates who show a willingness to scale back or even throw out the federal estate tax, which affects the inheritances of the wealthiest American families.

The Corrections Corporation of America gave $2,300 to Pelosi and $2,700 to her PAC. CCA is part of a storied group of for-profit privatization companies in Nashville, Tenn. that are closely tied to former Republican Senate majority leader Bill Frist and includes the Hospital Corporation of America and Ardent Health Services.

Just this year, the state of California hired CCA to house 8,000 inmates at six of the company’s facilities; a significant portion will go to a new $205 million CCA complex under construction in Arizona.

The nation’s largest private jail company suffered bad publicity during the 1990s due to a series of high-profile escapes and inmate killings inside its prisons. It teetered on the edge of bankruptcy after overbuilding jails without having enough inmates available to fill them, but the George W. Bush administration helped save the company with a new homeland security agenda that called for confining rather than releasing undocumented immigrants while they awaited deportation or asylum-request proceedings. The company’s revenue jumped nearly a half-billion dollars over the last five years and its lobbying activities in Washington, DC have increased similarly.

The entertainment industry has ponied up its share to Pelosi as well. The maximum $4,600 donation came from Aaron Sorkin, powerhouse writer behind the long-running TV series The West Wing and the 2007 film Charlie Wilson’s War. Christie Hefner, a regular donor to Democrats and heiress to Playboy Enterprises, contributed $1,000.

Steven Bing, a Hollywood producer who inherited a real estate fortune, and billionaire Las Vegas developer Kirk Kerkorian gave thousands to Pelosi over the last two years. Kerkorian has given to both parties, but he and Bing share a special relationship after having fought a nasty tabloid war.

Kerkorian allegedly hired private investigators to sift through Bing’s trash in search of DNA evidence that would link him to a child borne by Kerkorian’s ex-wife, whom he was divorcing, according to a lawsuit filed by Bing. Vanity Fair in July described Bing as part of a skirt-chasing entourage that ran with Bill Clinton and threatened to tarnish Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid with its freewheeling bachelor reputation.

The wealthy Herbert and Marion Sandler, major supporters of MoveOn.org and other social justice causes, gave Pelosi a combined $9,200. The couple presided over the meteoric rise of Oakland mortgage lender Golden West Financial, which sold to Wachovia for $24 billion in 2006. The housing crisis led Wachovia to post staggering multibillion-dollar losses this summer, and some business writers have attributed its declining fortunes to the Golden West purchase.

In June, George Zimmer of Fremont, founder of the Men’s Warehouse, gave $2,300. Notable husband and wife political team Clint and Janet Reilly, both active as candidates and donors, contributed a total of $19,200 to Pelosi’s campaign and PAC.

"Essentially, raising money for the party and its candidates is required of leaders," Money in the House author Currinder told the Guardian. "Pelosi wouldn’t have been elected speaker if she wasn’t a stellar fundraiser."

So where is Pelosi’s money going if not to television ads for her own campaign? She divided $250,000 among the campaigns of approximately 70 congressional candidates, and disbursed about $532,000 more to them through PAC to the Future. The beneficiaries included $14,000 to Democrat Chet Edwards of Texas, whose district includes President George W. Bush’s Crawford ranch. Pelosi has publicly recommended him to Barack Obama as a possible running mate.

In addition, about half of the money Pelosi has raised since the beginning of 2007, slightly more than $1 million, went to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington, DC. She also gave to the Democratic parties of key battleground states including Indiana, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Ohio. She singled out Democrat Travis Childers of Mississippi for extra cash totaling $21,000. In May, Childers stunned observers by defeating a Republican in a special election held when a representative vacated his House seat to take over for conservative icon Sen. Trent Lott.

"She has had prodigious success raising funds for individual Democratic candidates, for the DCCC, and for her own campaign and PAC," Thomas Mann, a congressional scholar at the Brookings Institute, told us. "Most party leaders represent safe seats but nonetheless try to set a high standard for raising money to advance their party’s broader objectives."

Pelosi’s Capitol Hill and San Francisco offices directed our questions to her fundraising operations at the DCCC. Her political director there, Brian Wolff, called the war chest "another vehicle for her to communicate with constituents in California." But he conceded that the pressure is on, "especially now that we have so many candidates and incumbents that need help. It definitely falls on her to be able to have a very aggressive fundraising campaign."

Wolff insists, too, that the Democrats revolutionized fundraising by seeking out smaller donations from large numbers of people instead of returning to the same short list of affluent contributors they had in the past.

In general, top donations to Pelosi still have come from lobbyists and lawyers, the real estate industry, insurance companies, banking and securities firms, and Amgen, a major biotech researcher based in Thousand Oaks. Officials from the labor movement’s biggest new power broker, the Service Employees International Union, also gave substantial sums, as did other major unions. But they fell far behind the contributions of large business interests.

Art Torres, chair of the California Democratic Party, told us that health care reform failed in 1990s at least partly because of political spending by drug companies. But he said that Democrats winning the White House and expanding their majorities in Congress would create a greater mandate to overhaul the health care system.

"It’s always been about issues" rather than fundraising, Torres said. "When I’ve talked to her, it’s always been about ‘How can we get this or that legislation through?’<0x2009>"

It’s worth pointing out, however, that the nation’s largest drug wholesaler, McKesson Corp., is based in San Francisco, and donors from pharmaceutical companies gave Pelosi more than $85,000 this cycle. Drug companies have given freely to Democrats in the past, but Democratic officeholders "still voted against their interests every time," Torres said.

Pelosi’s campaign spending on everything but her own reelection shows she doesn’t regard Sheehan as much of a threat. But the antiwar candidate did make it onto the ballot Aug. 8 and the Sheehan campaign has raised approximately $350,000 since December in small contributions after refusing to accept money from PACs and corporations.

"We didn’t have the party infrastructure going into this," said Sheehan campaign manager Tiffany Burns, adding that Pelosi’s campaign expenditures are "just another example of how Pelosi believes she is entitled to this seat."

Newsom reappoints the condo commissioner



Sup. Tom Ammiano had a short but pointed list of questions for Michael Antonini during a Rules Committee meeting of the Board of Supervisors Aug. 7 held to determine whether Antonini should be reappointed to the San Francisco Planning Commission. Gavin Newsom nominated Antonini for reappointment July 8 after the mayor’s office refused to tell the Guardian last month if he planned to do so.

Newsom’s selection of Antonini requires majority support from the board, and its progressive faction, irked by Antonini’s pro-development tenure, took the opportunity to find out how he planned to help the city ensure that 64 percent of all new housing construction was affordable to low-income residents, as San Francisco’s General Plan calls for.

Antonini told the supervisors he felt the city could move closer to that goal by essentially redefining poverty and raising the threshold for what constitutes a low-income earner, currently based on how much people make compared to the area’s median income. If the percentile was raised, developers could describe as “affordable” costlier housing units that are actually expensive and out of reach to a lot of buyers in the city.

“One of the areas that we’re really having a problem with is middle-income families,” Antonini told the committee, “and without in any way diminishing the number of units we build for lower-income groups, I think that we can accomplish that goal more realistically by having that percentile be higher.”

Ammiano also wanted to know why the planning commissioner backed the construction of a new Walgreens at Cesar Chavez and Mission streets just blocks from two other store locations in the supervisor’s district 9.

“Do you really believe that my district is under-served by Walgreens?” Ammiano asked with a smile.

Charitable cash cow


› gwschulz@sfbg.com

Nonprofit charities in the Golden State should have been raking in the cash in 2004. Gracious Californians gave $60 million more toward fundraising campaigns that year than they did in 2003, totaling almost $293 million. The following year, donors gave even more: $332 million.

Yet despite the increasing generosity of Californians, the percentage that nonprofits actually took away from those campaigns steadily decreased from 2003 to 2005.

Most of the gains went to private, for-profit fundraising companies hired to conduct telemarketing services and coordinate special benefit events like gala dinners, rodeos, and variety shows.

Such companies charge steep fees and commissions that frequently leave charities, especially smaller or less experienced ones, with little or even nothing at all, according to state disclosure records.

Commercial fundraisers collect millions each year relying on the public image of selflessness projected by nonprofits devoted to promoting cultural literacy, saving lost or exploited children, finding cures for deadly diseases, or improving the welfare of defenseless animals.

Some desperate nonprofits elect to allow commercial fundraisers to take a percentage of the money they raise, at times as much as 80 to 90 percent. Alternately, larger charities may agree to set costs and fees associated with the campaign, but that strategy can also prove costly.

For example, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art hired the Los Angeles company SD&A Teleservices in 2004 for a phone solicitation campaign that raised $12,000. But because the company’s fees were greater than the contributions received, the museum had to pay $19,854 more to cover the venture. Similarly, the San Francisco Ballet lost $3,400 in 2005 to the same company after SD&A raised $12,745 from donors, thousands less than what it charged.

Several people we interviewed said the benefits of a fundraising campaign might not materialize until later if contributors eventually become long-term supporters. But unless the typical donor has time to find out how much ultimately makes it to the cause they care so much about, they’re unlikely to be aware of the extraordinary costs involved in nonprofit fundraising.

"The charity agrees to it because they want the easy money that they don’t have to do any work for," Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy in Chicago, told the Guardian. "Then the person goes out and spends $1 million to get that $200,000, and the charity tries to rationalize it by saying ‘Well, it’s money we wouldn’t normally have. We don’t have staffing for fundraising.’ But they’re ripping off the public and disrespecting the intentions of the people who gave that money."

The Los Angeles Times published a months-long investigation July 6 that examined required forms submitted to the California Attorney General’s Office showing the total revenue generated from 5,800 nonprofit fundraising campaigns and how much of that money went to the charities.

Between 1997 and 2006, the paper discovered, 430 campaigns raised a total of $44 million — but in each case, every dime went to the fundraising company. Charities lost money in 337 more cases. In hundreds of instances, charities entered into contracts that assured them only 20 percent or less of the funds raised, regardless of how successful the campaign turned out to be. The AIP recommends spending no more than 35 cents on each dollar raised. The Times also pointed out that donors enjoy tax deductions from their contributions, even if huge portions go to for-profit companies.

"Nonprofits spend a lot of money attracting donors and then they fall away the next year, so they have to reach out and attract even more donors," Elizabeth Boris, director of the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy in Washington, DC, told us. "So there’s a lot of churning that goes on, because a lot of the same people don’t give to the same organization year after year. It is an expensive process of getting the names and contacting people."

Because California is behind in processing the required disclosure forms, the Times had to specially request records from 2006, meaning more recent figures aren’t available. The Guardian took a far less extensive look at the records, but we still found plenty of examples of charities earning astonishingly low rates of return.

In 2004, Campbell-based TBS Productions raised $418,377 for the San Francisco Police Officers Association and its annual "Parade of Stars" event held at the Palace of Fine Arts. But just $87,094 made it into the union’s nonprofit Community Services Fund, which redistributes it in small increments to a variety of causes.

"I’ve wrestled with this since I’ve come on," said POA President Gary Delagnes. "There are two ways of looking at it. Do we really want to lend our name to an outfit that’s taking 80 percent off the top? … The decision we made was: you know what, we’re to do so much good with the charitable money that it’s worth it to us."

That same year the Oakland Police Officers Association also hired TBS for its "Cavalcade of Stars" event. The company raised $402,515 on behalf of the East Bay union for charitable purposes, but only $88,603 remained after covering the event’s costs, a return to the union of 22 cents on the dollar.

That year, TBS coordinated events for at least 16 groups across the state representing law enforcement and emergency personnel, from the San Jose Firefighters Burn Foundation to the Fresno Deputy Sheriffs Association. But almost no one received a better return rate than 20 percent, and two raised just 15 cents on the dollar after accounting for the for-profit company’s take. No one at TBS was available for comment when we called.

More than 250 fundraising campaigns in California netted 20 cents or less from each dollar raised for charities in 2004, according to figures maintained by the state.

Rich Steinberg, a longtime scholar of nonprofits at Indiana University, said several factors mitigate all this. He explained that the United States Supreme Court has been reluctant to permit heavy regulations on charity fundraising because a seemingly poor cost ratio isn’t necessarily bad for a nonprofit.

"Big charities could do everything wrong but still have a good cost ratio" because their support is widespread, Steinberg said. The San Francisco Ballet and SFMOMA, for example, have done much better in some telemarketing campaigns, earning from 54 percent to 81 percent in return rates despite other times losing money.

Could it be that there are too many small, inefficient nonprofits with similar missions, each created in the belief that government wasn’t filling some need? Perhaps. But attempting to curtail them could undermine the democratic spirit that leads to their creation.

"We should make it legitimate for any group of idiots to get together and try to do something good," Steinberg said.

If they want to succeed, he said, charities should not accept terms that give fundraisers a percentage of the donations. Instead they should establish fixed fees so that every dollar beyond that amount goes toward services. Second, to ensure more favorable rates, they can require competitive bidding among fundraisers.

Ken Larson, director of public policy for the California Association of Nonprofits, said that few of the tens of thousands of charitable organizations registered in California use commercial fundraisers to attract donors, a fact confirmed in reports compiled by the attorney general. Many hire full-time professional fundraisers to seek foundation and government grants or relationships with repeat donors, intangible benefits that can go beyond immediate fundraising goals.

As for telemarketing, Mike Smith, chief operating officer of New Jersey-based Charity Navigator, suggests that when donors receive a call, they can just hang up and cut a check directly to the nonprofit.

The debate over nonprofit fundraising costs is nothing new, but with information increasingly available on the Web, consumers are in a much stronger position to give wisely.

The San Francisco AIDS Foundation publicly and angrily parted ways with its commercial fundraiser, Pallatto Teamworks, in 2001 due in part to a dispute over how much the company charged to operate the California AIDS Ride. The charity has since created its own fundraising arm, steadily improving its rate of return from an average of 54 percent over the past seven years to 66.5 percent last year.

The foundation uses another company, MZA Events, to manage its annual AIDS Walkathon, which has averaged a healthy 63 percent return since 1999 with improved results over each of the last three years.

But officials with the SF AIDS Foundation believe telemarketing has enabled it to achieve greater public awareness. It also began moving the task in-house during the past six months and anticipates greater savings.

"Every dime we save in production is a dime that can go to our clients and our programs and our services," said Dave Ellison, spokesperson for the foundation. "We’re always extremely aware of how important it is to keep the costs down because we see the benefits every day in the lives of our clients."

City bidding out Slaytanic goatherding



You might think the Web site of San Francisco’s Office of Contract Administration is the wrong place for a reporter to go hunting for story ideas. You’re wrong. Look at this gem. The Laguna Honda Hospital is competitively bidding out the task of brush clearing and lawn mowing. But the job won’t go to some landscaping outfit you’re imagining, one with a truck full of big sweaty guys wearing sleeveless shirts and washing down 7-11 hot dogs with hilariously large refill cups of Mountain Dew. The city wants a professional goatherder to take care of it. Sounds brilliant ecologically, but just reading the bid documents, it was still hard to see it the first time without spitting our afternoon coffee all over the monitor. Do you have several goats available for the city to use, perhaps left over from a failed indie horror flick? Are you looking to make some extra money on the side? Are you prepared to accept that the City and County of San Francisco can’t be held responsible if your goats are stolen and/or damaged? Then you’re in luck. Here’s the description:

Bid Number/Type: ITSF09000054/MQ

Clear brush, shrubs, plants, weeds from 22 acres of property at Laguna Honda Hospital, 375 Laguna Honda Blvd. Clearing must be performed by goats and supervised by goatherders who will stay on site with the goats to monitor cutting activity, moving fences and goats. This price to include all transportation, fencing, monitoring, herders, and all other charges pertaining to proper care and handling of these animals. The city to be held harmless for any loss of goats, theft or otherwise.

Dictators and disarmament: This week’s cover



Here at the hyper-local Bay Guardian, we don’t get to write about international organized crime all too often, but it’s something we truly enjoy studying when we’re off the clock. Thankfully, we were able to hoodwink our editors into allowing us to examine the subject during precious work time for this week’s cover story. Suckers.

For those of you who appreciated our profile of human rights investigator Kathi Austin, we’ve got a wealth of additional material below for you to check out, some of it great stuff we hated having to pull from the story due to space constraints and some of it links to other highly informative stories and academic studies on small-arms proliferation in the developing world.

As for Victor Bout’s arrest earlier this year in Thailand, the Russian government has reportedly worked behind the scenes to have him delivered back to Moscow. But Washington’s relatively new attorney general, Michael Mukasey, emerged from meetings during a recent trip to Bangkok declaring that the case for his extradition was “very strong,” according to press accounts. Bout has an extradition hearing in Thailand on July 28.

He fled to Moscow several years ago, probably in 2002, evading an Interpol arrest warrant in the process. Russia doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the United States, but leaving his safe confines in Moscow and heading to Thailand made him vulnerable to the arrest that occurred in February.

A photo of the arms tycoon from Agence France-Presse – one of the few seen publicly – quickly circled the globe after his capture and showed Bout dressed in a polo shirt and moustache with trim, nut-brown hair. Two massive arms are stuffed into a pair of handcuffs as he glowers at the camera and his considerable size dwarfs the Thai policemen walking next to him.

We first learned about Austin’s pursuit of Bout after reading the definitive book on him published last year by two American journalists, Merchant of Death: Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible. The co-authors are Douglas Farah, a former West African bureau chief for the Washington Post, and Stephen Braun, a national correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. The duo thanks Austin for opening up her files during their research for the book, and Merchant of Death is a must-read for anyone interested in human rights and disarmament.

More after the jump.

Lord of War, 2005

Hunting the lord of war


› gwschulz@sfbg.com

Accused illegal arms dealer Victor Bout’s long-awaited arrest by Thai police officers March 5 was an important victory against unchecked human rights abuses around the world, and a personal vindication for the San Francisco woman who helped bring Bout to international attention.

Bout arrived at the luxurious Sofitel Hotel in Bangkok believing he was to meet with two senior leaders of the Marxist guerrilla army known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The men, it turned out, were paid informants operating on behalf of US drug enforcement officials.

Through an associate, the 41-year-old Bout allegedly promised to sell the duo large quantities of weapons to continue FARC’s decades-old insurgency against the Colombian government. According to an April federal grand jury indictment filed in New York, the arms included surface-to-air missiles, AK-47s, C-4 explosives, land mines, and even people to help train FARC soldiers in using the weapons.

Among those most relieved — and surprised — at the arrest was a relentlessly determined human rights investigator who lives in San Francisco. Kathi Lynn Austin, 48, has been pursuing the notorious trafficker and war profiteer for more than a decade.

Bout, a former USSR Air Force officer, is widely reputed to be one of the world’s most active criminal arms dealers, perhaps best known for his spectral presence on the African continent. There, he cultivated professional relationships with its litany of brutal dictators and helped fuel some of the most appalling human rights tragedies of the last century.

Austin and other investigators, as well as journalists and law enforcement officials in several countries, say that Bout expertly structured a business empire of shell companies, dubiously licensed cargo planes, and endless arms accumulations from former Soviet stockpiles — all of which were intended to minimize evidence linking his name to illegal weapons dealing.

But the work Austin did to penetrate that shell and expose Bout was so notable and dramatic that Paramount Pictures announced in December 2007 that superstar Angelina Jolie would play her in a drama inspired by Bout’s infamous career.

It’s a stunning achievement for someone who 15 years ago struggled to convince even her colleagues in the human rights community that the end of the Cold War and the globalization of organized crime made nonstate actors like Bout as much of a threat to peace as the tyrannical governments they’d been naming and shaming for years.

"A human rights violation is considered a violation that is carried out by a state actor," Austin told the Guardian. "We were trying to change the whole field of human rights to philosophically say we should be going after these private perpetrators as well."

Austin has helped document Bout’s convoluted network since about 1994, first as a consultant for Human Rights Watch and later as arms and conflict director for the Washington, DC–based Fund for Peace, for which she maintained a San Francisco office, before eventually working for the United Nations.

After returning to San Francisco in June from an 18-month UN mission in East Timor, Austin agreed to talk about her investigations of Bout over several hours of interviews near the North Beach apartment where she’s been holed up writing material for the Paramount script.

Seeing Austin in a crowded coffee shop with clear features and wide, earnest eyes, it’s not easy to imagine her charging through the world’s hellholes: Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, and other African conflict zones where the UN has imposed longstanding but ineffective arms embargos.

The work of Austin and others repeatedly helped show that death and destruction could continue indefinitely for the right price paid to savvy arms brokers like Bout, while the United States failed to regard the plight of civilian populations across Africa as vital to its interests.

As the world would learn in 2004, even the US military relied on Bout’s planes to conveniently bring its partially privatized war machine down on Iraq, making this story about more than just Bout and his pursuers.

Following Bout’s arrest in Thailand, federal prosecutors here charged him with conspiring to kill US nationals and attempting to illegally acquire anti-aircraft missiles.

In 1997 the United States designated FARC a terrorist group for kidnapping and murdering American citizens in Colombia. US officials also consider Colombia the globe’s largest supplier of cocaine, a trade that’s kept the leftist rebels afloat.

Bout allegedly told DEA informants that an ongoing, violent campaign by the FARC to counter America’s cocaine fumigation efforts in Colombia was his fight, too, and that he could supply the guerrillas with everything they needed.

Days after this story goes to press, however, he’s due for a court hearing in Bangkok, where a judge will decide whether to extradite him to the United States. That means Bout could face a criminal trial on American soil. To Austin, that’s long overdue. She had lost hope that her country would subdue a top-tier enabler of gross human rights violations. A secret sting operation led by American narcotics agents was the last thing Austin believed would lead to Bout’s capture — and for good reason.

She first became aware of his name in 1994, shortly after witnessing one of the brightest moments in contemporary African history. On April 24 of that year, Austin stood near the polling station as Nelson Mandela, a political prisoner of 27 years, marked his ballot in South Africa’s first fully democratic election. She’d been invited to attend after working as a researcher in the Natal province documenting political violence and the apartheid government’s desperate attempts to preserve decades of white control through upheaval and destabilization. No one was sure Mandela would reach the ballot box.

"We got up at three, four in the morning to load a bus," Austin recalls. "Nobody told us exactly where it was. We had to go under cover of darkness. When we got there, he voted just after the sun came up."

The inauguration party weeks later spilled out everywhere in Johannesburg. Austin mingled with foreign journalists and drank champagne. But one of the greatest parties of the century turned glum as vague reports mounted describing trouble in a nearby country, one smaller than Maryland and at the time unknown to most Americans: Rwanda.

"Nothing was really clear. It was all very ambiguous," Austin remembers. "We just kept hearing these reports that 10 Belgian peacekeepers had been killed and the UN was pulling out and people were dying on a massive scale."

The Rwandan genocide would become one of the greatest human atrocities since the Holocaust as extremists from the ethnic Hutu majority massacred at least 800,000 minority Tutsis and Hutu moderates with gruesome efficiency while the world stood by.

As details emerged, Austin raised money in the United States and worked to get to the beleaguered African nation as soon as possible. Meanwhile, a Tutsi-led military offensive defeated the Hutu Power government in the capital city of Kigali by July 1994 and supposedly ended the genocide. But as Austin and others would learn, the violence was far from over.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees streamed toward the eastern border of neighboring Zaire, among them the perpetrators of the genocide. Hidden inside refugee camps, Hutu militias renewed their strength and began amassing weapon caches with the quiet support of Zairian dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

Austin fearlessly penetrated the militia encampments, persuading exiled Hutu military leaders to disclose how they had obtained antitank grenades and high-caliber ammunition. The list included Col. Théoneste Bagosora, considered to be a chief architect of the genocide. Her trick? Austin told them she was a researcher for the neutral-sounding Institute of Policy Studies — which was technically true — and simply needed to hear their side of the story.

"It was a really treacherous place to be," Austin said. "At the time I appeared young, nonthreatening. I didn’t often say I was with Human Rights Watch…. In any kind of organization, people are motivated by many different things. You find those sources that for some reason or another want to help out or are so ego-driven they don’t think that any information they give to you is going to be used somehow against them."

She also interviewed members of flight crews who gave her information on cargo companies hired by the Mobutu government to secretly supply its Hutu allies with weapons by falsifying official flight plans and end-user certificates, key legal requisites designed to curtail transnational arms shipments.

According to her later Human Rights Watch report, "The militias in these camps have taken control of food distribution, engage in theft, prevent the repatriation of refugees through attacks and intimidation, carry out vigilante killings and mutilations of persons suspected of crimes or of disloyalty … and actively launch cross-border raids."

What didn’t make sense was how the suspected ringleaders of the genocide could obtain weapons despite the return of peacekeepers to the area and an arms embargo on Rwanda imposed by the UN.

CIA investigators later discovered that planes belonging to Bout were involved in supplying the outlaw Hutus, according to Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun’s definitive book on Bout, Merchant of Death: Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible (Wiley, 2007).

Austin also came to that conclusion by the end of an eight-month fact-finding trip to the region carried out in 1994 and 1995. Her findings for Human Rights Watch helped propel her to international notoriety as more NGOs focused on illegal arms flows coming from private brokers.

"The Rwandan genocide was really the watershed, for me and for Bout," Austin said. "In the early years, he’s building his empire and I’m beginning to narrow what I want to investigate. I was becoming more and more convinced that in all the wars I was looking at, it was logistics. It was all about who could bring in the guns, the fuel — keep the war going."

Back then, Bout was still a bit player among many weapons suppliers working on the continent, according to Austin. But he soon did something that would significantly boost his career and help make him what another Bout pursuer once described as "the McDonald’s of arms trafficking." He switched sides and helped the new post-genocide Rwandan leadership topple the neighboring Zairian presidency of Mobutu, Bout’s own longtime client.

Zaire is known today as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Bout would make yet more money years later aiding another warlord who attempted a violent coup inside the country, Jean-Pierre Bemba. The International Criminal Court last month charged Bemba with mass brutality and rape committed against civilians between 2002 and 2003.

"He [Bout] has no loyalty," a Bout associate told Merchant of Death authors in 2006. "His loyalty is to his balls, his sweet ass, and maybe his wallet."

Probably Bout’s most cynical move occurred in Afghanistan. At the start of his career, in the early 1990s, he allegedly maintained an intimate business relationship with commanders of the Northern Alliance, the tribal army that fought Taliban extremists for years until gaining power in Afghanistan with US help following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

US officials began openly acknowledging in 2005 that Bout earned as much as $50 million also furnishing the Taliban with military equipment during its reign over the country.

Austin’s upbringing is the antithesis of what one might expect from an international human rights investigator. The oldest of five kids, she played guitar in a country-and-western band with the rest of her siblings, embarking on tours throughout the South from their home in Richmond, Va.

"We would play for people who had no money," she said. "We’d camp out for three days just to give them some music."

In the ’60s , the family of Baptists played at small African American churches during the climax of Southern segregation and against the backdrop of racist terror. They defied the neighbors and invited black friends over for dinner or socialized with them publicly. The Austins were largely apolitical, but Kathi says her parents insisted on human decency and encouraged a basic sense of justice and rebellion.

Her exposure to the destitution of many formerly enslaved black families in the South translated seamlessly in her own mind to Africa, a continent that fascinated her. But her understanding of the continent was limited.

"I just wanted to go save Africa one day. It was what I said I wanted to do with my life when I was really young…. I had this kind of missionary zeal, this very naïve, humane impulse."

Few people in her family considered going to college, but Austin hungered for academic achievement, securing a scholarship to the University of Virginia in the late ’70s.

Civil rights turmoil at the school politicized her and transformed her deeply. A model Organization for African Unity held for college students each year at Howard University in Washington, DC had the greatest impact. She attended it devotedly for several years. After competitive debates, politicians, professors, and other experts would speak to the students about Africa’s colonialist history and the anti-Apartheid movement.

"I really began to understand a lot of the underpinnings of what was going on with the African liberation movement in South Africa," she said. "I became engrossed in it and learned a lot intellectually and got a good sense of what I thought."

Austin began to zero in on the Ronald Reagan administration’s agenda of undermining Soviet communist influence in the region. The United States covertly backed the UNITA rebels in Angola against a communist-led liberation movement there, and continued to support the white-dominated and separatist apartheid regime of South Africa.

She wanted to investigate the unsavory relationships Reagan’s White House had developed on the African continent in its crusade to defeat communism during the Cold War. But Austin was aware of only two think tanks in the capital that examined such issues and had a reputation for attracting left-leaning luminaries. One was the nonprofit National Security Archive, a repository of declassified intelligence and foreign policy documents obtained largely through Freedom of Information Act requests.

Headquartered at George Washington University, lawmakers concerned about US covert activities abroad and some of the nation’s best-known journalists, including New Yorker writer Seymour Hersh, palled around at the independent, nongovernmental research library after it was founded in 1985 by a group of muckracking reporters and scholars.

Austin’s internship there in 1988 created a new realm of possibility — solo investigations — and sparked an interest in following the intricate paper trails that accompanied her growing knowledge of Africa’s geopolitical landscape, frequent outbreaks of low-intensity conflicts, and evasive weapons procurers.

But she still had never been to Africa. "That was my big ambition," she said. "If there’s anything about me it’s that I’ve got to see for myself."

As her ties to Washington expanded, she joined a World Bank urban rehabilitation team, writing political and economic background reports on Angola in 1989, believing she could make a difference inside the ill-reputed lender to developing countries.

She didn’t, but it was enough to give her first contact. After that trip to Angola, Austin used her savings to stay behind, joining a UN mission overseeing the withdrawal of Cuban troops above the 19th parallel, who were there as a result of Angola’s years-long civil war. She later went to Mozambique on a MacArthur Foundation grant and interviewed private mercenaries operating there for a report called "Invisible Crimes" that included a simple investigative formula she would employ for years to come: What’s wrong? And who’s doing it?

"Through the years, you realize just what kind of danger she’s in," her sister, Cindi Adkins, said from Virginia. "We would go days, weeks, months without hearing from her. My mom would say, ‘We have to call the Red Cross and see if we can find out that she’s okay.’<0x2009>"

Wanting to escape Washington culture, she moved to North Beach in 1997 after becoming entranced by San Francisco’s slower pace. Between missions, she’d spend full days at Caffe Sapore on Lombard Street writing a book about arms trafficking she’s still working on today.

Stanford University’s Center for African Studies invited her to become a visiting scholar for a year, researching arms proliferation and lecturing students, while the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, did the same thing shortly afterward.

But the San Francisco–based Ploughshares Fund became one of Austin’s biggest supporters, helping her finance the creation of a local arms and conflict office for the Fund for Peace, an antiwar think tank in Washington.

"At that time, one of the areas we did a lot of funding in was the control of small arms and light weapons," said Deborah Bain, Ploughshares’ communications director. "Kathi was someone who did a lot of very courageous work tracking arms flows around the world. We were very impressed with the work she was doing and the kinds of results she was getting."

By then the UN had grown to understand the need for knowledgeable people on the ground who could travel across various war-torn African countries and gather evidence on who was vioutf8g arms embargos and how they were doing it. In the coming years, Austin served as a consultant and official expert on panels that investigated sanctions violations in Liberia, the Congo, Uganda, Burundi, Sudan, and Sierra Leone with teams of other human rights investigators who’d long followed Bout’s operations.

Her ex-boyfriend, Todd Ewing, a foreign economic development specialist and Bay Area native who began dating her in East Africa during the ’90s, described Austin as intense and ambitious. While his own blonde hair and six-foot frame made him conspicuous in the region, he said Austin’s "big brown eyes" and polite manner enabled her to slyly convince gritty characters to talk.

"Her MO at that time would be to just disappear for months [on fact-finding trips]," Ewing said. "I always liked to describe her as a sort of spy for the good guys."

Observers say that history handed the equally ambitious Victor Bout a perfect storm in 1991 at just 24 — an age when many Americans are looking for their first post-collegiate job.

The Soviet empire dissolved that year, ending the Cold War between Russia and the United States. Economic globalization expanded and gave every creative entrepreneur with good connections, criminal or legit, a chance to make a fortune. Aging Cold Warriors in the Beltway during the Bill Clinton era and later in George W. Bush’s cabinet maintained a stark binary ideological view of the world and failed to take seriously the growing threat posed by transnational criminals who had exchanged ideology for profit.

After the Berlin wall fell, corrupt Russian oligarchs infamously plundered the country’s assets as they were privatized following years of state control. Some robbed Russia’s rich oil reserves. Bout sought its military installations and airfields containing rows of cheaply available and unused commercial planes, all essentially abandoned by the central government.

Profiles of Bout put him in Angola — and possibly Mozambique — working as a translator for Russian peacekeepers when the Soviet Union broke up. US officials say Victor Anatolijevitch Bout was born in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, a deeply impoverished former Soviet state, and speaks several languages.

Bout told the New York Times in a rare 2003 interview that he purchased three Antonov aircraft for next to nothing in 1992 and used them to exploit a gap in the transit market, at first ferrying innocuous cargo like flowers from South Africa to the Middle East.

But the mogul quickly fostered connections to old Eastern bloc manufacturing and storage facilities in places like the Ukraine and Bulgaria, which were filled with AK-47s — ubiquitous in the developing world — ammunition, tanks, helicopters, and other military equipment.

Over time, investigators say he erected a complex web of cargo and airline companies designed to throw off suspicion. If one firm faced too much attention from aviation authorities, another was created to hold the assets. Otherwise, bribery, fraud, and forged documents were used, according to a report on Bout created by the US Treasury Department. In many African countries, aviation regulations are weak and international law is rarely enforced.

"Unless confronted with documentary evidence to the contrary, Bout’s associates consistently deny any involvement with Bout himself or playing any role in arms trafficking," the treasury report from 2005 reads.

US officials believed by then that he controlled the largest private fleet of Soviet-era aircraft in the world and employed hundreds of people, overseen partly from a nerve center in the United Arab Emirates, at the time a fast-growing and highly unregulated intercontinental transportation hub east of Saudi Arabia.

The Treasury report and other investigations say Bout became a confidante of the Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, supplying him with gunships and missile launchers. Taylor is currently on trial in the Hague for directing horrifying atrocities in neighboring Sierra Leone, ranging from widespread and extreme sexual violence to drugging and forcing children into combat.

When treasury officials here finally moved to seize Bout’s assets and bar Americans from doing business with him in 2004, they concluded that he had received diamonds extracted from Sierra Leone in exchange for supplying arms to Taylor.

That year saw one of Austin’s boldest attempts to confront the trafficking of illicit goods, on an airport tarmac in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, at that time under its own arms embargo. A UN team Austin worked with uncovered piles of questionable registration records during a surprise inspection of two dozen planes, some of which fit Bout’s profile, as their Russian crews stood by, annoyed.

"I only told one or two high-ranking UN officials to get their permission, so we could be sure it didn’t get leaked out," Austin said. "None of the people involved in the actual inspection knew about it until that morning…. I’m still surprised it was so effective. I’m not sure it would work again."

International aviation rules require pilots to maintain several different types of documents, but the group found that 21 planes had invalid registration papers, two had false airworthiness certificates, and three had no insurance to speak of — telltale signs of smuggling. The group determined that weapons in the area were being exchanged for illegally mined columbite-tantalite, or coltan, a valuable mineral contained in some modern electronic devices such as cell phones.

The revelation led the UN Security Council to place Douglas Mpamo, a prominent alleged Bout manager in the region, on the DRC sanctions list, along with a pair of well-known Bout subsidiaries. With Austin’s help, another reputed top Bout lieutenant named Dimitri Popov made a similar security watch list in the United States.

Meanwhile lower-level bureaucrats in the US State and Treasury departments collected evidence on Bout for years, assisted by Austin, who occasionally met with them to relay information she had gathered on fact-finding missions. She testified to Congress about the proliferation of small arms, too, but after Sept. 11, the White House drifted away from a growing campaign to stop Bout.

"I don’t think the Bush administration should get any credit for the fact that Victor Bout was arrested," Austin said. "I think it has to do with the DEA being insulated from the policy influences of the administration. They kept the case so secret they were able to succeed. In the past, once it became an interagency issue or problem, bureaucratic inertia and turf wars entered in and always raised some obstacle to the actual pursuit of Bout."

Eventually, that bureaucratic inertia began to look like something far more shameful.

On April 26, 2005, several state and federal law enforcement agencies including the FBI, IRS, and Dallas Police Department, raided two homes and an office in Richardson, Texas, looking for evidence that Bout’s tentacles had reached the United States.

The properties belonged to a Syrian-born American citizen named Richard Chichakli, who had served in an aviation regiment of the US Army during the first Gulf War. After being discharged in 1993, Chichakli helped create a free trade zone in the United Arab Emirates.

That’s where Chichakli likely first met Bout. Chichakli later returned to the US and became licensed as an accountant and an expert in military contracting. Officials found records showing that the 49-year-old Chichakli had created American companies connected to Bout.

Also discovered during the raid were wire transfer statements showing hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time moving from Bout-connected companies in the UAE to Chichakli in Texas, and credit card invoices managed by Chichakli listing Bout’s lavish purchases at businesses serving the nouveau riche of Moscow.

The raids were the result of a July 2004 executive order signed by President Bush — who, facing pressure from the UN, authorized the raids and prohibited Americans from doing business with Bout due to his connections to Taylor in Liberia.

The White House’s action came years after Austin and other investigators compiled their own research on Bout’s role in arming African warlords. Thirty companies and four individuals were added to a blocking order as a result. Federal court records from the case include extensive references to UN reports on Bout, including some Austin worked on, like one citing witnesses who saw a Bout-connected plane transporting large volumes of arms and ammunition through a Congolese airport between February and May 2004. Something was finally being done, or so it seemed.

But Austin and her colleagues were furious to learn that the US Defense Department hired Bout’s vast air armada with taxpayer money nearly 200 times in 2004 alone to ferry supplies and construction materials into Baghdad after the start of the Iraq war.

Merchant of Death co-author Braun, a Los Angeles Times national correspondent, reported for the paper in December 2004 that two well-established Bout companies, Air Bas and Irbis, had contracted with the US Air Force and Army as well as private companies like FedEx and Kellogg Brown & Root, the much-maligned former Halliburton subsidiary. The State Department had circulated a list of Bout companies warning its officials not to use them, Braun wrote, but the Pentagon made no similar effort.

A fuel purchase agreement included in Chichakli’s court file shows that the Defense Department used Air Bas "for official government purposes" just nine days after Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold questioned top defense officials, including then–Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, about such contracts. But Wolfowitz didn’t acknowledge what he eventually characterized as the "inadvertent" use of Bout’s planes for Feingold until months later.

When Austin delved into the issue in 2005 with fellow Merchant of Death author Farah, a former West African bureau chief for the Washington Post, the pair obtained new information for an article in the New Republic showing that the US military also used Bout-controlled companies during a four-month period in 2005, long after the "inadvertent" contracting had first been publicized.

The discoveries were a major letdown for Austin. She’s discussing with some NGOs the possibility of suing the federal government for vioutf8g its own presidential executive order. But Austin knows that even if Bout lands in a US prison for life, there will be someone else to take his place. It’s already happening, she says. As dark as it sounds, Austin will never have to go without a job.

"I’ve seen so much of the same thing go on year after year," Austin said. "You just have to take it in stride and keep coming back punching and hitting. That’s just the nature of the beast, the nature of the work that I do. You just have to keep going."

Weekly comments too good to pass up: “butt-to-nut”


Damn, we just can’t pass this one up. A commenter over at the SF Weekly‘s blog posted a message agreeing with Benjamin Wachs that there are some fine folks in the Midwest contrary to what so many San Franciscans seem to believe. I won’t speak for rest of the newsroom here, but I agree with Wachs, too. I grew up in Tulsa and resent any implication that Oklahomans are somehow dysfunctional because popular pundits have encouraged the country to divide each state into two colors and thus make broad assumptions about millions of people. But there’s a problem. Read the comment closely:

Posted at: July 17, 2008 10:54 AM

Dan says:
When San Francisco got too expensive in the late 90s, the ex and I took our freelancing selves to a small town in the Midwest. The generalizations made by the coasters were always amusing to read; our small town of about six thousand was populated by other refugees from big towns, artists and radicals and iconoclasts made it something of a weekend destination and arts center. These people had real cultural connections and credentials but very little of the pretension you’d find at, say, the Lexington (which, more than likely, is jammed butt to nut with a bunch of people who are actually from the Midwest and would be mortified if you found out). I found that we did travel more than when we lived in California. But that was mostly because we were still making San Francisco wages but paying small town Midwestern rent.

Wait. Huh? Wha? Are you talking about the Lexington in the Mission? You’ve been there before, right? Are you sure your parenthetical description of it is, uh, accurate? You’re right about one thing, however. The Lexington, like so many other places in town, contains a lot of refugees from elsewhere who may actually be proud of where they came from but couldn’t stand being treated like second-class citizens there anymore.

Real money, false arrest


› gwschulz@sfbg.com

The false arrest of an elected official in San Francisco for using a $100 bill that police wrongly thought was counterfeit has evolved into a potentially precedent-setting legal struggle over police accountability.

The San Francisco City Attorney’s Office is seeking to appeal the case all the way to the conservative-dominated US Supreme Court, an expensive fight that could overturn what would seem a welcome ruling in liberal San Francisco. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last August affirmed in the case that citizens have the right to sue police officers after being unreasonably arrested for a crime they didn’t commit.

After a federal district judge refused to grant qualified immunity to the officers and throw out the lawsuit, City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s office insisted on repeated appeals argued by deputy city attorney Scott Wiener, rather than settling for a few thousand dollars and accepting that the cops simply screwed up.

"There are some people who would say ‘Why don’t you just pay a little money to settle it?’<0x2009>" Wiener told the Guardian. "But we have to take a broader institutional perspective, because if you start settling cases that don’t have merit, you’re going to wind up with a lot more cases like that than you would have otherwise."

At the center of the story is attorney Rodel Rodis, a Filipino activist and elected trustee of City College of San Francisco, who was arrested in the spring of 2003 and dragged to a police station for supposedly trying to buy a handful of items from a Walgreens with a counterfeit $100 bill. The bill turned out to be real.

But by the time the officers came to that conclusion, Rodis had suffered what he regarded as the terrible embarrassment of being shoved into a squad car with his hands behind his back in front of neighbors and constituents. It also occurred just around the corner from his longtime law practice and the main campus of City College, where he’s been an elected trustee since 1991.

Rodis promptly filed a $250,000 claim against the city, former Police Chief Alex Fagan Sr., and two officers at the scene alleging false arrest, excessive force, and the negligent infliction of emotional stress, among other things. He later offered to settle the suit for $15,000, but the City Attorney’s Office refused to accept the deal.

Five years and innumerable legal bills later, the case just keeps getting worse for the city — even before it lands in front of a jury to determine if indeed the police should compensate Rodis.

"Part of my mind was saying … ‘I’m not going to argue. I’m not going to resist,’<0x2009>" Rodis said of the arrest. "I put my hands behind my back but I’m thinking ‘This has got to be a mistake. Somebody here has to have some sense.’<0x2009>"

Rodis was suffering from minor allergy symptoms on Feb. 17, 2003, when he headed to a Walgreens on Ocean Avenue he’d been going to for 20 years. It was located near his Ingleside home and a law office he’s had in the neighborhood since 1992.

He picked up some cough syrup, Claritin, toothpaste, and a few other things. The total came to $42 and change, so he tried to pay with a $100 bill.

"I just happened to have it in my wallet," Rodis said.

The drugstore clerk used a counterfeit detection pen to be sure the bill was legit. It was, according to the marking, but the bill was printed in the 1980s before watermarks and magnetic strips were used to help stop counterfeiting.

The young clerk was unfamiliar with the bill’s design and called a manager to be sure. He, too, used a counterfeit pen to confirm that it was real. But the manager told Rodis he was still going to call the police, fearing it was fake. That’s when things turned surreal. Two officers showed up and almost immediately placed Rodis in handcuffs before trying to ascertain if he’d actually attempted to defraud Walgreens.

"They made no effort to determine what the situation was … they just assumed," Rodis said. "When she said ‘Put your hands behind your back,’ I thought I was in some Twilight Zone moment."

A third ranking officer on the scene, Sgt. Jeff Barry, had known Rodis for years as a local lawyer and City College trustee. Their sons were classmates. But Barry allegedly failed to step in and question whether Rodis was likely to be a fraud artist.

Another officer, Michelle Liddicoet, told Rodis she knew who he was and that he "should be ashamed of himself," according to the suit.

Feeling humiliated as other Filipinos he knew looked on, Rodis was put into the back of a patrol car and taken to Taraval Station, where he was handcuffed to a bench. There he waited another 30 minutes or so until the police officers were able to reach the Secret Service, which investigates currency for the US Treasury Department. A federal agent confirmed that the bill was likely genuine. The whole ordeal lasted about a couple of hours and Rodis was driven back to the drug store.

"This wasn’t a situation where Mr. Rodis was held in jail overnight or for a week or had to post some large amount in bail," Wiener said.

Fagan sent out a department memo shortly afterward stating that suspects have to know the currency they’re using is counterfeit before being arrested, and in any event, if they insist it’s real, the officer can book the bill as evidence for later examination and give them a receipt without arresting anyone.

But by then the damage was done and the hasty reaction of police would lie at the heart of the case that Rodis subsequently filed.

Rodis is an unlikely champion of police accountability. Known for his cantankerous personality, he all but accused the secretary of the San Francisco Veterans Equity Center last month in his regular column for the Philippine News of supporting a band of communist guerillas in the Philippines known as the New People’s Army, a charge the man angrily denied.

He bitterly responded with a string of e-mails last year when the Guardian reported he was several months late in sending legally required campaign disclosure forms from his 2004 reelection to the Ethics Commission (see "At the crossroads," 07/17/07).

But the city’s police academy also has invited Rodis to lecture recruits about San Francisco’s Filipino community as part of the department’s sensitivity training. A week after the incident involving Rodis, an elderly Filipino man who sold the San Francisco Chronicle downtown was savagely beaten and robbed of $400. He never found a police officer while walking to his Tenderloin home, where he died. The two incidents, one following on the heels of the other, enraged the city’s Filipino population of 36,000, and Rodis believes it proves the police department continues to have trouble with discrimination.

"The fact that it happened to me meant that I was in a position to do something about it," Rodis said of his dust-up. "For many [Filipino immigrants] … they wouldn’t have had the resources or the knowledge of the procedures to fight back. Even up to now, five years later, I still bump into people who appreciate the fact that I filed the action."

The case was assigned to Wiener, who is coincidentally the elected chair of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee and a longtime party activist in a city that’s famously wary of any perceived threat to civil liberties.

In his capacity as a lawyer for the city, though, Wiener tried to have Rodis’ suit tossed using a common courtroom maneuver known as summary judgment. Civil defendants request them from a court by arguing that a claim is so lacking in merit that they shouldn’t have to endure a costly, time-consuming jury trial.

He also made the standard claim that city employees — in this case police officers — are shielded by what’s known as qualified immunity, a legal argument designed to allow them room to make honest mistakes without facing an endless barrage of expensive litigation.

In March 2005, federal district judge Maxine Chesney granted the request in part, throwing out Rodis’ claim of liability against the city and county. But she allowed the part of the suit involving the two officers to move forward, arguing the arrest was illegal because they didn’t have probable cause that Rodis intended to defraud the store.

So Herrera’s office turned to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and in a move that surprised Wiener, the panel ruled 2-1 that public employees are entitled to qualified immunity, but not when they fail to act on their considerable law enforcement powers in a reasonable way and take into account all factors present at the scene.

To put it bluntly, cops sometimes make an error in judgment but they still have to use their brains for establishing probable cause. The panel also argued that even if the bill was counterfeit, Rodis did nothing wrong if he wasn’t aware of it.

"Even without knowledge of Rodis’ identity and local ties," the majority wrote, "based on the totality of the other relevant facts, no reasonable or prudent officer could have concluded that Rodis intentionally and knowingly used a counterfeit bill."

Now Herrera had on his hands published legal precedent that his staff believed imposed a new requirement on police officers to not only conclude that perpetrators passed counterfeit currency but also that they intended to defraud their victims. The decision, city officials claim in their pleading to the Supreme Court, could hamstring local and federal law enforcement investigating counterfeit currency and some other types of fraud.

"They said it was clearly established that probable cause is a fluid concept," Wiener said of the ruling. "Well, that’s a meaningless statement. Of course probable cause is a fluid concept. But the point of qualified immunity is that officers are entitled to rely on the current state of law about what the requirements are and shouldn’t have to predict what a judge is going to do down the road."

Lawrence Fasano, a lawyer for Rodis, counters that Fagan’s memo to the department reinforced the court’s opinion. Considering that the police and people in the neighborhood had known Rodis for years, the officers on the scene should have concluded that it was out-of-character for him to pass a counterfeit bill.

"All the evidence that was looked at by the police officers at the time indicated that he did not intend to pass counterfeit currency, including the fact that he had other $100 bills in his pocket that were genuine," Fasano said.

Fasano argued, too, that case law in California made clear the issue of intent cannot just be set aside by police.

Other cities and counties in California so fear the case’s impact that two interest groups representing them, the League of California Cities and the California State Association of Counties, filed a joint friend-of-the-court brief after the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, arguing that digital counterfeiting was a "threat to the nation’s fiscal health" that could grow in the future, and if allowed to stand, "the panel majority’s decision would eviscerate the doctrine of qualified immunity to the detriment of the public."

Wiener filed the Supreme Court petition in May after a larger panel of Ninth Circuit judges rejected a request for rehearing earlier this year. While the Supreme Court accepts only a fraction of the thousands of cases it receives annually, Wiener believes there’s a chance it will be accepted because of another such case it’s examining from the Tenth Circuit. The city won’t know for sure until the fall.

He adds that it’s extraordinarily dangerous for police to be forced to consider a citizen’s status as an elected official before concluding that probable cause exists for an arrest. The City Attorney’s Office won’t disclose how much has been spent on the case until it’s resolved, but Rodis estimates he’s spent more than $50,000.
The US dollar may be losing value internationally, but a $100 bill from the 1980s could cost San Francisco big bucks.

Bad grades


› gwschulz@sfbg.com

A much-anticipated audit of City College of San Francisco’s spending of bond money finds that school officials promised voters more than they could possibly deliver and then didn’t allow proper oversight of hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds.

A minority faction on City College’s Board of Trustees has for years sought a performance audit of the school’s bond projects, which includes $441.3 million authorized by voters during elections in 2001 and 2005. The audit by Sacramento-based MGT of America was released June 4.

The faction, led in large part by longtime trustee Milton Marks, often publicly quarreled with former Chancellor Phil Day over the matter, arguing that Prop. 39, a state ballot measure that passed in 2000 and made it easier for school districts to get voter approval for bond financing, legally required full annual performance audits of its capital spending on new classrooms, laboratories, a gymnasium, and a performing arts center.

But school administrators denied they were necessary or claimed that the cursory, more limited financial audits done each year met the legal mandate. Pressure on Day’s administration finally became insurmountable last year as San Francisco’s District 12 state Assembly Member Fiona Ma began threatening to have the state conduct its own audit, offering deeper scrutiny and wider disclosure than City College officials were perhaps prepared to stomach.

"My overall feeling is that we appreciate their efforts, accept their findings, and will implement all of the recommendations," a conciliatory Vice Chancellor Peter Goldstein told the Guardian in response to the report.

While mostly mild in its language, the audit shows that the school may have violated state law by granting several small contracts to the same construction companies so City College could avoid the headache of competitive bidding.

The state’s Public Contract Code requires that projects costing more than $15,000 go to the lowest responsible bidder through a competitive process, a provision designed to save money for taxpayers. But between 2005 and 2006, the community college entered into seven separate no-bid contracts with one construction firm totaling $83,545 for work at its Cloud Hall facility on Ocean Avenue.

"It’s unfortunate that two of the project managers were not aware or did not appreciate the importance of that rule," Goldstein said. "They’ve been counseled and we don’t expect to have any more occurrences of that type."

The auditors found "similar multiple contracts" — totaling less than $100,000, Goldstein said — where the work should have been combined into one larger contract and approved by the school’s independently elected Board of Trustees.

The audit reserved special criticism for a bond oversight committee required by Prop. 39 to watchdog the school’s capital spending. The Guardian reported last year that such committees in other districts, for example, West Contra Costa County routinely received full performance audits and met more often than City College’s oversight committee (See "Who’s following the money?", 07/10/07).

But the group of citizens here, which includes San Francisco Treasurer José Cisneros and former San Francisco Chronicle publisher Steve Falk, who’s now head of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, has done far less than what the law asks it to do.

The report says that one oversight committee member, who goes unnamed, told the auditors that it wasn’t the committee’s responsibility to determine how City College actually spends the funds. The auditors also watched former Chancellor Day tell the committee at a January meeting that its reach was limited solely to ensuring that City College complied with certain provisions of the state’s Constitution.

That turned out to be totally untrue. "The intent of this law is to provide a broad oversight role for the committees, thereby encouraging cost-effective use of bond funds," the report states.

"Many of these things that are in the report are things that people on the board have been saying all along," Trustee Marks said. "We really shouldn’t have had to spend $250,000 for someone on the outside to tell us this."

The original estimate for all of City College’s ambitious bond projects amounted to about $539.7 million, and the school has offset many of those costs by securing tens of millions of dollars in matching funds from the state. But as of January, the total cost has ballooned to $968 million. Last year the Guardian reported that the school gutted several projects promised to voters by "reallocating" roughly $130 million from their budgets to save other projects suffering from skyrocketing cost overruns (See "The City College shell game," 07/03/07).

Trustee John Rizzo, who joined Marks in asking for an audit, said he wished the report had done more to explain why many of the projects were poorly planned, leading to millions of dollars in higher costs. He cited as examples the new Mission Campus and a health and wellness center for athletes.

Rizzo told us, "Just from what contractors say and what staff has been reporting, that still needs to be looked at."

MediaNews lays off toilet paper, pens



Denver-based MediaNews Group announced today that it plans to lay off all pens, note pads and toilet paper declaring that the cuts would enable the company to remain profitable while continuing to serve news to its readers.

The company, which owns several major daily newspapers in the Bay Area including the Oakland Tribune, the San Jose Mercury News and the Contra Costa Times, also disclosed that its reporters will no longer gather in buildings leased or owned by MediaNews as the company will be shedding all of its commercial office space in order to save yet more money. Instead, they’ll meet in freely accessible public parks where they will use scattered twigs to etch their stories into the dirt relying on cans and rope to call their sources. Bloggers will then summarize the etchings by peering over their shoulders, but attribution won’t be necessary, because, well, you can’t link readers to sodden earth.

MediaNews CEO Dean Singleton asked company employees during a press conference in a Denver city park to refrain from throwing beer cans at him so the company can recycle them for pocket change to pay down his vast army of creditors, which is currently threatening mutiny.

Singleton has also reportedly done away with “beats” at his newspapers and his few remaining reporters will from now on cover “whatever they can gather with crude tools available on the ground,” according to the only reporter capable of actually documenting the conference with a pen and note pad, a bored-looking Entertainment Tonight producer who was apparently passing time in the park before Val Kilmer made a rare, rumored appearance in an opulent Denver restaurant around the corner.

“These are strange times,” Singleton said at the conference. “It may appear on the surface that the American people care about the Zimbabwean elections considering the recent demand for coverage there. But my nose for news tells me its anti-union editorials on the front page of the Denver Post that they really want and need.”

The commissioner’s conflicts


› gwschulz@sfbg.com

Before the June 5 special meeting of the San Francisco Planning Commission got underway, Michael Antonini had an announcement.

Dressed in a charcoal suit and red-checked tie, with his white hair combed back over his skull, the longtime commissioner disclosed that he was a part owner of a condominium in the eastern neighborhoods, where a years-long rezoning effort is nearly complete. That means Antonini is among the people who could benefit from increased land values due to zoning upgrades.

As a result, Antonini begrudgingly declared that he would have to recuse himself from hearings involving the eastern neighborhoods until the potential conflict is dealt with.

"Hopefully this can be resolved in the next few weeks and I’ll be able to participate at later hearings," Antonini said at the meeting.

But it was a bit late to be complying with the state’s conflict-of-interest laws: Antonini had already actively taken part in meetings in which the plan was discussed. And Antonini also neglected to mention that after he and his son purchased the condo, he voted on two other projects that appear to be within steps of it.

Public records show that Antonini bought the $515,000 condo at 200 Townsend Street in 2003 with his real estate agent son, John. Commissioner Antonini and his wife own a 25 percent stake in the property through a family trust the couple created in 1997. His son holds the majority interest.

Antonini worked hard to play down his stake in the condo at the June 5 meeting. It’s not an investment property, he made clear to the commissioners. There’s no rent generated from it. He’s a mere minority holder in a family trust that controls the condo, and it was purchased as a residence for his son and his wife.

"Because I did not believe our fractional interest in John’s condo represented a conflict, I did not consider reclusing [sic] myself from projects near the condo," Antonini wrote to the Guardian.

But the laws on this are pretty clear. The state’s Political Reform Act of 1974 prohibits public officials from participating in decisions that will have a "foreseeable material financial effect on one or more of his/her economic interests." It also states that any "direct or indirect interest" worth more than $2,000 poses a potential conflict, for which a 25 percent stake in a half-million dollar condo would seem to qualify.


Other public officials in similar situations have recused themselves long before the issue became a potential political liability.

Sup. Bevan Dufty bought into a three-unit residential property on Waller Street with two co-tenants in December 2006. He immediately sought advice from the city attorney, who told him he no longer could vote on the Market-Octavia Plan, a series of land-use changes in Hayes Valley, Duboce Triangle, and elsewhere that was similar in scope to the current rezoning efforts in the eastern neighborhoods. The supervisor also couldn’t vote on a major Laguna Street redevelopment project or on legislation making it easier for seniors to convert rental units to condos.

Antonini told us that "only in the last month" did the city attorney warn some officials involved with plans for the eastern neighborhoods that if they held property in the area, there could be a conflict of interest.

"We’ve been working on [the eastern neighborhoods] for the whole six years I’ve been on the planning commission," he said at the meeting. "It’s a little troubling that this issue of conflict is raised now rather than at the very beginning."

The law does make an exception when the economic interests of the "public generally" could also be enhanced by a government decision such as those that have an impact on a large section of the city like the eastern neighborhoods. But the city attorney’s office concluded for now that the condo indeed may pose a conflict. And in the meantime, Antonini told us that the Fair Political Practices Commission in Sacramento, which helps enforce the state’s Political Reform Act, is being consulted to determine "whether our fractional interest in the condo truly represents a conflict of interest."

The eastern neighborhoods planning process isn’t the only legislation that created a potential conflict for Antonini. The commissioner voted in January 2007 to approve construction of 26 new single-room occupancy units at 25 Lusk Alley, not far from his property at 200 Townsend. The project’s sponsor, Michael Yarne, is a land-use attorney who today works for the mayor’s economic development office. The project was approved, according to meeting minutes.

The project itself relied on a contentious legal loophole in which developers claim their units are "single-room occupancy," a necessity because the area permits residential efficiency hotels where the poor and working-class used to live. Allowing such SRO hotels in areas zoned for light industrial uses enabled the city to preserve some forms of affordable housing. But builders can turn around and lease the opulently large units such as the ones at 25 Lusk, which bear little resemblance to genuine SRO rooms, to well-heeled clients.

"They are allowed where normal residential units are not allowed, because historically SROs were always extremely affordable housing," community organizer Calvin Welch said. "The whole notion of market-rate SROs is a new invention, and that’s why they’re controversial. They’re basically the new version of live-work lofts."

In November 2006, Antonini also voted to approve a liquor license for a new full-service restaurant and wine bar at 216 Townsend, even closer to his son’s condo.


State ethics laws say that a public official has a conflict if his or her property comes within 500 feet of a project the official will be scrutinizing and voting on.

Conservatively measuring from the furthest corners of each property, Google Earth puts both the proposed restaurant and SRO within 500 feet.

Bob Stern, president of the Los Angeles–based Center for Governmental Studies and co-author of the state’s Political Reform Act, said a public official could face $5,000 in civil penalties for each conflict-of-interest violation. But it’s not common for the chronically under-resourced FPPC to go after local officials, he said.

Mayoral spokesperson Nathan Ballard wrote in an e-mail that "we take any allegations of conflicts of interest seriously" but added there is a disagreement over whether the "public generally" exception applied to the eastern neighborhoods and that the City Attorney’s Office was seeking additional input from the FPPC.

As for the two projects he voted on near the condo, Antonini apparently told the mayor’s office he had looked into whether 25 Lusk fell inside 500 feet. "Based on his understanding at the time," Ballard wrote, "they didn’t."

That’s a stretch, at best. The projects are in the same block. We walked them off and found that Antonini would have to be splitting hairs to argue that they are outside the boundary — and even in that case, it would be only by a few feet. The rusty red paint job, black trim, and stylish, outsize windows of 200 Townsend are easily viewable from the backside of 25 Lusk.

"If there is a legitimate argument that they did fall within the 500-foot radius, this should be clarified," Ballard stated. "However, given the relative insignificance of the two projects cited in your e-mail and Antonini’s long-standing reputation as an ethical and hard-working commissioner, we don’t have any reason to believe that he would have knowingly and/or willingly violated the state’s Fair Political Practices Act."

But the Lusk Street project was by no means insignificant. "They are highly regulated," Welch said of SROs. "You cannot convert them to tourist hotels without going through a very long and cumbersome process. They are valued for affordable housing so highly that the city regulates their conversion to tourist uses." So instead, the "corporate suites," as Welch calls them, masquerade as SROs. The project was approved in the end, but two commissioners — Christina Olague and Sugaya Hisashi — voted against it.

Antonini told us that he believes 25 Lusk is more than 500 feet away, and as for the restaurant, planning staff recommended approval.

The commissioner told us, "I was the one who brought public attention to the issue of my possible conflict. I believe it is a small issue when compared to my body of work on behalf of San Francisco over the last six years."

The June 5 meeting where Antonini made the disclosure about his son’s condo was part of a long and detailed process that will determine the fate of vast sections of Potrero Hill, SoMa, the Mission District, and Dogpatch. The official planning process for the targeted 2,200-acre area began back in 2001, and the commissioners could approve new zoning plans next month before sending the proposal to the Board of Supervisors.

For much of San Francisco’s history, the city sections poised for rezoning have been home to light industry and blue-collar jobs. But housing has encroached over the last 15 years, and the planning commission is prepared to allow between 8,000 and 10,000 new units over the next 20 years. That will almost certainly increase the value of land in the area.

Residential developers built thousands of pricey condos in the SoMa District during the 1990s, exploiting another divisive zoning loophole that created waves of animosity across the city and aided in a takeover of the Board of Supervisors by a progressive bloc of candidates.

Live/work lofts, as developers called them, were built in areas zoned for light industrial commercial purposes. Wealthy buyers would ostensibly operate businesses out of their homes or live in them as working artists as the zoning required, but few have complied with the letter or — having found ways to narrowly abide by it — the spirit of the law.

"The city turned its head," housing attorney Sue Hestor said. "We have 3,000 units that are supposed to be occupied by artists and probably 90 percent of them are not occupied by artists at all. It’s blatantly illegal."

Antonini has managed to maintain friendships with local moderate Democrats over the years despite being an elected member of San Francisco’s Republican Party County Central Committee. Willie Brown first appointed him to the powerful planning commission in 2002, and he’s been a reliable vote for developers and other large business interests. Mayor Gavin Newsom reappointed him in 2004 and earlier this year tried to engineer Antonini’s election as president of the commission.

Hustlers and peace treaties: This week’s cover


“It’s something bout a block boy that push that line, ride for the peace treaty and hustle at the same time, looking out for my brah brahs cause life’s too short, especially when the suckas telling and got homies in court.”

-JT the Bigga Figga on the Fillmore neighborhood

For this week’s cover story on the Ella Hill Hutch Community Center, the Guardian did a few things we thought might strengthen the reporting for the piece. We read hundreds of pages of law-enforcement records filed by the city attorney in last year’s gang injunction cases. We also collected extraordinary historical details about Ella Hill Hutch herself, the first black woman elected to San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors.

During the time we worked on the story, journalist Alex Kotlowitz, who’s mostly been missing in action since publishing his ground-breaking 1991 book on public housing in Chicago, There Are No Children Here, happened to write an extensive story on gang intervention efforts for the New York Times Magazine, which is well worth the read.

In the meantime, a little about Ella Hill the supervisor. In 1980, she endured a grueling reelection campaign that drove her literally to the point of exhaustion. She was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia weeks after placing a surprising fourth in a citywide race. Three months later she uncharacteristically missed a Finance Committee meeting on Feb. 25, 1981, and police eventually found her dead of heart failure at her small Scott Street apartment.

Bust in Western Addition murder


San Francisco police just announced that they made an arrest in the March 20 shooting death of Marquise Washington on Turk Street in the Western Addition. They caught the 23-year-old suspect, Ronnie Louvier, in a Sacramento apartment complex yesterday with help from the capitol city’s sheriff’s department. He’s been charged in San Francisco with murdering the 17-year-old Washington. With all the press the SFPD’s gotten lately on people getting away with murder in San Francisco, thought it wouldn’t hurt to give congrats on an arrest. Seventeen years old. Terrible.

A heart once nourished


› gwschulz@sfbg.com

Community court, every second Thursday at 10 a.m. Narcotics Anonymous on Wednesday. Apprenticeships for construction workers, Monday, bright and early.

The ancient letter board just inside the entrance of the Ella Hill Hutch Community Center tells much of the story of this neighborhood institution. Since 1981 it’s been a crucial hub for the Western Addition, a mostly level stretch of terrain west of downtown that rivals the Mission District and Bayview–Hunters Point as the source of the most despair from senseless gun violence.

For decades Ella Hill was a safe haven, a place where kids and seniors felt comfortable, where people could learn and teach and talk and work together, a little oasis in the world of urban hurt.

A placard affixed to one wall of the entryway honors Thurgood Marshall, the nation’s first African American US Supreme Court justice. In a small office nearby, a tutor assists a young girl with the multiplication table. Elsewhere, a list of rules forbids profanity, play-fighting, and put-downs.

There’s also a poster of Ella Hill Hutch, the first black woman elected to San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, where she served from 1978-81.

But in 2006, a man was murdered during daylight hours in the center’s gymnasium before dozens of witnesses. That slaying was one of at least five brutal incidents that took place in the shadow of Ella Hill between 2006 and 2007; three more murders occurred within blocks. Many remain open cases today.

And now the center is having serious problems — troubles that reflect those of the city’s African American population, which has been plagued by violence and socioeconomic changes that are closing opportunities and forcing longtime residents out the city.

Several census tracts in the neighborhood that at one time contained between 3,000 and 6,000 black residents are down to 1,000 or far less, according to a San Francisco State University study commissioned by the city last year. The report showed that between 1995 and 2000 San Francisco lost more of its black population than 18 other major US cities.

Ironically, the city is now preparing to close the final dark chapter on 50 years of federally subsidized redevelopment in the Western Addition. But the displacement that the bulldozers set off half a century ago continues today, unabated.

That exodus has compounded structural problems at the center just when its remaining clients need it most. The nonprofit late last year underwent an organizational shake up and brief takeover by the Mayor’s Office to save it from imminent financial collapse. The center’s executive director of two years, George Smith III, was fired with little public explanation last year, and a permanent head was named only recently.

As with many aspects of this troubled community, it was unaddressed violence that fed the fire. Simply subsisting in the heart of a violent neighborhood was strain enough for Ella Hill. But suffering an attack from within seemed too much to bear for an institution some call "San Francisco’s Black City Hall."

The 2006 killing took one man’s life, but Ella Hill itself — still facing an uncertain financial future — felt the searing rounds too. Now some wonder if the nonprofit can survive the very violence and poverty it was created to help end in a neighborhood that’s changing forever.

In Ella Hill’s noisy gymnasium at the building’s east end, two teams of middle schoolers practice basketball.

"My job is to be in the best position to box him out for a rebound," their coach says as they crowd around the free throw line.

The kids are radiant and attentive now. But from this same basketball court on April 27, 2006, the Western Addition briefly edged ahead of the rest of the city in extreme bloodshed.

Donte White, 22, was working part-time at the center. As he supervised a basketball game, two unidentified males entered Ella Hill. One brandished a firearm and shot White at least eight times in the face, neck, and chest as several kids looked on in utter horror. Among them was White’s young daughter.

Police arrested 25-year-old Esau Ferdinand for the attack five months after White’s murder. But within two weeks prosecutors decided they could no longer hold him and declined to press charges when a key witness disappeared on the eve of grand jury proceedings.

Even with other witnesses filling the gym, police gathered few additional leads, an all-too-common story in a neighborhood where residents often prefer to avoid both law enforcement and vengeful criminal suspects.

The center installed cameras and an alarm. A buzzer was placed on the front door. But the new security measures cut against Ella Hill’s image as a demilitarized zone, and the center remains shaken by White’s murder. Some parents began barring their children from going there.

"Can you imagine something like that, someone coming into a rec center in the middle of the day with a firearm and shooting and killing a guy?" asks Deven Richardson, who resigned from Ella Hill’s board in 2007 to focus on his real estate business. "That really set us back big time in terms of morale. It really was a dark moment for the center."

Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, whose district includes Ella Hill, says that after he took office in 2004, he learned that the police weren’t stationed at the center during prime hours and had never created a strategy for attaching themselves to the center the way they had at other safe-haven institutions in the city, like schools. He told us he’s had to "really work" to get the nearby Northern Station more integrated into Ella Hill.

"Before the murder of Donte White, there had also been a series of incidences inside Ella Hill Hutch," Mirkarimi said over drinks at a Hayes Valley bar. "Nothing that resulted in anybody getting killed, but certainly enough indicators that really should have been taken more seriously by the mayor."

In June 2006, shortly after White’s shooting, the San Francisco Police Commission and the Board of Supervisors held a tense public meeting at the center. Residents, enraged over the wave of violence that summer in the Western Addition, shouted down public officials, including Chief Heather Fong, who was forced to cut short a presentation on the city’s crime rate.

That same month, the supervisors put a measure on the ballot to allocate $30 million over three years for violence-prevention efforts like ex-offender services and witness relocation. But Mayor Gavin Newsom, following a policy of fortifying law enforcement over community-based alternatives, opposed the measure because it excluded the police department. Prop. A, designed to finance groups like Ella Hill with connections to the neighborhood that the police will never have, lost by less than a single percentage point.

Meanwhile, four homicides in the neighborhood that year joined frequent anarchic shootouts in the Western Addition, including many that never made headlines because no one was killed. The fatalities led to promises by City Hall that the area would be saturated with improved security, including additional security cameras that have mostly proved useless in helping the police solve violent crimes.

On June 3, 2006, 19-year-old Antoine Green was standing on McAllister Street near Ella Hill early in the morning when he was shot to death in the head and back. On Aug. 16, 38-year-old Johnny Jackson’s chest was filled with bullets as he sat in the front seat of a Honda Passport on Turk Street not far behind Ella Hill. A woman next to him in the car suffered a critical gunshot wound to the head.

Two more killings occurred further east at Larch Way, a popular location for murder in the neighborhood.

Burnett "Booski" Raven, a 32-year-old alleged member of the Eddy Rock street gang, was found bleeding at 618 Larch Way early Oct. 7, his body laying halfway in the street and containing at least 10 gunshot wounds. On July 22, police found 23-year-old John Brown, another purported Eddy Rock member, wedged under a Chevy pickup truck, dead from up to seven gunshots.

Brown had reportedly survived two prior shootings, but the Western Addition’s cultural condemnation of "snitching" to police has so infected the neighborhood that he allegedly told police not to bother investigating either of the attacks.

Loïc Wacquant, a sociology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, says neighborhoods like the Western Addition that once contained stable black institutions — schools, churches, and community centers that glued residents together — have been overwhelmed by the rise of a white-collar, service-based economy, the decline of unions, and the withdrawal of meaningful social safety nets.

Cities have responded to the resulting marginalization with more police officers, more courts, and more prisons. But the failure of those institutions to cure rising violence "serves as the justification for [their] continued expansion," Wacquant quoted Michel Foucault, the famous late UC Berkeley sociologist, in the academic journal Thesis Eleven earlier this year.

The roots of the Western Addition’s tragedy go back to the early post-World War II era. In 1949, Congress enacted laws giving cities extraordinary powers to clear out land defined as "blighted." In San Francisco, that meant neighborhoods where low income people of color lived.

The Western Addition was devastated. Huge blocks of houses were bulldozed. Clubs, stores, restaurants — the heart of the black neighborhood — were wiped out. Many residents were forced out of the neighborhood and sometimes the city forever; others lost their property and their livelihoods (see "A half-century of lies," 3/21/2007).

By the 1970s, neighborhood activists were hoping that at the very least the Redevelopment Agency would pay for a recreation facility for kids. But city officials wouldn’t put up the money, recalls the Rev. Arnold Townsend, a longtime political fixture in the city and associate pastor of the Rhema Word Christian Fellowship.

Townsend said activist Mary Rogers — whom he calls "the greatest champion kids ever had in this community" and a famous critic of redevelopment — gave up on City Hall and went to Washington DC, where she sat in at a meeting that happened to include Patricia Harris, Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Jimmy Carter. Rogers, joined by a group of colleagues from San Francisco, bumped into Harris afterward.

"[Harris] shook Mary’s hand like politicians do, and Mary wouldn’t let her hand go until she had a meeting," Townsend said. "They were having a tug-of-war over her hand."

Rogers’ determination paid off, and enough political channels opened up that money for the center became available. Then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein cut the ribbon for the $2.3 million Ella Hill Hutch Community Center four months after the supervisor’s death, complete with outdoor seating for seniors, a gymnasium, tennis courts, and child-care facilities.

A young counselor named Leonard "Lefty" Gordon who worked at the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center, one of the city’s oldest black institutions — it was founded in 1919 on Presidio Avenue, where it remains today — was named executive director of Ella Hill three years later and led the center to wide acclaim for 17 years.

A recreation coordinator at Ella Hill started a reading program for young athletes after discovering that a local high school football star wasn’t aware he’d been named the city’s player of the year: the teenaged boy couldn’t read the newspaper to find out. Other programs for tutoring and job training targeting young and old residents were likewise started under Gordon.

Many of the people we interviewed recalled the "kitchen cabinet" meetings convened by Lefty Gordon at Ella Hill as among their fondest memories. Everyone from the "gangbangers to police" attended Gordon’s meetings, Townsend said, and made them a repository of complaints about what was happening in the neighborhood.

Alphonso Pines, a former Ella Hill board member and organizer for the Unite Here! Local 2 union, eagerly showed up at the meetings for months after attending 1995’s Million Man March in Washington.

"I hate to see brothers die, regardless of whether it’s at Ella Hill," Pines said of Donte White’s 2006 killing. "But that was personal for me, because that was the place where I had sat on the board for years. That was real shocking."

Lefty’s son, Greg Gordon, said that his legendary father — who died of a heart attack in May of 2000 — worked so hard for the center that he allowed his own health to deteriorate.

Most beneficiaries of Ella Hill’s social services now live in the southeast section of the 94115 ZIP code, roughly bordered by McAllister and Geary streets to the south and north, and Divisadero and Laguna streets to the west and east.

The majority of Ella Hill’s approximately $1.4 million annual budget comes from government sources, either through grants or nonprofit contracts.

Newsom, through his community development and housing offices, has given $860,000 over the past three years to Ella Hill to help job-ready applicants obtain construction work and other general employment in the neighborhood. The center launched its JOBZ program in 2006, targeting formerly incarcerated young adults and others with a "hard-to-employ" status.

Caseworkers must convince some participants to leave gangs, deal with outstanding warrants, pay back child support, expunge criminal records, or eliminate new offenses, all of which can exacerbate a desire to give up. Sometimes the center has to buy people alarm clocks.

"None of these other programs that are being funded in this community want to deal with the kinds of kids or people who come to Ella Hill…. [It] is the last stop for everybody," said London Breed, head of the African American Art and Culture Complex on Fulton Street and a Western Addition native. "That’s where people go who have no place else to go, which is why it’s so important."

Most nonprofits working for the city must regularly report their operational costs or show how program funds are being spent on graduation ceremonies and trips to university campuses. The required forms are mind-numbingly bureaucratic and reveal little about what a place like Ella Hill might face on a practical level each day. But last year, former executive director George Smith betrayed a crack in Ella Hill’s veneer.

"Once again violence has impacted the community with three incidents in close proximity to the complex this month alone," he wrote to the San Francisco Department of Children, Youth and Their Families, which supports the center with college preparation grants. "One of the victims was a young man scheduled to graduate from high school in June."

On May 25, 2007, 19-year-old Jamar Lake was leaving a store on Laguna and Eddy streets, northeast of Ella Hill, when a teen suspect opened fire on him. Paramedics were so worried about security in the neighborhood that they fled before attempting resuscitation, according to a report from the San Francisco Medical Examiner. Lake died at General Hospital that day.

Weeks later, a manic 12-hour long feud erupted between several gunmen on McAllister Street. Seven people were wounded during two daytime shootings that took place in the Friendship Village Apartments, across the street from Ella Hill.

Then in July, a suspect randomly and fatally stabbed 54-year-old Kenneth Taylor in the neck as he sat on a park bench near sundown at Turk and Fillmore streets, within easy view of the SFPD’s Northern Station. Police didn’t respond until Taylor stumbled to the sidewalk and collapsed; a witness had to flag down a patrol car.

Following the Lake shooting, the mayor and police department promised, as they had the year before, that foot patrols would be increased in the 193-unit Plaza East Housing Development and other public housing projects in the Western Addition.

But the city’s most visible response has bypassed Ella Hill — which has some street credibility — altogether. Instead, City Attorney Dennis Herrera went to court to get injunctions against street gangs in June 2007.

Herrera’s initial filing came days after the wild shootout on McAllister Street, but the timing was coincidental. The city attorney also had been preparing injunctions against gangs in the Mission and Bayview-Hunter’s Point for months. For the Western Addition, the city attorney noted a "recent rise in violent crimes perpetrated by the defendants," and asked that the members of three gangs be banned from associating with one another inside two "safety zones" marked along the contours of their respective territories, a 14-square-block area that straddles Fillmore Street and rests just north of Ella Hill.

"The conditions within the two safety zones have become particularly intolerable in 2007 as the deadly rivalry between the Uptown alliance and defendant Eddy Rock has intensified," Herrera’s office told the court. "In 2007 alone, this rivalry is the suspected cause of at least three homicides and numerous shootings within the two safety zones."

Some critics viewed barring people from congregating with one another a civil rights violation. And worse, they feared it would merely shove more African Americans and Latinos out of the Western Addition, which would benefit the city’s wealthiest white residents.

"All of this stuff about gang injunctions is a bunch of malarkey," said Franzo King, archbishop of the Saint John Coltrane African Orthodox Church on Fillmore Street. "You don’t really have gangs here…. [In San Francisco] they’re a big club."

Herrera nonetheless convinced a Superior Court judge to issue the injunctions after filing 1,200 pages of evidence arguing that the three "clubs," which include only about 65 people named by the city, are endless public nuisances and force organizations like Ella Hill to battle with them for the affections of Western Addition youth.

Police admit that the injunctions since last year have, in fact, led people to simply leave the neighborhood. Still, they insist the injunctions have reduced trouble in the Western Addition. The Knock Out Posse, for instance, is evaporating, they say.

Paris Moffett, a 30-year-old alleged Eddy Rock leader, told the Guardian in a separate story on the gang injunctions last November that he and others were organizing to quell violence in the neighborhood and would do so in defiance of the gang injunctions (see "Defying the injunction," 11/28/07).

But on the day that story ran, Moffett hampered his new cause when, according to a March 27 federal indictment, police arrested him in Novato for possessing a large quantity of crack and MDMA, as well as a Colt .45 semiautomatic.

After Lefty Gordon died, the center went through a couple of directors in relatively short order. Robert Hector, a second-in-command to Lefty Gordon, helmed the center briefly; he was replaced with George Smith III, who left in 2007.

Meanwhile, problems at Ella Hill grew.

"The seniors just stopped their participation," Anita Grier, a former Ella Hill board member who first ran for the San Francisco City College Board of Trustees in 1998 at Gordon’s encouragement, told us. "Things were never excellent, but they just got much worse once [Gordon] was no longer director."

The center, a standalone nonprofit, had long struggled financially in part because it relied so much on contracts and grants from the city rather than pursuing funds from private donors. Mirkarimi says Ella Hill’s structure is unlike any other community center in the city. Many other centers are directly maintained by the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department.

Contract revenue from one Ella Hill program, such as providing emergency shelter to the homeless, was often diverted to keep another on life support or to simply cover the center’s utility bills.

By early 2007, the center faced a financial catastrophe. Donald Frazier joined Ella Hill’s board as president in January 2007 and embarked on a reform effort to turn the center around. He commissioned what came to be a blistering audit that revealed the nonprofit owed over $200,000 in state and federal payroll taxes. As a result, the center faced $63,000 more in penalties and accrued interest.

Mirkarimi blames community leaders in his district for refusing to acknowledge a crisis at the center and for not turning to City Hall for help when Ella Hill appeared to be slowly rotting from the inside out.

The mayor’s staff, he adds, wanted to believe Ella Hill was working on its own and should’ve continued to do so because, despite its financial reliance on the city, it was technically an independent nonprofit. In reality, Mirkarimi said, "They were afraid to piss off black people, is what it comes down to. They were afraid to tell it like it is — that things weren’t working."

Sending delinquent invoices to the city, failing to institute reasonable accounting standards, and falling far behind on its payroll taxes all threatened the government contracts and grants that kept San Francisco’s Black City Hall afloat. By extension, the audit concluded, that meant Western Addition residents who relied on Ella Hill were "victimized" by the center’s improper use of its limited resources.

Aside from the audit, which Ella Hill instigated itself, there’s no indication in the records of agencies funding the center that any problems were occurring, which implies the city wasn’t paying attention.

"As far as I’m concerned," Mirkarimi said, "we had a renegade institution, and the only reason it wasn’t renegade in an illegal sense was because the lease allowed them to have a parallel governance structure. But it was renegade in the sense that the city neglected to supervise properly."

In November 2007, just after residents hijacked a chaotic board meeting with an extended public comment period, Frazier told the directors in closed session that the Redevelopment Agency was planning to restrict future funding for the center due to its management problems.

One month later, the mayor dispatched an aide, Dwayne Jones, along with redevelopment agency director Fred Blackwell, to a meeting at Ella Hill with an ultimatum. Jones told the assembled that new interim appointees would be taking over the center’s bank books, recreating its bylaws, and electing a new board and executive director. The old board would essentially be dissolved. According to observers at the meeting, Jones told them that if they resisted the plan, funds received by Ella Hill from various city agencies would be jeopardized, as would its low-cost lease of city property.

Two defiant board members viewed the move as a "hostile takeover" of a private nonprofit organization by the mayor and voted against it, but the rest of the board agreed to the restructuring. Mirkarimi says there was simply no alternative.

"Right now it needs to be shrunk to what it can do really well, instead of doing what they had to do in the last five years, an incremental sloppy way of programming," he said.

The interim board in April named a former Ella Hill employee and Park and Rec administrator, Howard Smith — unrelated to George Smith — to be the center’s new executive director. But after all the changes Ella Hill made to fix its leadership problems, there are no assurances the city won’t leave Ella Hill without the money it needs to keep the doors open next year.

It’s noon on a recent Friday and Ella Hill’s new executive director is scrambling to keep things together. An employee wants him to glance at a form. Another man wants to come in and play basketball. Smith has a board meeting minutes from now, but he’s scheduled an interview with the Guardian at the same time.

Smith’s a well-built man dressed in a pressed suit, polished shoes, and a sharply-knotted tie. He’d mostly avoided our calls for weeks. Word spread in the neighborhood that the Guardian was planning some sort of hit piece on Ella Hill.

But it won’t be a newspaper that capsizes the center.

A significant portion of the center’s funding will be threatened over the next year. The redevelopment agency is scheduled to end its 45-year reign in the Western Addition by then, a blessing of sorts since so many people in the neighborhood feel it’s done nothing but upend the lives of black residents. But the end of the agency means that redevelopment funds for Ella Hill’s job placement programs, about $400,000 annually, will disappear.

In addition, about $300,000 more a year will dry up since the San Francisco Human Services Agency hasn’t renewed an emergency homeless shelter contract with the center. Mirkarimi believes the mayor, too, will try to stop providing Ella Hill with funding through his community development office next year.

If Newsom does back away, Mirkarimi warns, there will be "a very loud showdown."

"What I’m worried about is that the Newsom administration is basically cutting and running on this, and I’m not going to allow that to happen, at least not without a fight," he said.

The alternative is for Rec and Park to take over managing Ella Hill’s facilities with DCYF continuing to fund youth programs there while the Redevelopment Agency commits community benefits dollars from a legacy fund to the center — the least it can do after a half-century of transforming the neighborhood, locals be damned.

An interagency council made up of the center’s primary funders could collectively watchdog its performance, Mirkarimi says. Once Ella Hill’s leaders prove that the center has fully returned to its original mission, it can consider expanding to serve other populations in the neighborhood, or even seek a plan to detach further from the city.

The mayor’s spokesperson, Nathan Ballard, did not respond to an e-mail containing detailed questions, and his aide, Dwayne Jones, did not return several phone calls. But Smith said during a later lunch interview at the Fillmore Café that he agrees with Mirkarimi’s idea.

"There are so many programs out there that say they’re doing something on paper, but they’re really not doing it," Smith said. "They’re running ghost programs. So what I’ve been saying at Ella Hill since I got there is, ‘We will do exactly what we said we were going to do.’<0x2009>"

In the meantime, Smith is determined to prove that Ella Hill’s history has only just begun. The mural of Lefty Gordon outside the center received a fresh coat of paint recently, and the color pops. The sidewalk is being repaved and new handrails installed. The walls inside are clear of the aging posters and letter board that hung there a few months ago.

Before heading off to his board meeting, Smith teasingly asks an adolescent boy meandering in the center’s entryway for 75 cents. The boy’s always hitting him up for pocket change.

"I don’t got any," the boy responds.

"You don’t have any," Smith corrects.

Smith suddenly realizes what time it is.

"Hey, why isn’t this guy in school?" he wonders aloud.

At that moment, only the Ella Hill Hutch Community Center was asking the question. *

Treasure Island welcomes vinyl dildos and tankers of lube



We honestly thought the Exotic Erotic Ball would be the last event to leave the beleaguered Cow Palace. But sure enough, we’ve just learned that the 28th annual “celebration of flesh, fetish and fantasy,” in fact, won’t be held at the legendary Daly City venue. Instead, organizers have moved it this year to Treasure Island. The ball’s operator says the event simply outgrew Cow Palace, but it may also have been Daly City’s campaign to get rid of the convention center and replace it with a massive development project to include a grocery store, condos and some chain retail outlets.

In announcing the move, Treasure Island’s director of operations, Mirian Saez, tried to get all hip and claim that the all-but-deserted sliver of land out in the middle of the Bay that developers are currently planning to build a small city on has a long history of hosting sordid celebrations of sin. During the 1939 World’s Fair held at Treasure Island, for instance, one of the most popular attractions was a strip show known as Sally Rand’s Nude Ranch where women wore cowboy hats, gun-belts, boots and not a lot else, according to a statement.

So, Treasure Island officials reasoned, why not have the Exotic Erotic Ball there, too? I mean, apparently they’ve been naked and banging each other out there for years anyway. Maybe that’s why Willie Brown had a particular fondness for sending patronage hacks out to Treasure Island’s administrative offices. Okay, that’s totally unfair.

The show’s producer, Howard Mauskopf, said in the statement that he loved Cow Palace, but the island will be a logistical improvement:

“We had big fun at the Cow Palace and threw some of our best parties ever at that site. But, on Treasure Island, we will have greater flexibility, and all the space we could possibly want. Plus, it’s one of San Francisco’s most idyllic and scenic waterside locations with unparalleled panoramic Bay views, and it has its own spicy and salacious past, just like the ball.”

According to the ball’s official history, it began in 1979 when Perry Mann hosted the shindig in his San Francisco penthouse apartment to collect campaign money for a presidential candidate running on the Nudist Party ticket at the time. His slogan? “I have nothing to hide.”

*Image courtesy Breaktaker.com.

Dead men walking to cost shit-tons more


It’s one of California’s oldest prisons still in operation if not the oldest. The San Quentin State Prison was first built in July of 1852 at Point Quentin in Marin County just north of here on more than 400 pristine acres of Northern California land.

It’s history is illustrious. Johnny Cash performed a live concert there in 1969, you might have heard. Metallica shot the video for “St. Anger” there as well in 2003, which would have been a lot cooler if it was 20 years before and the song was “Dyers Eve,” but whatever.

San Quentin’s also the place where the major news cable networks like to go when they want to do a two-hour reality special titled something like “Dudes Looking Murderous in Front of a Camera While a Voiceover Describes the Prison’s Simple Day-to-Day Operations, But No One’s Really Paying Attention to the Reporter Because They’re Engrossed by the Distant Prospect That the Guy With Tattoos on His Head Playing Cards Might at Any Moment Stab in the Throat the Guy Playing Bones Nearby.”

Larry King did one recently where he kept asking a group of pre-selected inmates to detail their stories of prison rape and clandestine drug use, but they mostly wanted to talk about rehabilitation and missing their kids.

Anyway, San Quentin also houses all of California’s male condemned inmates, the people scheduled to be executed for committing murder and/or littering in Marin County and/or not voting for Mark Leno. Pumping poison into condemned jail inmates is a costly business, more costly than simply jailing them for life, anti-death penalty advocates contend, if you factor in all of the appeals and the special housing requirements.

Metallica in San Quentin

Drug deal hurts consumers


› gwschulz@sfbg.com

City Attorney Dennis Herrera made San Francisco the first government entity in the nation to accuse two major players in the pharmaceutical drug industry of conspiring to illegally manipulate the price of prescription drugs when he filed a lawsuit May 20. Connecticut followed Herrera’s lead days later, and filed an almost identical suit making the same charges.

The cases could have far-reaching implications. If Raymond Hartman, an economist and visiting professor at Boalt Hall School of Law who testified in a related case filed by a group of East Coast labor unions two years ago is correct, then consumers, insurers, and Medicaid administrators nationwide have overpaid for prescription drugs by billions of dollars as a result of the price manipulation scheme (see “Big Pharma’s Shadow,” 12/20/06).

To explain the highly complex litigation, consider how goods are usually priced. Take the 99¢, three-ounce bags of chips that are reliably available at the corner store near your house. Cool Ranch Doritos. Chili Cheese Fritos. Sour Cream and Onion Ruffles. It wouldn’t be a true bodega if there wasn’t a rack of them situated near the front door or register.

For as long as anyone can remember, it seems, they’ve cost just 99¢, regardless of the local cost of living, from Richmond, Va. to San Francisco. That’s because the suggested retail price of 99¢ is printed ubiquitously by the manufacturer on the packaging.

So you’d notice if a sticker suddenly appeared, lazily affixed to your bag of Sun Chips, stating a new price: $1.99. The manufacturer didn’t place it there because behind the sticker you can still see the old printed price. And the counter clerk didn’t place it there, because he knows the true suggested retail price is still just 99¢ and the laws of supply and demand never called for a price increase.

Instead, a local company that buys chips from the manufacturer and distributes them to the bodega in your neighborhood put it there. The bodega owner didn’t complain because now it’s possible for him to earn an extra dollar for each bag. In fact, as a result of the new sticker, he’s more likely to take his business back to that particular distribution company over a competitor since that company is willing to artificially inflate the retail cost of a bag of chips on his behalf simply by putting a new price tag on the bag.

Now imagine that the product isn’t a cheap bag of chips but billions of dollars worth of pain-reducing or life-saving pharmaceuticals. And the distributor isn’t a local guy who drives a delivery truck full of boxes of chips but a multinational corporation, headquartered in San Francisco, that’s ranked 18th on the Fortune 500 list, with $93.6 billion in annual revenue and a CEO, John Hammergren, who received compensation in 2007 worth more than $22 million after presiding over the company’s record profits that year.

Imagine, too, that the distributor is powerful enough to slap new price stickers on cartons of drugs around the country, not just at your corner bodega, so you can’t simply elect to shop elsewhere to protest the new prices. Neither can you just stop consuming needed medicines the way you can snack chips.

Herrera’s federal civil suit probably has escaped media attention due to its esoteric nature (not to mention a potential conflict of interest at the San Francisco Chronicle, but we’ll get to that in a minute). It charges that McKesson Corp., along with a tiny drug data publisher based in San Bruno called First DataBank, conspired in an "elaborate scheme" to unfairly mark up the price on more than 400 name-brand prescription drugs. The conspiracy allegedly resulted in the San Francisco Health Plan being forced to make thousands or even millions of dollars in excess payments to cover the cost of such medications.

The SF Health Plan is not the same as Healthy San Francisco, the city’s historic 2006 bid to grant universal health care to the 82,000 adults here who live without insurance. The SF Health Plan extends mental, medical, and dental health coverage to about 50,000 people, including approximately 28,000 children in the city, and offers in-home support workers to the disabled and elderly. The plan is funded through a combination of federal and state dollars known in California as Medi-Cal and elsewhere as Medicaid.

The programs help low-income residents get health care, but its public subsidies are being endangered by a massive state budget deficit. So making sure the SF Health Plan is paying the appropriate price for prescription drugs, a $200 billion industry in the United States, is more important than ever.

McKesson and First DataBank, the lawsuit alleges, placed new stickers on drug packages so that everyone — from private insurers to Medi-Cal to consumers without insurance who simply walk up to a pharmacy window and cover their drug treatments with cash — paid far more than they should have, based on an industry calculation that’s similar to the suggested retail price printed on our analogy of a bag of chips. Herrera says he took on the suit because San Francisco is not alone in overpaying for pharmaceuticals and he saw a chance to force greater reforms in the system.

"We make our decisions based on the facts and the law, and we do our best to protect consumers, taxpayers, and businesses alike," Herrera told the Guardian. "This impacts a lot of things. It’s about protecting consumers from having high drug costs passed on to them. It’s about protecting taxpayer dollars since this is the San Francisco Health Plan, and it’s something that emanates out of a city program. But it’s also about protecting businesses, because a lot of businesses and health plans are the ones footing the bill for increased drug costs."

First DataBank is not listed as a defendant in Herrera’s suit but is described as "an unnamed co-conspirator." The company is a little-known subsidiary of the private, New York–based media conglomerate Hearst Corp., which owns dozens of major publications including the San Francisco Chronicle, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Esquire, and The Oprah Magazine. Spokespersons for McKesson and First DataBank refused to comment for this story.

As far as revenue is concerned, First DataBank is a bit player in the world of pharmaceuticals. Court records in a related 2006 suit describe its annual pretax income as just $19 million, barely enough to cover the McKesson CEO’s compensation last year.

But the company is nonetheless important to people who rely on prescription drugs. It’s one of the few major companies in the United States that maintains a sophisticated electronic database of information on tens of thousands of prescription drugs. Plus, First DataBank possesses a virtual monopoly on the market because the company merged with its only real competitor, Medi-Span, in 1998. Its database includes numbers, for instance, on what a drug manufacturer like Aventis might charge distributor McKesson for the allergy medicine Allegra, a figure known as the "wholesale acquisition cost."

Because it’s almost impossible to track every transaction between McKesson and retail chain pharmacies that McKesson distributes bulk drugs to, like Rite Aid and CVS Caremark McKesson, it’s First DataBank’s job to survey the distributors and come up with an "average wholesale price."

After you obtain a bottle of Allegra with a co-pay to take care of your stuffy nose, your insurance provider, say, Blue Cross or Kaiser Permanente or the SF Health Plan, refers to First DataBank’s massive catalog of drugs — for which they’ve paid a hefty subscription fee — to make sure the price they’re paying for your allergy medicine is the one properly set by the market.

First DataBank claimed for years that it was surveying multiple drug wholesalers like McKesson to come up with its average published prices and that it was increasing the number of surveys it conducted. But there aren’t that many wholesalers to actually survey because so many of them have merged with one another in recent years. Also, two out of the nation’s three top wholesalers apparently declined to participate in the surveys as a matter of policy.

Troy Kirkpatrick, a spokesperson for Cardinal Health, one of McKesson’s few competitors, said his company doesn’t give out proprietary information to anyone, let alone First DataBank.

"We have a long-standing policy of not providing confidential pricing information to external sources," Kirkpatrick said. "So if we get asked to share that type of information, we decline."

By 2001 it appeared that First Databank wasn’t really surveying several wholesalers or even the two major companies that compete directly with McKesson, according to court records. First DataBank allegedly conspired with McKesson to establish an artificial baseline markup on hundreds of drugs that didn’t accurately represent their true suggested retail price


But if the bodega, or in this case, the retail pharmacy, is benefiting from the new stickers, then what’s in it for McKesson?

Herrera’s suit contends that if pharmacies like CVS and Rite Aid saw McKesson pressing the scales for them, they’d return to McKesson with their business instead of its two other major American wholesale competitors, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen.

The three companies aggressively compete with one another for business just like they’re supposed to in good ol’ free-market America. But now it appears that McKesson has found a way to game the system and edge ahead of its two rivals. Indeed, McKesson is narrowly beating them in total revenue according to the Fortune 500 list.

Profit margins from drugstore chains were sagging at the time the alleged scheme between McKesson and First DataBank took off, and chain pharmacies had been pressing manufacturers to help them earn higher profit margins. According to the lawsuit, distributor McKesson came to the rescue.

So the final question, then, is whether the drug stores were enriched by all this.

Longs Drugs last year made more than $5 billion in revenue. About 20 percent of that, or $1 billion, came from the government-subsidized health care programs Medicare and Medicaid, according to company records.

In its most recent annual report to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Longs admits that if insurers began using a different benchmark than the prices published by First DataBank, such as a pricing guide that more accurately reflected market prices, there could be a "material adverse effect on our financial performance."

Mark Leno’s party packed


Mark Leno’s election night party has been a stark contrast to what we saw earlier tonight at Joe Nation’s event, which was situated at the unfortunately named “Wipe Out” restaurant in Greenbrae. Leno’s campaign office in San Rafael is packed wall-to-wall, the crowd noisy and erupting in frequent applause when new figures from the secretary of state show up on a projector putting Leno ahead.

He told a radio reporter earlier tonight that overall during the election, he’s had to raise $1.2 million (we’ve seen it in the piles of slick, anti-Nation mailers that have mounted in our mailbox). But he says there’s got to be a way to overcome the cost of operating a modern campaign election, most of which put people with big ideas but no connections out of the bidding. Leno just thanked a litany of campaign staffers and volunteers for backing him over the last 15 months before heading off to San Francisco where we’ve heard he also has an event planned for the Lime club in the Castro.

We were situated in a Leno war room with campaign staffers — including Leno’s manager, Tom, described by colleagues as “eternally pessimistic” — who still seem wary of calling the election for Leno. The numbers, however, are looking more and more inevitable. If he wins, Leno’s gonna have to work on the music he rock, representing a district like this and all, which includes San Francisco. Someone just put the Dirty Dancing theme on the sound system. Not good. As far as North Bay events went tonight, Leno’s has been much more electric than what Nation had going on earlier.




On the left, Leno field organizer Carole Mills, and on the right, volunteer coordinator Evelyn Woo.

Marriage equality activists and Leno supporters Dolores Caruthers, on the left, and Laura Espinoza, on the right.

Joe Nation’s election night party


We showed up at Joe Nation’s election night party in the Marin County town of Greenbrae around eight o’clock. The event’s being held at a restaurant called the Wipe Out Bar & Grill in a quiet strip mall here. State figures are showing Leno ahead of the pack by five percentage points. By the time we arrived at Wipe Out, the candidate wasn’t around.

The restaurant’s proprietor, Bob Partrite, told us Nation’s crew was supposed to be here at a quarter of eight. Long after the hour, Nation was still missing in action. In fact, for much of the time we were hanging around, reporters outnumbered Nation supporters, as seen in the photos below. But Wyatt Buchanan of the Chronicle insisted on acknowledging that by half past the hour, a few people were trickling in. Most of the chairs remained empty, however, and a whole bunch of utensils went unused, at least while we were there. Just sayin’.

Joe Nation’s supporters weren’t filling any of the chairs. Those are reporters in the background from KPFA.

We came upon stacks of unused utensils at eight o’clock when we showed, 15 minutes after the candidate was supposed to be here. But some food did start to fill plates at around 8:30. The candidate still wasn’t around, however.


More empty chairs.

Connecticut joins SF in charges against McKesson


Reuters is reporting that the state of Connecticut today followed San Francisco’s lead in suing the McKesson Corp. over an alleged conspiracy to unfairly manipulate the price of prescription drugs. The Connecticut suit charges that McKesson, a multinational corporation based in San Francisco and ranked 18th on the Fortune 500 list, violated anti-racketeering laws by creating a scheme to artificially increase published figures related to what retail pharmacies pay to obtain prescription drugs from wholesalers like McKesson.

The alleged scheme involved the participation of a little-known company based in San Bruno called First DataBank, a subsidiary of media giant Hearst, owner of the San Francisco Chronicle. First DataBank maintains a sophisticated database of prescription drug prices that Medicaid administrators and private insurers use to determine what they’ll pay a pharmacy retailer to cover the cost of your drugs after you’ve made the co-pay.

Because so many prescription drugs exist, First DataBank’s figures are critical for understanding the true cost of pharmaceuticals as they move through market pipelines from the manufacturer to the wholesaler to the corner pharmacy. The suits allege that First DataBank and McKesson conspired to inflate those published prices so that everyone from Medi-Cal to Blue Cross paid far more to pharmacies than appropriate for the drugs. A big part of McKesson’s business comes from chain pharmacies, and if they saw McKesson going to bat for them, the suits claim, they were likelier to maintain those business relationships instead of turning to a McKesson competitor like AmerisourceBergen or Cardinal Health. Yes this stuff sounds sleep-inducing, but there’s a whole lot of money involved if City Attorney Dennis Herrera and others are right about this. Learn more about San Francisco’s lawsuit.

San Francisco sues massive drug wholesaler



Close readers of the Bay Guardian might remember that back in October of 2006, we caught up with a story involving the McKesson Corp., one of the world’s largest wholesalers of prescription drugs based in San Francisco, and a little-known publishing house called First DataBank, located in San Bruno and one of the few publishers of prescription drug prices in the United States.

First DataBank is owned the Hearst Corp., parent of the San Francisco Chronicle. We followed up with a few more versions of the story, but beyond the Wall Street Journal, which broke the first major story about the relationship between the companies as a lawsuit on the East Coast alleging a conspiracy to artificially inflate drug prices winded its way through the courts, almost no one has bothered to report on the subject.

It took the Chronicle’s business section weeks after our stories ran to publish anything on the suit even though the Journal led with the story on its front page when it first went public.

Probably within hours from now, however, you should expect to see more about McKesson and First DataBank at SFGate.com with a new attitude from the Chronicle about the two companies.

That’s because San Francisco’s city attorney announced today that we’ll be the first government entity to sue McKesson for the alleged price inflations in a federal court in Boston where the other suits were filed. The stories we wrote focused on labor unions there that extended drug benefits to their rank-and-file and whose attorneys obtained internal communications from McKesson and First DataBank employees that purportedly showed how the companies celebrated the success of the alleged price-fixing scheme. In San Francisco’s suit, First DataBank is not listed as a defendant, but the city attorney describes the company as “an unnamed co-conspirator.”

Despite McKesson’s global reach and headquarters being located here in the city, we’ve always been blown away that the local press has spent so little time reporting on them. We’ll post more info as we gather it.

Hippies once defended neighborhood police stations



The recent proposal to close half of the city’s police stations isn’t the first time such a thing has been recommended here. A group of consultants from the East Coast released a report, or “police effectiveness review,” May 14 that suggested cutting the list of 10 police districts in the city down to five and placing specialized units, like gang and drug task forces, in the stations closed by the district realignment.

It also said that the northeast and middle sections of the city have high concentrations of crime and need a greater police presence. The Central and Southern stations need to be rebuilt immediately and the remaining eight stations aren’t being used effectively, according to the report. Plus, the workload isn’t fairly distributed. You can imagine that there’s probably a difference between chasing murderers in the Mission and stalking illegally parked import cars in the Marina.

But Guardian editor Tim Redmond reminded me recently that a similar proposal to close down several neighborhood police stations was made back in the early ‘70s, so I called Rene Cazenave of the local Council of Community Housing Organizations who Tim said might remember some of the finer points. Sure enough, despite Casenave insisting that his memory was hazy, he did remember quite a lot.

Cop charged with theft appears in court



San Francisco police officer Michelle Alvis appeared briefly in court this morning to request from a judge more time for her attorneys to gather defense evidence in a case involving charges that she stole cash property from an evidence locker.

Dressed in a gray suit with shoulder-length blonde hair pulled into a ponytail, Alvis until now has mostly escaped press attention stemming from her involvement along with another officer in the shooting death of an unarmed man in 2006.

But the new charges, which appear unrelated to the shooting, have thrust her back into the spotlight even though it will continue to be difficult for the public to learn all that much about the rest of her intriguing career in law enforcement.

That’s because state law specially protects officers from having any details of their personnel files released publicly, including the results of four parallel investigations into the killing of 25-year-old Asa Sullivan, who was shot 16 times by Alvis and a second officer named John Keesor.

We’ve tried unsuccessfully for two years to learn the conclusions of four standard probes into the shootings done by the SFPD’s homicide unit, the internal affairs division, the District Attorney’s Office and the Office of Citizen Complaints.