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Chinese spy in Arpaio’s office?

Pro Publica published a lengthy investigative report yesterday that raises serious questions about how a Chinese national got access to Arizona’s Terror Center and 5 million Arizona drivers records and possibly lists of law enforcement, intelligence analysts and investigators. Why did Arpaio’s second in command, David Hendershott, travel to China with the county’s facial recognition software vendor? The Pro Publica report states that Hendershott gave orders, contrary to law, to cover it all up. It’s a very troubling story.

Here’s a small taste:

The chance that Fan made off with a raft of sensitive material was made possible by a set of cozy relationships – among a tainted sheriff’s official, a dubious technology startup company and a woman who U.S. government officials think is a Chinese spy.

Read the details and let us know what you think.

By the way, have you heard all the news coverage and discussion of military-grade weapons given by the Pentagon to local police? Joe Arpaio’s department got some, and some went missing. The MSCO has been suspended from the program. Watch this at The Arizona Republic.

Certified forensic expert?

On this blog and in the Obama citizenship debate, there is a lot of talk about experts. Birthers have put forward a number of people they call experts by virtue of their own claims or their “above average” familiarity with something (scanners, typesetting, photography, Adobe Photoshop). Anti-birthers deny the expertise of those people, saying that none of them are “certified document examiners,” no recognized scientific methodology was used, and that they are biased.

Most recently Mike Zullo has claimed that a “certified document examiner” (and a Democrat to boot), Reed Hayes, has done a report that in some way says the PDF of Obama’s long form birth certificate released by the White House is not authentic. Mr. Hayes is certified by a national organization, the National Association of Document Examiners. Mr. Hayes describes himself as “court qualified” which I understand to mean that one or more courts have allowed his testimony as an expert witness. I hasten to add that Mr. Hayes’ report has not been published, but in an email to RealtyCheck, he seems to confirm Zullo’s general claim.

Mr. Hayes’ report on Obama’s birth certificate either will or will not be published. If it is, there will be a debate over his certification, his methodology and  his expertise. Certification is what I want to focus on (the others unknown at this point). The NADE certification requirements appear to be quite stringent, including a proctored written exam, an oral exam, references, and the submission of a work-up on an assigned case. Once certified, the member may provide services from this list:

  • Handwriting Identification
  • Deciphering Obliterations
  • Detecting Alterations
  • Restoring Faded Writing
  • Investigating Line Sequence
  • Development of Indented Writing
  • Ink Differentiation
  • Examinations and Reports
  • Document Photography
  • Exhibit Preparation
  • Deposition and Court Testimony
  • Consultation

Nowhere is the NADE certification related to electronic documents, so for the purpose the PDF file from the White House, I would not call Mr. Hayes “certified,” and unless he has testified in court about electronic documents (and no one claims he has), I would not call Mr. Hayes “court qualified” for the purpose of authenticating Obama’s birth certificate in electronic form.

Let’s put aside Mr. Hayes and the NADE completely for the rest of this discussion.

I, probably along with most people, thought that a certification in forensics by a recognized national organization is an assurance of expertise. I thought that all such organizations have stringent training requirements, do rigorous testing, have continuing education requirements, and discipline members for misconduct. I was wrong. The largest forensic certification organization in the US, the American College of Forensic Examiners Institute, is, according to a recent Frontline/Pro Publica documentary, little more than a diploma mill with  an open-book test so easy that 99% of those who take it pass. A Journalism major from UC Berkeley with no forensic training watched a couple of videos, read a small packet of material, took the open-book test and became a Certified Forensic Consultant in a day.

Even among experts, highly-regarded and rigorously trained fingerprint experts, it has been shown that the same expert will determine that a pair of prints match, and later that they don’t match based on other information about the crime. If the best experts can be influenced by bias, how could we ever expect the birthers to get it right. The point is that certification does not guarantee expertise, nor does having ones testimony admitted in court guarantee expertise (I once sat on a jury and heard two court qualified expert witnesses come to different conclusions). Even real experts can be influenced by bias.

I watched the Frontline/Pro Publica documentary, The Real CSI: How reliable is the science behind forensics? and I am still a little stunned by what I learned about forensic certification, and what is and is not real science in the field. I strongly recommend you watch this. Also see the National Academy of Science report mentioned in the video, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: a Path Forward.

Is the Cold Case Posse a charity?

I’m writing this article in an attempt to answer the question.

“The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Cold Case Posse” is registered with the State of Arizona since 2006 as a non-profit corporation with Mike Zullo as its registered agent. They are also registered with the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)(3), an organization eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions (commonly called a “charity.”) Their EIN is 01-0877871.

Arizona statute 44-6551 says:

44-6551. Definitions

In this article, unless the context otherwise requires:

1. "Charitable organization" means either of the following:

(a) A person determined by the internal revenue service to be a tax exempt organization pursuant to section 501(c)(3) of the internal revenue code.

So the Cold Case Posse is a charity, both federal and state.

Why do I ask this question? I always thought that charities had to file things that the public could look at, and I certainly am interested in the financial doings of the Cold Case Posse. Usually a charity puts its financial statements in plain sight, on their web site, for example. I checked the Cold Case Posse’s web site. I looked on the Arizona Secretary of State’s web site and I couldn’t find that the Cold Case Posse was even listed as a charity there. Should they be?

Arizona statute 44-6552 states that charities must register:

44-6552. Charitable organizations; registration; late registration penalty

A. Except as provided in subsection E of this section and section 44-6553, before soliciting its first contribution, whether through a contracted fund raiser or otherwise, a charitable organization shall file a registration statement with the secretary of state in a format prescribed and adopted by the secretary of state by rule.

Under the statute, “soliciting” includes “a request of any kind for a contribution.” I think a donate button on a web site counts as a solicitation.

Subsection E doesn’t seem to apply, but 44-6553 is interesting:

The following are exempt from the registration requirements prescribed in section 44-6552:

1. This state or any counties or municipalities of this state or their agencies.

So, is the Cold Case Posse a “county agency?” It certainly has that implied by its name, but the corporate registration states that its business type is “CIVIC” and not government. I’m not an expert on Arizona law, but it certainly seems to me that the Cold Case Posse is delinquent in filing as a charity with the State of Arizona.

Charities must also file IRS Form 990 on an annual basis, and the public disclosure rule requires that the most recent 3 filings be made available for public inspection. From what I can tell, if the Cold Case Posse filed form 990 with the IRS in 2012, it would be listed be listed at Pro Publica, but I couldn’t find it, and Pro Publica appears to have a comprehensive list (the IRS provides a database of filers to press organizations). Other MSCO posse listings are there. Charities with incomes under $25,000 may file Form 990-N, but I verified at the IRS web site that the CCP hasn’t filed that.

There are exemptions to IRS filing requirements for “governmental units and affiliates of governmental units.” Those exemptions are detailed in Rev. Proc. 95-48, 1995-2 C.B. 418. In determining whether an organization is an affiliate of a governmental unit, the following factors are considered (my notes in blue in reference to the Cold Case Posse Articles of Incorporation).

The organization was created by one or more governmental units, organizations that are affiliates of governmental units, or public officials acting in their official capacity. The articles say that it is “an association of a number of citizens … who have associated together.”
The organization’s support is received principally from taxes, tolls, fines, government appropriations, or fees collected pursuant to statutory authority. Amounts received as government grants or other contract payments are not qualifying support under this paragraph. The Cold Case Posse web site says: “We are awarded no tax dollars.”

The organization is financially accountable to one or more governmental units. This factor is present if the organization is (i) required to report to governmental unit(s), at least annually, information comparable to that required by Form 990; and (ii) is subject to financial audit by the governmental unit(s) to which it reports. A report submitted voluntarily by the organization does not satisfy clause (i). Also, reports and audits pursuant to government grants or other contracts do not alone satisfy this paragraph (c). The CCP articles do not contain any language about financial accountability to any governmental unit. Note that “voluntary reports” do not satisfy the requirement.
One or more governmental units, or organizations that are affiliates of governmental units, exercise control over, or oversee, some or all of the organization’s expenditures (although it is not financially accountable to governmental units as described in paragraph (c) of this section). The CCP articles talk about being a “loyal member of the Sheriff’s Posse” and to work on “an agreed upon investigation plan” (it doesn’t say who has to agree), but there’s no mention of financial oversight.
If the organization is dissolved, its assets will (by reason of a provision in its articles of organization or by operation of law) be distributed to one or more governmental units, or organizations that are affiliates of governmental units within the meaning of section 4 of this revenue procedure. The CCP articles say that upon dissolution, any residual funds will be given to charity.

This is going to take some more digging.