Detroit airport Delta baggage handlers drug ring busted

Federal agents toppled two separate drug rings today run by baggage handlers who allegedly imported marijuana and cocaine from Jamaica and Houston while working at Detroit Metro Airport.

Twelve people — including 10 baggage handlers — were arrested early today in an investigation dubbed “Operation Excess Baggage” and accused of exploiting weaknesses at several airports to run drug-smuggling pipelines since at least 2009.

Complaints filed in federal court in Detroit — where nine defendants were ordered held behind bars until at least Friday — describe intricate drug-smuggling rings that used crude tactics, an exotic locale and employee access to bypass security and transport hundreds of pounds of illegal drugs to Detroit’s streets…

The Jamaica case dates to January 2010 when a federal agent in Jamaica contacted another agent locally about the seizure of about 53 pounds of marijuana discovered inside a suitcase that was about to be placed on Northwest Airlines flight No. 2321 bound for Detroit.

The suitcase had a seemingly legitimate baggage tag bearing the name of an unidentified person who was an unwitting participant in the smuggling attempt, according to court records.

Federal agents let the plane depart for Detroit.

While in the air, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers and the Homeland Security Department decided to intercept all baggage once the plane landed in Detroit before baggage handlers could touch them.

Investigators focused on five suitcases. Inside, agents found approximately 35 pounds of cocaine and almost 284 pounds of marijuana, according to court records…

The Jamaica case relied on several handlers in Detroit who were born in Jamaica.

The Houston pipeline used similar methods and operated separately, but simultaneously, according to prosecutors…[It] relied on two baggage handlers who transferred from Detroit to Texas so they could arrange the drug shipments, according to court records.

Not the toughest bit of analytics in the world. What was required was the staff and motivation. The opportunity to catch crooks like this ain’t going away anytime soon.

Is RIM the next Palm?

Research In Motion shares fell as much as 14 percent as analysts said a reduced profit forecast hurts management’s credibility and raises pressure on the company as it heads into an annual trade show next week…

“This further damages already low credibility, making them the ‘poster boy’ for a show-me story from here,” Mike Abramsky, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets in Toronto, said in a research note…

RIM is struggling to compete against Apple and Google in the smartphone market. The company, which will host the BlackBerry World conference starting on Monday, has to update its BlackBerry lineup and provide some evidence its products can do better against Apple’s iPhone and devices that run Google’s Android operating system, said Paul Taylor, chief investment officer at BMO Harris Private Banking in Toronto.

“Management needs to deliver on the product side,” said Taylor, who manages about $14.5 billion including RIM and Apple shares. “That includes competitive next-generation smartphones and building out the app library.”

Apple offers more than 350,000 software applications, or apps, and Google’s Android Market has more than 150,000, compared with more than 25,000 in BlackBerry App World…

At least four other analysts — Jefferies & Co. Inc.’s Peter Misek, Cormark Securities Inc.’s Richard Tse, Gleacher & Co. Securities’ Stephen Patel and National Bank Financial’s Kris Thompson — reduced their ratings on the stock…

The sales on their existing devices must have fallen off a cliff,” said Matt Thornton, an Avian Securities LLC analyst in Boston who has a “neutral” rating on the stock. “They are getting hit by a combination of a stale portfolio and heated competition on devices.”

Complacency, dealing with the most dynamic marketplace in the world of commerce as if it’s the railroad business in 1890 never delivers stability and long-term confidence.

I can recall emailing folks I knew inside Palm about the potential for building their OS into a fully functional operating system – keeping it small and adding needed potential while resisting bloat. Just like RIM they said, “Hey – we’re doing just fine as we are.”

Education consultant stole millions

A cuckolded computer consultant hired to link the city’s 1,400 schools to the Internet has been charged with downloading $3.6 million into his crooked pockets.

Willard (Ross) Lanham, aided by corporate giants IBM and Verizon, masterminded the massive fraud to enjoy a life of luxury from 2002 to 2008, according to a scathing report from the special schools investigator. “Lanham effectively stole from schoolchildren so he could buy fancy cars and valuable real estate,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

Prosecutors described Lanham’s greed as staggering. He was charged with looting the Department of Education while earning a $200,000 annual salary and living with his family in a sprawling, two-story Long Island home.

As he earned an illegal fortune off phony companies, inflated fees and a pair of no-show jobs, officials said, he built three luxury homes on a piece of abandoned Long Island farmland.

Once finished, Lanham even named the private street after his estranged wife, Laura Lanham.

The couple have since endured a long, angry and ongoing three-year divorce, with the wife dumping her 57-year-old husband to pursue younger men while blogging about her “cougar” lifestyle…

The probe, aided by the city Department of Investigation, found Lanham was hired to work on three major DOE projects – including the highly touted “Project Connect.”

The scam was simple: He hired contractors at low hourly rates, persuaded subcontractors to bill the city at a much higher rate and pocketed the difference, officials said.

In all, his Lanham Enterprises allegedly was paid $5.3 million for consulting work that cost his company only $1.7 million.

The accused swindler even ripped off his own brother, hiring him for a $40-an-hour consulting job while charging the city $225 an hour, a criminal complaint charged.

IBM and Verizon kept their corporate mouths shut over anything they may have noticed in the course of the fraud. I’m never surprised when systems run by elected officials are inefficient – though they needn’t be. Corporate governance should be a bit more consistent.

Verizon has said they will return any inappropriate profits. Nice of them.

Teacher writes novels on her own time – parents whine

Parental complaints have led Midd-West School District officials to investigate a veteran high school teacher who writes erotic romance novels under a pen name.

The teacher, Judy Buranich, of Selinsgrove, has taught at Midd-West for 33 years. Under the pen name Judy Mays, she has been writing novels for a number of those years. Her books include liaisons involving werewolves, aliens and vampires and can be found in the Romance section at Waldenbooks.

On her website, she refers to herself as “a mild-mannered tenth grade English teacher in a small public high school.”

Wesley Knapp, superintendent of the Midd-West School District, said he has received a few complaints…Knapp said he has told those making complaints “that we’d look into it.”

He declined to discuss the matter further. “When it’s a personnel matter, I can’t comment,” he said.

Deanna Stepp, mother of a district student, said: “We are not questioning Mrs. Buranich’s teaching credentials. We are not even questioning her ability as a writer … . What we’re questioning is that the two jobs are not compatible with one another…”

One of the usual crap excuses offered for censorship and blacklisting.

Writing as Mays on Facebook on April 22, Buranich said, “The world is full of idiots…”

Meanwhile, a Facebook page titled “Support Judy Mays (Mrs. Buranich)” hit 88 likes by Wednesday afternoon. Almost 6,000 likes by Thursday afternoon.

One of the whiners says kids at the school figured out Ms. Buranich was Judy Mays – and concludes she must be infecting their brains. History tells us that louts ready to blacklist people for talking about sex are the ones most in need of counseling on the topic. Parents who are astounded at kids smart enough to play detective should be kept away from curricula and teachers altogether.

Hopefully, Mrs. Stepp and Mrs. Apple will find a helpful local group for therapy and leave the school, the students and Judy Buranich to continue their normal daily activities.

Court rules for woman who was shackled while giving birth

Juana Villegas [L] and Maggie Hernandez with her lawyer Elliot Ozment [R]

A federal judge has ruled in favor of a Nashville mother who triggered a national outcry after she was shackled during labor and after giving birth while in custody of the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office…

Nine months pregnant, Villegas was arrested July 3 and charged with careless driving and driving without vehicle insurance. She didn’t have a driver’s license. A check of Villegas’ immigration status found she had a previous deportation order to her native Mexico. Her water broke on July 5 and she delivered the baby at 1 a.m. on July 6.

In his decision Wednesday, Haynes wrote that Villegas was “neither a risk of flight nor a danger to anyone,” citing medical testimony. The judge concluded that shackling Villegas during the final stages of her labor and her post-partum recovery violated her civil rights…

She was separated from her newborn son for two days and was not allowed to have a breast pump or cream for lactating mothers in her cell…

The sheriff’s office declined to comment. In combating the lawsuit, it cited expert testimony on the danger of “illegal immigrants fleeing and engaging in illegal activities” to justify shackling the expectant mother to the bed…

Villegas, the mother of four U.S.-born children, has lived in this country for 17 years, returning quickly after a 1996 deportation to Mexico.

The fact of her undocumented status, of course, shouldn’t have had a damned thing to do with lousy treatment by Tennessee sheriffs. I hope the federal court throws the book at these thoughtless representatives of law and order.