Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Monday's Raffle

Lucky you!

"Beware of that free raffle: It may be something else" by Sean P. Murphy Globe Staff  May 06, 2018

Linda Abrams’s eye caught the familiar green-and-white logo of Whole Foods Market, one of her favorite grocery stores. It was plastered on a big sign at the front of a tent where passersby were being urged to enter a raffle for a $500 shopping card.

She did. But there was a catch.

By filling out the paper entry form at a spring festival in Waltham, she and scores of others had unwittingly opened the door to a telemarketing firm — completely unrelated to Whole Foods — intent on bombarding them with mailings, e-mails, and cellphone calls touting time-share packages.

“It looked like a simple promotion for Whole Foods,” Abrams told me. “But it was totally deceptive.”

Abrams, huh?


"Allen Goldberg said he asked instead to use the 11th-floor meeting place, where Thelma Kaminsky had once hosted a family Hanukkah celebration..... Eric said he cringed to think of a funeral home attendant physically manipulating his father’s corpse to produce a fingerprint in the hope of selling an expensive pendant or charm....." 

I read the fine print.

The entry forms came attached to a dozen small clipboards spread across a table under the tent. It never occurred to Abrams to unclip the form and look at the back. She simply filled it out and handed it back, but the back of the form revealed the true nature of the raffle. By signing, she had agreed to be contacted by the telemarketing firm JC Swain Enterprise LLC and its partners, and here are the words that really sent Abrams over the edge when a friend pointed them out to her: “I understand that this form’s permission supersedes my listing on any state and/or federal ‘Do Not Call’ or ‘Do Not Contact’ list.”

It’s legally questionable whether signing a raffle form can waive such rights, but at a minimum it allows a company like Swain to test whether anyone will actually challenge it.

Like millions of others, Abrams has tried to safeguard her privacy — her right to be left alone — by getting on the federal government’s “Do Not Call” list, which prohibits telemarketers from contacting her (though countless purveyors of robocalls have found a way around it).

Why would Whole Foods get involved in something so deceptive?

Turns out, it hadn’t.

I called the company to ask about the drawing. A spokeswoman said she had checked it out and “there is no connection between Whole Foods Market and the company you asked about.”

“I am assuming this is a situation where they just came in and independently purchased a gift card and made the decision to use it at their event,” she said.

I asked whether the company intended to take steps to protect the use of its logo, but the spokeswoman declined to comment.

I also called John Swain. He’s the owner and chief executive of the telemarketing firm, which is based in Laconia, N.H. And I e-mailed him a picture of the tent his company had set up at the festival. (Abrams had wisely taken the picture and sent it to me after she was alerted to the fine print.) Swain called back to say it was all a big mistake on the part of his company, and offered an apology to Abrams.

It's a mistake!

Swain said he couldn’t explain how the Whole Foods sign wound up at his company’s tent, but promised to continue to look into it. (I’m not holding my breath waiting for an answer.)

“I can’t tell you how that happened, but I can say that it’s not our intent to upset or mislead anyone,” he said, adding that he expected people signing up for the raffle to familiarize themselves with all of its terms, including those about being contacted.

Swain said his company is hired by resort owners to find people to purchase time-share vacation packages. One important way for it to get the names and numbers of people who may be interested is to set up raffles at home shows, auto shows, and other big gatherings. (Raffle entrants beware.)

His company does about a dozen shows every weekend, he said.

Whether a mistake or not, Swain’s use of the Whole Foods logo certainly attracted a lot of attention at the annual sheep-shearing festival at Gore Place, the 50-acre jewel of a historic farm and house in Waltham. Thousands of adults and children attend every year.

Waltham has a Whole Foods?

The banjo-playing Abrams has performed there for decades with the Moody Street String Band. During a break, she wandered over to the tent festooned with the Whole Foods Market logo, next to the ice cream truck. For years, Whole Foods has enjoyed a reputation for social responsibility, which may have contributed to the large number of people like Abrams who signed up for the raffle.

So excited was Abrams about the raffle that she led friends to it after signing up. And that’s when one of her friends noticed exactly what they were signing up for.

“I looked around and there were no disclosures on display on the table or on the tent,” Abrams said. “We are all inundated daily with fake calls . . . and I don’t want to invite more of them.”

Abrams insisted on getting back her entry form. “I must have looked ridiculous sifting through all those entry forms in the big box,” she said. “It took a long time, but I found mine and tore it up.”

Abrams then took it upon herself to issue a warning.

“I informed everyone who approached what they were really signing up for, and everyone turned away,” she said with a smile. “Everyone was surprised when I told them to read the other side.”

The organizers of the sheep-shearing festival said they may tighten their procedures to vet vendors who pay a couple hundred dollars for a booth.

The festival doesn’t allow aggressive sales techniques, one of the organizers said, but it’s too late for those whose phones may now be ringing with pitches for that time-share they don’t want.

(Phone rings)


You know who owns Whole Foods, right?

I'll give you a hint: their home is in Seattle, and here is what is in their closet.

"With or without Amazon, Orient Heights development has some residents worried" by Laura Crimaldi Globe Staff  May 13, 2018

This part of East Boston is beginning to feel the effects of the city’s building boom, residents say.

They should Revere it.

Whether Amazon comes to Boston or not, change is coming to this East Boston neighborhood, and residents are worried that Orient Heights could lose the tranquility that drew many families there in the first place.

They only moved there for “a little bit more solitude and quiet, but everything seems to be focused on [being] bigger, larger, [and a] gateway to the airport.”

The neighborhood has been changing, said Joanne Pomodoro, president of the Orient Heights Neighborhood Association, citing the closing of several Catholic churches and parochial schools. Also, some believe it’s too easy for builders to get their projects approved by the city, she said, adding that many new housing units are too expensive for middle-class families and senior citizens.....

That's the “general consensus,” and they “just have a feeling they’re going to be forced out eventually because you see it happening all over the city.”



"Female firefighters report ‘appalling’ treatment. The city promises a review" by Meghan E. Irons Globe Staff  May 14, 2018

The city has hired an outside counsel to review the Boston Fire Department’s handling of harassment and discrimination allegations brought by women on the force, Mayor Martin J. Walsh revealed on Sunday.

Walsh, who is traveling in Ireland, reached out to attorney Kay Hodge, a partner at Stoneman, Chandler & Miller LLP, to conduct the review after being informed by a Globe reporter recently about allegations from some of Boston’s female firefighters, city officials said.

“Everyone should feel safe coming to work,’’ Walsh said in a statement Sunday announcing the independent review. “As soon as I learned of these concerns, I asked for outside counsel to take a look at the Boston Fire Department to ensure that we are taking the necessary steps to support an inclusive and welcoming environment for all.”

Fire Commissioner Joseph Finn said he takes the safety and dignity of all firefighters very seriously and will not tolerate any behavior that is detrimental to the cohesiveness of the firehouse.....


Related: Female firefighters say discrimination is rampant

The racism and sexism (he was found dead in his jail cell?) is an unwelcome part of the job and some are demanding action after the city violated the agreement, but try finding another job (maybe NYC?).

"It was a soaring idea, intended to put the city’s least-populous, least-visited borough on the tourism map, but six years after it was announced, a plan to build one of the world’s largest Ferris wheels on Staten Island is still stuck on the ground. The four pedestals for the wheel, each weighing 100 tons, remain the only components of the 630-foot structure erected to date on a site on the Staten Island waterfront. The project, originally budgeted at $230 million, has been mired in cost overruns, delays, and disputes between investors. Work on the New York Wheel has been stalled since May 2017 when the main contractor on halted work and was fired. The proposal got a glimmer of hope last week....."

Also see: Everett’s first female firefighter dies from cancer

It was work-related?

"A community organization is calling for a Wisconsin police officer to be fired and charged after a video surfaced showing a white officer punching a black teenager in the face outside a mall during an arrest. The video that a passer-by recorded shows a Wauwatosa officer punching a 17-year-old boy Friday during an incident in which security at a mall in Wauwatosa had called authorities about a group of males causing a disturbance, WISN-TV and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported....."

"A Richmond police officer is under investigation after he shot and killed an unarmed naked man who lunged at him during a confrontation this month. Videos released by the Richmond Police Department showed a visibly disturbed Marcus-David Peters screaming and walking toward officer Michael Nyantakyi. Nyantakyi fired his stun gun several times, but Peters kept charging. Seconds later, Nyantakyi fired two rounds from his firearm, striking Peters twice in the abdomen. Peters died later at a hospital. The Police Department released videos that showed the last minutes of Peters’s life, adding that the unusual disclosure was in the interest of transparency, but the release of the videos did little to comfort Peters’s family and friends....."

Related(?): Cosby and the Cambridge Cops


"At Mount Ida, a mysterious benefactor with ties to the school’s president loaned it $16 million" by Laura Krantz Globe Staff  May 20, 2018

NEWTON — As the financial picture at Mount Ida College grew increasingly grim and its bank finally refused to loan more money, the school two years ago turned to a mysterious benefactor whose private money kept the school on life support, documents show.

The money — more than $16 million — came through a shell corporation that obscured its true source: Rosalie K. Stahl, a 98-year-old New York City real estate investor and longtime personal client of college president Barry Brown.

Trump must have known her.

The arrangement helped the troubled school stay afloat a bit longer, but Stahl stood to benefit too, through interest she could collect on her loans. She was also probably eligible for a tax deduction for an $8 million gift she also made to the school in 2015. Previously, when Brown worked at Suffolk University in Boston, Stahl helped bolster that school, too, documents show.

The Mount Ida loans raise questions of whether Brown was serving two masters and whether he used his dual roles to create a business opportunity for his client. Although Mount Ida trustees say Brown disclosed his connection to them, the conflict is nonetheless problematic, according to eight experts in nonprofit ethics and college governance who reviewed the situation for the Globe. The deal led the experts to question whether Brown and trustees had students’ interests as their top priority.

That's a problem for Congre$$, too.

“This is the president of the institution with a private financial interest,” said Scott Harshbarger, the former state attorney general and an expert in nonprofit governance.

At the same time, at least one expert wondered at the wisdom of Brown’s apparently advising an elderly investor to put significant money into a struggling college.

“If I were one of her heirs, I would really be upset,” said Lawrence Zicklin, a former managing partner at the investment management firm Neuberger Berman and expert in business ethics.

The Mount Ida trustees, however, said they were grateful for the money, which helped the school stay open while it strategized ways to be successful in the long term. Mount Ida trustees said Brown did not profit personally from the loan arrangement.

Despite the lending, trustees realized early this year that the college would not have enough money to make payroll starting in June. In March they gave students less than two months’ notice that the school would close and failed to notify state regulators of its plan to shutter it.

There was a lot of ire over it.

The entity that loaned Mount Ida $16.5 million is listed publicly as Carlson Property LLC. Brown’s name does not appear on any public filings by the college nor does the name of his client, but after questions from the Globe, trustees acknowledged that Stahl’s trust funded Carlson.

Attempts to reach Stahl were unsuccessful, but her daughter said she was aware of the transactions.

Carlson Property now holds a mortgage for about 15 acres of the campus in return for the lending, public documents show. The initially anonymous donation of $8 million in 2015 also came from Stahl, according to a statement from trustees.

The Boston Business Journal reported on the Carlson loans Saturday.

Brown is a trustee of Stahl’s personal trust, documents show. He has been involved in matters on behalf of her family for at least three decades and in multiple states, according to public documents filed in New York, California, the Virgin Islands, and Massachusetts.

Harshbarger, who as attorney general oversaw the state’s public charities, said the lending arrangement with Carlson Property at Mount Ida could violate core fiduciary obligations that govern nonprofit charities, including colleges.

University trustees have a legal obligation to act in the best interest of the institution and to make informed decisions about its finances. College presidents as well as trustees are advised to file annual conflict-of-interest disclosure forms that list their other financial and nonprofit interests.

Harshbarger, now senior counsel at the firm Casner & Edwards, also said there should have been more public disclosure around who was behind the lending to show how the tangled relationship could still have been in the best interest of the school.

The lending was not fully described in the school’s audited financial statement, nor mentioned on a disclosure form the school is required to file annually with the state attorney general. It asks about business done with parties that have personal ties to the institution.

“There is a whole trail of insider dealing here that could possibly be justified as in the best interest, but there’s no core documentation or disclosure so that anybody independently can be satisfied that that’s the case,” Harshbarger said.

Before accepting the presidency, Brown disclosed his role with the Stahl trust to college trustees as well as his intention to continue in that role, according to a statement from the trustees sent to the Globe. Board Chairwoman Carmin Reiss said Brown introduced the college to the Stahl trust early in his tenure as a major donor with a history of philanthropy in higher education. She said the financial transactions were negotiated at arm’s length, and Brown recused himself from discussions and votes.

“Any implication that there is or was a conflict of interest in these matters is not only unfair and misleading, it is false,” said the statement from the board.

Richard Lyon, Stahl’s longtime accountant, said Brown did not participate in decision-making on behalf of Carlson in negotiations with the college. The LLC is managed by Lyon, and he said decisions were handled by him in consultation with attorneys.

It is also unknown how much, if at all, Brown was paid by the trust.

Brown declined a request to be interviewed for this story. The Globe sent Mount Ida a list of 16 questions for Brown, which he did not answer. It sent trustees eight questions, which they also declined to answer, instead providing several statements.

The board declined to release its conflict-of-interest policy, Brown’s contract, or disclosure forms, board meeting minutes, or any other documents to back up its assertions that Brown disclosed his conflicts, recused himself, and did not profit from the deal.

As Mount Ida negotiated the sale of its campus to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Reiss said Carlson Property agreed to forgive nearly half the loan balance.

“The Board is grateful to the Stahl Trust and to Carlson Properties [sic], LLC for their financial support to Mount Ida College through both substantial gifts and below-market-rate loans that enabled the college to pursue a revitalization effort during the last few difficult years,” Reiss wrote.

She said the loans came “at a time when the college’s bank and other commercial lenders had declined to extend credit.”

James Finkelstein, professor emeritus of public policy at George Mason University whose research focuses on college presidents, presidential contracts, and conflicts, said this is the first instance he has seen in which a university president also represents the interest of a donor to his university.

“Given the 24/7 demands of any university president and putting aside the potential conflicts of interest not to mention having to manage a catastrophic fiscal crisis, it is hard to imagine how Mr. Brown found time to manage Ms. Stahl’s affairs,” said Finkelstein, who also served as a university administrator at George Mason, New York University, and Ohio State University and worked for the inspector general’s office at the US Postal Service.

One specialist took a different point of view. Zicklin, the corporate ethics expert, said he is not bothered by Brown’s conflict of interest at Mount Ida because it was disclosed to the college, but he questioned whether Brown acted in the best financial interest of Stahl as a trustee of her trust by advising her to lend money to Mount Ida. Her trust now stands to lose about half her investment as the school closes.

“I sure wouldn’t be in a position of advising a 96-year-old woman of making a loan to an institution that wasn’t creditworthy,” said Zicklin, who also endowed a center for business ethics at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and teaches business ethics at New York University.

Brown came to Mount Ida after more than three decades at Suffolk University, where he rose from law professor to provost to interim president. After arriving at Mount Ida in 2012, Brown led the college through a period of expansion, borrowing $30 million to invest in the campus in hopes of attracting more students, but while the academic profile of the school improved, it couldn’t keep up with its debt.

At the same time, records show that Brown continued his private work for Stahl and other members of her family, often out of the Mount Ida College address.

In 2015, Brown’s name appears on a mortgage from Stahl to one of her grandsons in Newton, documents show, listing Mount Ida College as the address of Stahl’s trust. As recently as last fall, Brown appears to have facilitated the transfer of real estate for Stahl in New York City, signing sales documents in November 2017. His name is also listed on paperwork of several other LLCs with Stahl, and he serves as a trustee of a charitable foundation set up in her name.

Public documents on file in several states show that Brown has done business for the Stahl family since the mid-1980s, when he was listed as a trustee of Stahl’s trust in California. In 1992 he was a co-plaintiff with Stahl’s daughter in a court case involving their property in the Virgin Islands.

The ties among Brown, Stahl, Suffolk, and Mount Ida stretch further. Jason Potts, the CFO at Mount Ida, worked at Suffolk under Brown as director of finance and real estate. Stahl’s grandson, Isaac, is a tennis coach at Mount Ida. Isaac at one point ran a real estate business with Potts. Robert Dannin, a Mount Ida trustee, is the husband of one of Stahl’s daughters. 

One might even say the ties were ince$tuous.

From 2001 to 2008, Brown served as senior counsel at the national law firm Holland & Knight. Documents show that over the years, the firm continued to do business for Stahl. The firm represented Mount Ida in the recent sale of its Newton campus to the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Mount Ida also agreed that Holland & Knight could represent Carlson when it loaned money to the college, according to the firm.

Stahl seems to have followed Brown through his career as a college administrator. In 2004, when Brown was a professor at Suffolk, Stahl purchased an $85 million office building in downtown Boston and leased it to the university. The building, 73 Tremont St., has now become the school’s main building, with the president’s office on the top floor, overlooking Boston Common. A gold plaque outside identifies it as the Rosalie K. Stahl Center, but experts also found the terms of the 73 Tremont deal unusual. The Tremont Street building is owned by an LLC, registered to both Stahl and Brown, to which Suffolk continues to make payments. It is unknown whether Brown profits personally from this.

That arrangement calls for Suffolk to pay the mortgage as well as a monthly fee to the LLC, which is now registered to the address of Mount Ida, and says the building will be donated to the school, subject to the mortgage, upon Stahl’s death.

Who was president of Suffolk at the time, and “how many times do we have to go through this?’’

Finkelstein, the expert in college presidents, said it is typical for colleges to establish limited liability corporations, especially for real estate transactions, with university employees as members of the corporation, but he said this is the first time he has seen an employee as the manager of an LLC that does business with the university.

Also during Brown’s time at Suffolk, Robyn Stahl, Rosalie’s daughter, donated an 80-acre horse farm in northern Maine to the university.

Suffolk at the time touted the donation as a valuable gift for the school, although little instruction ever took place on the property, according to former Suffolk officials. In 2016 Suffolk sold the farm to a local Native American tribe for about $700,000, public documents show.

For years, Rosalie K. Stahl lived in a condominium two blocks from Central Park in Manhattan. Now she is believed to reside in South Natick with her daughter in a house purchased by a trust set up by Brown.

Stahl’s daughter answered the door on two occasions this month when a reporter knocked. She said her mother was elderly and not capable of commenting for this story. She said Rosalie is “absolutely” aware of the lending by her trust.

They went to her home?

The daughter instructed a reporter to leave further questions in the mailbox, but she did not respond to them.

Although the Stahl loans staved off closure temporarily, they were ultimately not enough to save the school. The Mount Ida College commencement took place earlier this month in Boston in a ceremony run almost entirely by the students, who asked Brown and the trustees not to attend.....


Suppose you can always $ue them.

Time to get back to Waltham:

"Did this environmental group cross the line? Or does an overdeveloped waterfront need defending?" by Milton J. Valencia Globe Staff  May 18, 2018

On the booming Boston waterfront, Bradley Campbell was very much a new face on the docks.

A veteran of environmental protection work in Washington, D.C., and New Jersey, he arrived in the city in late 2015 as the new president of the Conservation Law Foundation, a venerable environmental advocacy group perhaps best known for its 1980s court fight to clean up Boston Harbor. One of his top priorities: Defend the public’s access to the waterfront amid a surge in development.

Over more than 50 years, the foundation had earned a reputation as a responsible advocate, even when it resorted to litigation to achieve its goals, but in several recent showdowns, Campbell has riled Mayor Martin J. Walsh, other city officials, and community groups with what they say is a combative and arrogant approach that threatens to erode the organization’s effectiveness.

The source of the tension centers on the foundation’s challenge to 150 Seaport, a high-profile tower planned by developer Jon Cronin on the South Boston site of his Whiskey Priest and Atlantic Beer Garden bars.

In one meeting about the project, Campbell was said to be so dismissive that a community member questioned whether he was trying to negotiate or to kill the development outright.

Walsh, frustrated with Campbell’s behavior in another session last fall, walked out of his City Hall office, and former state senator Linda Dorcena Forry lashed out at him at a State House meeting for persisting in his fight against the project, even though it had widespread government and neighborhood support.

He's just trying to save the planet! 

What could be more noble than that?

Separately from the Cronin project, one top city official accused Campbell of possibly unethical behavior in an inter-departmental memo obtained by the Globe, for allegedly advocating on behalf of a Boston developer, Don Law, who is married to the chair of the foundation’s board, Sara Molyneaux.

Who told you to sic 'em, Globe?

“I’m asking you and your team to be super-vigilant in any dealings with [the foundation],” Brian Golden, head of the Boston Planning & Development Agency, wrote in a memo to staff after meeting with Campbell last year, accusing him of “inappropriate” behavior and saying he was crossing ethical lines or “coming dangerously close.”

“We need to be cautious with them and, perhaps, affirmatively call out [the foundation] when we believe they are making — from a legal or ethical perspective — an inappropriate ask,” Golden wrote in the memo.

In an interview, Campbell defended his organization’s strategy for advocacy, saying the foundation is acting in the public interest to monitor a waterfront that it helped clean up. Campbell said that public officials oppose the intervention because the group is challenging what he described as the city’s failure to hold developers more accountable.

“We got a lot of pushback from the city because their paramount interest is shovels in the ground,” Campbell said. “We’re not interested in blocking things. We’re interested in making sure the public gets its due.”



"These are boom times in Waltham. From Route 128, you can see cranes erecting office buildings and hotels. The gleaming headquarters of shoe companies and engineering firms stand alongside newly built shopping centers. And the city added more than 11,000 jobs from 2010 to 2016, a number topped statewide only by Boston and Cambridge, but Waltham’s economic growth is missing a key ingredient: new housing. It’s a common complaint in the suburbs along Route 128, a belt of communities that have become ground zero for Greater Boston’s housing crunch......"

Time to start seizing property!

So who has been building bombs in Eastie

Got no CLASS!

Let's hope you got the right meds:

"Three patients at Boston Children’s Hospital suffered from medication errors in 2017, including one who waited hours for an antibiotic and later died, according to a state and federal inspection report. The mistakes, which occurred between January and November and involved two drugs, prompted regulators to threaten the hospital with potential termination from the federal Medicare program. Medication mistakes are the most common type of medical error in hospitals....."

What do you mean the hospital is running out of medicine?