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Theft Community Shelter Board has some explaining to do

By Theodore Decker

The announcement was a good one, that the city will spend $8.8 million to bolster mental health programming at homeless shelters, raise wages for shelter staff, and relocate residents of the YMCA’s obsolete Downtown shelter.

But this good news was tempered, coming as it did the week after markedly worse news was reported by the Dispatch that the Community Shelter Board — the agency that would receive the lion’s share of the $8.8 million — had been bilked out of more than $350,000 by an unscrupulous and, from the sounds of it, unsupervised, former employee.

The $8.8 million, of which $4.9 million would go to the Community Shelter Board, is coming from the city’s American Rescue Plan money, federal funds provided to help communities rebound from the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

The shelter board’s share of the money will be spent on training and salaries for 37 new mental health interventionists.

Affordable housing:$10 million not enough for Columbus’ needs, advocates say

The planned expenditures were praised by advocates.

Among them was Community Shelter Board executive director Michelle Heritage, who was probably happy to talk about anything other than the news of her former employee, Ebony Wheat.

The news about Wheat surfaced after the recent filing of criminal complaints against three people whom federal investigators say were her co-conspirators.

A bill of information in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio in Columbus states that Wheat used her position at the Community Shelter Board to cause the agency to issue about 172 fraudulent checks totaling $352,769, from October 2017 to November 2019, to friends who were not landlords and did not provide any services to the agency’s homeless clients. Wheat, in turn, got kickbacks, investigators said.

The money was recovered through insurance, Heritage said.

Wheat was the first to be charged. That happened months ago, and she already has pleaded guilty to three counts of federal program theft. She is awaiting sentencing.

None of this, however, was acknowledged publicly by the Community Shelter Board at the time Wheat pleaded guilty.

“It’s pretty outrageous,” Heritage told the Dispatch. “She stole money from people who are homeless. I don’t know how low you can go.”

“The fact that someone would steal from people experiencing homelessness…I mean, how low can you go?” she told WSYX-TV (Channel 6

The remarks sought to place the embezzlement squarely on the shoulders of Wheat, and sure, that’s where most of the blame should be carried.

But certainly not all. 

Nana M. Watson, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, thought the board’s executive director was getting off easy.

In a letter to the Dispatch, Watson argued that Heritage should lose her job.

She makes a solid argument.

“We do know the individual who stole the money was fired, however, the CEO should have been as well for not having necessary financial safeguards in place,” Watson wrote. “For that, she is perhaps just as guilty. The Shelter Board is a recipient of taxpayer’s dollars and we certainly expect more and demand more.”

The planned expenditures were praised by advocates.

Among them was Community Shelter Board executive director Michelle Heritage, who was probably happy to talk about anything other than the news of her former employee, Ebony Wheat.

The news about Wheat surfaced after the recent filing of criminal complaints against three people whom federal investigators say were her co-conspirators.

A bill of information in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio in Columbus states that Wheat used her position at the Community Shelter Board to cause the agency to issue about 172 fraudulent checks totaling $352,769, from October 2017 to November 2019, to friends who were not landlords and did not provide any services to the agency’s homeless clients. Wheat, in turn, got kickbacks, investigators said.

The money was recovered through insurance, Heritage said.

Wheat was the first to be charged. That happened months ago, and she already has pleaded guilty to three counts of federal program theft. She is awaiting sentencing.

None of this, however, was acknowledged publicly by the Community Shelter Board at the time Wheat pleaded guilty.

“It’s pretty outrageous,” Heritage told the Dispatch. “She stole money from people who are homeless. I don’t know how low you can go.”

“The fact that someone would steal from people experiencing homelessness…I mean, how low can you go?” she told WSYX-TV (Channel 6).

The remarks sought to place the embezzlement squarely on the shoulders of Wheat, and sure, that’s where most of the blame should be carried.

But certainly not all. 

Nana M. Watson, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, thought the board’s executive director was getting off easy.

In a letter to the Dispatch, Watson argued that Heritage should lose her job.

She makes a solid argument.

“We do know the individual who stole the money was fired, however, the CEO should have been as well for not having necessary financial safeguards in place,” Watson wrote. “For that, she is perhaps just as guilty. The Shelter Board is a recipient of taxpayer’s dollars and we certainly expect more and demand more.”

Heritage said the agency had made changes to prevent future thefts, including a requirement that participating landlords meet with the agency in person.

But even a minimal vetting of Wheat would have raised red flags, given her job at the agency was to run its financial assistance program, in which landlords are given money to house homeless people.

8Wheat filed for Chapter 7, or so-called “fresh-start,” bankruptcy in 2011, when she listed $14,862 in assets and $98,115 in liabilities. She was sued in small claims court in 2017 and filed for bankruptcy again last year, although by then she was gone from the shelter board.

There also were warning signs regarding Ramiya McDaniel, one of the other three defendants now charged. She has filed twice for personal bankruptcy, in 2009 and 2011.

McDaniel was also sued by a bank in 2017 for $2,133, a suit that records show she lost.

She was also sued in small claims court back in 2006, by none other than Ebony Wheat. Based on what we know now, they apparently resolved their differences to the mutual agreement of both parties.

As the feds were building their case against Wheat and the others last fall, Heritage appeared in a video touting the board’s annual Halloween fundraiser, Maskquerade.

She sits on what looks like a white leather sofa, in a well-appointed yard. She wears fire-engine-red shoes and a black motorcycle-style jacket and sips from a glass of champagne.

“This Halloween, Community Shelter Board is helping you treat yourself, because we don’t need any more tricks in 2020,” she says. The video was posted on Oct. 7, 2020, about two weeks after Wheat spoke to the FBI.

The whole affair is very refined, ending with a festive spray of confetti.

Of course, one might wonder why the fight against homelessness requires cocktails and charcuterie, but upon viewing the video there is no denying Heritage’s attention to detail.

To some aspects of the board’s business, that is. 

tdecker@dispatch.com

@Theodore_Decker

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GOP lawmaker wants to eliminate TikTok at a host of federal agencies and military posts

ALLAN SMITH
September 16, 2022, 12:09 PM

Mario Tama
Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., downloaded TikTok about two years ago after hearing a lot of buzz about the popular video-sharing app. But he found it disappointing, saying it did not serve him content much more “compelling” than what he would watch on Facebook Reels or Instagram Stories.

“I never really developed into much of an active user,” he told NBC News. He said that after he learned about ByteDance, the Beijing-based company which owns TikTok, he deactivated his account and removed the app from his phone.

And now, he wants to eliminate it from many more devices.

Last week, Johnson introduced the “Block the Tok Act,” which would prohibit the installation and use of TikTok on all government devices, as well as personal devices at military installations and a host of federal agencies, including the State Department, the Justice Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and others in the intelligence-gathering community

GOP lawmaker wants to eliminate TikTok at a host of federal agencies and military posts

ALLAN SMITH
September 16, 2022, 12:09 PM

Mario Tama
Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., downloaded TikTok about two years ago after hearing a lot of buzz about the popular video-sharing app. But he found it disappointing, saying it did not serve him content much more “compelling” than what he would watch on Facebook Reels or Instagram Stories.

“I never really developed into much of an active user,” he told NBC News. He said that after he learned about ByteDance, the Beijing-based company which owns TikTok, he deactivated his account and removed the app from his phone.

And now, he wants to eliminate it from many more devices.

Last week, Johnson introduced the “Block the Tok Act,” which would prohibit the installation and use of TikTok on all government devices, as well as personal devices at military installations and a host of federal agencies, including the State Department, the Justice Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and others in the intelligence-gathering community

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Has TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook slowly becoming a hub for soft porn

The Great Elephant Project
My research has started. One love

Has TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook slowly becoming a hub for soft porn

By Ian Irving Bacungan -04/18/2020

It seems like the red flags for Chinese-developed app TikTok keep on piling up. After warnings from cybersecurity experts about the risks to data privacy and the internet security of the app’s users, TikTok is now eventually becoming a hub for soft porn.

TikTok rose as one of the most-downloaded and most-used social media applications globally, particularly in the Philippines, due to its nature as a video-sharing platform. Users are enticed to utilize different filters on easily-edited videos. Some are even introducing TikTok challenges in the form of dance covers, which mostly have sexually suggestive content. (Not to mention the fact that people have a lot of time on their hands because of the COVID-19 pandemic

This imposes a concern, especially that most users of TikTok are children under 18 years old. Upon registering an account on the app, it’s indicated that a user must be over 13 years of age to be allowed to use TikTok. Still, with the lack of verification process, even users as young as eight years old are exposed to pedophiles and sexual predators lurking within the app.

In a series exposing the downside of the app, The Sun UK revealed that among the alarming videos participated by minors on TikTok include 12-year-old girls dancing to sexually explicit songs and a teenager offering a sex act to boys in her contacts. TikTok has also long been bombarded with videos that joke about child abuse, illegal drugs, and violence.

Before this, TikTok has become a hot topic in the tech scene as cybersecurity experts revealed that hackers could easily manipulate content, upload and delete videos, and expose sensitive information such as users’ private email addresses.

Several reports have also revealed that TikTok is sending information of users to Chinese databases without consent.

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China’s TikTok slowly becoming a hub for soft porn
By Ian Irving Bacungan -04/18/20200143

It seems like the red flags for Chinese-developed app TikTok keep on piling up. After warnings from cybersecurity experts about the risks to data privacy and the internet security of the app’s users, TikTok is now eventually becoming a hub for soft porn.

TikTok rose as one of the most-downloaded and most-used social media applications globally, particularly in the Philippines, due to its nature as a video-sharing platform. Users are enticed to utilize different filters on easily-edited videos. Some are even introducing TikTok challenges in the form of dance covers, which mostly have sexually suggestive content. (Not to mention the fact that people have a lot of time on their hands because of the COVID-19 pandemic).

This imposes a concern, especially that most users of TikTok are children under 18 years old. Upon registering an account on the app, it’s indicated that a user must be over 13 years of age to be allowed to use TikTok. Still, with the lack of verification process, even users as young as eight years old are exposed to pedophiles and sexual predators lurking within the app.

In a series exposing the downside of the app, The Sun UK revealed that among the alarming videos participated by minors on TikTok include 12-year-old girls dancing to sexually explicit songs and a teenager offering a sex act to boys in her contacts. TikTok has also long been bombarded with videos that joke about child abuse, illegal drugs, and violence.

Before this, TikTok has become a hot topic in the tech scene as cybersecurity experts revealed that hackers could easily manipulate content, upload and delete videos, and expose sensitive information such as users’ private email addresses.

Several reports have also revealed that TikTok is sending information of users to Chinese databases without consent.

Here in the Philippines, the government appears to be not concerned over the app’s privacy, and security issues as even agencies like the Department of Health and the Department of Tourism are utilizing the platform for their promotional materials.

Currently, TikTok has over 2 billion downloads worldwide and has around 800 million active users. Locally, it’s among the top 10 apps on the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store.

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Pornhub, one of the largest adult sites in the world, just deleted a whopping 10.6 MILLION videos! That’s over 78.5% of its content

The Great Elephant Project:

If you took a casual look for your favorite Internet porn this week, you may have noticed a much, MUCH smaller selection. Well, it’s not your imagination.

Pornhub, one of the largest adult sites in the world, just deleted a whopping 10.6 MILLION videos! That’s over 78.5% of its content!

Everything that wasn’t verified content — you know, the little blue checkmark, just like on Twitter — got the axe. Only videos from official content partners remain. No unverified videos remain, and no unverified uploaders can put anything else on the site. That put the number of videos on the site from around 13.5 million to just 2.9 million as of this writing.

Well, it all started on December 4 when The New York Times published an op-ed about child sexual abuse victims who saw videos of themselves uploaded onto the site. Less than a week later Pornhub announced a change in policy in which they would no longer allow unverified users from uploading videos, but it was too late to stop the tide of bad press.

MasterCard and Visa announced they would no longer process payments to the site. Visa banned all of Pornhub’s sister sites on the MindGeek network, including Redtube, Youporn, Xtube, and Brazzers.

So in addition to stopping new uploads, Pornhub went for the nuclear option and “suspended” all videos from unverified sources. In a statement this week, they explained:

“As part of our policy to ban unverified uploaders, we have now also suspended all previously uploaded content that was not created by content partners or members of the Model Program. This means every piece of Pornhub content is from verified uploaders, a requirement that platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Snapchat and Twitter have yet to institute.”

They also pointed out the actual number of instances child sexual abuse material were quite small relatively — again, citing Facebook and its much worse record:

“Leading non-profit organizations and advocacy groups acknowledge our efforts to date at combating illegal content have been effective. Over the last three years, Facebook self-reported 84 million instances of child sexual abuse material. During that same period, the independent, third-party Internet Watch Foundation reported 118 incidents on Pornhub. That is still 118 too many, which is why we are committed to taking every necessary action.

But Facebook isn’t facing a hit to the wallet right now. And Pornhub is. Why? Well, according to their own announcement, they’re being “targeted” by “organizations dedicated to abolishing pornography, banning material they claim is obscene, and shutting down commercial sex work.” They claim the two groups leading the charge are the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (formerly known as Morality in Media) and Exodus Cry/TraffickingHub.

Is this all just anti-porn and sex work sentiment hiding behind charges of child sexual exploitation, something no one can argue with? It does seem like Facebook is getting away awfully clean considering those “84 million instances of child sexual abuse material.” (Seriously, WTF is up with that??)

On the one hand, this seems like a positive move. Making it that much harder to get child sexual abuse material, as well as revenge porn, pirated content, and other unsavory material, out there is always a good thing.

However, we’re now quite skeptical about the reasons behind the new charge.

What we do know for sure is for many amateur porn creators who have not yet been verified, this is yet another huge loss of revenue, following the invasion of celebs and influencers into OnlyFans earlier this year.

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United We Stand: Countering Hate-Fueled Violence Together

By Domestic Policy Advisor Susan E. Rice

Hate must have no safe harbor in America—especially when that hate fuels the kind of violence we’ve seen from Oak Creek to Pittsburgh, from El Paso to Poway, and from Atlanta to Buffalo. When we cannot settle our differences of opinion peacefully, and when ordinary Americans cannot participate in the basic activities of everyday life—like shopping at the grocery store, praying at their house of worship, or casting a ballot—without the fear of being targeted and killed for who they are, our democracy is at risk.

That’s why, on Thursday, September 15, President Biden will host the United We Stand Summit at the White House to counter the corrosive effects of hate-fueled violence on our democracy and public safety, highlight the response of the Biden-Harris Administration and communities nationwide to these dangers, and put forward a shared, bipartisan vision for a more united America.

President Biden decided to run for president after the horrific violence that erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. Since taking office, his Administration has consistently taken steps to counter hate-motivated violence—from signing the bipartisan COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, to releasing the first-ever National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism, to signing the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the most significant legislation in three decades to reduce gun violence

Even as our nation has endured a disturbing series of hate-fueled attacks, Americans of all beliefs and political affiliations remain overwhelmingly united in their opposition to such violence. The United We Stand Summit will bring together heroes from across America leading work in their communities to build bridges and address hate and division, including survivors of hate-fueled violence. The summit will include bipartisan federal, state, and local officials, civil rights groups, faith and community leaders, technology and business leaders, law enforcement officials, former members of violent extremist groups who now work to prevent violence, gun violence prevention leaders, media representatives, and cultural figures. It will feature a keynote speech from President Biden as well as bipartisan panels and conversations on countering hate-fueled violence, preventing radicalization and mobilization to violence, and fostering unity.

And, we hope it will also include you. Communities across the country will be invited to watch the summit live and engage in a national conversation about standing together against hate-fueled violence.

Nominate a “Uniter” in your community

Across America, Americans are working to bring their communities together across lines of racial, religious,  political and other differences to prevent acts of hate-fueled violence, promote healing where such violence has had devastating consequences, and foster unity. These “Uniters” are bipartisan faith leaders and teachers, police officers and mayors, civic leaders and volunteers, and everyday members of our communities. Many of these Uniters are themselves survivors of hate-fueled violence who have turned their pain into purpose. They hold together our communities together and lift us up in the hardest times.

By September 1st, 2022, we invite you to nominate an extraordinary Uniter in your community to be recognized by the White House. Please email UnitedWeStand@who.eop.gov with information on a leader in your community who inspires change by building bridges and countering hate-fueled violence..

As President Biden said in Buffalo after the horrific mass shooting earlier this year, in the battle for the soul of our nation “we must all enlist in this great cause of America.” The United We Stand Summit will present an important opportunity for Americans of all walks of life to take up that cause—together.

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A Lynching Map of the United States, 1900-1931

A Lynching Map of the United States, 1900-1931

This map, compiled using data gathered by the Tuskegee Institute, represents the geographic distribution of lynchings during some of the years when the crime was most widespread in the United States. Tuskegee began keeping lynching records under the direction of Booker T. Washington, who was the institute’s founding leader.

In 1959, Tuskegee defined its parameters for pronouncing a murder a “lynching”: “There must be legal evidence that a person was killed. That person must have met death illegally. A group of three or more persons must have participated in the killing. The group must have acted under the pretext of service to justice, race or tradition.”

In 1900-1931, Georgia led the lynching tally, with Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, and Arkansas rounding out the top seven worst offenders.

These numbers can seem antiseptic. Upon the release of the Tuskegee Report in 1916, the Cleveland Plain Dealer sought to put a face to the statistics by describing the relatively minor crimes that provoked some of the year’s lynchings (while noting that at least four of the people killed were later proved innocent):

One was charged with being accessory to burning a barn. One was accused to [sic] stealing cotton. A family of four, including two daughters, was slaughtered for clubbing an officer. Three were lynched for poisoning mules, and two for stealing hogs. Two were strung up for furnishing ammunition to a man who was resisting arrest.

Tuskegee compiled statistics on lynchings through 1961. This print of the map is held at the Amistad Research Center at Tulane University; another copy is collected at the Library of Congress.

Thanks to Andrew Salinas of the Amistad Research Center, Tulane University